Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for May 2014

A successful dog walk-bike ride combination

leave a comment »

Biking with TuckerThese days, I mostly saddle up on old Blue Streak and ride the gully with my lone hound, Tucker. Bike riding while dog walking is something I’ve tried frequently with varying degrees of success and in varying stages of my own nimbleness, theory being that I can get in both chores at once. This time is my most successful with this, my most obedient and loving hound and my best bike for the concept.

In the course of a mere month since I lost my much beloved senior hound Patsy to lung cancer, Tucker has become so well trained that my bike ride and hound walk are one in the same. Blue Streak is the perfect vehicle for my bike ride-slash dog walk. With a wide seat, big straw basket and easy balance, I can keep pace with Tucker or fall back while he sniffs. It’s his walk after all, not mine.

Today is a perfect day to take Tucker out on the gully. The gully itself has been mowed this week. It’s an almost perfect surface for Blue Streak, which is, after all, a mountain bike and perfect for a bit of uneven terrain. I fill a water bottle, grab one of my small white hand towels, toss Tucker’s leash and my phone in the basket and off we go.

I gamble a bit by opening the gate and letting Tucker out without looking for other dog-walkers, bikers or kids with their fishing poles. In the past, he’s been a bit of a barker but never a biter. Of course, other folks don’t know that. In our first walk, after losing Patsy, I had a traumatic experience when he barked at a jogger who was frightened by him before I could get him back on the leash. She shouted at me while I cried, apologizing for having him off leash. “You will do nothing,” she said over and over as I pleaded that I would. Then, as I continued to hang my head and cry, she shouted “fuck you” several times and for several more feet. Already devastated by the loss of my best friend, I couldn’t blame her and had nothing to say for myself.

A month later, Tucker has become so obedient that it’s a small gamble. We don’t have a problem today. I make a quick canvass and see neighbors working their garden a few houses down and kids in the gully, but that is all.

The gully comes up to a bank on both sides before it dips 15-feet to 20-feet down to the slow-moving water below. I come out of my wooden gate behind Tucker pumping at full speed, trying to get up the hill without stopping. I need to meet the rise at an angle and am getting better at this as I get stronger and more familiar with Blue Streak’s capabilities again.

I push hard up to the sandy path that is a high school track-like oval. It’s a mile and a half to go the loop, but I sometimes extend my ride down the gully to the park or in the other direction to a wooden bridge. In both cases, I have to be prepared to put Tucker on the leash to cross roads. My mind unconsciously chooses simply to make the loop with my loyal hound.

First up on the right is a formerly beautiful cactus that grew for years in front of a neighbor’s gate. The huge pink flowers were so enticing one year that I attempted to grab one for my own cultivation, picking needles out of my arm for days after my attempt. It’s been mowed down recently but continues to grow in patches along the fenceline. I hope to see the flowers again some day.

Almost immediately after the cactus is a sort of community garden that expands every year. I think three neighbors are involved these days. They have beautiful sunflowers this year, growing to eye level. Beans loop around trellises, and young tomatoes, okra, peppers, lettuce and typical vegetables grow in even, perfectly weeded rows. It’s become a pretty spectacular effort with compost, fallen logs, some flowers and a watering hose that’s permanently looped over the fence. I reap the rewards on occasion and without any effort on my part when the tomato or okra crop comes in successfully and a neighbor shows up at my door with a bag full.

Today, adults are walking beside the gully, which is not the norm. It’s usually the kids who traverse the steep incline to the water for fishing or turtle torture.

These folks have a small white houseshoe dog, and they grab it up when they see me and Tucker. It could also be because our neighborhood red-shouldered hawk is making its rounds, swooping close to them. He’s flown by my face once at such speed that I knew I wouldn’t survive a hit, and, similarly, heard the screams from a squirrel when he grabbed it off the neighbor’s rooftop.

Also nearby, is a huge turkey buzzard the size of a small child. I holler to Tucker, and he comes to the side of my bike, trotting parallel to me. “Good boy,” I say, and we keep a tight mass, even though I think Tucker is too big to entice Mr. Hawk. He’s so great and well trained these days.

As a former police reporter, teacher and general busy-body, I tell the neighbors to maintain their own tight circle to appear to be too big of a target. They seem to appreciate the advice, something that’s not always true when I choose to impart such wisdom.

Tucker and I cross the wooden bridge with ease this day. My speed is good enough to make the hills and the extraordinarily high bump up to from the concrete to the wood. We keep going past the turtles that I’ve watched grow from quarter-sized to a foot across.

On the other side of the gully is more shade, and Tucker starts to stall, sniffing and relaxing. I look over the fences at the pools until I’m halfway and at the neighbor’s house where folks typically have peaceful Zen music playing so loudly that I hear it on my side of the water.

Then it’s another bridge and we’re in the home stretch. Tucker has the most vocabulary than any of my hounds. He knows “bridge,” “left” and “right” or else he knows that I don’t want him to get near the road. As we approach a neighbor who has moved a lawn chair out to watch her kids fishing on the gully, I get him to trot beside me with my bike between him and the strangers.

He’s a great guy. It’s been a nice ride and he’s had a nice walk. We kick into gear and head for the open gate.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 18, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Commuting is like time travel

with 5 comments

20140501-210901.jpgCommuting can be like time travel. I often lose time when I’m in the middle of it. It’s like the slo-mo scene in the movie when the hero starts shooting or dodging bullets really slowly or does a triple somersault before kicking an arch-villain. Everything slows down. On a commute, it needs to do so, and you learn to face it. You can’t get there any faster.

You leave a million chores at home on your way to a full day of projects at work to complete and, all of a sudden, you are suspended in time. Suspended in the commute. Nothing you can do about it but relax. You’re in real life slo mo.

Happens to me on a bike ride, a bit, and a lot because I ride many of the same roads often or at least many of the tree-shaded greenbelts look exactly the same. This curve, that tree. Where am I?

If I know I’m running late for work, I know it an hour early and before I’m truly late. I have the urge to call into the office before any one of the city-dwellers have left home. If I leave work late, I know it will be dark at home and almost time to go to bed. I won’t have time to walk my hound on the gully because of the mosquitoes, take a bit of a bike ride for exercise or tend to my plants, dig in the earth and revive.

Then, as soon as I get home, I start the cycle all over again. Until today; the weekend.

When I lose track of time in the middle of the commute, I come back to myself and have to figure it out.  Did I make my turnoff? Where am I precisely? What time is it now? I see the same people sometimes in the cars beside me. I recognize their bumper stickers, their breakfast-eating habits. Please don’t put on your makeup; don’t slow down because you’re on your phone. I’m behind you. Please get out of my way.

I see Galaxy Inn every day, twice a day and wonder again about “The Last Starfighter” movie. I’m thrown back in time to the first time I viewed it, the second time, maybe even the third when the kids were little and loved to watch it over and over. I loved it, too, of course, because the plot starts with a character who is really good at an arcade game. I loved pinball as a kid and still love gaming. The hero gets so good at the “Last Starfighter” game that he is called on to save the world because the game actually has been training for reality. Wow. Just what my daydreams were/are made of.

There’s a condition in the real world that’s called synesthesia and you hear a little bit more about it these days. The scientist David Eagleman, author of “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain” studies this condition. It’s when one of your five senses overlaps the other. Most synesthesia folks are musicians who hear music in colors. A couple of characters in books I’ve read in the last couple of years have this condition. I’ve even heard it mentioned on television recently in the plot of a detective drama.

I’ve read about it some because I think I’m a bit of a synesthete. Not much, but it explains some experiences I have that most people don’t understand. I see geometric shapes when I hear loud and sudden sounds. A yellow circle, a black triangle, most often.

I think a lot of people get a taste in their mouths when they smell a specific food. You smell cinnamon and taste apple pie. You smell jasmine and taste grape Kool-Aid.  But it’s a little more arbitrary when you see time or days of the week in squares or columns. I see days of the week in geometric spaces. Thursday is often blue.

I never really knew this experience may be unique when I was a kid, young adult, mother or ever. I only considered it to be something unusual when I read about it. Just like holding a hand of cards upside down, I didn’t know others held their cards differently until I was in college and looked at someone else’s hand. As a kid, I never peaked at others’ cards, so how would I know? Eventually, and in recent years, I’ve discovered, others don’t see time in squares and columns.

Perhaps my most pronounced experience may not be synesthesia but it’s an experience I can control and can make happen again, if I’d like. It’s an overlap of sound and memory. I hear a passage in a book on download, and I’m transported back to the original place where I heard the passage for the first time. I’m in the car, rewind the audio to listen again and I’m transported to the bike path where I was the first time I heard the same words. I’m cleaning the house, rewind, and I’m back upstairs vacuuming instead of in the laundry room downstairs. It’s cool and a bit amazing.

As a commuter, I survive on book downloads. Fiction for my book club. Murder mysteries. Popcorn for the mind. And as an audio book listener who originally was a voracious reader, I don’t want to miss a word, and I often reread to hear it again and catch the nuance. I’ve even been known to buy a book because I want to physically look at the words that I’ve loved.

When I’m lost in the story. I rewind. I could go back an hour; I could begin again. Then, I’m transported to the original place where I heard it first. When I’m in my car, I’m back on my bike. I’m riding the greenbelts and listening to the Scottish accent of Catherine McCarron as she reads Denise Mina’s latest, “Red Road.” It’s cool and fun and green and yellow. I can make the experience repeat itself and take me back. I see my path specifically, colorfully, and I’m transported.

A really good story must be like time travel — if you’re reading a book or listening to it on download. Commuting and listening combine the two easily. You’re in the car; you’re on your bike. In either case, you’re in Glasgow listening to an excellent whodoneit, and you’re in Houston, on your way to work.