commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for December 2012

Christmas kitsch

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Yoda uses the Force for Christmas

Yoda uses the Force for Christmas

What is it about the holiest of Christian holidays that puts some folks over the top? I admitted last column that I’m one of those people and that I struggle every Christmas season to stay on the tasteful side of Christmas kitsch. But I know I’m not alone. I see it in decorations all over my neighborhood and yours, and I love it.

I’m the first to buy a dancing Santa hat, a Christmas-carol singing bass, a jolly St. Nicholas who does the hula to a country song. When I played a lot of tennis, we had a Santa with a tennis racket as part of our outdoor decorations. Now, that same Santa drives a sleigh fashioned from wire and is accompanied by four matching reindeer. They have been white, lighted and now are spray painted a much classier copper color.

Pink flamingos -- festive for all seasons

Pink flamingos — festive for all seasons

I have been drawn to clever Christmas decorations since I was a child and my dad was such a kid at Christmas. He bought a big bag of race cars one year and gave one to every friend and neighbor who came to the door. My childhood girlfriend’s dad was the same and always put the letters to NOEL backwards on his garage, spelling instead LEON. Ha!

Then, we had a house near the park in my hometown where the owner made a production of adding a new string of lights every year. By the time I left home at age 18, folks would come from all over the county to see the glow of the over-done lighting job.

I have never understood this ghost but he shows up every Christmas.

I have never understood this ghost but he shows up every Christmas.

Sponge Bob. Hmmm.

Sponge Bob. Hmmm.

When we first moved to the suburbs of Houston, every street had its own theme – ours was Care Bears. Every house had a 10-foot Care Bear in the yard, each one a different color. One new neighbor had a template for cutting a new one for neighbors as they moved in. Then, when it came time to light up the neighborhood, someone would come around and plug in the Care Bears for anyone who was out of town. It was quite a sight. When we moved to a new neighborhood, it was wooden Christmas trees in every yard. Others had candy canes, angels, stars or cartoon characters like penguins and teddy bears.

UT fans over the top

UT fans over the top

Some of what I consider kitsch this year may simply be the changing times. Sponge Bob and Yoda are today’s versions of Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and 101 Dalmatians. I see those classic decorations, and I don’t give them a second thought. I see Yoda with his light saber on a neighbor’s roof with twinkling lights around him, and I stop for a photo.

Lucky for me I have friends and family with better taste than me. They keep me from overdoing it and put my offensive purchases in the pile for white elephant gifts.Elvis

When I hung my second Elvis ornament on our Christmas tree this year, I had a vision of a tree decorated solely in ornaments of the King. Feels like that might be over the line – unless I stick with young, skinny Elvis.

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Sailing the concrete ocean

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Elf Vinny

Christmas is one of those holidays where I always walk the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and decorations. Clever on the verge of crass. “Ahhh” bordering on “ohhh.” “Ha ha ha” crossing the line into OMG.

You may not be surprised to learn that I’m one of “those drivers” who likes to decorate my vehicle with reindeer antlers, elf ears, candy canes or some other festive holiday offering as a celebration of the season.  I joined in this craze as soon as the idea was on the road, and I seek every year to find the newest and latest in possible Vinny-wear for the season.

As a matter of fact, I’ve always felt like Vinny should be more elaborately adorned on a daily basis. I’d love for him to sport lightning bolts on his car doors or some elaborate figurehead on his hood. This would not be the usual hood ornament that you see on a Jaguar or Mercedes. Nor would it be an old-fashioned ornament like in bygone days of classic American cars. I’m thinking something more like the mermaid on a front of a ship. I would love to have some beautiful carving of a mythical creature as the eyes and spirit of Vinny sailing through oceans of traffic.

Of course, all these ideas seem to cross into the “inappropriate” column in the eyes of other family members. Thus, I look forward every year to the season when I can decorate Vinny and fit in with some other like-minded travelers.

We decorated travelers are a team. We are simpatico; like minds along the holiday roads. We honk and wave at each other. We laugh and point. We let each other into traffic during the holiday rush; we yield to each other on major highways.  We are united; we are the world.

After I lost one of my reindeer antlers this year, I switched to elf ears with an elf hat as Vinny’s nose. However, I was empathetic enough to keep my extra antler in my car for a couple of weeks and astute enough to be on the lookout for other single-antlered vehicles. It was not long before I spotted a sad one-eared vehicle behind me at a redlight and jumped out to deliver an extra ear to the driver. The look on her face was priceless and festive. Of course, it was after I’d risked my life in Houston traffic that I noticed she had elf ears instead of reindeer antlers. So, I’ve been on the lookout for other mismatched cohorts. ‘Tis the season.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 24, 2012 at 11:12 am

Dedicated to the humor of Joan Duffy

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In memory of my friend and fellow story-teller Joan Duffy

In memory of my friend and fellow story-teller Joan Duffy

With the death this week of my dear friend and former running buddy, Joan Duffy, I am reminded of her role in one of the historic moments of my life and marriage. The following tale is dedicated to Joan, a world-class story-teller who could top my stories every day of the week. 

Superbowl cool goes tepid with technology

It was Dallas vs. Denver, the Superdome in New Orleans, and Joan was my connection for extremely hard-to-acquire Superbowl tickets. She had just gone to work for the wire service UPI in New Orleans and was able to score some 35-yard-line tickets to the big game –- a birthday present for my husband in our honeymoon days that was never again matched or surpassed in now many years of marriage.

Face value for a Superbowl ticket?  A mere $20 compared to $2,800 today.

Before the game, Joan, John and I had a chance meeting with my childhood hero Walter Cronkite who was strolling Bourbon Street just like the rest of us. I was the first to recognize him and, of course, stopped in my tracks — dropped-jawed and cotton-mouthed — while Joan and John kept walking. Uncle Walt chatted easily with us fellow news reporters just like we were contemporaries. I still believe he would have gone into the bar behind us for an afternoon of drinking and story-telling, had I been able to stop stuttering. During that trip, we also saw the King Tut exhibit, another fantasy come true for a kid who loved to read about Egypt.  It was the exhibit’s  first tour to the United States and the long lines had caused huge headlines. But, John and I skipped out of the game a step ahead of the Superbowl crowd and only moments before the exhibit closed for the season.

John was marking off a huge one on his life’s bucket list. Here he was, a guy who had played football through high school and college and who had now attended an actual Superbowl game, watching some of his childhood heroes. Huge deal, huh? Could other big events like a World Series, Wimbledon or a presidential inauguration be far behind? We were young and cool and heading for rich and famous.

Now, flash forward through the years and into our current day living room.

Superbowl tickets

With today’s technology, we now can tape the Superbowl highlights no matter what time they come on. We had taped them all. Then, we can slow the picture and stop the action. John says  he always  recognized the three girls who were sitting in front of us during the Superbowl game, but he never dreamed we were in the picture. No one else would ever have known we were frozen in time on camera were it not for John’s incredible memory of football plays and peoples’ faces. My image of myself in my prime would have remained untarnished. But, no. I’ve had to face reality.

It goes like this:

The Cowboys’ Golden Richards catches a pass from Roger Staubach that seals his team’s victory. The Cowboys celebrate with Hollywood Henderson throwing his arms into the air. That’s the signal for us to start watching closely.

The camera goes to Cowboy Ray riding his stick horse in the stands and then pans among the many revelers. The camera begins to take in the crowd in the aisle beside Cowboy Ray. The fans are wild with celebration. Then, there are the three girls – arms thrown into the air in celebration – and . . . slow, slow, frame, frame.

Yes, there is John under one of the girl’s armpits. We stop action, focus and enlarge the picture on our home television as video-John turns his head, smiles and talks to  … me, sitting beside him. With the magic of today’s technology, we can move the picture, frame-by-frame and close in on this young couple who had been hidden for years behind these same girls.

My kids and John are crazy with screams and shouts as they stop the frame on me. They turn, in their delight, to take a look at my face. Surely, they think, I will be excited to have my image preserved for national recognition during such a historic event as Superbowl XII.

I, however, was devastated. Shocked.

I have never had such big hair in all my life. In my memory, I would never have worn my hair like that.  I grabbed the clicker from one of the kids.

“That’s not me,” I screamed. But, unfortunately for my fragile memories, it was confirmed.

I had to run the picture back and forth a thousand times, frame by frame, to be sure this wasn’t some trick of the camera. I don’t remember having such bad taste? Was that a black hole behind me? An empty aisle? How could I possible have gotten my hair that big? It looked like Marlo Thomas from “That Girl” days.

Did I really put incredibly uncomfortable curlers in my hair just so I would intentionally look like that? I thought my look was always no fuss, little makeup and comfortable clothes.

Now, the rest of the Hensley family notices that I’m not enjoying myself as they thought I would. And, when they discover my problem is my disco-looks, they scream and hoot with laughter. They laugh hysterically, roll on the floor and look at the video over and over.

Stayin' Alive

Stayin’ Alive

And then, John joins into the fun my kids are having at my hair-do. So now, we start some frame-by-frame hyper-analysis of his Superbowl appearance.

Here’s a guy who has been big enough to be shaving since Little League baseball, and, well, let’s face it: He’s wearing a powder blue suit with lapels wider than my hair. Is this John Hensley or John Travolta? Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Ah. Ah. Ah.

The kids started yelling “leisure suit,” “leisure suit.”

John swears he never owned one.

And me, I had to let that one pass. I had to preserve at least some of my romantic memories of this golden couple.  After all, this is the man who escorted me through tumultuous fashion times as well as the rest of my life. I would not be pulling anything out of the closet that the cooler, today me couldn’t handle.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Commuter’s black box

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Commuter’s black box

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rear view (2)It’s a bit like an airplane’s black box recording of the last minutes before a crash to watch my text messages from this morning’s commute. I don’t actually start to communicate until 8:05 a.m., five minutes after I’m expected at work.

“Bumper to bumper”  is the attention-getting  heading.  As a former headline writer, I pride myself on my succinct and action-packed subject lines, getting folks to open an email.  So, this was just a tease. I didn’t really mean much by it.  The body of this first message simply says. “Slow going today. I’m still 30 minutes away.”

It’s interesting that — like the deep voiced, soothing tones of a pilot — I’m too calm to notice I’m in trouble. When I left home, it had been raining so I’m not surprised I’m running late. But little did I know that I was heading for a new record in longest commutes of my life.

I’ve been in the car one hour by the time I sent my first email to the office and was not experiencing any true pain because I am peacefully listening to Adriana Trigiani’s “Shoemaker’s Wife” and thinking about the three work meetings I have this day. The novel hasn’t yet captured my full attention so it’s perfect for a Monday commute when I really need to get my mind around all the tasks to accomplish in this week.

My co-workers respond to my traffic note with sympathy and kindness, and I’m not alone for the few minutes we connect. Someone mentions a nasty wreck, but I’m still  not concerned because it’s not in my path and I’m thinking I’ve had a typical rain delay.  I dash off a couple of notes to myself about some tasks to complete that day and some ideas in general for the good of the order.

Then, I’m back to my book on tape. I rewind my novel and start again to try to get the characters straight.

At 8:30 a.m. various team members start to mention the work that’s piling up. I chime in with other  stuff I know about — just like I’m going to be there to help handle it. I’m never so late as 9 a.m. and my plan is to hit the ground running.  But, when I hit Loop 610 and time is slipping away, I finally start to worry and get cranky.

Unfortunately, I’m a fast lane person so I’m pinned in and crawling. Further, I like to switch to the far right lane beyond 610 and finally notice that’s going to take some aggressive lane changing to get over. In Houston, a blinker can be a sign of weakness when everyone is in high gear. But, in terrible traffic, folks can face the inevitable and defer, especially if you appear decisive and respectful. I gradually move all the way over but still do not get any relief. U.S. 59 has become a parking lot.

It’s in the next couple of miles that I make my big mistake. When there’s a lot of traffic, it’s faster if I take the downtown exit and brazenly come straight up Fannin to the medical center, syncing my speed to match the four miles or so of redlights. But, if traffic is zipping along, my favorite is to keep going on U.S. 59 and take the Fannin exit later. Then, I’m only 1.3 miles from work.

Today, I innocently take the downtown exit — thinking it’s less of a gamble — and miss my chance for a reprieve on the path that is my favorite but not my usual.

“I hope I’m there for our 9:30 a.m. meeting,” I say in my next email, ambitiously claiming to be at Minute Maid.

But I’m not truly there yet. My balloon still hasn’t landed. But, just around the corner, it does. I’m creeping and finally notice that all the feeder lanes are equally backed up, dumping into downtown together where a firetruck has my usual path fully blocked. Further, all the exiting lanes are merging into this one pitiful right turn lane. I turn my head to the left and see 59 start to speed up, just out of my reach. I’ve missed my chance.

“You are welcome to meet without me,” I text at 9:20 a.m., referring to my 9:30 a.m. meeting. And I watch the passenger get out of the car in front of me and start walking. I’m mocked by his progress every step of the way as he walks out of sight while I’m still trying to merge.

It is 9:45 a.m. when I finally make it to work. I’ve been in the car since 7 a.m.  I’ve been two hours and 45  minutes in the car — my longest commute ever. Luckily, I didn’t notice for the first hour or it would be even more painful. I make it to my 10 a.m., just barely, and am a step behind all day. I wonder about starting a new blog — this time something about sitting on a beach and watching the waves roll in.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm