Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for February 2013


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Medical Center vertical

Photo by Big Johnny

My load is always heavier for my homecoming.
A briefcase of work that I seldom open.

Books I do not read, letters I do not answer,
Ideas that come and go in the course of my route, my day.

The ID badge comes off; the seatbelt comes on,
And I take my place in the stop-and-go of Fannin.

Long and short white coats cross without a glance
An incoming class of medical students.
All in fine dark suits as uniform as they will look in scrubs.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.
Specialties that started in kindergarten.

A traffic cop points at me to stop, and we smile.
I see him most days, letting these same parkers into my path.

An ambulance, another; a jogger, another.
And finally, I pull into my place in the stop-and-go of 59.

Baseball players rise from Minute Maid like King Kong
Swatting at cars instead of planes.
Enron forgotten in their smiles, if not their t-shirts.

I gather momentum with the music of the day until . . .
Jet trails crisscross the sky, glistening in the sun.

One plane floats like a zeppelin, seemingly as close as cars.
White contrails, now golden in the purple sunset.
The sun melts colorfully as the moon picks up a reflective glow.

I open the roof fully to my neighborhood.
The smells bloom around me, magnolia, honeysuckle, azaleas.
I am a kid again, reminded of grape Kool-Aid, blackberry jelly and Juicy Fruit.

The bridge crosses the gully, and a billowing mist begins to form.
It dances lightly between the skipping water and warming air.Medical Center 3

A young fisherman and his curly haired sister-accomplice
Trail a pole, a net, a skateboard, a hound.
Turtles crane their heads above the ripples to be served.

The smell of open fires and cooking meat
My neighbor’s outdoor wok.

I am at peace by the time I pull in the driveway.
I turn off the engine, let the sounds and the day settle.

Also by Big Johnny

A happy face pops up, shaking the fence in delight.
The best part of the day is still ahead.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 23, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Transformation from home to work

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Clarence t-shirt

Smooth riding with Clarence

He pops his head over the gnawed, wooden fence
And looks at me with love and longing.

We make our peace with my departure,
And I reverse out the long, friendly driveway.

The neighborhood is a still-life photograph
With no movement but me.
A glisten of dew makes home sparkle.

A basketball in the gutter, a bicycle, wheels up in the park.
A lone teen-ager waiting for a school bus, hoody and earphones pulled tight against invasion.

I pull open the sun/moon roof and watch dawn break.
Midnight blue to grey to pink to yellow. Mottled clouds form my companions.

Then, it’s the straight-away to the freeway
With its Starbucks, strip malls and fast food.

I turn onto the highway at the lime green couch
And pass a mattress, a fishing pole, a broken boat.

Halfway is marked by Fiesta, La Tienda, Arandas and Taco Cabana.
They identify my hometown, my home state.

I cross from suburbia to the city, concrete and crowds.
Up ahead, the skyline of Houston breaks through the smoky clouds, just like the Rockies.

Manmade but majestic with low wisps playing hide and seek with the peaks.
A challenge of structure and nuance and energy.

Straight through downtown by the courthouses
And the potential jurors called to court to uphold the peace and law of a melting pot,
sometimes boiling pot.

Suits, briefcases, umbrellas and overstuffed bags.
A grease-bottomed pastry sack, a steaming cup of coffee.

An elderly woman walks with her dowager back at a right angle.
I feel the pain and strain from my comfortable seat in the car.

A young man folds his sleeping bag from the open space in front of Hermann Park.
A line forms outside the church, serving breakfast.

Everyone is different; everyone needs to eat.
Volunteers, homeless, reasoning and unreasonable.

First suits, then mismatched rags, now scrubs.
Flower shops, uniforms, wheelchair and scooter sales.

We are now in the bustling business of medicine and patients,
Caretakers and care-givers, confused and calm.

I make one last turn before I enter the parking lot.
Look through the open roof and take a deep, long breath.

The sky is clear and blue and efficient.
I close the hatch, snap on my badge and step into the day.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Do I have to say his name – Clarence

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The Big Man Clarence Clemons

The Big Man Clarence Clemons

It was only two days into the contest when I realized the new name of my ride, Clarence for Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen’s longtime friend and saxophone player who died of a stroke a couple of summers ago. You are welcome to cry “foul” because the winners of the contest are in my head on a daily basis. They are my friend and former office mate, Thelma, and my cool son Trav who has been with me to many Bruce Springsteen concerts and knows my heroes. Of course, we first had to run the gamut of superheroes. I can be quite a Batman, Superman, Aquaman fan as well as Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. Some of those names just seemed too nerdy even for me.

So, it was Thelma’s saxophone mention that made me think of Clarence, and, when I mentioned the good news to Trav, he reminded me that he immediately suggested the name but he’d added a sick joke that made it fall out of my head. In any case, Clarence will be a perfect name for my new ride.

The winning prize is a guest blog for each. Thelma already is working on hers. Trav said he will wait until a subject moves him.

I loved all the ideas and interest from all of my friends and blog readers. Originally, I thought I would name my new ride, Luther, for my new favorite detective show. This one is a British production, and I watch it on Netflix. However, after I made my Rogue selection, the name didn’t quite fit. Hence, we needed the contest.

Some of my favorite suggestions were Lucius, Dewey and Lee Roy from my friend Dave. Stu from one of my favorite work buddies who also knows me well. Blaze from my high school girlfriend who has been my friend for life.  Blue, Mad Max or just Max from one of my former tennis partners with a very clever wit. Dolly and Baylee from other friends. Neches for my hometown roots and for the middle name of my nephew. Perhaps this is a clever time to mention that I have three nephews who are named for Texas Rivers – Neches, Brazos and Sabine.

One of my closest friends, suggested it was time to move to something proper and chic like Charles, Chuck, Edward, Vincent. Some people commented on the public section of the blog but others contacted me directly – perhaps too shy to put their ideas “out there.”

I couldn’t be happier with my new ride and with the name that seems to fit him so well. He sits calmly behind Vinny who is still on the road a couple of three times a week making heavy hauls. We have a full and fun stable for my commuting now.

When I thought about Clarence this week, I went looking for this copy of “10th Avenue Freeze Out” from Springsteen’s concert in Houston where he played wonderful tribute the Big Man. Do I have to say his name? I have attached the link to 20 minutes of the best time you will spend today. Clarence’s introduction happens about 15:30 minutes in if you don’t have that long. But you don’t want to miss Patti singing just before Clarence is introduced.  That happens 14 minutes in. This song is Bruce’s story of how his band came together and he saves the best for last. Last verse:

When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I’m gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When scooter and the big man bust this city in half
With a tenth avenue freeze-out, tenth avenue freeze-out
Tenth avenue freeze-out…

Laura and I were in this crowd – about 20-30 feet from Clarence. We watched him all night long and I know he sang directly to us for at least some of the performance. Best seats I’ve had during any of the six or so Springsteen concerts I’ve attended.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 10, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Road Warrior: Beyond Astrodome

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New Road Warrior

New Road Warrior

The day finally arrived last week when it became clearly time for a new Road Warrior to join me on my commute. Vinny has been a good and loyal companion, but the days are gone when I feel secure he will get me to Houston and back without a problem.  Frankly, such a trooper deserves a break from the concrete and the crowds. He will remain in my family forever but needed help carrying the load of the day to day.

I went with my favorite mechanics’ recommendation and stayed in the Nissan family, this time with a midnight blue Rogue that I expect will get a bit better gas mileage than Vinny. I drove him home for the first time on Friday and will begin the commute with him right away. He’s a magnificently sleek piece of machinery with all the bells and whistles. Of course, I’m not for sure what that means – considering it’s been 10 years since I drove a new car and don’t quite know what is standard these days.

For instance, I mentioned to some friends that my airbags will disconnect if there appears to be a child in the front seat and may do so even if my purse or briefcase is too heavy.  One of them laughed that this has been true for a while and is now pretty standard. Vinny was among the first with airbags on all four sides, and “they” hadn’t decided what to do with the too small person sitting nearby. I was amazed to know how behind the times I am with car equipment.

The huge differences so far appear to be the speaker system that hooks up to my cell phone, the satellite radio and the keyless entry – something I haven’t quite figured out as yet. Of course, I’m just getting started with my new friend and have plenty of time for discovery.

I am pretty loyal and trusting with my car dealer like I am with my mechanics and have come to depend on having regular people like this in my life. There’s quite a bit to be said for return business, and I believe I get a good and honest deal with the folks I have come to admire in their line of business. This particular Nissan salesman has sold my family now six Nissans, starting with sweet Vinny back in 2003. That’s been followed by two Sentras and two trucks – taking into consideration that both of my children totaled new vehicles and went back to the same  dealer for the same purchase a few months later.  Wow! That’s scary, and we’re lucky for those airbags.

And so, he spent about 45 minutes with me on Friday explaining all the perks in the new Rogue – enough that I was so overwhelmed that I almost couldn’t find my way to work, even with the built in GPS. Yikes!

Of course, I was quite melancholy when I removed my parking pass from Vinny’s rear view mirror and grabbed out of the center overhead my electronic card that lets me in the gate of my parking lot.  But once I got close to my new wheels and the door opened at my presence, I knew this new guy “gets me.”  Then, he recognized my phone, turned on some jazz and called my family members at the sound of my voice. Yes, I say, he feels like family. Now, he just needs a name.Vinny in the stable with his new friend

I am waiting for him to speak to me, but, while I do, I thought I’d offer a naming contest for you regular readers. Just like television shows today allow you to choose an ending, vote folks off the island and create the next superstars, I’m going to tap into the power of social media. If you have a name you’d like to suggest for my new Road Warrior, just send it along as a comment.

Do I have a prize? Of course, I do. The prize is your own guest blog in Commuter Chronicles. And, if you’re not much of a writer, I will help smooth it out and make it wonderful. And, if you’re still not interested in writing, I will buy you a meal and hear your stories first-hand.

How’s that? You know from my blog what books I read, what movies I see. I’ve attached a photo in case he speaks to you visually. I’d love to see your thoughts in these first weeks while we get to know each other.

Vinny in the stable with his new friend

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm