Driving and Biking in the Big City

Another unusual sighting on the usual road

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When I took a desk job and stopped playing tennis four to six times a week, in between paying contract assignments for my writing,  I told myself that I would bike more to make up for my lost exercise. Cycling is a sport I can do alone, at any time of day and for any amount of time that is available to me on any given evening after work. More on weekends. Over the months that became years, I established many routes, depending on the amount of daylight left and my own proclivity for exercise that evening after a full day of writing and office politics.

I have five-mile, 10-mile and even 20-mile routes that wind through the overhanging trees and greenery in tropical Texas where shade becomes as precious as oil. In the past, I would take out my heavy, grandma bike with the big basket and ride to the library and fill the basket with books. That’s a 20-mile haul over the Lake Houston Bridge, typically on the weekend when the Atascocita library is one of the few of the Harris County public library system that is open on Sundays. Now, I’m more likely to download a book on tape from HCPL mobile for free – even if I’ve been on the hold list for months – so I don’t have to schedule my rides around an open library.

In my particular suburb, on the outskirts of Houston, there are hundreds of miles of greenbelts, taking you to any and all of the city’s neighborhoods. And, if you’re careful and methodical, you can choose a route without ever crossing a major artery or putting yourself in harm’s way of ill-considered teen-aged drivers or multi-tasking soccer moms and dads who may not see you until they’ve killed you – and perhaps not even then. In other words, I prefer to stay off the main streets, even in my mild-mannered ‘burb, because it’s on the open road when, as a biker, I take my life into my own hands.

I joke that a teen-ager will mow me down and simply “call daddy” who will cut a check over my broken body in an attempt to make up for junior’s mistakes. It happens. I see the white wooden crosses with a spray of plastic flowers marking all the main arteries and even some side streets where I often wonder how someone can possibly get up enough speed to kill or be killed.

I won’t be a victim of this class war.  I won’t allow junior, in the years before s/he grows a conscience, to toss me aside like a beer can tossed out the car window over a weekend or on an after-school romp. I won’t become a wooden cross or a statistic.  I will drive defensively; I will always be on the lookout. I haven’t overcome my dysfunctional childhood, spent 20 years as a police reporter whose been shot at twice, faced countless murderers even some before I turned 20 years old,  seen more than my share of dead bodies and a few autopsies — to go down for the count to a teen-ager or soccer parent. I happen to cherish my own bones even if the drivers in my neighborhood don’t.

Today I wanted to log some miles but knew I wouldn’t be able to stand the cold weather for long. Right, right.  It’s 45 degrees. I know that’s not really cold. In my former Michigan residency, my kids would have been crazed to play in the sprinklers on a day like today, but my blood has thinned in my native Texas and I crave sunny, sweaty days before I settle in for hours and hours of biking.

I bundled up – gloves and earmuffs – and started my ride on the street during the afternoon and before kids are let out of school. The streets are pretty vacant on school days and I can pick up the pace before I head off road and onto the greenbelt. After I enter the umbrella of trees and heavy quiet, I bike a couple of three miles until I turn around, literally, at the big penis that appears beneath my tires. That is, a regular graffiti that’s been drawn routinely on this particular greenbelt for years, reappearing when it’s painted away. It’s become a crude marker, of sorts, for this particular route,  perhaps mistaken as an atomic bomb or lopsided mushroom by some less frequent passersby. I bike to the penis, turn around and come home behind a neighborhood that has several wooden bridges over the swamps and lowlands. This is about a 30-minute, six-mile ride. I’d say it’s lower on my totem pole of favorite rides. Not really much exercise but a pretty scenic route – if you don’t count the penis.

I finished the scenic part and started on the paved roads toward home. As I poured out onto the very last leg, there was a white truck parked at the entrance to my specific neighborhood. I noticed the parked vehicle up ahead for several minutes before I also saw that the guy sitting in his truck (I think a Nissan Frontier) was looking bizarrely uninterested in his surroundings. A young enough guy – maybe late 20s, early 30s. Cleancut with dark blonde hair, pretty even features otherwise.

Being raised in a newsroom from the time I was younger than 18 has made me a pretty good observer. One of my early mentors recommended a writing exercise when we sat in a diner on assignments. We would write specific and detailed descriptions of the folks in the restaurant and then look for triteness or overused descriptors to eliminate and rephrase,  make the writing clearer and more precise.

Like many childhood skills, I didn’t even realize I’d acquired such a careful eye for my surroundings until it became a popular subject of television shows like “Psych” and “The Mentalist.” That’s when I discovered I’d already assimilated the characters and details of my surroundings and picked out “which one is different from the other ones” without even being conscious of the specifics unless asked.  The only glitch is that I describe people bizarrely, perhaps even impolitely, without meaning to do so and with a strictly pure heart. It’s just my mouth that gets me in trouble if I say it aloud.

“Really pointy nose, big forehead,” I say and would never consider it an affront unless I hear it repeated or said to the person I’m describing – who actually is pretty normal-looking and even attractive. I just know without thinking the characteristics that stand out.

“A bit fat but clean and well dressed.”

“Really big head and little body. Long neck.”

“Huge boobs with incredible cleavage and broken fingernails.”

“Gangly legged guy with the shorter girlfriend who maybe had a strange spangle wallet in her pocket.”

See, it doesn’t sound nice, but I bet it would help you pick the person out in the crowd. Nine times out of 10, when I describe this person, my audience knows exactly who I’m talking about.

Instinctively, this truck and its driver caught my attention because the driver seemed out of place, doing nothing. His head was pointed dead straight, looking neither left nor right. I looked around to see if he had a passenger nearby and he was merely waiting for someone to hop in so he could drive away.

Average guy. Maybe cute enough but a bit weirdly awkward, stiff  and uncomfortable.

A couple of cars passed him while I approached on my bicycle as did one of my neighbors walking his two rowdy hounds. The truck driver never looked at anyone but sat alert, eyes forward, a stiff neck. Who does that?

And, when I biked by, I gave him a huge, long lasting, hairy eyeball and he never, ever swiveled my way.

Strike two.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 12, 2014 at 6:03 pm

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