Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for May 2012

Accidental Three Stooges Adventure

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Folks will be surprised to learn that no matter how many times I bike these same suburban trails, I can still get lost. It happened today. The good news about getting lost is that I’m forced to bike longer because I have to find myself again. The bad news is I can end up in an accidental Three Stooges episode. My bike gets stuck in a rut, a limb almost bonks me on the head, I’m dive bombed by angry wasps or some junior high boys call me a penis-head. And typically I don’t even notice until I’m too gone to do anything about it.

This happens because I get caught up in my own head or a book download and because a lot of my trail will look the same no matter where I’m heading. When I listened to The Ruins, a surprisingly enthralling book by Scott Smith, I felt the trees close in on me and the nature noises mock me until I headed for the street and the comfort of company. My best exercise comes in the last hour or so of a book download, so that I can get close to the end of a story and jump on Streak. That way I won’t even care how far I ride.

I was reminded tonight of such a time on a night not unlike tonight. I was lost but my inner compass was heading us home. I was tired, sweaty and enthralled. I didn’t even realize I was about to get slapped by Moe until I came to the yellow tape across my path. A section had been re-paved and not yet ready for traffic. And yes, the thought of writing my name in the wet concrete crossed my mind but then I remembered I was a law-abiding citizen, gainfully employed with a Boy Scout husband and 2.0 adult children who needed a role model instead of a mom who likes to sass back when she’s called, “penis-head.”

I jumped off Streak and started pushing in the grass beside the greenbelt. It takes a bit longer for me to notice the police officer up ahead, shining his flashlight on two young men on my side of the wet concrete. Did I mention it was getting dark? Well, it was, but I wasn’t yet concerned because I had my very excellent headlight, purchased by Big Johnny Santa for me. It is a real cool techy deal that will recharge on my computer or most any such techy  device with a USB cord.

In any case, I finally start to pay attention. The young men are dressed in black pants and ties but I’m not stereotyping here because the cop clearly thinks they are trouble and not just spreading the Good Word. The officer is accusing them of fire-setting, dope-smoking and name-calling (penis-head?) when I realize my forward motion is about to bring me in the middle of things. The cop has been reluctant to cross the wet cement until I get there and the two boys start using me and Streak to keep the cop at bay. You’ve seen it with the Stooges and a table. Run round and round, fake to the left, go right. I’m the table. Whoa, Nellie.

Streak and I narrowly escape with our lives, lesson still unlearned. Because, once more, I get lost tonight in my neighborhood of 15 years on a bike I’ve ridden for 3,000 miles down the same path and the same road almost every day for three years.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 31, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Thanks for playing

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More than 1,000 views of Commuter Chronicles. Quite a landmark day for me. I never knew this would be so easy and fun. I actually started this series of columns for my friends when I started commuting to Houston about 15 years ago and after the economy got tight for my corporate journalism business. So I have been doing it before blogging was even a word much less a trend.

I had been freelancing and driving to Houston only a couple of times a week or in the evenings when I taught news writing at University of Houston.  Then, college started looming for my kids and my best seller boat had not come in. Besides, my tennis career seemed to be coming to an end with my Baby Boomer knees.

I like to think I was never a sellout from the Fourth Estate to the better paid world of hack journalism — first of all because I always have writing jobs of high interest and worthy public good and secondly because I have never been paid well enough to establish myself as a true hack.

Instead, I have changed with the times and left the world of journalism to a new generation of less objective and more visually pleasing folks. In my heyday of covering presidents and presidential campaigns, I hung out with famous television folks  Connie Chung and Leslie Stahl. It is ironic to look back on those days and tell those stories. Friends are surprised and want to know my opinion of such famous journalists.  Guess I can say it now. They were great and certainly beautiful. But truly, back in the day, I considered them lucky to be hanging out with me and not vice versa. I was the newspaper journalist of the Walter Cronkite variety. I knew the local traps to run and folks in the know. I was well read and objective. They needed my help. And, when I was too busy with some real reporting, I had to ditch coffee with Connie.  She needed to head over to makeup anyway.

Blogging is so much better than daily newspaper writing, though. No snarky editors to question your subject matter; no true deadlines except your own urge to write. I say. “cool beans” and recommend blogging for everyone.

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Folks along the way

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I see quite a smorgasbord of people on a daily basis in my commute from Kingwood to the Texas Medical Center. All ranks of wealth, race, religion, size, transport and crankiness.  Again, I think every one of them has a great story to tell. And, the empath in me – for a brief moment – takes a breath and leads that other life.

I see a businessman at a bus stop with his briefcase and his own thoughts, and I’m there with him – wondering what brought him here so early in the morning. Jobless?  New job? Where is his car in this vehicular town?

How about this beautiful old couple at the train stop in the heart of the medical center. How long have they been together? He has his umbrella in case of rain; she has a big bag packed full of special items to keep them safe and comfy during their day away from home. Where are their kids?  How prepared are they for this journey to the heart of healthcare?

The medical center regulars joke sometimes about the problems they see folks have as they traverse the arteries of the medical center. It’s not funny, of course, especially for those of us who know exactly where we are going. As soon as I get impatient with the car in front of me, I realize it is a patient probably seeking some life-saving cure for some dread disease. No need to rush. I can wait through another two or three green lights for you to decide where you are going.

Sometimes I play a little game that folks may consider a bit disrespectful. It’s called “homeless” or “volunteer.” Of course, most of the homeless I see in my urban commute are tragic figures, and I am not making light of a situation that is truly close to my heart and my own volunteer interests. However, when the folks line up for free breakfast at one of the churches in the medical center area, sometimes the volunteers can be casually dressed and the homeless may have a new change of clothes from the exact volunteers who are lined up with them. Thus, you get a lot of khakis and pullovers of the same folks.  I practice my observation skills by trying to spot that one tell-tale giveaway that this is a person who has no other place to stash his or her belongs.

I also drive by the engineers and other students who jog around Rice University for exercise. I fly my geek colors pretty high so again I’m not making fun when I say you can spot them. The fanny packs. The mismatched, tight shorts. The bad haircuts. The strange tie-back hair situations. Of course, they are smart and will make a fortune some day. Plus, they are exercising. I say, “Go get ‘em.”

Big Johnny took some beautiful photos of my commute so you can visit with some of the folks who make my drive entertaining every day.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 11, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Keeping road rage on down low with downloads

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I am perhaps the longest and most voracious audible book listener. This is what makes my commute enjoyable and keeps  my road rage under control. Whenever I start to tire of the commute, I think of it like this. How many hours did I spend reading on a daily basis? It was at least the two hours I typically spend in the car. Thus, my commuting time equals my reading time.

Today, I traveled down the roads of Norway with Jo Nesbo’s detective-hero Harry Hole (pronounced “hula” by my audible reader Thor Knai) in my latest favorite Scandinavia-noire. With my schedule, I seldom read but always listen. I’m also a fan of the Harris County Public Library and prefer to get my audible downloads free after first spending a fortune on cassettes and then another fortune on CDs.

I always was a reader, one time reading all the family World Books during a long boring summer. In elementary school, I always read every book in my classroom library. It was only in junior high when we had a separate library did I realize there were more books than I could ever possibly read. It was a rude awakening.

With my audible listening and my long commute, I’m back on track. I have a book club of friends who keep me current. Otherwise, I choose murder and mayhem. Some of my favorites are

  • Denise Mina
  • Val McDermid
  • P.D. James
  • Elizabeth George
  • Ken Follett
  • Louise Penny
  • Jacqueline Winspear
  • Robert Crais
  • James Lee Burke
  • Laura Lippman
  • Michael Connelly
  • John Grisham
  • Walter Mosley
  • James Patterson
  • All of the Kellermans including son Jesse

And that’s just who is in my current library from Harry, the Harris County system. Now, when someone asks if I’ve read something, typically, the answer is “yes.” Only in my case, I’ve listened to something.

View from inside the commute

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Sara and Teacup

Sara and Teacup

I only notice what’s going on inside Vinny when it comes time to valet park. This happens pretty routinely in Houston where parking is at a premium, and it happens to me a bit for my job where I end up at places like River Oaks Country Club or Junior League of Houston for gatherings of area philanthropists.

It takes a pretty confident soul to valet park Vinny. First of all, he’s bright red – unlike all the other black cars in line for fine dining. Yesterday, when I jumped out and handed the keys over, he had half a glass of tomato juice, several backs of envelopes with notes, household snail mail sorted in the foot wells and empty prescription containers everywhere.

That was the mess. More importantly, he’s filled with all the treasures of my life.

I live in my car. It’s my only personal space. Not even my home or my office are as much mine as is Vinny and the four walls that encase me on my commutes. I have the trappings of a well lived and fulltime life. I even have a contraption in the way back for sorting files, keeping supplies and other office replenishments. I am a writer, after all, and need plenty of paper, pens and pointedly sharpened pencils everywhere I go.

On my dashboard are two constant companions – Teacup and Sara. Teacup was given to me by my daughter many years ago when I complained that none of my real dogs liked to ride with me. I’ve always wanted a teacup-sized hound to accompany me on my travels. Thus, Laura bought me a stuffed Teacup about 10 years ago.

Sara the triceratops is the more recent addition and is from son Travis, giving siblings equal rivalry in my vehicle. Sara was saved from the backseat of Trav’s totaled Nissan truck after he was nearly pushed off an overpass by a Metro bus. Another story entirely.

Then, there’s all the mojo of my life. These are good luck charms and writings that I dare not throw away. A prayer that I appear to have tossed a dozen times. My autograph from Bruce Springsteen. A Polaroid from 1969 of Jesus’s image on the screen door on the house behind the local Western Auto.  

Then, there are the more practical items. Flippers and goggles for my swim days, a cooler for extra drinks, all kinds of chargers for various electronic devices, umbrella chair, umbrella, just in case cases.

And, of course, I always want to drive. So hop aboard. I can always shove this stuff over.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 3, 2012 at 11:56 am