Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for June 2012

Nora Ephron always along for the ride

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Nora Ephron has accompanied me on many commutes — most recently, reading me on download her latest book of essays, “I Remember Nothing.” She died yesterday at age 71. The cause was pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She could always make me laugh and make me think. (Not to mention she knew who Deep Throat was before ex-husband Carl Bernstein ever revealed the secret. Ha!)

I was reading her before 1973 and Watergate, and I passed on my love of her work to my children. So her legacy will continue. Daughter Laura and I talked of her death last night, just minutes after husband John hollered out to me on the porch to tell me the news.  Son Travis and I spoke about her screenplay work this morning. “You’ve Got Mail” is a famous Christmas tradition around my house because of all the great lines about writing in that movie. Before my family ever saw the movie, they knew my love of a well-sharpened No. 2 pencil and of my enthusiasm for the crisp pluck of a typewriter key. I still have my Royal from sixth grade, prominently displayed at home.

Nora Ephron also wrote “Silkwood,” one of my most famous stories that I ever covered for the Beaumont Enterprise.  Karen Silkwood was from the big city of Nederland, Texas. I interviewed her dad, the reporter she was heading to meet when she was killed and spoke often with the union rep who is portrayed in that movie.  I also used the story of covering this story in my teaching days at University of Houston. Her dad was my toughest interview ever. They had not been that close, and he had blown up Karen’s driver’s license photo as large as possible, framed it and had it hanging over the couch in the very dark living room.  I can still see that room in my head. Bleak.

Nora Ephron foreshadowed her death a bit with these lists at the end of “I Remember Nothing.” They are worth repeating in her honor:

What I Won’t Miss

Dry skin

Bad dinners like the one we went to last night


Technology in general

My closet

Washing my hair



Illness everywhere

Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism



The collapse of the dollar

Joe Lieberman

Clarence Thomas

Bar mitzvahs


Dead flowers

The sound of the vacuum cleaner


E-mail. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it.

Small print

Panels on Women in Film

Taking off makeup every night

What I Will Miss

My kids





The concept of waffles


A walk in the park

The idea of a walk in the park

The park

Shakespeare in the Park

The bed

Reading in bed



The view out the window

Twinkle lights


Dinner at home just the two of us

Dinner with friends

Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives


Next year in Istanbul

Pride and Prejudice

The Christmas tree

Thanksgiving dinner

One for the table

The dogwood

Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan



Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

Biking at high noon in Texas

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There comes a time in every woman’s life when tube tops are never appropriate . . . or even helpful.  However, as a biker in the Texas heat, I can’t quite give them up. I depend on going fast so that I don’t make a spectacle of myself. And, if I stop at the library or somewhere along the way, I have a t-shirt in my bag to toss on over my sweatiness.

When I ride these days, I sweat. And anything I can do to stay a bit cooler is in my bag of tricks. Any loose hair on my neck gets me crazy; my feet get heavy and hot in my shoes and socks. I double up on my water but am careful to head home when I’ve gone through half. Typically, I have plenty of ice in my water because, even if I don’t mind my water warm, I can’t swallow it when it’s boiling. And, on the way home, my water can get pretty hot. 

The good news about a bike ride in the Texas summers is the peace you can find. There is no easier way to be alone than at high noon on a bike trail anywhere near Houston, Texas.  The creatures are fewer at high noon but the sounds are louder. Birds chirp from the deep, cool shadows of the dark forest. Bugs squeak, and the rabbits rustle loudly through the dry, crisp grass.

The butterflies don’t seem to mind the heat and flutter in and out of the sunlight. The redbirds like to fight and play in the dry dirt.  And the squirrels lay across the greenbelt with their bellies on the concrete.

Kingwood has wonderful and cool greenbelts with shade that covers many of my paths.  I dart in and out of the shades and never mind much what time of day I’m biking.

All my paths are planned based on never getting on a real road.  I go out of my way to take underpasses and bridges that keep me out of the traffic. This is not best for bikers who want to get up speed. However, I prefer safety to speed; I prefer nature to exercise.

Big Johnny has provided the slideshow above so that you can get a feel of being along on a ride with me and Streak at high noon.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Vinny gets a good checkup

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Vinny gets a kiss

I read these numbers and weep. My next

* Oil change is due at 166,017 miles.

* Fuel filter at 178,617 miles.

  • * Timing belt at 208,496.

Wow! Will we make it to 200,000; the possibility today seems as good as ever. Certainly better than when Vinny was stuck – unable to crank – on rooftop parking after “Million Dollar Quartet,” and my girlfriends and I had to double up in Jan’s van for the drive home to Kingwood.

When you are a road warrior like Vinny, you never miss a checkup. You always change your fluids and rotate your tires. And you depend on your mechanics.

We visit Derrick and Dan at Kingwood Service Center many Saturdays. We have a drill where I call, and they know Vinny will be at their doorstep the next morning for first business service. Most everyone at this bustling “garage” know Vinny and me both by sight – even the guys in the way back and the new guys. I step in, and they call my name and  my car type . . . Nissan Xterra. Is it ready? Bring it around? I trust them with my life . . . Actually, I trust them every day of my life because I drive Vinny to the big rowdy city every day and expect to get home in one piece.

Last time Vinny had trouble – on theater night that I mentioned above – they sent someone to rescue him and he was 30 miles away from their home base. I never worried (much) as I slept comfy in my bed and got up to make it to work on time while he was repaired. When I called to check on him, I said only, “hello.” Dan immediately responded with my name and told me he would see what was happening with the Xterra. (They know he’s named Vinny but they never call him that. Maybe it’s a mechanic thing because I know men who have names for their cars. Or maybe it’s a customer thing because, as much as I love these guys, we don’t hang out together except at the Service Center.)

When Vinny passed his last inspection, I think Dan was as excited as I was. He called to say, “Mrs. Hensley, I think you’ve got at least another year.” I wept; he laughed. We were both happy.

These guys know how much Big Johnny and I have spent to keep four adult commuters on the roads of the Big City. They have helped us find at least six used cars – priced under about $6,000 – as the kids started driving. It builds a relationship with a service center when you are trying to keep used cars on the road. Then, of course, they recommended the Xterra when my green mom-mobile was petering out.

Today was a good day for Vinny and me. He is good to go for another 3,000 miles. It was also nice to see Derrick and the regulars at the service center. It always is. It’s time to bring them another nice basket of cookies and cigars.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 9, 2012 at 9:02 am

Commuting isn’t always about the drive

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If you are a hearty commuter like me, you love to drive but you love to drive efficiently. My hours at home are precious and few so I get my errands done on both sides of the drive. And, when I’m home, I’m going nowhere.

On either side of the commute, I may stop by the cleaners or drop gently used clothes off at Goodwill, Society of St. Stephens or Star of Hope — all of which can easily be on my route.  Gas is always an adventure, and I have many favorite stops, some for cheap gas, and others for special treats like those new Dr Peppers with 10 calories.

Groceries used to be a big part of my commute but I’m boycotting Kroger this year. It’s not because I don’t like Kroger; it’s because I’ve done a lifetime of grocery shopping already.  Kroger is like Cheetos, I’ve had enough. Of course, I can’t always skip Kroger any more than I can skip Cheetos.

Here’s how it goes for me most days. I am in the car at 7 a.m. for what should be my 28-mile, little bit less than an hour commute. I always have to have a glass of water and most days have some strong coffee from home or else stop for a latte, two Sweet ‘n’ Los from Starbucks. Of course, I know the folks there and lately staff has been changing. My latte turned out to be a venti hot chocolate the other day, and I’ve been put off ever since. I’ve been trying a new Starbucks but may, in fact, be done with them, too. It doesn’t take much to change my habit. And I’m a big city commuter. Lots of gas stations, coffee shops and breakfast treats along my way, so I can drop you like a hot potato in the wink of a poor service smile.

My current commute errand is a passel of old prom dresses, bridesmaid’s dresses, choir gowns, etc., that I cleaned out of my daughter’s closet the other day. I’m hoping to get them to the cleaners for some permanent storage situation so that she can have them for her future daughter’s dress up days. Meanwhile, I get sidetracked and my back seat is overstuff with sparkles and satin. My co-workers have got to be suspicious of what they find in the backseat of my car some days. This is perhaps the most beautiful, by far.

Of course, I can’t help but play games in my head about what I COULD do with these dresses. And, as you know, I’m a bit of a soft touch for the homeless around Houston. I went through a phase where I handed out umbrellas to the homeless on rainy days. This makes me wonder . . . But then, I know my daughter – who travels these same streets, too – would be pretty dismayed to find her favorite prom dress on an unfortunate Houstonian in in line for free breakfast some day.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm