Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for November 2012

Biking with a mission

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Biking with a mission.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Biking with a mission

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Blue Streak

On Sunday, I had a destination for my bike ride. It was a chore that needed to be done whether on two wheels or four. When my bike ride has a mission, I feel the rush of my native Texas roots. I take my trusty steed on a necessary errand. It inflames my pioneer blood and makes me feel independent of the trappings of modern convenience. I am a wanderer of Western heritage who faces the world with spirit, strength and independence. I saddle up, ride off into the sunset, and, in this case, head to Walgreens to buy Big Johnny some Mucinex for his terrible allergies.

I prefer a bike ride with a destination. I’ve traveled my same trails so frequently that it feels a bit new when I have a purpose in mind. I also embrace my inherent roots as — in the ’70s words of Carol King — a natural woman and — in the oaths from my days as a den mother and Girl Scout co-leader in the aurora environment of Michigan —  as a good scout who leaves the world a better place by my being here.

In my early days of biking and before the Harris County Public Library system provided downloads for audible books, I saved my Sunday afternoons for the 20-mile trip back and forth to the Atascocita Library. It is my closest library that is open on Sundays (Kingwood is not) so I would have my books on CD delivered to Atascocita for a Sunday pickup. Otherwise, it was tough to get to any library on weekdays before the typical closing time of 6 p.m. with my commute from the Texas Medical Center.

Many rides, I would take Blue Streak because she has a great wicker basket that is big enough to load my library  books — both for return and for new check outs.  She is a mountain bike, most often called a touring bike, and has many “maw-maw” features. First of all, she has a kick stand.  I would love for Streak to have one, but none fit on such a fast, light-weight and powerful bike. Purple Streak, my hybrid and first love, has a kick stand, too. Otherwise, Blue Streak  is shaped like what we called in the olden days a “girl bike” with no high bar.

I’ve ridden to meet my book club, Buff’s Page Turners, for dinner but that was when the days were long and I could snag a ride home. My most frequent bike ride with a mission is when I load Streak in the back of Vinny, drive to Dan’s for an oil change, unload and ride home, only to do it all over again when Vinny is road worthy again.

To be a successful pioneer with a mission, you have to be prepared. I have my belly bag that fits my keys, smart phone and a bit of emergency cash. I have my Sansa for easy listening of my books on tape. And, when your chore is to buy Mucinex, you need a photo ID to verify your identity before signing a disclaimer that you are not doing anything illegal with the purchase.

Streak is high performance and speedy and not laden with baskets, storage space and fru-fru. But, there is room for a light weight backpack of the new, sleek variety. These new backpacks feel almost like you are not hauling anything extra. I have it folded and stored away in a small compartment below the seat in case I make purchases along my way. Streak also has two areas for water bottles to allow for longer rides and much dehydration. We also know places along the way to replenish our water — water fountains and the local YMCA, to name a few.

Sometimes, if I’m going to linger, I bring reading material or Sudoku. I’ve been known to load binoculars for bird watching. At a far away river park, Big Johnny and I have had a low calorie picnic because we both prefer light travel and have few options. Sometimes, I’ve gone along with a notepad, in case writing inspiration strikes me.

Bizarrely and cosmically, even when I don’t have a mission in mind, I seem to know exactly which path I will take when I hop on Streak for an evening ride. It may be five miles, 10 miles or the occasional 20.  I may head to the right or left out of the driveway, but the right way hits me as soon as I straddle the seat. Streak and I are one. We are decisive. We are pioneers for the moment.  We are in touch with the road, nature and the creatures along the way. Nothing escapes our attention. Everything is an adventure. We are ready to ride. We are on a mission.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Neighbors on two and four legs

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Neighbors on two and four legs

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Tucker, Andy and Patsy look forward to a walk

Today I saw an irish setter that I’ve watched with his boy owner for years.  The beautiful rust-colored creature is quite well trained and even better behaved. I saw the familiar four-legged friend with what must be the father of the usual boy walker, and it dawned on me that the young boy must be old enough now to be off to college.

We must have been nodding and sniffing acquaintances for years that now melded into infinity. They were quite a pair in younger days, galloping the gully, sometimes swimming and always fetching a worn tennis ball. I loved to watch the boy and dog together and to consider how wonderful a dog is for a kid. I was reminded of my Barney, the dalmatian who was raised with my kids in Michigan and who would sit in the snow, waiting for his boy to come home from kindergarten. Barney heard the school bus long before human ears could tell it was time. I wanted to ask the man about the boy, but, as usual, the irish setter was in the lead and the passing was quick.

Andy dog and a butterfly

I had known them since my three-dog days, when I walked Patsy, Tucker and my beloved old Andy dog. Those walks were  wild and mostly painful for me but routine and necessary. We were always just barely under control and one cat chase away from a skinned knee.  I never controlled Andy much (a lot because his alpha dog had been the wild Barney) but also because of  his instinct to be free to hunt. He was the fastest, most agile creature ever in my life. He could jump our full sized picnic table without a running start, could balance easily on his front legs and stand for hours on his back legs, looking over the fence and into the great beyond.  For some reason, he reminded me of a skinny, wrinkled neighbor from my girlhood who would stand for hours at the fence, smoking and wearing a polka dot house dress, talking to my mom. Of course, Andy was quite masculine  in his white and liver-colored spots and too much of a health nut to ever consider smoking.

Andy with little brother Tucker

He once surprised me with a quick lunge at a cat, and I took a header into  some decorator poles and fences that sent me to the minor emergency room. But I couldn’t bring myself to correct him.  His instincts were too natural and his intentions quite innocent — unless you are a squirrel or a cat. I knew I had my hands full from his pup days when he jumped out the truck window, his skinny neck slipping the leash that I had, just in case. As prepared as I tried to be with Andy, I was never quite prepared enough. If he saw an opening, he would run free, too quick to catch and often speeding on the concrete until his paws bled. When he’d finally come home, his feet would be tragically mangled and we would both pussy foot around for days until he was heeled. I knew I shouldn’t  handle three hounds, but Tucker is related and has become a true treasure, especially after old Andy went to run the heavenly gully.  Tucker is a Lubbock dog who was at college with my daughter but then tired of apartment life when she graduated and began to teach. Even though I’m back down to two hounds and my life is pretty simple, I know the experience of three and give those folks some respect and plenty of space.

Almost daily, I see a couple of two-legged neighbors with a pampered white shih tzu — what I like to call a houseshoe dog because it’s fluffy and about the size of a foot.  This little family is more methodical and disciplined than me and my hounds  despite some physical tragedy. I noticed them first when the dog was a mere slip of a shoe, all pristine and fluffy. Later, she had an operation to correct a broken leg, and her owners still took her on outings,  pulling the fluff ball around the neighborhood in a red wagon.

I watched as Ms. Houseshoe evolved from red wagon to bandaged leg and some walking to full walking again. Most recently, the poor gentleman owner fell while he was exercising at the local 24-Hour Fitness and hit his head. He had to have brain surgery and what must have been brief time in recovery because I still saw him on his routine walks with the shoe dog but in a heavy head-securing apparatus. Nothing stops them from taking their fluffy on a regular walk even when he had to walk slower and several paces behind his wife. He’s now pretty much recovered but wears a helmet every day.

On the gully, I see a variety of owners and four-legged beasts who have discovered the fun of the open spaces, egrets, herons and no traffic. I’ve watched two boxers and their husband and wife owners train them from pups to well behaved dogs. This is, of course, in contradiction of my own spoiled dogs who can’t be controlled and who seldom are polite.

Patsy, our queen

Probably most familiar to me is the fair Romeo who lives in my neighborhood but who I’ve seen as far away as Greentree Pool (more than a mile away) and maybe even Lake Houston (five miles away).  I do not know his owners as well because they are never with him and actually let him out to roam alone. Of course, I capture him any chance I can and return him home, suspiciously thinking the owners let him right back out again.He is an adorable jack russell terrier with speedy little legs that carry him quickly on what appears to be a specific  mission. He is quick and sure-footed and has many places to visit every evening.  After he learned I would grab him and bring him home, he runs from me now. Still, occasionally, I catch him in a dalliance and snag him again. It’s a challenge for both of us and a pretty fun break from my routine.

My bird dogs in their prime, Patsy, smiling, and Andy, focused on business.

Like my two-legged neighbors, the pets here come and go. We make friends but do not get too attached. We are wanderers and like the traveling life, at least for now.

Indulge me the photos of my beautiful four-legged family members. All of these were taken by the magically talented, Big Johnny. He’s captured personality as well as beauty and movement in these athletic creatures.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm

On the street where I live

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Street where I live

I drive down my street at mid-morning today and see a favorite neighbor I haven’t seen in months, or is it a year or so? It’s odd I do not know this man’s name and yet I know him well enough that we both smile, wave and talk for a few minutes like old friends. It’s fitting to my wanderer’s life as commuter that I recognize but don’t know my neighbors any more than I know the homeless in the medical center who I see often enough to similarly recognize, wave and acknowledge.

I knew all my neighbors by name 15 years ago when the houses were new and we all moved in here together. Our kids were in scouts, on swim team and attended the same elementary. We held block parties, visited easily from house to house and watched over each other’s children. However, by now, most of the original owners have been replaced by nameless, familiar faces. They still play with their kids in the street, and we wave and greet each other. I pet their dogs, talk to their children and occasionally sass the adolescent boys who sass me first when I ride by on my bicycle.

Of course, I’m nicer to these neighborhood boys, unlike the mischief-makers down the greenbelt who I speed by without a thought.  Some pre-teens moved in recently and decided to wolf call at me and holler sarcastically about my cycling fashion statement. I considered ignoring them but decided we should lay down some house rules. I turned around and cycled back their way.

“Hey, guys,” I said, and they were surprised to see me back. I could see them thinking about their next rowdy comment. “You don’t want to start hollering at me. I’m going to be biking by you most days, and if you sass me, we are going to have a problem. I live right here, and so do you.”

Hmmm, I could see them consider. Makes sense, their nods said.

In the olden days, when I taught at a boot camp for first time felons, I would tell stories of where their actions were leading. But, this time, they seemed to understand the situation pretty easily. I never had a problem with them again, and we smile and wave when I bike by.

My unknown friend today has at least 10 years on me, or could it be 20? He’s been retired as long as I’ve known him, making the same trek down our same street at about the same time every day – making adjustments for Daylight Saving Time, cold or hot weather. A tall, lanky character with a white visor, he walks many days, carrying a bag from the Kroger that is at least a mile away. I know he lives at the other end of the block from me in a house with a yard as meticulously kept as he is in his carriage and demeanor in his routine walks down the street. I suspect he is an engineer from his methodical ways. Perhaps some day I will ask.

We are bonded by a rescue effort a few years back as is the case with many of my neighbors in a community of beloved pets. This time, it was a sad, sick kitty who had been abandoned across the street from me, and he was trying to figure out what to do about it. We assessed the situation together and I decided to take the kitty to my nearby vet on my way to work. The next day, he stopped by to ask how the kitty was doing.

Unfortunately, things did not end well for the kitty, but I acquired a new friend in the neighborhood and a relationship that’s as dependable as clockwork.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Vinny and me

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Vinny is ready for a canoe trip

Vinny is ready for a canoe trip

I feel the clock ticking on my commuting days with Vinny the hot red Xterra as my sidekick. I know this because I find my eye wandering to sleek new models on the highways and my thoughts turning to the wonderful and unique smell of “new car.”

As a Texan who lived in Detroit, I come by my love of cars naturally. And, while I’m loyal and getting pretty level-headed with finances these days, I still love the thrill of shopping for a new vehicle with the thought of opening it up on the long and winding road.Vinny recently passed 170,000 miles and I still hope for more. But, I feel the call of the wild.  I’ve been shopping a bit for replacement vehicles and thought recently that his commuting days were at an end. He’s been in the shop off and on for the last several months — costing me $500 or more with every repair. He will be due for inspection in January and last January we were lucky to get a pass. I’m prepared for the worst or else the time may come sooner.

I have driven a fully loaded Nissan Rogue with a moon roof and four-way cameras on all sides. My family seems to believe that the cameras are a great idea with my commando style of driving. Then, the 2013 Pathfinder has been redesigned for long road trips, my favorites. And, of course, I’m always drawn to another convertible.

Dan and Derrick, my friends and mechanics, advised me to purchase Vinny when the Xterra was a new idea, and they’ve never steered me wrong. That means they worked on no fewer than four used cars that I’d bought for my two kids at mileages over 100,000 and for $6,000 and less.  I believe my daughter’s Sweet Sixteen Corsica only had 60,000 miles and was the only real deal I got. Then came my son’s Mustang that burned up on Highway 59, a Pathfinder that my daughter had and  passed on to my son who totaled it while wearing his Batman t-shirt and then the short-lived Isuzu we bought from an engineer and that should have lasted longer because of the original owner’s excessive fastidiousness.

We had just welcomed a new century, and I was commuting the 30 miles or so to Houston in a mom mobile at the time I switched to Vinny.  I had raised my kids in a convertible with hardly a back seat when I switched to a green Grand Caravan — just when the kids didn’t want to be in the car with me anymore. I remember wanting to trade it in within weeks of its purchase because there were so many green vans in the parking lots I frequented. Once, I even got into someone else’s green van, thinking my automatic opener had worked. It was after I was sitting inside and looking around that I realized I had the wrong vehicle.

I went down immediately to a car dealership and found a similar model that was a different color. Gold instead of green this time. I can remember sitting in the salesman’s office with him saying, “Now, why is it you want to trade in your almost new  van?”

As a woman who prides herself on her non-materialistic and sophisticated nature, I heard the words come out of me, “I wanted a different color.” How shallow. I immediately grabbed my keys, headed out of the dealership and remained silent about choosing the most popular color for a mom mobile of the times.

As my Grand Caravan crossed 126,000 miles, dozens of tennis team trips and innumerable outings for both girl and boy middle schoolers, Dan called to say, “Mrs. Hensley, please don’t make us fix your car again.” They recommended a Nissan, Vin Diesel was just out in the movie “XXX” and Vinny was bought and christened.

As I say on Vinny’s home page, I have spent more time in the last 10 years — now 12 — than I have with any other vehicle, creature, person, etc., in my life. He has protected me through four car crashes in Big City traffic and has  become exactly what I wanted in a commuting vehicle. Something tough, high sitting for the routine Houston flooding and basically a road warrior. He sits up high so that I can view my domain and the whizzing 18-wheelers and lane weavers. He’s tough and resilient, fending off flying debris from big trucks in front of us. Sitting all day in a crowded lot in the medical center where aggressive parkers may or may not give him a smack.

Tomorrow, I will get back inside for another commute. Vinny will fire up, drive smoothly and we will make my way to the medical center. He doesn’t have the perks of today’s new cars, his driver’s seat is a bit frayed and the lining in the ceiling is hanging a bit low. In any case, Vinny will never be a trade-in. He is far more valuable to me than he would be as a number to the bottom line.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 11, 2012 at 7:15 pm