Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for June 2014

Bushwhacked by “Jackass” movie fans

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BruiseI took a tumble over a curb today on Streak, my really fast Trek street bike, and was reminded of my serious bike wrecks in recent years. I’m not talking about the many tumbles I took as an elastic-boned kid who ran the roads barefooted and kept scabs on my knees. Those days when I nimbly jumped back into the game, more interested in catching up to the neighbors than even considering a Band-Aid are long gone.

These are current times as I try to Baby Boom myself past my tennis days and into some serious bike riding to offset eight hours of desk-sitting. My middle-aged bones are more brittle and the extra padding is not at all helpful so a bike wreck feels a lot like a car wreck these days.

I’ve had two serious wrecks in the last five years, the first because I’d switched from a slow-moving mountain bike to a hybrid. I couldn’t control my speed when I dropped off newly concreted pavement and took a tumble completely over the handlebars. Skinned knees to match my younger self.Bruise again

But today, I was reminded of my most serious wreck ever and one that has my left side deteriorating faster than my right side. I know these things because of bone density tests, necessary at my age.

This bike wreck was caused by an intentional prank from the neighborhood urchins. I’ve concluded they’d been watching the movie “Jackass” and its subsequent iterations, getting ideas about how to pull off some serious mischief on unsuspecting folks. The good news about this story is that this prank had some serious comeuppance.

It was early evening after work in May 2012 when I took Streak for what I was expecting to be a 10-mile, hour-long ride. Of course, like any work-outer, I try to get in as much as possible as quickly as possible. Thus, I was determined to have my speed faster than 10 m.p.h. even though my greenbelt path would take me on winding paths where I’d have to slow at corners and try not to mow down dog-walkers.

I had just glanced down at my speedometer and noticed, satisfactorily, that my speed was 12 m.p.h. I was thinking good thoughts when I heard a shout of “No!” off in the bushes to my left.

Now is when the jumble in my mind starts. I looked up, of course, and saw directly in front of me a clear tape, the strong kind for sealing up moving boxes. It crossed, almost invisible, from one side of the greenbelt to the other, only feet away from me on the path ahead. I’m now convinced I was saved by the shout because I had time to brace myself, if not to stop.

I went screaming headlong into the tape at top speed, the tape being too strong to break or even to stretch much as it took me for a total flip, my hands clinging to the handlebars. I was tossed like a rag doll into the bushes beside the path, bruised and mangled. I felt like the tape had cut through my arm and I may be bleeding so I yanked out my cell phone and called my son before I even assessed all damage to my body.

While my son came running to the rescue, the next few neighbors tried to help or to at least figure out what had happened to me. The very next folks to come up were a young woman on a bike with her baby behind her. They were lucky that this had happened to me. I guess everyone was pretty lucky because I am, in fact, pretty sturdy.

Now, this action thriller becomes a mystery. Who did this?

My son gets to my side, hears my story and goes looking for the hooligans who set up this terrible accident. He finds bikes abandoned in the bushes, about where I’d heard the shout of “no.” We are both now thinking these pranksters set up the accident and waited in the bushes to see its outcome. Then, when the victim turned out to be a middle-aged mom, they had second thoughts. Not at all how it turns out in the movies.

By this time, my husband joined the fray, deciding to confiscate the bicycles and look for their owners. I am beginning to draw a crowd of neighborhood kids, hearing my story and looking at my war wounds. They know these bicycles but know the owners would never, ever cause such havoc. Don’t you love neighborhood kids. I was one of these; I related; I knew everyone by their bike.

My husband is told where the bike owners live and heads that way in the truck while I take my bike on a shortcut, coming across three cherubic-faced 12-year-old boys, two still short and one already hitting a growth spurt. They eventually tell me they own the bikes but that the bikes were stolen and they would never, ever cause me such harm. By now I’m bleeding and bruising up nicely and am looking pretty matronly and no one’s idea of a good victim for a prank.

I’m concerned for the innocence of this threesome because I know my husband’s sense of justice and he just happens to be back from a day of prison ministry on death row, something he does for fun. An old college football player, he’s a big guy and pretty intimidating in his all black. I rush ahead to reach him first and to tell him these boys are innocent and that the real culprits are still out there somewhere.

Husband John jumps out of the truck, stands massively across the road and shouts, “You boys are lying!!”

“What?” I say, “Oh, no, no.”

“These are not the right boys. I just walked over here with them. They are innocent.”

And then, they confessed.  One look at John, and their bullshit skills disappeared. I was flabbergasted. Others in our entourage were equally shocked. None of us saw it coming.

Now for the comeuppance. John then went to each of the culprits’ houses, telling the boys’ parents before he released their bikes to the parents. I stood on neighborhood steps as “Exhibit A.” Most parents were unbelieving, of course, until they heard the confessions. One mom was so distraught, we cried together and hugged. My arm and face, by now, were excellent evidence of their angels’ wrongdoing.

Justice was done; lessons were learned. Streak and I were back in the saddle the next day, a bit more careful and certainly more leery of humankind.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 24, 2014 at 6:26 pm

The parade of life marches on

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Old neighborPart of my daily routine is the sighting of an old curmudgeon from the neighborhood who walks a passel of dogs on the gully every day. He never looks up and keeps his eyes on the ground, wearing what I’d consider a barber shop quartet-type hat. A bowler is what it’s really called. This one is straw-colored. He’s a bit dapper for our gully but faded and weary.

His hounds trail beside him and behind him as they all trudge through the sand at a snail’s pace. One black lab is on a leash; one is unleashed, and a blonde, thinning lab is often trailing far behind.

I spent many years leading a parallel life with this neighbor or at least taking a parallel walk, never disturbing him because he always appeared to be withdrawn in himself.  He never looked up. I never spoke. But, like most of my neighbors who have daily rituals that bring them into my path, that routine was broken once and, once it was broken, it was broken forever. If you ever make eye contact and talk, then you can never again walk by without speaking. At least, that’s my rule.

A few days ago, when he walked the gully, I was sitting out on the porch, having already taken my hound out for awhile. The man’s white head was decidedly down so I didn’t attempt to get his attention from my distance.  As I counted his creatures between the slats of my fence, it didn’t take me long to notice he was without his 15-year-old beastie who typically brought up the rear of their daily constitutional. It made me weep for him and his lost companion. I couldn’t stand it.

Ever since our first conversation, I make it a point to talk to the old gentleman if we are out on the gully at the same time. He seemed lonely and in need of company. Perhaps I was his only conversation of the day. Typically, you’d think he’s cranky and wants to be left alone but I discovered that’s not at all true. He always stops and chats if I start a conversation. And, in fact, he will talk for hours if I can think of enough to say. We talk mostly about our dogs — the only subject we have in common. And I’m always the one who eventually chooses to move along. He never breaks the connection.

“Hey,” I say to get him to lift his head and make eye contact. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we both continue along our opposite ways.

“Nice weather,” might get his attention. Don’t we love to talk about the weather. “Breezy this evening.” “Clouds coming.” “Can it get any hotter than this?”

Our other common denominator is the gully itself and the beautiful, rolling communal grounds we walk or I bike every day.

“We could sure use some mowing out here,” is a good bet because he certainly wants to complain if our subdivision fees aren’t being spent wisely.

We are both lovers of nature so we are also inclined to comment on the egrets, herons or the red-shouldered hawks that can be spotted on occasion. A snake sighting is always exciting and makes us both step a bit livelier.

The last time we talked, I’d just lost my Patsy dog to cancer and was enamored of his old white hound who brought up the rear of his slow-moving parade. He and his two hearty black labs inch along at the old gentleman’s pace, and the old hound girl lingers behind until her master grouches for her to catch up. As Jack London would say, “He speaks with the sound of switches in his voice.” But, unlike the man in “To Build a Fire,” I knew this was simply the old gentleman’s alpha voice for leading his pack.

In my talk about Patsy, I learned his old girl was 15 years old. Cookie was her name. Her tan coat was flecked generously with silver, declaring her age. I’ve never had a dog live that long and was curious about his care for his four-legged friends.

He walked his menagerie twice a day, he said. Lived alone otherwise. But he didn’t appear to be the doting pet owner I am. Just a practical man giving his beasties their proper care. Maybe someday I will learn about a past profession or a family but, on these walks, we are in the moment. Only about the now.

How are the mosquitoes? Are the egrets fishing or, if it’s late enough, bullfrogs croaking. We are both sometimes tired and going through the motions.

I’ve been on the porch the last few evenings when I’ve seen him walk by. I don’t holler and wave like I do for most folks because I know he’s a bit hard of hearing and he has his head down so he won’t see me over the fence. When he walked by without his old girl, I had the urge to run out and comfort him. Also inappropriate.

In my career as an observer of human nature, I’d say he doesn’t want me to make a fuss.

So tonight I made a point of getting my surviving hound Tucker out on the gully in time to run into him. And, I’d planned — if he were going the other direction — we would recalibrate to put ourselves in his line of vision. I would ask about Cookie and we would talk about Patsy. I can’t seem to stop thinking of her. We would share common ground in a common loss of a most beloved pet. It would comfort us both.

Tucker and I crossed the bridge and were at the far end of the gully when I saw company coming at the far other end — a little less than a half mile away. I biked; Tucker ran, and we got closer. Finally, I saw the straw bowler and knew I’d timed our adventure just right. Tucker is off leash when I’m biking and a bit of a mess, so I hollered for him to halt. That way, I could pull the bike up next to him and slip the leash over his neck. He’s so good and well behaved, unlike Patsy who was always full of mischief.

Tucker and I poised to await the arrival of the parade. Tucker hunkered down in his submissive pose at the onslaught of the black labs, both of whom are probably double Tucker’s weight. With my eyes on Tucker for the last few minutes, I finally looked up to greet my neighbor. And there, to my surprise and pleasure, shuffled Cookie.

She was still alive, still walking with her friend. I was pleased beyond measure. Tucker and I stood as still as statues while the frisky boys sniffed and moved along. Finally, Cookie came up, shuffled over to me, sniffing my knee and then my hand. I stroked her head and neck and beamed.

“She’s so great,” I told my neighbor, my friend.

“She’s still making it,” he answered. “We are all making it. Another day.”

Yes, we certainly are.




Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 18, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Amy Winehouse alongside my commute today

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We know that can’t be true because we lost Amy to drugs in 2011, but this woman sure looked like her, had hair touching the ceiling of her truck and was intensely gripping the steering wheel and staring straight ahead. I tried to stay with her long enough to hear her belt a line or two from, “They tried to make me go to rehab” but driving is a fleeting activity. You only get a glimpse and it’s gone.

I saw her in profile, like in the pictured photo. She didn’t have on this much makeup but she had the big hair bump. I can’t be sure about the tattoos either.Amy Winehouse

I have a bit of a reputation in my family for sighting celebrities or near celebrities, especially along my commute. It’s my own version of the old Saturday Night Live Skit from the early days. I believe that was called “Almost Famous,” “Near Brush with Fame” or maybe it was “Brush with the Nearly Famous.” I guess it doesn’t matter because, like the faces I see, it’s not quite correct but close enough to make you think twice or look twice.

Truly, I have a good eye for facial structure and features so you can’t really blame me and many times my immediate family members have agreed with me – at least for a few moments. In fact, they always look to be sure I’m wrong again.

To this day, I believe I saw Danny Glover chasing me on a motorcycle as I sped along U.S. 59 on my way to Houston. He was riding one of those cool, jacked up from behind motorcycles, a Ducati, and he had on a lot of paraphernalia to cover his face and hands. But you’d recognize him anywhere. These few years later, I remind my family of the sighting and they name a series of action heroes – Sylvester Stallone, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis. See, they even misremember what they claim is my mistaken identity sighting. Who can trust anyone in this family as a witness?

It all started on a trip to Hollywood many years ago. That’s when I first saw Ringo waiting at a bus stop in Beverly Hills. I couldn’t get my driver (my husband) to turn around andSwarthy go check that I’d had an accurate sighting. Thus, the questions began. I saw Judith Light from “Who’s the Boss” on that same trip and later found a middle-aged Rebecca De Mornay, still wearing those same bangs from “Risky Business,” working at the financial firm where I was employed as a financial writer at the time. I frequently see the swarthy villain from “Ghost,” but that’s in other movie roles. Clearly, he made an impression.

Just last week, I saw Brienne of Tarth from “Game of Thrones” going to class in the Texas Medical Center. But, she didn’t fool me as Gwendoline Christie, the real actress who plays Brienne. This woman was a tall, really pale student in Scandinavian dress but not at all a warrior.Brienneoftarth

The bottom line of this story, these experiences, may be something clever like “keep your eyes of road.” But that can’t be true or at least is no fun. You have to keep your eyes and mind open to the many adventures and characters who crop up in everyday life on an everyday commute.