commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

The perfect storm of commuting

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ParkingI’m one of those contrarian commuters who likes to take my vacation days against the grain and when most folks are off the Houston freeways, out of town or at home on vacation. This works really well for me at Christmas holidays and most days during the summer months but is very tricky for spring break.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker estimated there would be 350,000 more people in my path every single day this week and next week – making for the perfect storm of Houston commuting. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo converged with spring breakers everywhere who are anxious to visit the Houston Zoo and Houston Museum District, right down the street from me at the Texas Medical Center.

For instance, there were days this week when I made it from Kingwood to the medical center in 35 minutes, and that’s a 32-mile drive. All week I pulled into my parking spot way before my usual 8 a.m. arrival time, even counting once when I stopping at Starbucks and once to get gas and Diet Seven-Ups.

Interestingly, this was the same amount of commuting time I gave myself as an adjunct professor at University of Houston when I was teaching night classes of news writing, editing and helping to support the content of the “Daily Cougar.” Thirty-five minutes, you say? And I’m a bit shocked myself. The drive was close to the same distance as today, of course, but I was teaching at night and always against the rush hour traffic.

In those early days, driving my silver Chevrolet ES turbo convertible with car seats in the small backseat, I would wait, briefcase in hand, for Big Johnny to hit the door from his day job, and I’d be on the road as the night shift. Hmmm. “Turbo” might be the operable word here. Of course, no one ever minds when the professor is late or even when she’s held up and can’t make it to class. Everyone gets to go home early. No harm; no foul. So perhaps I wasn’t always on time, although I don’t remember timeliness ever being a problem. College professor is the only job I’ve ever had when no one truly cared if I showed up or not. And, in fact, I was the same way as a college student awaiting my professors.

So, let’s take this commuter mentality a step further into my past and the days when I commuted from the big city of Port Neches, Texas, to my hometown institution of higher learning, Lamar University in Beaumont. I gave myself seven minutes from Port Neches to Beaumont and that included the highly volatile Railroad Avenue when a train would always waylay a commuter with its backing and forthing.

By my freshman year at Lamar, I’d basically moved in with my best friend and her aunt and uncle. So, if I’d stayed with Penny in Groves, then I would give myself a solid 15 minutes to make it to Beaumont. I remember thinking what a terribly long commute that was and how I needed to get an apartment in Beaumont as soon as possible, especially after I switched from the bi-weekly “Mid County Chronicle Review” to the daily “Beaumont Enterprise.”

Seven minutes from Port Neches to Beaumont, I say. Fifteen if I were driving from Groves to Beaumont. I can’t believe it myself this many years later as a professional commuter who first commuted to Dallas and Fort Worth from Arlington before I even began the challenge of Houston.

So my slide into work this week was surprisingly easy, but my drive home was very rough – especially if I forgot and shifted into automaton mode. That meant I’d be on Fannin Street and stuck in the long line of stop and go before I realized I hadn’t taken my alternate route – around the bottleneck of U.S. 59 to my favorite parallel of Dowling Street.Cuties on the rail

For those of us who travel the medical center every day, we can forget what a royal pain in the ass of confusion it is for regular folks. And, I must say, we can be impatient with people who don’t quite know where they are going. I try to be considerate, knowing some of these folks are sick and in need of expert medical care. And, in fact, it took me weeks and months to know where I was going when I first joined the medical center traffic. You think I wouldn’t be so arrogant.

 
Tuckered out cuties on the rail in a photo taken by fellow Port Neches-Groves graduate and now coheart at Texas Medical Center, Pam Taylor-Glass

So, this week, I tried to stay calm while cars in front of me veered all over the road, pointing and almost stopping. Even the parking police created havoc by posting their vehicles halfway inside of otherwise useable traffic lanes.

I love the wonderful mix and match of couples and kids who live in our international melting pot. And, I’m really enjoying my new ride, Clarence. Unfortunately, he lulls me into some comfort zone with his satellite radio, warm seats and sun roof. Before I even realize it, I’m on Fannin, unable to turn around and not finding the comedy channel very funny anymore. Next week, I will try to stay alert and navigate spring break better. As a contrarian, I have to take advantage of the circumstances.

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One Response

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  1. I appreciate your patience with “newbies” downtown.

    Janet Wallace - Kingwood, TX

    March 17, 2013 at 4:57 am


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