Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for October 2012

When your young wife turns into an old man and other Halloween tales

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In my commute on both two and four wheels, I’ve watched the Halloween decorations spring up to keep me entertained on my sometimes monotonous routes. Some are more subtle and classy, if you will, while others are full-blown graveyards and harrowing sights. I’ve always loved Halloween, tricks and treats and this trend of effusively decorating for this holiday is fun for me.

In my girlhood, Halloween was quite an adventure. We wore homemade costumes, ran the roads and filled pillow cases with enough candy to keep all the dentists in town in business. I passed on the tradition to my kids, and the real celebrating began with elaborate and creative costumes, roaming the roads again and candy limits for a generation who never experienced cavities.

As Big Johnny, our Commuter Chronicles photographer, and I went looking for fun photos to share, we told old ghost stories and tales of Halloweens past and were reminded of one of my favorite pranks that he will tell you I didn’t quite pull off.

It was the golden era of the Fourth Estate in the years right after Watergate and when everyone was an investigative reporter. I was covering police or maybe still writing obituaries for the Beaumont Enterprise when one of our most ambitious reporters received a death threat. That’s right. Pretty dramatic, huh? I can’t even remember the story or the reporter, but I can remember the mask that had been stuck with a knife to the reporter’s apartment door.

It was paraded around the newsroom for its realistic and amazing appearance. Remember, this was back in the day when an authentic-looking mask was not so common. This one was quite fleshy and very scary. A bald old man with a tuft of white hair, sticking out of the top of his head.

I don’t know how I convinced the newsroom troublemakers to let me take it home because they were a crew right out of the movie, “The Front Page.” But, I won the prize that day and got to bring it home for my prank on Big Johnny.

I hid it away in my briefcase, put the briefcase beside our bed and kept mum as we turned in for the night. My plan was to wake up a bit early for our usual morning classes at Lamar University where we were maybe sophomores or juniors, and John was playing football. So, you’ve got to give me credit for still being pretty young and still a kid, even though a married lady with a big high powered career at a daily newspaper with the likes of all sorts of future famous folks.

And, in fact, the prank went off perfectly. I woke up a bit earlier than John, slipped the mask out its hiding place and put on this realistic old man face over my young Lois Lane reporter face. I pulled the covers up to my chin so that when John saw me, he would think he was in the sack with a scary old bald guy. Ha!!

Minutes passed, and I began to realize I would have a problem. I didn’t count on having breathing difficulties in the close-fitting mask. But, the next thing John knew, he had a heavy breathing bald guy in the bed next to him, making enough noise to wake the dead. And that’s how the story goes. John was not scared, of course. He thought I’d lost my mind, of course, and we got a good laugh. Then, he put the mask on himself and headed over to the football dorm to scare all his teammates.

An excellent Halloween idea if the execution was a bit of a misfire.

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Saying goodbye to saying goodbye

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As someone once said to me, “You should be a lot more rich or more famous by now.” Thelma has plenty of time for both.

This week, one of my all-time favorite co-workers left my side for a new and wonderful adventure. I am melancholy, of course, but it’s been far easier than many of my past goodbyes. I give credit to the internet for that change in my emotions. She’s a pretty regular Facebooker who reads my blog, texts me, sends me photos of her girls as they are growing up and who routinely shares interesting and exciting ideas with me.  She will be in my life every day just as many of you are.

I wake up and check my Facebook to see what’s going on with my friends and my family. I comment often and “like” even more. I see my Facebook friends daily, I know them intimately and I tell them what I’m thinking frequently. They are in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and California, and they travel often to more states and countries, leaving me messages and beautiful pictures. They do not live on my block. I have no Millie and Jerry Helper to John’s and my, Rob and Laura Petrie, something I’ve always longed to have since the first days when, as a dreamy girl, I fell in love with the lives I saw on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

Then I go to Twitter to get my news from selected sources who also happen to be my friends. Because of my newspaper background, I’ve chosen writers and sources who I know personally and trust some, depending on how many late night war stories we told in the golden days of the Fourth Estate. I look at YouTube for laughs for the day.

I have an iPad, a smart phone and a husband who has tried all the notebooks before landing on the iPad, too. I have two kids who were born in the techy era and who take photos and videos far easier than they write letters or even thank you notes.  I keep up with them via text, knowing that my son won’t respond unless I ask a question and that my daughter will respond always.  My niece sends me shopping and fishing photos and another co-worker texts me photos of her new baby’s smiles.

As a former columnist for the Houston Chronicle, I once wrote that I never intended to be the type of parent who kept my children locked in my generation. I would embrace their music, their movie heroes and let them live in the world as it is today and not as it was “in my day.”

As an adjunct professor at the University of Houston, I argued with the tenured professors that “yes” our students should be allowed to use spell check and grammar check.  Why not let them start here, I said, using my hands to indicate a higher mark than where we started when we had to be accurate spellers and grammarians. I argued they would go much farther in the theoretical learning cycle when they started with the tools of today. P.S. I lost that battle and the spell check was turned off for Reporting I and Reporting II classes.

I propose a new experiment for the neuroscientists of today who study memory. How is this new generation of communications affecting our remembrances and the health of our brains?  My memories are keener because I have my friends from the past along to remind me of details they remember that I don’t. My stories are more complete when I start a post on Facebook and someone who was there who is now my Facebook friend fills in the details from his or her perspective.

This happened recently when I recalled the toughest interview of my life with Karen Silkwood’s father, back in the ’80s.  The photographer who was with me began filling in the details, and my mind expanded to think of more and more images from that dark living room in Nederland that had the single adornment of her driver’s license photo blown up one thousand times as large as possible. I still wonder, if they were as so close as he said, why this was the only photo of his daughter he had.

Today, I work on a team and recently passed on to our team leader the differences in how I reach my fellow teammates after work hours. Two are by Facebook, one is by text and the fourth is by telephone. They are all pretty available if you know their preferred communication technique.

So before I post this blog, I will message Thelma that I am writing about her . . . again. I will tell her it’s not smarmy and she will like that because Thelma is not the sentimental marshmallow that I am. I won’t even say she has been the Ethel to my Lucy because she has been far more effective than Ethel ever was at keeping Lucy out of trouble. She has been my rock — an excellent foil for my high strung and creative soul. I’d say she’s helped channel my energy and intelligence for good instead of evil, and the world has been a safer place because of her.

She will be fine with being the subject of this blog because she knows me and knows how much I admire her and how much I wish her well. My co-workers are in my life because my life is so much about my work. I don’t separate the two. And when they become friends, they can now be friends for life — no matter where their office or home is located.

Just because I have left the newspaper business or Michigan or even my hometown of Port Neches, doesn’t mean I’ve said goodbye. The only thing I’ve said goodbye to  is saying goodbye.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 20, 2012 at 9:04 am

Tribute to a friend in the passenger seat

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Parker’s legacy continues after his death

Let me start with how glad I am that Michael Brandman is writing the new “Jesse Stone” novels after the death of all-time favorite Robert B. Parker, who most is known for creating the “Spenser for Hire” detective series that became a successful television show. Some of the Jesse Stone novels have been made into television shows, too, and Brandman was a collaborator while Parker was alive.

Parker has been missed since 2010 when he died at his desk while writing. He had written 70 novels in his 77 years on earth, a superhero statistic for a writer like me. I’ve read or listened to every one of them – some of them two and three times from back in the days of cassette and then CDs of audible books and when audibles were so hard to come by.

My commuting time is frequently my reading time now that audible downloads are so available. This gives me two hours of reading every day, allowing me to keep up with best sellers and favorites. And, when I get in bed with a book these days and fall asleep in the first 10 minutes, I don’t have to worry that I’m getting behind on my reading.

However, with the recent spate of vampire novels, knockoffs and other otherworldly creations, I’m having a hard time replacing my longtime crime novel favorites, especially with anything of substance. And yes, I’ve tried both “Hunger Games” and “50 Shades of Grey” and was entertained enough for the first one but didn’t quite feel like picking up the second or third. For my 10 hours and more of commuting, I need a bit of substance or Vinny will wander into the next lane and my road rage will take over.

When Parker died, I was reminded of the passing in 2005 of Ed McBain and was worried about the gap in entertainment that would be caused by another prolific and favorite writer’s passing. McBain is credited with some of the first police procedurals and introduced readers to the inner workings of cop life in big cities like New York. He was best known for his screenwriting that included most famously “The Birds.” I liked his “87thPrecinct” novels. There were 54 of them, and I read or listened to most. Others, I simply couldn’t find by the time I’d discovered him.

Ed McBain wrote “The Birds”

Both men have left a not easily filled gap in my reading. It takes me several tries to find new writers with new stories to hold my attention. Then, the new writers only complete a book a year if I’m lucky. And, I’m one to go through sometimes two books a week.

As I come to the conclusion of “Fool Me Twice,” I’m entertained enough to pick up the next one, but I also think it skirts the magic of Parker. I once had a fellow reader of kindred taste say this about Parker:

“I know there’s a lot of fluff and fun in Parker, but in every book there’s this one sentence that makes you pause. You read it and reread it and say to yourself ‘how true.’ That’s why I keep reading him. He always has one thing that makes me really think.”

I didn’t find that “one thing” in the new “Jesse Stone,” but I will look for it in the next.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 13, 2012 at 8:29 am

Shorter days and dangerous nights

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The bad news is I didn’t hop on Streak for my bike ride until almost sunset. The good new is it was a colorful, amazing sunset.

The bad new is that it is pretty cold because I still have on my summer biking gear. The good news is the stars pop out brighter when they aren’t dimmed by the heat from the Earth.

The bad new is I could only bike to the flat part of town that I call El Paso. The good new is the sky is 360 degrees like the inside of an umbrella and the way I learned  my constellations.

The bad new is I can’t see many birds at this time of night. The good news is their songs are more beautiful from the deep dark of the bushes.

The bad new is these riding mowers are throwing grass in my face. The good news is this one guy seemed to challenge me to a race, which I won. Hmmm. That one can go either way because surely Streak and I are faster than a guy on a riding lawn mower.

Let’s switch hands and try this for a change.

On the one hand, the kids in this neighborhood are urchins and like to trash talk me. On the other hand, they are riding bikes, playing sandlot baseball and sassing adults, reminding me of my own kid-hood days.

On the one hand, these folks have the biggest, barkiest dogs of any of my bike trails. On the other hand, I love dogs and don’t mind the barking because I get plenty of that at home.

On the one hand, this is a young neighborhood with plenty of screaming and crying babies. On the other hand, they aren’t my little kids and I can feel sorry for the exhausted adults. Also, some of the little kids and lonely parents like to wave at me — also fun.

On the one hand, I’ve gotten tired of my current book on tape for some reason and have lost track of the plot. I think it’s because James Lee Burke can get harsh in his characters, and work has been too busy to keep my mind on the intricate plot. On the other hand, I just got Louise Penny’s “Beautiful Mystery” on download from the Harris County Library and I can try it out. We can do a bad news and a good news with this one because I paid Audible for the one I’m not liking and got the new one for free from the library. Even Steven.

On the one hand, it got dark really quickly tonight and I would hate to be killed by a hectic soccer mom, careless teenager or distracted Houston commuter . On the other hand, I have this excellent headlight that charges up on my computer and is almost as bright as a car’s headlight.

On the one hand, the mosquitoes are out in full force after the sun goes down and it doesn’t take a half mile to discover that now it’s time to make my way home so I can use the other hand for swatting.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm