Western Wanderings

The 2016 Great American Escape

After we tour the east coast, from our nation’s capital to New York to New England, we shall turn homeward, visiting some of the great sights in the central and western portions of the United States.  The following are a few of the places on our wish list:

Truman Museum

Truman Museum, Independence MO  (photo courtesy of trumanlibrary.org)

Country Music Hall of Fame

Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville TN (photo courtesy of Google Images)

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge, Michigan (photo courtesy of Mackinac Bridge Authority)

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, Arizona (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Many sights of beauty, history and culture await us!  Join me for my Great American Escape road trip beginning 16 days from now on May 6.



Eastern Wanderings

The 2016 Great American Escape

Now that we are just eighteen days away from our epic 6,000 mile road trip adventure, the time has come to reveal our final itinerary.  I mean “final” in the sense that our travel plans have been through several versions and this is where they stand at the moment.  Nevertheless, we are quite aware that our ambitious plans will likely result in some of the stops we have planned being cut due to a desire to spend just one more day in a lovely place or perhaps just because we are sick of driving and require a rest day.  We are also reserving the opportunity to head home sooner if we decide we’ve had enough.  After all, we’re not spring chickens anymore.

Initially, we made a lot of hotel reservations, most of which we later canceled in an effort to add a free-form element to the trip.  This gives us the ability to change the order of our stops and even to decide to visit other places at the last moment.  We believe that having an itinerary should impose some structure on a trip without serving as a straitjacket.  We hope we’ve struck the right balance.

The following are a few of the places that we hope to visit on the eastern leg of our trip:

Supreme CourtWashington, D.C. (photo courtesy of supremecourt.gov)


New York City (Times Square photo courtesy of Wikimedia)


Cape Cod

Cape Cod (photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism)


Old North Church

Boston (Paul Revere Statue/Old North Church photo courtesy of Destination360.com)

WNEC LawSpringfield, Massachusetts (Home of Western New England University, my law school alma mater – go Golden Bears!)  (photo courtesy of Google Images)

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls (photo courtesy of Niagarafallslive.com)

I look forward to posting some of my own photos as we crawl around the east coast!

Tomorrow:  Central/Western Wanderings






Four Corners, 13 Hours


Photo Credit:  Google Images

The 2016 Great American Escape

I am starting to give some attention to the western leg of our upcoming transcontinental odyssey.  This would be “the back nine,” the homeward part of our journey as we meander from New England to California.  By then, I figure, we’ll be tired.  So it is indeed unfortunate that traversing the vast western expenses will provide us with some of our longest driving days.

Although we originally made hotel reservations for the entire trip, we subsequently thought better of that plan and decided to leave the western leg more or less “open,” so that we can stop whenever we decide that we’ve had enough for one day.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a few things we’d like to see on the way west.  Chief on our list is South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore and, for the “grand” finale prior to our final sprint for home, the Grand Canyon.

A cursory glance at the map readily informed me that the route between those two high points is no piece of cake.  Taking Highway 59 south to Interstates 90 and 25 should get us into Denver in about eight hours or so.  We will stay overnight and visit friends there prior to embarking on an 11-hour drive to Flagstaff AZ, our jumping-off point for the Grand Canyon.

Even with two of us driving, eleven hours is a long, long time to be on the road.  This involves taking Interstate 70 west into Utah, then U.S. 191 south past Moab and eventually on to U.S. 160 and U.S. 89 in Arizona.  While the U.S. routes are generally good roads, it’s not like through route driving on the interstate.  You have to slow down to go through a lot of towns, which is great for scenic charm and not-so-great for making time.

But then I noticed something else.  Taking this route (instead of, say, just taking I-25 out of Denver and picking up I-40 in Albuquerque) puts us very close to Four Corners Monument, the only place in the United States at which the borders of four states meet.  From what I’m reading, this is a nothing of a spot run by the Navajo nation, out in the middle of nowhere, sort of between Cortez CO, Shiprock NM and Bluff UT.  The monument’s website informs me that the nearest town is Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, about six miles away.  Tiny Teec Nos Pos has a general store containing an ATM machine, apparently quite popular with monument-goers who find themselves without the $5 per person entry fee.  The monument accepts cash only, no credit cards.

And what exactly does a visitor to Four Corners get for his or her five dollars?  Not much.  Clicking around on the web, I have learned that positioning one’s self in four distinct places at one time is a bucket list item for many.  It’s actually little more than a surveyor’s mark that was designed to settle a state boundary dispute back in the nineteenth century.  (And there are those who claim that the survey may have been off by anywhere from a few feet to two and a half miles, making the mark so frequented by tourists more symbolic than anything else.)  But for those like myself who have been geography buffs and amateur cartographers since childhood, it is a place full of significance and well worth a special trip out to the wild open spaces.

The concept of four corners has a long cultural history as a metaphor for defining the limits of things by precisely locating the outer edges.  My background in law has taught me that courts adjudicating contract disputes often refer to “the four corners of the document,” meaning the specific words of the contract, as opposed to “reading between the lines” or considering any external factors, such as the parties’ “course of dealing,” that could alter the document’s intent.  Cartographers of old believed that the earth was flat, had four corners, and that sailing too far into terra incognita could cause a ship to fall right off the edge of the planet.  This idea harks back to the Old Testament, with its Hebrew references to the dispersal of peoples al arbah canfot ha’aretz (“to the four corners of the earth”).

I suppose that, in this day and age of uncertainty when everything seems open to interpretation, some of us may find appeal in the prospect of setting limits and defining shapes that four corners would imply.  Then there is the uniqueness factor:  This is the only place in our whole wide nation where four states touch.  Thus, I’ve flipped through many online photos of visitors standing on the exact spot where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet, including several goofy shots of people doing backbends, pushups and headstands to twist their bodies into positions that reach all four states simultaneously.  I’m surprised that I’ve yet to see someone’s pet dog or cat in a “four paws” pose at the monument.

Reviewers on sites like Yelp gripe that the Four Corners Monument is a tourist trap and a ripoff, that the pit toilets stink, the Navajo staff is rude and the surrounding booths are full of overpriced Native American junk.  I saw a lot of complaints about having to wait in line in the broiling sun for half an hour just to take “the obligatory photo.”  However, I was pleased by several references to the fry bread and Navajo tacos that are prepared in front of you when ordered.

I found numerous comments to the effect that the site is entirely overrated and that it involves a two-hour detour for a ten-minute experience.  None of this deters me in the least from wanting to see this place.

The bottom line is this:  Is such a basic, no-frills experience worth turning an 11-hour drive into 13 hours on the road?  On one hand, if we’re already driving 11 hours that day, what’s the big deal about driving another two hours in order to have a memorable moment?  On the other hand, eleven hours of driving is utterly exhausting and the thought of having to leave Denver at 5:00 in the morning only to tack another two hours onto the trip is deflating, to say the least.  I just don’t know if it’s worth it.  After all, we are headed to the Grand Canyon, one of the true wonders of the natural world.

Then I think of my father, who has told me over and over, since I was five years old, about a trip he took to Montana during which he peed on the Continental Divide so that some of his urine would flow to the Atlantic Ocean and some to the Pacific.  Wanting to stand on the spot where four states meet seems more civilized by comparison.

The Verdict:  We’ll just have to see about this one.  Much as I’d like to, I just don’t know that we’re going to have the energy to pull it off.

Cape Cod in My Dreams

The 2016 Great American Escape

I leaf through a Triple-A Tour Book and I feel like a kid in a candy store.  So many places to go, so many things to see, so little time.

Today it’s the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island edition, nearly every page of which brings me back to my days of residing in New England, now several decades in the past.  And then, as I peruse the maps, the hotel and restaurant listings, the descriptions of state parks and historical sites, I am taken back even farther, to the days of my childhood.

The AAA travel series were called Tour Guides back then.  My parents weren’t AAA members, but my grandparents were.  Until they moved away from Connecticut to retire to Florida, they passed their castoffs on to me when they obtained the latest editions.  I cherished the Northeast volume with the cherry red cover (New York and New England) and the Mid-Atlantic States volume with the teal cover (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and D.C., with special New York City section).  I devoured the details of New England towns and cities incessantly until I wore the cover off the book.  I read selections aloud to my father, wondering whether we could visit these places someday.  I even copied down in longhand some of the descriptions from the Tour Guides onto pristine white sheets of typing paper purloined from my mother’s cabinet.  I was an eight year old geography buff who took pride in being able to draw state maps from memory, either in my special notebook (carefully colored, so as not to smudge the town names, courtesy of my box of 64 Crayolas) or on an Etch-A-Sketch.

Eventually, I resided in each of the three states covered in the Tour Book before me.  It’s difficult for me to believe that, just a few weeks hence, I will again set foot in these places that I so loved in the days of my youth.  I know they won’t be the same as they were back in the day, but I plan to drink up the experience nevertheless. This trip has been a quarter of a century in the making and I know very well that that it will never be repeated.

For now, the New England leg of our tour includes stops in several of my favorite locales:  Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island, Boston, the Maine coast and Springfield, Massachusetts.  En route, we hope to drive through some of the New Hampshire countryside and hit up the boutiques in Brattleboro, Vermont.

But as I flip through the Tour Book, I find one glaring omission staring me in the face.

What about Cape Cod?

There are a number of storied New England locations that I have yet to visit.  Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and yes, Cape Cod.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to drive Route 6 all the way up the peninsula to the sandy roads of Provincetown?

Oh, yes.  This we must do.  But how to squeeze it in between Rhode Island and Boston?  I don’t think it can reasonably be done.  If we are to truly soak in the funky shops, campy nightclubs and rainbow flags of P’Town, we need to devote at least an entire day to the experience.  It’s just not something that can be squeezed in on the way to Boston.  Perhaps the whole idea of visiting Cape Cod is unreasonable.  After all, the rocky coast of Maine beckons, and it’s a long, long drive back to California.

And yet . . .

I may never have another chance to do this again.  If I miss the Cape this time around, I know I will always regret what might have been.  Of course, we have to pick and choose.  We just can’t go everywhere.  And we’re already spending a ton of money to sleep in hotels for 27 nights.

I feel Cape Cod slipping away and I grab, clutch and claw in an attempt to hold onto it.  Clearly, there’s just one thing to do.

Wave the magic credit card and turn 27 nights into 28.

Provincetown or bust, baby.



Russian Hotel Roulette

The 2016 Great American Escape

In a recent post, I mentioned the sticker shock that my wife and I experienced upon searching for a reasonably priced hotel in Manhattan.  It did not take us long to realize that, at least in terms to which we are accustomed, there is no such thing.  Three hundred dollars a night appears to be the bellwether, with more chic accommodations going for many times that price.

At The Library Hotel, for example, a “petite room” with one full bed, not at all appropriate for two very large people (the website indicates “most suitable for one person”) goes for $305.15 per night, plus taxes and fees.  While I was intrigued by the hotel’s large book collection for which it is named (and from which guests may borrow for bedtime reading) and its midtown location right by the world-famous main branch of the New York Public Library, I must remind myself that this is considered a luxury hotel and far outside my budget.

So we started thinking about another really nice place that’s not in Midtown, the Bentley Hotel.  What’s that they say about location, location, location?  The farther away from Times Square, the cheaper, right?  It’s not like we wanted to stay in the Bronx or anything, but this hotel is in a decent upper east side neighborhood hard by the Queensborough Bridge.  We can deal with it!  Let’s check availability and rates.  (Gasp, gag)  $375.50 per night!

Clearly, this is not working.  Another approach is in order.  A friend of ours from the Central Valley who often ferries out of town tour groups around Manhattan tells me she either stays in New Jersey or uses the Hotel Tonight app to catch a same-day reservation on the cheap for an in-town room that would otherwise go vacant.  The latter choice will not work for us, as we want to have advance reservations, not wander around Manhattan wondering where we’re lay our heads for the night.  New Jersey is starting to look better and better.

I made a last ditch effort to stay in Manhattan by furiously clicking around until I found a hotel room on the Lower East Side that went for about $120 per night once tax and fees were added on.  “Only one room left!” the website warned.

“Quick, look at this!” I implored my wife.  She called up the place on her own laptop while I yanked my credit card out of my wallet and hurriedly entered my information.  After all, the web page said that eight others were looking at the room.  “I don’t know if I can do this fast enough,” I confessed as I harbored images of the screen flashing a laughing message:  “You lose, sucker!  Room booked by someone else 1.5 seconds ago.  Better luck next time!”

But that’s not what happened.  I successfully booked the room before it was gone.  “Whew!” I proclaimed in relief, congratulating myself on snagging such a good deal.  “Walking distance to Katz’s Deli,” the site assured me as the reservation confirmation hit my email box.  Great!  My wife wants to try out Katz’s (or at least gawk at the place) while we’re in town.

Only then did I take a look at the online reviews.  There were many of them, which I hoped would present me with a balanced picture.  Unfortunately, most of them said the same thing, in the most exclamatory of tones.  “Bedbugs!  Bedbugs!  Do not stay here!  Shitty sheets!  Blood on the sheets!  Bedbugs, bedbugs!”

I was crestfallen.  Oh, my God, how could I have been so stupid!  Of course, you’re going to get what you pay for.  (Or at least you won’t get what you don’t pay for.)  As if that weren’t bad enough, my wife could not believe the depth of my imbecility in having reserved through booking.com.  “You never go through those services!” she informed me.

Obviously, I am way out of my depth here.  I have to learn not to mess with things I so clearly do not understand.

The next evening, when I arrived home from work, I accessed the reservation and cancelled it.   Luckily for me, the screen assured me that there was no charge for cancellations at least 48 hours in advance.  It was still a month in advance, so I was good.

So where are we going to stay in New York?  Well, it looks like Manhattan is out, so New Jersey it is.  I found a trucker motel for $60 a night plus tax near the Pulaski Skyway.  Memories returned of my father’s old Rambler breaking down there one night when I was about ten years old, with the trucks whizzing by while Dad cursed and tried to figure out what was wrong with that piece of crap car this time. Let’s see, there’s Tonnele Avenue to Routes 1 and 9, that’s close to the Turnpike, right?  Near the Holland Tunnel?  I’m sure I can figure it out.

Ultimately, my wife found us a better answer.  We booked into a very nice chain hotel in my hometown in Rockland County, about 40 minutes from Midtown and right by the New York Thruway.  Hot breakfast included, even a refrigerator and a microwave in the room.  Decidedly lacking in some of the finer New York amenities, such as bedbugs.

One of these days, I will learn to trust my wife’s judgment in all practical matters and stay the heck away from expensive, messy errors.

I may have learned this lesson a little too late, however.  This evening, our Visa bill turned up with a charge for a two-night stay at Bedbug Heaven.

And that, my dears, is the reason that mistakes are so painful.  No matter how hard you try, they can never be fully corrected.


“Cost of Living” is a Relative Term

I read an interesting article today that claims one must earn at least $100,000 annually just to get by living in a major international city such as New York, London or Tokyo.  To live comfortably, the article states, one must earn $200,000 annually.

And I thought California was expensive.

The author points to an interesting dichotomy that illustrates the vast differences in living standard that occupation and location can entail.  While, on one hand, earning $100K annually would place one within the top 10% to 15% of incomes in the United States, on the other hand, incomes of that caliber are now standard in New York City for a first year finance industry associate, doctor or lawyer.  And about that seemingly elusive $200K income?  Pretty much the norm for a 30- to 32-year old second year associate in one of the above-mentioned professions.

Don’t choke on your beverage, please.  Breathe.

I am not sure how to place this information in perspective.  I have a law degree and have worked in management for decades but don’t earn a fraction of those six-figure incomes.  But at least I have a job.  Of course, I’m a do-gooder who works in the public sector and I reside in Sacramento, not New York.  The cost of living here, which seems sky high to me, is nowhere near what one must bear to live, say, two hours down the road in San Francisco.

Growing up in New York, I never thought about money.  I know I didn’t have adequate appreciation for the fact that my parents each worked demanding jobs in the public schools and, together, probably just earned enough to get by.  This was true even though the price of their brand new 1967 station wagon was $2,700 and the price of a new home on a ¾ acre lot was about ten times that.  Most people couldn’t swing that kind of money and, like my aunt and uncle, continued for decades to live in tiny, roach-infested, rent-controlled apartments from which you could walk to the subway.  When my parents were just about ready to finish their 30-year suburban mortgage, they sold their house and moved to California.  By that time, the house was already starting to fall apart.  But that was more than 20 years ago, and the couple to whom my parents sold their house still own it, according to Zillow.  I’ll drive by it when we’re in New York next month and let you know what it looks like these days.

When I graduated from college in 1980, I applied for a job in New York City that came with a salary of $5,000 annually.  My father told me not to bother with it, as it would cost me that much just to commute from our suburban home, where I was living for free, into Manhattan every day.  I would essentially be working for nothing, donating my labor.  Instead, I took a job at a local print shop, pulling night shift for more than twice what I would have earned in the city.  After a year, I moved over to a union shop that paid more than eight dollars an hour.  I thought I was rich.

How times have changed.

To counterbalance the inflated salaries earned by professionals in New York (and to counteract the effects of my agape visage that was letting in flies), I read another article about how some New Yorkers get by on an income of zero.  You read that right, zero.  And I’m not talking about homeless individuals, either.

There will always be resourceful people who manage to “squat” in vacant apartments.  I imagine that the temptation to go this route must be high among low- or no-income New Yorkers who are willing to rough it a little (or a lot).  I think of the Manhattan home that author Jeannette Walls’ mother made for herself (as described in Walls’ best selling memoir The Glass Castle).  She was a freegan, also known as a dumpster diver, as was Marie, the zero-income New Yorker described in the article linked to above.  Marie was not a squatter, but instead had a great living situation in a three-story home.  She took care of the place and, in return, was allowed to live there for free.  So, technically, The Guardian is incorrect in characterizing Marie as having had no income.  Although she did not receive a paycheck, she obtained what the IRS calls “in kind income.”  Then again, I doubt that Marie, who was in this country illegally, ever paid a dime in federal, state or city taxes.

Most industrialized nations do not have a homelessness problem on the scale that the United States does.  This is partially due to the fact that, in most countries, you don’t need a six-figure income to get by (nor does one need that kind of income in many areas of the United States).  Another factor is that the deeply-ingrained American consumerist culture doesn’t exist in many parts of the world, so the concept of “getting by” has an altogether different meaning there than it does here.  Yet another factor is that most developed nations recognize that having a roof over one’s head is a right, not a privilege.

Unlike in Sacramento, municipal law in New York City does recognize a right to housing, even if that means sending an entire family to squeeze into a tiny motel room out in the hinterlands by JFK Airport.  Of course, New York still has a large homeless population, among which are many who are mentally ill and/or are alcoholics or addicts who are unwilling or unable to follow the rules by which one must abide to remain in a shelter or other city housing arrangement.

My father longs for the old days, when no one received a handout and everyone was entitled to exactly what their earnings would purchase and not a penny’s worth more.  He told me that he likes the way that the homeless were summarily driven in a police car to the city limit and informed that if they ever returned, they would receive free housing in a jail cell.  My thought was:  This explains “hobos.”  You had to move from place to place if no place would allow you to stay.

I’m glad we live in a (somewhat) more compassionate society today.  Here in Sacramento, homelessness seems to have blown up as a major issue in the news lately.  This is at least partially attributable to the publicity surrounding the destruction of homeless encampments by law enforcement both here and in the Central Valley (Sacramento has an “anti-camping” ordinance).  It also helped that some of those displaced by the police demonstrated their ire by camping out at city hall.  Many were arrested but, upon release, immediately returned to city hall with their sleeping bags or tents.  Out came the TV camera crews and, all of a sudden, homelessness is in the news again.  While homelessness is right under our noses every day, we choose to ignore it in “emperor’s new clothes” fashion.  So it is refreshing that homelessness has lately become a popular topic of discussion in our local area.

I often make self-deprecating remarks about the fact that I live in a two-room mouse hole and pay handsomely for the privilege.  But at least I don’t have to own a sleeping bag or a shopping cart and I don’t have to lie down on the sidewalk in the rain and the cold, as many do downtown each evening.

And I don’t have to get my dinner from a dumpster.


North Carolina is a Disgrace

I’m a married, heterosexual male and I like it that way.  But my gosh, I cannot believe the discrimination against the LGBT community, and against transgender individuals in particular, that still exists in this modern day and age.  It makes no sense to me whatever.

There are undoubtedly some who remain unpersuaded by arguments for tolerance based on love.  In other words, there will always be some who prefer to hate.  I thought things had begun to change, perhaps only because that’s how it looks on the surface when political correctness drives ugly attitudes underground.  So it’s disappointing to me when the black crud deep in some of our hearts shows up in the light of day.

That’s exactly what happened in North Carolina last week when the legislature rammed through House Bill 2 and the governor quickly signed it into law.  As my mother would say, “you should be ashamed of yourselves!”

HB 2 is North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.  Broadly, the law bans local governments, such as cities and counties, from enacting nondiscrimination laws.  Only the state can do that now.  The true purpose of the law was to void Charlotte’s city ordinance that allowed anyone to use the rest rooms and changing rooms of the gender with which he or she identifies.  Indeed, HB 2 specifically provides that people may only use public rest rooms assigned to their biological sex, defined as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

So what does this mean for those transitioning to the opposite gender in North Carolina?  They can be arrested for using a public rest room reserved for the gender with which they identify.  Even those who have fully transitioned risk arrest unless they have had their birth certificates changed.

I am proud to say that I haven’t darkened North Carolina’s door in more than 20 years.  I hope I never do so again.  I find HB 2 to be full of hate, blatantly discriminatory and, most of all, devoid of common sense.  The yahoos in North Carolina’s state government think just the opposite, as is evidenced by Gov. Pat McCrory’s tweet to the effect that he had to stop Charlotte’s ordinance because it “defied common sense.”

I’m pretty sure that I’d be thrown in the slammer if ever I visited North Carolina.  As a man who, thanks to an unfortunate genetic condition, has breasts, I fully expect a fellow user of the men’s room to run out screaming and call the cops to arrest me for daring to use the “wrong” rest room.  I guess I’d have to walk around carrying my birth certificate as proof of my gender.  Of course, I could just drop my pants, but even that wouldn’t satisfy the requirements of the law.

A note to the sane Democrats in the North Carolina Senate:  We appreciate your good intentions, but it really did not do anyone a bit of good to walk out in protest and allow Republican bigots to unanimously approve this bill.  Yes, we know you would have lost anyway, but at least we’d have your “nay” votes on record.

In defending the law, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore referred to the need to protect women from sexual predators who would show up in the women’s rest room if Charlotte and likeminded cities were permitted to enact equal access rest room ordinances.  After all, we know that all sexual predators are men and that they will uniformly take the opportunity to claim that they are transitioning from male to female and identify as women for the sole purpose of stalking women in various states of undress.  I suppose this is borne out by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s comments last year about his wishes that, back in high school, he could have claimed to identify as a woman so that he could shower in the girls’ locker room.  Oh, well, boys will be boys, right?  After all, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy astutely pointed out, the only things we men want to do is “drink a beer and see something naked.”

This patronizing inclination to protect women who are obviously defenseless (even in a gun-loving southern state) is a bit of gender objectification that reminds me of pre-Loving v. Virginia anti-miscegenation laws designed to protect “the flower of [white] Southern womanhood” from being sullied by black men.  I fail to see the difference in gravity between discrimination on the basis of race and discrimination on the basis of gender.

It’s all about fear, of course.  Hate of every stripe always is.  Lack of understanding, fear of the unknown, antipathy to anyone or anything different than we are.

Hopefully, the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been quick to boo North Carolina’s deplorable shenanigans, will see to it that the federal courts find HB 2 unconstitutional.  While the lawsuit is making its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, any Tar Heel State obstetrician who takes seriously the Hippocratic Oath to “first, do no harm” should commit to refusing to fill out the gender portion of any birth certificate.

That’ll royally screw up the state’s vital statistics.

North Carolina deserves nothing less.


Men Get Mammograms, Too

Today I experienced something that few men ever do.  I had my first mammogram.

Yes, men do get breast cancer. About one out of every thousand males is so diagnosed.  This translates to only about 1% of all breast cancer cases.  Granted, this is nothing compared to the one out of every nine women who find themselves with breast cancer at some time of their lives.  But neither does it mean that we men are exempt because of our gender.

I had been warned that getting a mammogram is uncomfortable.  For me, however, the chief source of discomfort was being a man stepping into a woman’s world.  You feel like an intruder, like you don’t belong there.  A woman in a paper gown steps out into the corridor and I instantly avert my eyes.  I remind myself:  This is a medical procedure, this has been approved by my doctor, this is for my own good.  (Shudder)

I grit my teeth and navigate the bureaucracy that is Kaiser.  I go to the location where my doctor sees patients and get my unrelated bloodwork done.  Then I step into radiology and “take a letter” (a laminated ticket marked by a letter rather than a number).  I suddenly get the feeling that I am in the wrong waiting area and walk back to check.  It appears that the outer room is the “waiting room” and the inner room the “waiting area.”  I go back and sit down.  I read work email on my phone and play a few Words with Friends turns until I hear “Letter F!”

I return to the counter in the narrow vestibule.  “What’re you here for?” asks the woman behind the cutout window.  Having been listening to other patients come and go, I know the choices are X-ray, ultrasound or mammogram.  Still, I am tempted to answer “second degree larceny and committing lewd acts with a chicken.”

“I am here for a mammogram,” I tell her.  Words I never thought would escape my mouth in all my days on earth.  Ms. Kaiser makes a face and then quickly recovers herself.  I can hear her thinking “You have got to be kidding me, son.”

“Men have to get mammograms sometimes, too,” I blurt out.  I read my medical record number off my phone, which I have now provided so many times that I should have the darned thing memorized.

She spends an inordinate amount of time studying something on her screen.  She turns around and consults with another employee.  “You’re gonna have to go to Point West.  We can’t do it here.  There has to be a radiologist present and we don’t have one here.”

Dismissed.  Welcome to the wonderful world of managed care.

“The wait is an hour to an hour and a half.  You want me to make you an appointment?”  I say yes and she calls over there, but it just rings and rings.  When she tells me that they don’t answer their phone, I reply that I’ll just go and wait.

“I need the address, please,” I tell her.  I’m still new to Kaiser and unfamiliar with their dog and pony show.  She writes something on the back of a card and I make a hasty retreat.  My wife is waiting on a bench just outside the front doors and I give her the news that we have to trek clear across town.  I decide not to mention how long we will have to wait, as she is already pissed off because she is drowning in work and should be at home on her laptop doing it.  I hand her the card.  This isn’t the first time that I’m glad she grew up in Sacramento.  I seldom drive and basically have no clue how to get from Point A to Point B.  Yes, I know, we’ve lived here for a year already and I should get off my butt and learn how to get around.

On the drive over, I decide to face the music.  “I’m probably going to have to wait a really long time,” I sheepishly admit.

“You don’t know that!” my wife snaps back.  She knows how pessimistic I tend to be about everything.  “Yes, I do,” I protest.  “They told me it might be up to 90 minutes.”

My wife drops me off at the Point West facility entrance and I hike down a long corridor to radiology.  This time I’m dealing with a male employee.  I breathe a sigh of relief and hope he’ll be more sympathetic than they were at Fair Oaks.

No such luck.  I tell him I’m there for a mammogram, which, despite assurances from my doctor, they would not do at the other location.  I tell him a radiologist has to be present and I practically throw the card at him.  He looks at me like I’m from outer space.  He consults several times with a female colleague.  Turns out he doesn’t know what code to enter in the computer.  Apparently “mammogram” is not a choice on the screens for male patients.  That’s Kaiser for you.  Thrive, my ass.

Is this an initial?  Yes.  Diagnostic?  Did you feel a lump? Do you have discomfort?  Any breast cancer in your family?

Just when I think they’re going to send me away, the two employees finally figure out how to do some kind of manual override.  “I was told I don’t have to have an appointment,” I whine.  I really don’t want to have take time off of work (and have my wife take time off from her work because I don’t know where the hell I’m going) to come back another day.  Okay, let’s be honest, I just want to get this done because I don’t want to have to go through it all over again.

Having parked the car, my wife shows up just as I arrive in the waiting room.  She is getting upset because her work isn’t getting done and she believes that I don’t respect her time, which is quite reasonable considering a stupid thing I did recently.  I have sleep apnea and have a CPAP machine to help me breathe at night.  The thing is old and decrepit and needs to be replaced.  I have an appointment for the equipment to be examined next week at yet a different Kaiser location.  I asked them if I could just send my wife with the equipment and they said no, the patient has to be present.  My wife was pissed that I would even ask such a thing and she is 100% right.  I amaze myself at the depth of my idiocy sometimes.

Just like in the other place, neither my wife nor I am quite sure that we’re in the right waiting room.  But in just a few minutes, the door to the inner sanctum opens and a technologist with a heavy eastern European accent calls my name.  She walks me to the examining room, where I find that she is as confused as everyone else.

“How long have you had Kleinfelter’s Disease?” she asks me as she looks at my medical record.  I am appalled at her ignorance, but try to be polite because, after all, this woman is about to handle my breasts.  Um, yeah, she could hurt me.  I explain that it is a syndrome, not a disease, a chromosomal disorder that one has from birth and that gynecomastia is a common symptom, often suppressed by testosterone therapy, which ironically increases the odds of breast cancer.  Some of the literature discusses the advantages of having a mastectomy.  This is something, like breast cancer, that I prefer not to think about.  Not yet, anyway.  Thoughts of chemotherapy, my hair falling out and getting sick at work in front of management flash before my eyes.  I shake it off and remind myself that this is just routine, preventative.  Pull yourself together and get this done.

The procedure itself is no big deal.  She smashes me pretty well into that machine, which is what I fully expect based on the sign on the wall announcing “We compress because we care.”  The Nick Lowe song “Cruel to be Kind” starts playing in my mind.

“I torture people all day long,” the tech reassures me.  Just where is that accent from?  Poland?  Ukraine?  Chechnya?  Just before I went in I had pulled out my phone to find that I had a missed call from someone in, of all places, Russia.  One of sadistic Ms. I Love Torture’s relations, perhaps?

“Don’t breathe,” she tells me each time she gets my breast in just the right position to take the next picture.  After repositioning me several times on one side and then repeating the exercise on the other, it is over.  She tells me to wait while she takes the pictures out to be examined by a radiologist.  Five minutes later she returns and tells me that they didn’t find anything and I don’t have to go for an ultrasound.  I put my shirt back on and prepare to get the hell out of there.

“Come back any time you want me to torture you some more,” the tech tells me as she disappears around a corner.

Men as well as women are encouraged to perform breast self-examinations on a regular basis.  Learn about the warning signs of breast cancer in men here.