Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend

The weekend in Pittsburgh went quite well. My partner and I helped his mother around her house, from making some minor home improvements to lots of yard work. The visit was low-key and laid-back, and MIL was thankful and appreciative.

We arrived back in Maryland early enough today, Monday, for me to go help a veteran of World War II with some improvements to his home to make it safer and more comfortable to live in. At age 88, he lives alone. His wife died five years ago, and he loves their old house. But it needed work -- from a ramp to make it easier to get into the front door past some once-difficult steps, to better lighting, grab bars in the bath and kitchen, and a new smoke alarm. He's happy and content.

I learned a lot from my new senior pal. I love "oral history."

So instead of riding in Rolling Thunder yesterday or observing other larger gatherings, parades, or whatnot, my partner and I did a "one-on-one thing" -- helping a senior and recognizing a veteran who fought for the freedom we cherish.

Happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 27, 2011

You're One of US?

I work in an office as a professional, with many other professionals who specialize in various fields. I contribute to the overall positive and beneficial outcomes of what my employer provides to serve the public and the United States of America (insert wave of US Flag).

There are thousands of professionals employed where I work. On the floor of the large office building where I have my desk, I'd say there are some 50 - 60 people, and many of them are men. Most are around my age.

Within any group of men, inevitably, some are gay. There's a guy whose desk is down the hall from mine, and my gaydar told me that he was gay. My belief that he was gay was confirmed from some of his posts on a social network on which we have become connected.

He's not in my work group, so I do not interact with him that much. However, on Monday at a monthly birthday celebration (where the staff gets together for an afternoon break to have cake and wish happy birthday to whomever has a birthday that month), another colleague asked me what I was doing for Memorial Day weekend. You know, just chit-chat. I said that I was going to visit my mother-in-law, and wasn't looking forward to it.

My colleague said, "I thought you were gay." Instead of reacting strongly (that is, becoming angry at the implication that just because I am gay doesn't mean that I cannot have a mother-in-law), I replied, "I have a partner, and consider his mother my mother-in-law." My colleague said, "oh, okay. Well, I'm sorry that you're not looking forward to your visit with her. I hope things work out okay." No reaction of surprise or shock. He was growing accustomed to learning more about a colleague who happens to be gay and he just learned how I refer to my partner and his mother.

That other guy (the gay guy to whom I referred above) overheard us. With shock in his voice and some giddy excitement, and in a rather high pitch, he exclaimed, "you're one of US?" (emphasis added.) I asked, "what do you mean?" (knowing full well what he meant.)

He said, "I had no idea you were gay." I said, "I don't wave a flag, if that's what you mean. I'm just a regular guy who is in a stable, monogamous relationship with another guy." I think this guy was shocked because I do not have mannerisms that others expect gay men to have. I dunno -- nothing to be said here about stereotypes; I've said that enough. I'm just a guy. A masculine guy who happens to be gay.

He asked me, "do you and your partner go to (such-and-such location) monthly gatherings in (local town, but not DC)?" Answer: "No. I turn into a pumpkin at 9pm; can't handle the hours."

He asked, "will you be going to the (performance of a gay icon singer)?" Apparently, this performance has been talked up a lot among the local LGBT community. I had no idea. I replied, "nope. I don't like her so-called singing."

The guy didn't know what to do with me, but couldn't pursue it further at the time (in that setting) as other people were around and the chit-chat changed course. I returned to my office and got engaged in what I do for a living. Soon enough, I forgot about it... but my "new friend" didn't.

All week this week, he's been sending me email, inviting me to the LGBT group at the office, to help staff the table representing the agency at the Gay Pride day in Washington, DC, and to attend a social gathering among LGBT staff at the agency -- an after-work happy hour at a local pub.


I don't want to be mean, but I'm not interested. It has nothing to do with living in a closet -- I don't. I'm "out" to those who know me, and don't hide my sexual orientation. But I don't wave it around, either. I am who I am. Look at it this way, guys who are straight don't put up flags or stickers that extoll "straightness." I feel the opposite is true in my case. We're all here together, gay or straight.

I finally went over to the guy's office yesterday and explained that I am not interested in becoming involved in LGBT activities at work for several reasons.

First, I am in a relationship that to me is the same as a marriage. I don't go out by myself to socialize (except with my family), and my partner hates social activities so he won't join me anyway. Ain't gonna happen.

This took my colleague by surprise. I honestly think that we are the first gay couple he has learned about who do not socialize, at all. His reaction was both funny and one of shock. He couldn't believe it. But his only experience with other couples are those he meets at social events -- so he only knows socializers. (That is, he doesn't know the people he doesn't meet because they choose not to socialize.)

Second, my "after work" is two hours earlier than the time the group gets together, and honestly, I have no interest in hanging around the office for two hours longer than I have to. I have other things to do (like mow the lawn, run errands, do some quick visits with senior pals, and prepare a home-cooked meal to serve promptly at 6:15pm as I always do every evening since we never dine out.)

Third, I can't stand (such-and-such performer). Seriously. Can't stand her. My choice. But no way am I going to go see some performance in which she is involved. No way. Yuck. (sorry, I am deliberately being circumspect because if I published her name on this blog, then it would drive visits to this post from internet searches on her name, and this post is not about her, and I don't want comments related to that.)

Fourth, one of my family members has a graduation party on the day of DC Gay Pride, and when faced with a choice to be with the family I love vis-a-vis standing at a table in the hot sun on hot pavement around a bunch of people in shorts and flip-flops -- sorry, the choice is clear. I'll be in boots and jeans flippin' burgers on the grill and celebrating the achievement of one of my great nephews. My partner will probably be relaxing in our backyard park, as he loves to do on warm weekend afternoons.

Anyway, I don't have to explain, but I thought for purposes of this blog, I would describe this interaction and affirm that not all gay guys are the same. Some of us enjoy more social activities, and some don't.

Life is short: be who you are, and do what you want to do.

Note: this post will remain up for a few days. While others are enjoying Memorial Day weekend, perhaps in Chicago at "International Mr. Leather" or on a big motorcycle event held in DC or whatever... my partner and I will be in " 'da burgh," doing whatever we need to do for his mother. I will resume blogging when we get back and my life returns to normal and is less hectic because, thank goodness, May will be over! Have a nice weekend, and a safe holiday. See you next month!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Discussions On This Blog

I received an email from a reader of this blog, where one of my previous posts prompted him to share some thoughts about a situation that he was dealing with.  That's a different story, and will remain private.  However, what he closed with is something I want to discuss for a bit:  "... thank you for your willingness to publicly discuss personal matters/issues on your blog.  I do feel that by writing about your own personal experiences, you have dispelled some gay myths and made 'gays' to be normal."

Wow, thanks man. As I have said before, I never really know who I touch with what falls out of my head.

I know this is not the ordinary "gay man's blog." I wonder sometimes what IS an "ordinary gay man" but that's another issue.

I consider myself an ordinary guy; a regular Joe; a neighbor, friend, colleague, biker... whatever labels like that one may wish to apply.

I read some other blogs written by gay men. Those blogs have many more public followers than this one. A low number of public followers on a mature blog used to bother me a lot. I would ask myself, "what are they looking for?" or "what do other gay bloggers blog about that attract more public followers?"

As I analyzed it some more, I realized several things.

First, this is MY blog, where I express my thoughts, feelings, ideas, oddball humor (or lack thereof), likes, dislikes, interests, avocations, and such. I am not writing "for" anyone but myself. I do appreciate that others are interested in what I have to say. Ultimately, though, the blogging experience is a catharsis of sorts for me, and is a way for me to get things off my chest, or describe some knowledge, or express ideas (within limits.)

Second, some gay men's blogs with many followers write a lot about politics. I choose to avoid that here because everyone has different opinions and I do not want this blog to turn in to a venting post for the masses. I respect that everyone has opinions, and I know that I may disagree with some of them. But I'll fight for the right for people to express their own ideas, as long as they don't hurt anyone. However, I do not want this blog to become an exchange of rants, which so often happens on blog posts that are political in nature.

Third, some gay men's blogs with many followers represent a huge gay social circle that the blog writer has developed. The writers receive many comments to posts, and often the comments include witty remarks and humor.

I do not have a huge gay social circle. Honestly, (chalk it up to living with the world's #1 recluse) I don't have much of a social circle at all, because I do not go out to socialize (such as to a restaurant, bar, club, or to friends' homes) and I have lost all interest in attending gay events such as MAL or IML. I get my "social jollies" (that is, fulfill my "need for human interaction,") through other methods, like helping my senior pals, participating in community meetings, going to tons of family get-togethers, and riding with my motorcycle club from time to time.

Fourth, WYSIWYG. Read on.

Back to the comment that I received via email, I affirm that what I choose to write about is reflective of a personal life that is stable, solid, active, and totally integrated with the wider community in which I work and live. I am not "the gay neighbor"; I am "the civic organization president." I am not "that gay guy with an electrician's license"; I am "that nice young man who can fix this for me." I am not "that gay biker with all that leather"; I am an appointed officer in the club who enjoys, like everyone else, riding his motorcycle while geared properly. Finally, I am not "the gay family member"; I am a brother, uncle, cousin, nephew.

I got over worrying about how many public followers this blog has when I looked at my data logs and realized that I have many more readers who choose to remain anonymous. Now that this blog has matured, I am seeing about 500 - 600 unique visitors each day from all over the world. Okay, most of them choose to remain silent; I can live with that. Heck, I read a lot of blogs, too, and there are very few that I follow publicly -- so "I get it." No biggie.

I also realize that some readers are still wrestling with their own sexual identity, and part of their struggle lands them on this blog from time to time as they seek information about what gay men are like -- particularly masculine gay men who don't... well... act and behave "gay" (i.e., whatever stereotypical behaviors you want to apply, but for me, one of those stereotypes is that I am not effeminate.)

Summarizing point: I am a regular guy. I have activities that I like to do. I have clothing and footwear that I like to wear (and some clothing and footwear that I don't.) I am head over bootheels in love with one man. So what?

Follow me or not, WYSIWYG.

For visitors who do not know what "WYSIWYG" means: "What you see is what you get." It is a commonly-used acronym with many computer software applications, but equally applies in this case.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not Going To The Prom Means You're Gay?

Last of a series of posts about my 14-year-old Great Nephew (who is young for being a junior in high school. This kid is smart!) I invited him to dinner at our home last night and made my partner act on his best behavior. (giggle.)

I also invited a senior pal to join us. She was a professional school counselor before she retired a few years ago. I invited my senior pal for two reasons: 1) I value her advice; and 2) though I love my Great Nephew and his parents trust us, I am not going to be in a position of having two adult gay men alone with a minor. Even if we are related -- it's still a major concern. (I wish I didn't have to worry like that, but I have read far too many horror stories.)

Over burgers and grilled veggies, we discussed what was going on. I had another "ah-ha" moment when my Great Nephew told me that about two months ago, several (male) classmates asked him who he was going to take to the prom. My Great Nephew didn't want to go to the prom because (gosh, he is SO MUCH like me) he doesn't like to dance, he doesn't like to dress up, and he didn't want to go through all the formalities dictated by tradition (rent a tux, limo to girl's house, frivolity over pictures, limo to dinner, dance, limo to after-dance event, then home. Yuck.)

Because my GN told his classmates that he didn't want to go, the taunts about him being gay started again. First it was not getting a spot on the community baseball team, then it was not wanting to go to the prom. The verbal bullying was rampant and getting worse. No wonder my GN was so upset!

I told my GN my story about my prom experience. Like him, I didn't want to go to the prom. However, I was class President and couldn't avoid it. But what I did was something that became "classic me." I asked a female friend who I knew did not like to dance to be my "date." We dressed in Hawaiian flowered shirts (and I got her a lei from a florist to match); I wore a pair of white jeans with a pair of light-colored Frye boots. While everyone else went through (the torture of) the pre-prom shenanigans, my friend and I enjoyed a casual dinner at a favorite restaurant. Then we showed up at the prom dressed as we were. I gave a short pep-speech as was expected, then we left. My friend and I drove to the beach and stayed at my sister's condo. We had a great weekend playing on the beach with my nieces and nephews. (Funny... it is this same branch of the family that is involved -- a niece who was among those that my friend and I played with during our post-prom beach visit is this Great Nephew's mother.)

The reactions to our dress and behavior were (mostly) amusement. As I said, my mother (who was the only one of my parents alive at the time I was in high school) did not question or judge. She let me be me. My twin brother did the whole prom bit -- tux, limo, dinner, dance, after-dinner party, etc. I did something unique to me and my quirky personality. Mom let us decided. She told me later that she didn't think it would work, and that I might have learned a hard lesson. But that's how she raised us: let us try and sometimes fail, and learn from our experiences.

I was not the subject of ridicule about the prom when I was in school. I attended it, and took a girl. We decided, however, to enjoy it in a unique way that was fun for both of us. In fact, this female friend of mine and I enjoy a close friendship to this day. You should have seen some of our exchanges on [another social network] over the last few weeks about "our prom" and reminiscing about it. It was a hoot!

Most of the other guys in my class thought I was strange, but they gave me kudos for doing something so unique and fun. Most of them laughed along with me. Those who did not understand pretty much left me alone. They found what I did so unusual that it left them speechless (either that, or they were jealous and were secretly wishing that they had done the same thing!) Those who knew me better thought that I was courageous and complimented me.

In retrospect, what made this work for me is that my parents always taught us to be ourselves, and to have the courage of our convictions (even if we were wrong.) I knew that if my scheme blew up and I made a big mess of things, that my family would back me up regardless. They always were, and always are, my "rocks."

Back to my Great Nephew -- prom this year has passed for him, but perhaps he has some ideas about how to cope with it next year. Find out how to "be" himself, and stand up and do it. I'll be there cheering him on, supporting him all the way. My senior pal friend also provided some good suggestions about how to be more confident in being "himself," and "not a lemming."

If he doesn't want to go to his prom next year, perhaps he can find alternate things to do, that he enjoys. Sure, Mom and Dad enjoy the ritual of traditions, but perhaps he can teach them some new "traditions" to enjoy.

Life is short: find ways to enjoy challenges in new ways!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Don't You Be More Like

It is every child's fear to be compared with an older sibling... or at least I felt that way. With 13 older brothers and sisters, it would have been easy for my parents to suggest that I behave in ways that other siblings were behaving, or be athletic like some of them, or studious like some others, or enjoy dancing like some others, etc.

I realize now, in my older age, just how very fortunate I was not to have that happen as I was growing up. My parents treated all of us as individuals, with separate skills, interests, preferences, likes, and dislikes. While I have a twin brother, even the two of us were not compared with one another by our parents. Same was true for the other multiples (twins and triplets) in my family.

I think, though, that comparisons are happening with my Great Nephew, about whom I blogged yesterday. He has two older brothers who are graceful, skilled, and athletic. One of his brothers helped his school win a championship in football, while another did exceptionally well in a community baseball league.

I had another long conversation with my Great Nephew last night, and he told me that it was okay to say this: he hates being compared with his older brothers. He tried out for the community baseball league, and couldn't make the team. He had not practiced or played very much, and had not developed adequate skills. Further, his heart wasn't in it. He just didn't like baseball, or sports in general.

I could relate to that. We both are not interested in sports. We both feel as if we are not athletically inclined. And we both resent being compared with others who are better skilled in certain activities that parents favor. His Dad didn't favor his son taking an interest in musical performance.

Even these days, where supposedly Dads are "enlightened," I could sense that it was not the case. Dad would have preferred that his youngest son "follow the footsteps" of his older, athletic, brothers. There's a reason for that... Dad grew up in a certain area of the country whose residents are very outspoken about males taking on stereotypical male roles, and should a male take on a role like singing a lead in a musical, then they say stupid things to belittle the behavior, and apply labels related to homosexuality. So sad....

My Great Nephew could be gay -- or not -- and using indicators from things he likes to do (or not do) should not be aligned with sexual orientation. Just because he can sing and play various instruments doesn't mean that he is gay; just because he is not athletically talented and doesn't like to play ball doesn't mean he's gay, either. But so what?  If he is gay, he will need all the support he can get from the two people who mean the most to him in his life: his parents.

I put his parents in touch with some professionals who know how to explain all these differences and help the parents understand how to nurture and appreciate differences in their children and bring out in them what they can do best, each as individuals, with talents, skills, and abilities that are not all the same.

Life is short: show those you love that you love them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

He May Be Gay

I dropped over to visit a member of The Family yesterday. Her son was having his 14th birthday. I brought a card and gave him a hug; then he broke down and cried without warning.

He ran out of the room and I was left standing there shocked and dismayed. His mother came over to me and said, "let's talk."

She took me into another room, and said, "I think he may be gay. Will you talk to him?"

I was a bit dumbstruck. I hadn't seen this particular Great Nephew in a long time; since Christmas. He leads a typical teenager's life: busy with school and I thought, with friends and activities. His Mom said that in the last several months, he had become withdrawn, sullen, and emotional. She said that as far as she could tell, nothing was going on. His grades remained good in school, though they dropped a bit in the final marking period. He wasn't complaining about anyone or anything in particular. She even took him to his doctor for a checkup, which was fine.

She said, however, that his Dad had encouraged him to try out for a community baseball team, as he wasn't "good enough" to try out for the team at school. Dad took him to the tryouts, and watched his son fail miserably -- and was not all that supportive.

Since then, their son had withdrawn. He stopped going to any after-school events, or even try out for the school Spring musical in which he performed last year (quite well, actually. I was impressed.)

I tried asking his Dad what he thought was going on, and got the typical, "he's a teenager and is going through the typical emotional trials that teens go through" and shrugged it off.

I asked to speak with their son, and they both said, "sure, go ahead. Perhaps you can help. We don't know what to do."

I found my Great Nephew in his room, absorbed in a video game. I asked if we could talk, and he said, "sure," but didn't turn the game off. I asked him to do that. He shot me a look, but complied.

I asked, simply, "what's going on?"

My Great Nephew said, "nothing."

I continued to probe, gently, but wasn't getting anywhere. Lots of "nothings" and "not much" and "I'm okay" denials.

I decided to explain a little bit about my life when I was his age. I felt alone and isolated, even though I have 14 siblings and thought I had a lot of friends. But I couldn't hit a baseball if it were tied to a bat; I couldn't catch a ball if it were dropped into my hands. I couldn't run; I would trip over my own feet. I would run in fear if a dance at school were held, but that wasn't because I didn't like girls -- it was because I hated dancing (I still do) -- anything having to do with coordinated movement. I couldn't then, nor today, be coordinated about anything.

Apparently, I said something, and he began to open up. Out of respect for my Great Nephew, I will not describe what he said. Let's just say that we began a dialogue, and discovered how closely we truly are related. Man, there are so many similarities between him and me (at his age).

He asked me the $10M question: "when did you know you were gay?"

I explained that I didn't really know that much about my sexuality and didn't think about it until much later -- in my 20s. I know, though, that different males discover their sexual identity and sexuality at different ages.

But I did ask him why he asked me that question. The response was what I had figured, that other people were calling him names, including "fag," "homo," "queer," and were making gestures that imply homosexuality. So my nephew's feelings and emotions right now are being driven by a form of bullying. That's why, I discovered, that he deleted his Facebook account. He said that he was being taunted on there. Enough was enough, and he dropped off Facebook because he didn't want his friends to see the taunts that others were posting. (Actually, I think that was a good idea. There are far too many horror stories about Facebook and cyber-bullying that has led to suicide.)

I'm not this child's father. I am not a trained analyst. I'm just a Great Uncle, but who is the only gay man this child knows (that I am aware of.) I live a stable life with my partner, enjoy activities that I can do, like motorcycling. I walk as my form of exercise -- not play sports. I get out and get involved with community activities of the more professional sort -- leadership, civic service, and such.

As I said, we began a dialogue. I hope I can lead his parents into finding out more and learning ways to help their son. After all, he is their child, and they need to take the lead to help him.

For more in this series, see these related posts:
Life is short: show those you love that you love them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Riding in Honor and Memory

This time, I did a motorcycle ride to ride in honor and memory for something that hit close-to-home.  A good friend & riding buddy and his wife lost their son a year ago in a crash caused by a drunk driver.

This friend's son was quite a guy. Not quite 20 when he died, he had done a lot in his relatively short life, and made his parents proud. I would see him from time to time on group motorcycle rides. He wasn't too proud to ride as a passenger with his Dad. It was awful that he died so young, and the death of their oldest child was a rotten for my friends to have to deal with. No parent should outlive a child.

My biker bud held a memorial motorcycle ride on Saturday. The weather was stunning. Beautiful, warm, sunny skies and (finally) dry roads. We rode through some back roads that I didn't know existed, and some others that I had been on before, but by mistake (when I got lost. I always get lost when I try to go anywhere.)

There were about 40 bikes on this ride. It was great. We ended up at an amusement park. Though I wanted to stay and play, I couldn't. You-know-who's task list remained a mile long. So after some hugs and handshakes, I revved up the Harley and headed home ... and spent seven hours doing that oh-so-lovely yard work and gardening of May.

Life is short: honor memories of friends.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Natural Visitor

Planting the annuals for the gardens is complete! Whoo-ee! Within the past few days, we also planted 31 tomato plants in planters on one of our decks. We started the tomatoes from seed in March, and grew them indoors (actually, a specially lit area built into one side of the room that I use for my basement boot closet. It's a multifunctional space!) Hopefully, we will have a bountiful harvest come July. We keep the tomatoes and other vegetables in special planters on a deck, instead of a garden, so the deer and bunnies don't get them before we do.

We put annuals in planters that we hang from our decks, as well. No sooner had we done that, then Mrs. Dodo Bird (mourning dove, but they're not the brightest bulbs on the planet, so I call them "dodo birds") dropped in some twigs and laid two eggs. She is keeping a careful eye on us from the nest. Thus is life with nature in suburbia.

Life is short: smile with relief when the myriad of planting activities that always happen this time of year are (almost) done!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Slow Return

A few rambles, as I slowly return to blogging.

Life has been busy-nuts, but that is traditional May.

Partner has been incredibly hyper, and with rain each day this past week, it hasn't helped matters much. Rain both exacerbates his chronic pain as well as his frenzy for yard work that can't be done.

I was able to use the Fred Flintstone lawn mower yesterday between downpours to scythe through the grass that began to eat small pets and children, it was so high.

I haven't ridden my Harley all week due to the rain. Friggin' feelings of confinement again in a cage (what us bikers call a four-wheel vehicle.)

New boss at work has rescinded permission to telework, so now I'm doing the regular 5am to 3pm at the office ... Oh well, I really should not complain, because it's the best commute I have had, with free indoor motorcycle parking as well. 20 minutes to get there, and about 30 to get home (due to heavier volume once the rest of the world is awake.)

Life in a cube farm is such joy. Thank goodness for Bose noise-cancelling headphones. While I have a fairly high-ranking position, I am but a lowly serf as a newbie, so I look at it this way: at least I have a real desk and office space with two computers and other facilities that I need. However, I have to say that my home office is better equipped. It's common that I have to do some things at home for work because restrictions on resources (such as not being able to download, install, and use certain software. Doing that isn't permitted and is blocked.) If I had to explain further, I'd have to shoot you, and that would be awfully messy.

I did have an interesting opportunity to brief a visiting delegation from China about content related to my profession at the headquarters of my professional association yesterday. That was very interesting, and is one reason why I remain so active with that association. Lots of opportunities for learning and professional development, networking, and sharing.

This coming weekend will be incredibly busy. Partner has a list in his mind of "gotta-do's" that I can only imagine. I still can't read his mind. I will, however, take a brief respite for an early morning motorcycle ride on Saturday morning that has been organized as a memorial for a friend's son who was killed tragically a year ago by a drunk driver.

I also had a wonderful experience in meeting a family whose mother I touched through service years ago. Their Mom died last week, and left a substantial bequest to support future work on the "seniors safety" projects that I do. I didn't really know their Mom that well, but she was one of the early-on benefactors of our work to provide better lighting, grab bars, smoke alarms, CO detectors, and other safety features. She thought so highly of our voluntary efforts that she left money in her will for our work. So now I'm setting up a non-profit foundation to receive the money and disburse it. Gotta love the bureaucratic processes required to make that happen.

Otherwise, as I always say: life is short -- keep living! Be nice, be good, have fun, wear boots, and always, always, SMILE!

Best wishes,


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lunch with a Boot Buddy

I am still taking a break from blogging for a little while, but I wanted to post a picture that I took yesterday when my friend Clockner, also known on YouTube as Bootedman, came to the DC area for a visit. He is also a fellow blogger.

We met for a very pleasant lunch in the downtown of my home town in Maryland, close to where my office is located.

He is wearing brown Justin square-toe buckaroo boots with red uppers. He says they are about the most comfortable boots he has worn. I am wearing a pair of brown Lucchese wingtip cowboy boots with dark brown inlays. They are also very comfortable.

It's nice to catch up with friends. I appreciate that my friend came to visit for a nice annual lunch.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Intensity Time Off

Sorry, but I'm taking at least a week off from blogging. May is just way too intense for me. Partner isn't well, yet wants to continue to do lots and lots of backbreaking gardening chores, his annual rite of Spring. He insists that I help him, and while I like the outcome, I do not like the ... "intensity" ... of his fervor to get these chores done.

Things on the job are really crazy, including necessity to train another new boss, and if you've ever had to do that, you know that it takes time. I'm sure it will go well, but I have to invest the time necessary to bring the boss up to speed yet continue to do all the mountain of work that has to be done keeping people across the country safe, educated, and responsible people empowered to make informed decisions.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, 14 May, 21 volunteers and I ensured that 62 seniors were safer in their homes, by installing grab bars, non-slip mats for the bathtubs, stronger lighting, replacing smoke alarms, and other minor but important fix-up safety things. Several officials from our county stopped by the event to wish us well and thank our sponsor. After running around organizing that event for eight hours, I still had to put in four hours of "plant this NOW!" demands by Partner. Uggghhh....

Back at the ranch, I am taking a week off from blogging for three reasons: 1) my time is really limited and I do not write personal blogs while I am on the clock for work and have no time in my off time to do it; 2) I am running low on ideas again; and 3) Blogger continues to misbehave, and I do not have the patience or time to fool with it. I hope it will return to normal in a week.

Be good, smile, and take care of those you love. Remember -- life is short: show those you love that you love them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger Was Down

Message that appeared on Blogger for a long time yesterday morning:

I had a couple people write to me yesterday to ask if I were okay, since all they were seeing was a post from March 11, and nothing more recent.

Unfortunately, Blogger, the platform on which this blog appears, had a major problem of some sort -- perhaps related to the bad luck that supposedly occurs on Friday the 13th? Actually, Blogger has been behaving strangely a lot during the past week. I hope it's not failing, and that I would have to migrate to another blogging platform. I really don't want to have to do that.

Anyway, by early afternoon yesterday, Blogger had resumed normal operations.  I found the posts that I had written and were scheduled for Thursday (Law Ride Gallery) and Friday (Chaps Weather).  I had to publish them again, but at least I didn't have to write them all over again.

This is one of the perils of using a free system.  One cannot expect 100% reliability all the time.

Life is short:  keep blogging!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chaps Weather

It is quite common that the weather in the Maryland 'burbs of Washington, DC, changes from winter to summer almost overnight. However, lately we have been treated to a rare event: Spring. Yeah, Spring! Yippie! Coolish, but not cold, mornings, with very pleasant and non-humid, mild sunny afternoons. If it weren't for the thick tree pollen, it would be perfect. Fortunately, I do not suffer allergies that badly, but when the pollen counts get so high, everyone gets a bit sneezy.

I digress: due to this spell of terrific Spring weather, it's been "chaps weather" in the mornings. It's too cool not to have something over the pants that I wear to my office for my early-morning commute. I have several pairs of motorcycle riding chaps, made custom to my measurements. Plus, I don't like cheap chaps that zip to just below the knee then have snaps to the bottom. They look crappy -- and cheap. Nope, my chaps have zippers on the outsize and go all the way down the leg to the bottom of the boot.

Why outside-zip chaps? First of all, outside zips are easier to reach. But the primary reason for zippers on the outside is that leather, not a metal zipper, may rub against the sides of the gas tank. Leather won't scratch the paint on a gas tank as metal zippers would do. It is fairly easy to tell if a guy wearing chaps actually rides a motorcycle or is a wannabe by the quality of the chaps he's wearing and the location of the leg zippers.

And honestly, I wonder, "is it only gay bikers who know about outside-zip custom leather chaps?" I see so many straight bikers who wear those cheap inside-zip chaps. Such a shame... if they only knew about custom outside-zip chaps: they also would avoid scratching the paint on their motorcycles' gas tanks and present an appearance as if they cared about how their gear fit and looked.

In another digression, I have to be honest, the TourPak (like a trunk) on the back of my Harley spoils me. When I arrive at the parking garage near my office, I can store my helmet, chaps, jacket, and gloves in it, lock it up, and not have to drag that stuff into the office and back out again. When it is time to ride home, it has been warm enough that I have only needed a light jacket. I can carry the lighter jacket in the TourPak while riding into work, and then wear it while riding home, storing the heavier jacket that I wore in the morning back there. Very convenient, and spoiling. Sure beats dragging small duffel bags with gear in it into the office and strapping them with bungie cords onto the bike. I like this bike -- I think I'll keep it :-)

Okay, dudes, it's Leather Weather!

Life is short: Leather up and ride!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Law Ride Gallery

I finally had some time to crop and assemble three galleries of photos that I took on the annual Law Ride held May 8, 2011, in Washington, DC. The galleries are at this link (officers, boots, and prides of boots).

I posted a link to these photo galleries on the Hotboots website yesterday morning, and I wasn't surprised that hundreds of people visited the galleries from the link on the BOL board. The traffic to my website spiked almost instantly, although very few people made a comment. That's typical, and not surprising at all.

I noted from visitor logs that a bike cop who writes a very interesting blog was among the visitors to this gallery from that Hotboots/BOL link. I didn't know that he was a Bootman :-) He is a cool, relaxed, and understanding guy -- the impression that I have from dialogues that I have had with him via email.

Not as many officers attended Law Ride this year as in past years, but that's because most of the events for National Police Week begin later in the week, so officers from distant locations can't justify the cost of spending an entire week during expensive tourist season in the DC area.

The vast majority of motor officers who attended were from jurisdictions in the DC area; however, there were a few from more distant locations (Mississippi and San Diego, California.)

The local motorcops from nearby jurisdictions wear dress instep Dehner boots, and some have double soles applied. Four officers from Mississippi wore Chippewa Hi-Shine engineer boots. Interestingly, I didn't see one pair of bal-laced motorboots on the cops -- only on my non-cop feet. Hmmm... I may have to do something about that! LOL!

It is an interesting and fun ride, where when we arrive at the destination of the ride, the Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial, we pay tribute to law enforcement officers who paid the supreme sacrifice in keeping us safe: those who died in the line of duty.

Life is short: pay tribute to those who care for us.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Observations: Cops Wearing Dehner Boots

Here are a few photos of dress instep Dehner boots on some motor officers. I took these pictures during the staging of Law Ride, which was held on Sunday, May 8, in Washington, DC.

The boots shown in the pride above (i.e., a group of lions is a pride, as is a group of boots worn by proud motor officers) are double-soled. The officers who wear them are from a county police force in Virginia. They have double soles added by a cobbler.

The boots to the right are well cared-for. Some cops know how to take care of their boots, although he didn't break them in correctly (see the left boot?  Bad ankle break; betcha it's painful sometimes.)

...and some cops do not care for their boots (like these on a cop whose jurisdiction includes the county where I live). 

Ouch! The sagging at the ankles! That cop didn't break them in correctly, and is making them worse by bending his ankles that way.

More to follow....

Life is short: know your Dehner boots.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Straight Assumptions

This past Sunday, I rode my Harley to lead and join a large motorcycle event held in Washington, DC. I was dressed in leather breeches and a pair of tall patrol boots, and my perforated H-D leather shirt. So yeah, I was wearing leather head-to-toe. Again. So what?

I forget. There are indeed those who notice. Most don't say anything, but two did. Here's what they said and my reply.

1. A retired DC cop who was on the ride with my group looked me up and down and said, "I know a couple bars around the corner where you would fit right in." He did not know that I knew that he was referring to the DC Eagle, which is the closest thing to a leather bar that there is in Washington, DC. There really isn't any other bar that is known as a "leather bar" in DC. The Green Lantern "turns leather" one weekend each year when Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) is going on, but otherwise, it's as much of a twink bar as anywhere else.

My response: "Okay, you want to show me?" Honestly, I couldn't believe that I had the nerve to say something like that, but that is what fell out of my mouth. The cop just shook his head and I moved on.

It was obvious that he was making judgments based on what I was wearing, and probably was trying to be funny, not realizing with whom he was speaking. And you know what? Too bad. Or, "so what?" If he had made an issue out of it, I probably would have explained in clear terms, "yeah, I'm gay, I like leather, I have a partner who does, too!" But he didn't say anything else and neither did I.

It also demonstrates that this retired cop thought I was straight (I mean, there aren't any bikers who lead motorcycle rides and interact with cops and ride a big Harley who are gay, are there??? LOL!)

I spoke with him again as I was getting ready to leave. He asked me how my wife felt about being left alone on Mother's Day. I don't know where in the world he arrived at the assumption that I had a wife. We had not talked much... so he just assumed. I told him, "I'm sure there will be lots of chores waiting for me when I get home," but I deliberately didn't push the issue about the fact that my spouse-equivalent is a man. This guy was just plain oblivious, and I didn't have the time or energy to correct false assumptions all day.

2. Another guy looked at my belt buckle, which clearly says, "665" on it, and said, "one less than hell, huh?" Ooops, I didn't change it. The 665 Leather store gave it to me when they made my leather breeches. The guy who made a remark about the buckle understood what 665 means by the choice of its store name, "one number short of hell." I really didn't think much about it, but I agree, it gives a message that perhaps I didn't intend to give in a public gathering with families around. I was walking when that other guy said what he said to me, so I kept moving and didn't say anything.

When I got home and removed the breeches, I changed the belt buckle to something less ostentatious.

Oh well, these things happen when you have gay fetish gear that you mix up as biker leathers and ride with and attend straight biker events.

Life is short: keep your cool.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ride Notes

I was able to go on an annual motorcycle ride held in Washington, DC, yesterday.

Here are some random shots -- two of me (wearing my LAPD leather breaches and All American patrol boots), ...

...and one of a young cop doing what youngsters do: instead of actually talk to people and maybe learn something, he was happy just to sit by himself and send text messages. This wasn't just one short thing, such as sending a text message home saying, "I'm here." This cop spent at least an hour texting away. Personally, I don't get it, but then again, I am a Martian Dinosaur.

I will post more pics of that event eventually... but it may take me a while. As soon as I get off work each day this week, guess who has to go do stuff in the yard?

Life is short: talk, don't text.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reunion with Motorcops

Late yesterday afternoon, I was given time off for good behavior (that is, I had done chores around the house since 7am...). I joined some friends for "a few beers" (in my case, I drank water since I do not drink alcohol.) The friends I met are motor officers who I have known for a while who were getting together with others who are in town to ride on the Law Ride being held on Sunday (when this post appears.)

A personal friend is a motor officer in the county where I live, and he invited me to join him to get together with his friends -- same group who I had dinner with a couple years ago.

I mostly just listened. They have a bond of brotherhood based on their occupation which transcends jurisdictions and isn't inclusive of "us civilians."  They weren't leaving me out, but there were some stories and interactions about which I couldn't comment, because I do not share the same background and experiences.

While I am not a cop, I respect their work and these fine men for their integrity, honesty, and character. They all have good senses of humor -- much better than my own. They told stories of encounters that they have had which were funny in the way they described them. But the stories are theirs to tell, and if I tried to relate them, I would probably mess up.

What were we wearing? Well, I'm happy to say that unlike last time, three of the guys besides myself had boots on. Just regular harness boots on three of us (including me), and the other booted guy was wearing tactical boots. The rest? What can I say? They love their sneakers. No uniforms -- none were on duty or going to an event where a uniform was required. Just jeans, t-shirts, and lots of smiles.

I enjoyed being included for this gathering. I learn a lot each time I listen to what they have to say. One of them (besides me) is gay, and everyone in the group knows it -- and didn't say a thing about matters related to being gay (or straight, for that matter.) Most of their concerns was related to their respective agency's budgets and cut-backs affecting their work, schedules, overtime, and shifts. Pretty typical talk these days among public servants who work in any capacity.

When a part of the conversation got around to budget cutbacks for uniforms, I asked a few questions related to the "boot budget." Each of them told me that they are "making do" with the boots they already have, and do not expect to get any new boots from their respective employers, because uniform allowances were eliminated in three departments, and cut back so much in the others that none said they would do more than replace torn, damaged, or very worn clothing. I understand -- public service agency budgets are continuing to suffer big-time. Most were appreciative that they still have a job, as they know many others whose departments have eliminated motor units completely, or cut them back and some of their friends had to return to regular patrol duty or suffered a layoff.

Life is short: learn from professionals who you respect.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I Hate May

The rant that once was in this space has been removed... er "updated."

Yeah, I don't like May. Too much pressure on my time with work and things to do at home. My partner goes absolutely bonkers this time of year about Spring gardening, which to him is incredibly important. I don't place the same sense of urgency on this matter as he does, and that creates tension. Honestly, I would rather be out riding my Harley on days when it is suitable. My partner has no understanding about what it's like to suffer with cabin fever all winter, then not be able to get out and ride and have to do back-breaking chores instead.

I really shouldn't complain. I like the results of all this work. It's just the intensity of the schedule that makes matters rough. Always. May.

May even ends poorly because I have to go with my partner to spend three days with his mother at the end of the month. Gosh, that trip is difficult, because his mother is so hard to be around. Instead of riding my Harley for a big event in Washington, DC, on the last weekend of the month, I have to be stuck in a cage in Da 'Burgh.

Oh well, it happens every year. I should know what it's like by now. Just because I do, doesn't mean that I have to like it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Diamond Platinum Black Boot Card

Wow, I've been informed by Stompers Boots that I am the proud owner of a Diamond Platinum Black Boot Card.  What's that mean?

It means that as a very loyal customer who has invested a lot of money in purchases from the the Best Darn Boot Shop that I get a good discount on boots that I may order from them. I throw a lot of business their way, as best I can, because they do have about the best service and prices in today's volatile market. Prices of boots are going up and up -- like everything else these days. Manufacturers are raising prices, and shipping costs continue to rise. Thus, while Stompers offers excellent pricing, they can't avoid raising prices when their suppliers do yet retain very modest margins.

This "Diamond Platinum Black Boot Card" is a virtual product and was a tongue-in-cheek gift to me by the Owner of Stompers. So it's a title, and I am a proud man to have earned it. It came up in a dialogue about some boots...

...Yeah -- something caught my eye, and on behest of a friend who made a strong suggestion (you know who you are, Officer B!), an order was placed. Hopefully, to arrive in time for a police motorcycle event this summer. Perhaps a cop or two will ask, "where'd you get those boots?" And I'll be happy to provide a referral to Stomper Boots, the Best Darn Boot Shop in the world.

I encourage all Bootmen of the World to work at achieving a Diamond Platinum Black status yourself. :-) I'm sure Stompers will appreciate that, as us loyal fans do.

Life is short: get booted!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Leather Vests

A leather vest is probably the most ubiquitous piece of gear for a lot of guys -- gay or straight, bikers or not. A leather vest contributes to a casual and comfortable appearance, as well as provides a little bit of warmth in coolish environments. As I say in my Guide to Leather Gear, "a good leather vest is a fundamental leather item that you should own."

There are three types of leather vests. One of them I will not discuss here, as I don't own any: that is, a dress vest worn with a three-piece suit. Most of those types of vests are made of cloth, anyway.

I will go into some detail about the two remaining styles of leather vests: 1) a bar vest, and 2) a biker vest. Each of these vests can have "colors" applied to them. And by that I mean patches, not dye. Any time patches representing membership or affiliation with a club, motorcycle riding chapter, or similar organization are applied (with glue and/or sewn on) to the back and/or front of a vest -- that's what's called "club colors." The vest is worn to illustrate affiliation with the group.

A "bar vest" gets its name because it is usually worn by guys who go to bars -- that simple. It is usually rather plain and made of 2-3oz leather (rather thin.) Most bar vests do not have outside pockets, but may have a pocket on the inside flaps.

The front and back panels of a bar vest may be sewn together at a seam, or have adjustable lacing, or be connected with chains. It varies, and the choices are more stylistic preferences of the man wearing it than anything else. For example, just because a guy is wearing a vest that has front and back panels connected with silver chains doesn't mean he wants to pick a fight. (This symbolism continues today from images held over from old "biker movies").

Personally, I recommend getting a bar vest that has a way to adjust the fit at the side seams. Laces allow a little more room to be provided perhaps around the tummy area, get be tighter up closer to the arm pits. Chains allow that type of fit to occur naturally, where the chain may be extended at the bottom but hang in a loose u-shape at the top.

Bar vests do not have closures like snaps or buttons on the front. These vests are designed to hang open, revealing the chest. They look great on men who are in good physical shape. Bearish figures look, well -- "bearish" -- if a bar vest is worn alone. Often bar vests on bearish bodies hang funny and reveal a lot of the tummy, drawing attention to physical attributes that some guys would rather not have so accentuated.

Bar vests are often worn alone, but may also be worn over a t-shirt or a leather shirt.  However, real bikers do not wear bar vests while operating a motorcycle, or risk being flogged by flapping leather.

Biker vests are usually made of thicker leather -- 4-5oz is common, 6-7oz is better. That's because most bikers actually use these vests as protective wear while operating a motorcycle. Thicker leather will resist rocks or other debris that may be kicked up by a tire of a vehicle in front of you. Think of it, in a way, as added "body armor."

Biker vests also usually have rather thick seams across the back yoke -- though it is possible (and preferable) to get a "plain back" biker vest if you wish to have patches (colors) applied. Often the patches on the back are large and cover a big area, and a large seam makes it difficult to apply a patch smoothly over the back. (the patches had to be blurred due to homophobia from the license holder of the patches.)

Biker vests also usually have pockets. Bikers like pockets. Outside pockets are great for keys, ride route maps, coins or bills for toll payments, and other light stuff that need to be reached quickly. Inside pockets -- particularly deeper "gun pockets" -- are terrific to hold a wallet, cell phone, and other bulkier items. Some vests have snap or zipper closures for inside pockets, which are a great feature to help hold valuables securely.

Biker vests also have various ways to deal with side seams like bar vests: some have lace fittings, which make it easy to adjust the fit to the body of the man wearing it. Some have chains, which work the same way that they do on bar vests, described above.

Finally, a major difference between a bar vest and biker vest is that biker vests have front closures. Some have buttons (bad, because buttons often get strained and pop off), or zippers (not so good, because a zip-closed vest restricts movement), or snaps. Most bikers choose vests with snaps on the front. He can snap the top two or three snaps to keep the vest from flying open in the wind while riding. However, closing a vest can restrict freedom of movement, particularly if the vest is tight on the body when closed.

To deal with that, many bikers choose vest extenders, which are usually 2" to 3" chains or leather straps that connect to the vest's snaps on each side. A vest extender on the middle snap(s) may draw across tightly, while a vest extender on the top and bottom snaps may hang in a loose u-shape. That's common, and actually preferable because as a biker moves his arms while operating a motorcycle, the vest will allow movement since it's not physically drawn tight across the chest.

Vest extenders are easy to find at most motorcycle shops, leather stores, and on-line -- even at places where you might not think of looking, such as auto parts dealers. They are inexpensive -- usually US$2 - $6 for a set of two.

I have a variety of vest extenders. Some are chains. Some are plain leather. Some are made of leather and have a decoration, such as a Maltese Cross on the front.

By the way, I learned a lesson once. I was riding with a biker vest held closed in the front with vest extenders when I got caught in the rain. When the vest dried, the snap closures rusted. I was able to clean up the rust, but the snaps didn't work well again. They became more loose and the vest extenders disconnected when I was riding my Harley. Thus, the lesson I learned is not to get the vest wet. If a rainstorm catches me by surprise again, I take the vest off and put on rain gear that I keep in my saddlebag.

I also want to point out that not all vests are cut to the same pattern. Some fit well and others do not -- they "hang funny," pucker at the shoulders, do not reach the waist, or have too much leather in front and not enough in back. It is important to try a vest on -- try on several of them, actually. Some will fit better than others. If you're buying on-line, then check the return and exchange policy of the vendor before shelling out the money to buy it. If it doesn't fit or looks bad on you, you will need to be able to exchange it or return it.

Further: caveat emptor! Inexpensive leather vests are cheap for a reason. Often they are made from inferior hides and are not assembled well. I cannot recommend vests made in Pakistan. Every vest I have seen that is made in that country is cheap and of inferior quality. So watch what you may consider buying from the cheap on-line biker leather vendors. Other vendors like Biker's Den and Johnson's Leather for biker vests and Mr. S or 665 Leather for bar vests -- all have very good stuff made in the USA. (A few examples; there are many more).

I hope you find this information helpful as you consider your next purchase of a leather vest.

Life is short: wear leather!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Red and Black Leather

While I was in San Francisco in March, I had a couple hours free, so I decided to stop by the Mr S Leather store in the SOMA (South of Market) district. Over many years, I have purchased a lot of my leather gear from them. They make good stuff, and have quality leather. They do good tailoring as well.

I remember my first visit to that store back in 1991, some 20 years ago. The store was in a different location then. It was small and dark, and crowded too. (Actually, there were probably 3 or 4 people in the store, but it felt crowded.) Scared the bejeebers out of this curious guy. I don't know why I was so afraid. I did not buy anything on my first visit.

However, I saw some things that I liked, so my next trip to San Francisco, I screwed up my courage and went back to Mr S. This time, I was there by myself with one employee. The guy greeted me nicely and asked what I was looking for. I told him that I wanted to look around. He let me explore.

I spotted what I was looking for: a pair of leather jeans and a leather shirt. Back then, all the leather garments that they sold were black. I picked out what I liked, and tried it on. The shirt fit fine but the jeans were too long. The store employee was very helpful -- he measured my legs and asked me to give him the jeans to have them hemmed. A short while later, the jeans were returned (the person doing the hemming worked on an upper floor). I put the garments in a bag and left.

I wore those leather jeans and shirt a lot. I loved how they felt and how they looked. Subsequently, as I both became more mature and self-confident, I returned to Mr S a lot -- and bought a lot of leather gear!

Since I have so much leather gear now (most of it is custom made), I didn't think that I would see anything that I would want to buy when I visited Mr S again. But it didn't hurt to look, and admire the gear. They carry a lot of rubber and alternative types of clothing, too, as well as tons of sex toys, and some boots. Hmmm, boots -- last thing I needed ('cause I have everything that they sell and didn't need expensive duplicates ... plus, I want to keep Stompers Boots in business so I always give my boot business to them.) And the sex toys -- I tell 'ya, if I weren't the confident man that I am, I probably would have run out of there screaming. Gosh some of that stuff looks intimidating and painful. But there I go again -- being judgmental about stuff that other people are interested in; just not me.

The store staff were friendly as usual, and were laid back and let me explore some more. Nowadays, Mr S carries a lot of leather gear with colorful accents, or made completely from leather in colors other than black -- red, white, blue, hunter green. Their adjustment to offering colorful leather reflects both the times, and their accurate perception that some of us older guys already have all the black leather we will ever want or need, so to entice us to make a new purchase, they have to offer something different.

Then I spotted just the thing: a black short-sleeved leather shirt with red pocket flaps, epaulets, and collar, with a red stripe accent on the end of each sleeve. Wow, cool! Very different, and to me, very interesting.

Thankfully, they have different sizes of their various garments, and I found one -- the only one -- that was my size. I tried it on. It fit fine. Perhaps a little tight, but I know that as I exercise more this Spring, I'll loose a little weight in the middle and also I know that leather stretches slightly when it is worn.

The shirt was marked down a little bit -- I didn't know why. The price was right. So despite having to pay humongous sales tax, I bought it. Okay, so I'll help the local economy. (I could have avoided paying the sales tax if I bought it on-line and had it shipped to my home which is not in California.)

Now, before you go asking about signals that I may be giving, the answer is "no." Red leather has nothing to do with the Canonical Hanky Code, where red-on-the-left means doing something sexually with a fist (maintaining my G-rated status of this blog ... you can figure it out.) I'm not into that. But I do like the contrast of red leather with black leather.

To complete the look, I got a very good quality red leather tie from 665 Leather in West Hollywood, California (on-line). I'm not sure where I will wear this outfit, since I don't hang out at leather-oriented runs or fashion shows any more. But I'll enjoy the shirt, and wear it when I ride my Harley. I'll also wear it on occasion when I go about my daily personal business. For example, I had this shirt on when I went to a local building supplies retailer last week. Two customers saw me and said, "cool shirt, dude!" LOL!

Life is short: enjoy leather!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vendor Website Expectations

Let's face it, most sales these days are conducted on-line.  There are so many resources available, especially for comparison-shopping of pricey products. That includes (from this blogger's perspective): boots and leather gear.

When one goes on-line to look for a product, one expects:

1. The website to have a working search tool. Being able to narrow down the list by a product number, product name, etc., is very helpful and sort of expected these days. Unfortunately, there are some product vendors who do not have a working search tool available.

2. A method to narrow down choices. If the vendor offers a large variety of styles, sizes, colors, heights, etc., of boots (for example,), then one should be able to narrow down the assortment by various key components, such as gender, manufacturer, color, style, etc. Lacking that, it becomes almost overwhelming.

3. The website to work across major browser platforms. Nothing drives me more bats than to have a vendor's website only work on Internet Explorer and not Firefox or Chrome. Sheplers is a prime example of a poor performer on this criterion: their website only displays properly on I.E. and not others. It's a pain in the ass to switch browsers just to accommodate the vendor web designer's coding problems. (And if I am having problems accessing vendor websites with traditional web browsers on a p.c., I can only imagine that this problem is worse for those who use web-enabled smart phones. Just because I am smart-phoneless doesn't mean that I do not recognize that many other people use them for on-line shopping.)

4. Web pages to load quickly and efficiently. Some vendors go nuts with Flash, which when done well makes a pretty display, but takes forever to load sometimes. While I love Northbound Leather for the quality of their products, I hate their website for its display -- Flash is used way too much. The site is too fancy and frilled, and looses some of its functionality and consumer-friendliness in how it was designed.

5. Being able to tell who you're dealing with. I want to know if the company I am dealing with is in the U.S., Canada, the E.U., China, Pakistan, or India (for example.) Most U.S., Canadian, and European web sites are fairly easy to confirm where the company is located. I have found, though, that most in China, Pakistan, or India, are not. I have to "whois" the domain of the website to find out where it was registered. And if a registration comes back as an anonymous holder, I run for the hills. (That is, I surf elsewhere. If a vendor will not tell me who they are and where their products originate, I will not do business with them.)

6. Being able to reach a human being by phone if one has questions. Some orders are complex, and some may require custom work. Having a telephone number to call as well as the hours the number is answered is very helpful. (This is another way to tell if you are dealing with a reputable vendor -- you should be able to reach them by phone if you have questions.)

7. Being able to cut-and-paste text. This isn't thought of sometimes, but from my perspective, there are times when I want to take the exact text from a website to do some research -- such as the product or style number, exact product description, and so forth. Yes, I admit, I may then use an internet search engine to look up the product number to do comparison shopping. But I also compile a running list of things that I have found that have caught my eye, but for one reason or another, I will not want to order now. I get annoyed with websites that display information in a manner that prevents or blocks grabbing text from a page.

8. That shipping options and cost information are available BEFORE requiring confirmation of a purchase. Some vendors charge an outrageous fee for shipping anyway. Other vendors offer various shipping choices and options -- anywhere from next-day delivery of in-stock items to ground methods (usually free to the buyer). What I want to know is what shipping options are offered and how much shipping will cost. If a vendor will charge for shipping, then I add the shipping cost into the product price so when I do comparison shopping, I can compare "apples-to-apples" (that is, what the final price to me would be.) If a vendor will not allow me to estimate shipping costs before purchase, I shop elsewhere.

9. Secure payment processing. These days, one can never be too careful when shopping on-line. A vendor must use a secure payment processing method. I know it's not cheap to offer that service, but I will not give credit card details via the internet unless I know for certain that those details will be safe. (This website provides helpful information on how to determine if you're using a secure site.)

10. Functional payment processing. Okay, after I enter my credit card information and other details and click "confirm my order," I want it to work. Lately, Metboots has lost business from me because their system continued to fail and they would not answer email nor could I reach anyone on the phone who could resolve my problem. (Well, they were happy to take an order by phone, but they would not accept an on-line-only coupon. If their system is messed up and they won't help me, then their lost business is their problem, not mine!)

11. Acknowledgment via email. Yeah, I want to know my order number and have my order information confirmed, in writing. It's also a great idea to send a tracking number when the order is shipped, so I can confirm on my own when a package is coming and make arrangements to receive it -- especially if it requires someone to sign for it. Again, nothing drives me more crazy than to place an order and have no way of knowing the order was received and processed correctly, or when it will arrive.

These are some of my thoughts -- and these days, are not (IMHO) unrealistic to expect. Vendors that offer on-line sales but who do not offer the features described above have to catch up and meanwhile, not expect business from me.

Life is short: buy on-line responsibly and intelligently!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tall Sendra Boots

I have seen these boots for years -- 18" tall Sendra cowboy boots, made of all leather.  They have harness straps which are removable (an interesting feature.) These boots, like all other Sendras, are made in Spain from quality leather and materials with great craftsmanship in bootmaking.

Unlike most Sendra boots that have a low heel (about 3/4" [2cm]), these boots have "normal" heels -- 1-1/2" (4cm) cowboy "walking" heels, which are a typical style and heel height of their American counterparts.

However, Sendra boots generally run small, and the boot shaft even on their shorter boots is tight. I didn't think that I could wear them, even though I liked the style a lot, as well as the craftsmanship.

I saw them on sale, though -- for about half the usual price. A good buy -- if they would fit. Before buying them, I asked the store to send me the calf circumference measurement. I explained that my experience was that Sendra boots have smaller calf circumferences that other tall boots, and I wouldn't order them if the shafts wouldn't fit me.

The store owner responded rather quickly, and gave me the measurement. Turns out that the calf circumference was exactly equal to the circumference on both legs. I explained that problem, and the store offered to stretch the boots for me, at no additional charge. So I bought them.

The boots arrived, and they fit fine. The right boot was still a little tight, so I used my own calf stretcher and stretched that boot for a few days, and now it fits better.

I have worn the boots to work already and while kickin' around. I have learned, regretfully, that the boots make my feet tired and sore after a few hours. I do not know why, but it seems that Sendra boots are all like that -- or at least those that I own. I like the boots and how they look, but to improve their comfort, I have had to install another insole.

Despite the height of the boots and their nice stitching design, I do not wear them with jeans tucked into them. The calf circumference is still rather close. I can get my jeans into them, but the bulk of the fabric makes my legs feel squeezed -- so I don't wear them with jeans tucked into them. I like how the boots feel on my legs and do not have a "need" or reason to wear them showing the full shaft. I know how tall the boots are. :-)

Some guys swear by Sendra boots, and others are more like me -- they like the style but find them not as comfortable to wear as other boots are.

More photos of these boots are on my website.

Life is short: admire style yet remain practical.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thanks, Bro

Guest blog by BHD's twin brother, J

Thanks, bro, for letting me stay at your home while I had to attend meetings in Washington, DC, this past week. As usual, your hospitality was very much appreciated -- though we really didn't see much of each other!

I would arrive home about 8pm and you and your partner went to bed at 8:30 or 9 at the latest. Fortunately, I could spend time with you in the morning before I left for my meetings. Thanks for cooking breakfast for me each morning.

Despite as busy as we both are, I appreciated what time I did have with you. You're still "doing your thing" -- caring for your senior friends, your partner, and dealing with those community affairs while working more than full time. I don't know how you do it all.

I enjoyed seeing the family for the usual Friday night family dinner. It was great. Man, our little ones are growing up so fast! I am very happy that most made a special effort to come since I was visiting. It's not often I get to see 70 members of our family in one place for a happy reason.

Well, that's it for this post. Keeping it short, as I have plane to catch which will bring me back home to Paris by the time this post appears on your blog.

Thanks again -- see you in August when I have month to spend with you!

Ore e sempre,