Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for December 2014

Santa commutes to Houston

with 2 comments

Santa says hello

Santa says hello

‘Tis the season when you are just as likely to see Santa commuting to Houston as you are to see Art Cars for the parade any time of year, washtub Madonnas to be delivered for yard art or an 18-wheeler upside down and ablaze.

This has been a busy season for one suburban Santa who has had more appearances this year than he did since his own kids were little and he sat them on his knee. Back in those days, he couldn’t fool his own kids and they never learned to believe in Santa. “That’s not Santa; that’s my daddy,” his toddlers would say so he typically made appearances when they weren’t around. However, we have one treasured picture of them on his knee in his Santa get-up.

Santa and his kids when they were kids

Santa and his kids when they were kids

“I love to see the reactions when people see me driving down the road,” Santa says. “In Houston, folks are so intense when they’re driving and have those wrinkled brows. If they see me, they do a double take and I see their faces relax immediately.”

Of course, most times when you’re in the city, no one pays much attention to any odd happenings or people. Santa is just about the least unexpected sight any time of the year in Houston.

Recently Santa said he saw some cool teen-age girls walking by the road and perhaps talking “mean girl trash” and certainly texting aggressively. They looked up and saw Santa driving by. The jolly ol’ elf said they stopped texting immediately, shouted “hellos” to him and began to skip and laugh, like they were kids again. Santa noted that if you can make elite teen-age girls feel like kids again, then you are a very successful Santa.

It’s a unique experience to be Santa because you are not yourself; you are someone magical, special and good. No room for bad Santas. People are friendly and come up to you like they know you. Because, of course, they do.

Santa gives a fan a hug

Santa gives a fan a hug

Santa visited several businesses this year and was accosted on one occasion in the parking lot by a woman who ran across the freeway to get to him.

“Santa, I’m 50 years old and I still believe in you,” she said, giddy like a schoolgirl.

“It’s not unusual for people 50 and 60 years old to call me Santa, want a hug and say they want to have their picture taken with me,” our favorite St. Nick said recently. “I think they are reliving their own childhoods and drawing back on a positive experience and an experience they want to relive in the moment.”

His favorite, of course, is visiting elementary schools where he is treated like a rock star. He also has been a special guest at Texas Children’s Hospital where he says the parents are often more appreciative than the children and glad to be taken away to a happy place for a moment.

“Being Santa is my favorite volunteer experience. There’s no ego involved because folks don’t know who you are and see you as someone special. You are almost a reflection of the person you are greeting because they all have intimate ideas of who Santa is to them. It’s a gift. I’m lucky.”





Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 15, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Sailing the roads in the car of your dreams

with 6 comments

Cars have been considered a reflection of their owners’ personalities at least for the TV generation since 1958 and the second episode of 77 Sunset Strip when Efren Zimblist Jr. handed his Thunderbird over to Kookie.

For men, their vehicle can be a symbol of their success or of their machismo. My car always has been an important part of my identity. So please excuse my brief stereotyping. As a woman who loves cars, I’ve never considered it a guy issue any more than my own personal issue.

I take great pride in buying my own first car, a green 1971 Pinto. That’s right. Take that, Ralph Nader.

My mom’s car was falling apart one night when I was running the roads more and more. I was late because of terrible car trouble, and we got into a huge fight at midnight.


My dream hood ornament

“I will never touch your car again,” I shouted. She didn’t acquiesce. The next day, I biked to the nearest used car lot and bought my Olive for $1,999. Payments were $60 a month. It was part of the dowry I would bring into my marriage my freshman year of college.

In fact, that last evening in the Ford Cartina had been terribly dangerous – especially by today’s standards. I had been as upset and angry as my mom. Her silly maroon Cartina had been a major mechanical failure since my renegade brother and usually motorcycle rider had borrowed it and attempted to pop wheelies in it. He’d drop it into reverse, get going pretty fast and then switch quickly to drive. Not smart but then how many 16-year-old boys are.



Eventually the gears were stripped and untold damage caused. My mom had boo-hood on my shoulder at the expensive repair bill, but the car was never the same. It was even more unreliable than I was but a far cry from as unreliable as my brother.

The night my mom and I had our falling out over my transportation, the Cartina’s electrical system wouldn’t work when my friend Penny and I decided to go home from the Beaumont drag at about midnight. The engine would run but the lights would not. I couldn’t see the dashboard or how fast I was going. Everything inside and outside was pitch black.

Penny and I were pretty good at finding some male companionship back in those days and may have lined up a couple of new friends already. I can’t quite remember. Nonetheless, we had two Romeos who were perfectly willing to follow us home, shining their car lights on us for the 20-minute drive. OMG! Perhaps their plans were different, but ours were merely to get home alive.



When we arrived safely at my house, I turned Penny over to the two strangers for her own lift home.

Dear God in Heaven: Please forgive me for my foolishness as a teenager. Thank you, God, for giving me far less to handle with my own kids. And thank you for delivering my best friend and most fun running buddy home safely. God 1; Denise -XX, at age 16, I think it was just double digits at the time.

I’ve not always gone up in car ownership since the Pinto and never quite made it to the Jaguar level – the car I admired most as a kid. Of course, I’ve lived in the two places where car ownership is a sense of pride – Texas and Michigan. Or, shall we say, Houston and Detroit.



I had a series of used and superfluous vehicles until I bought one of Lee Iacocca’s first convertibles back in the 1980s when he’d returned to Chrysler to save the car maker. I had a new high powered job at the Dallas Times Herald and would be commuting to Dallas. I wanted to travel in style.

I raised my two babies with car seats in the three-quarters backseat of that Chrysler ES Turbo. It moved with me to Detroit for five years when I freelanced at the Detroit Free Press.

I finally faced change and bought a Grand Caravan when my kids were in middle school. Ironically, by then, they never wanted to be in the car with me anyway. Later I would buy Vinny, the Xtera and now Clarence, the Rogue. I still aspire to a Jaguar but may not be the right character for a chic car.

I have a desire for flames or lightning or a full-fledged mermaid on the front of my car – perhaps the reason I’m drawn to the big cat on the Jag. I want to hang fun items from my rearview mirror and put unique signs on my bumper or in my windows.

Thus, I’ve settled for elf ears on Clarence this Christmas. I’ve conformed to a degree and so far. Clarence prefers a bit of dignity and is not quite a fan of the elf ears. When I find just the right mermaid for his hood ornament, I think he will be happier.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 7, 2014 at 8:54 am

Silliness and pseudonyms: The nexus of Inger Stevens and Kurt Russell

leave a comment »

I have a gentle secret in my background that is different from the narrative of my life as I usual tell it. I always say and am very proud of the fact that I’ve always made my living as a writer. It was/is a girlhood dream fulfilled. I’m not a famous writer or a famously paid author of a top-10 bestseller but, nonetheless, I am a paid and published writer who has been working in the same profession since my first job at a newspaper at 16 years old.

But, if you’ve read all these blogs, you know the truth. I held a job before my first newspaper job. This was back in the day when 14-year-olds could work and could get a driver’s license. I got to take advantage of the job part but didn’t make it to the car part. That law was changed right before I got there.

My first office job actually was as a telephone solicitor, selling siding to unsuspecting folks who answered their land lines in an era when everyone had a land line and answered it. Ewwww. Seems like a tough job on many fronts and I’ve gotten some unbelieving looks from the younger generation. But it’s true. And again, I was pretty good at it. In fact, it gave me an excellent background for all the telephone experience I would have later in life as a reporter – checking my traps, talking to sources, taking dictation, etc.

The siding sales manager knew, of course, that my credibility would be hampered if folks on the other end of the telephone line knew they were talking to a 14-year-old. So, he helped me slow down the pace of my conversation and deepen my speaking voice. Then, he told me to choose a name, my first nom de plume. I would be Mrs. Whomever to increase my credibility and make me appear older to the person on the other end of the line.

IngerStevensThat’s how my nom de plume as a telephone solicitor became Mrs. Stevens at age 14. I named myself for Inger Stevens, another suicidal blond actress from the ‘60s. Inger Stevens made her mark on my impressionably romantic psyche as “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a sitcom when I’d have been in elementary school. It was about a young Swedish woman who becomes the housekeeper for widowed U.S. congressman played by William Windom. Just like me, the teen-age me thought, smart and beautiful with tragically hidden talents.

At least I didn’t pick Ann Margaret, who was, of course, my favorite actress of all times until she was replaced by . . . well, I don’t think anyone ever replaced Ann Margaret for me. Even I knew that Mrs. Margaret wouldn’t do as a telephone solicitor.

Mrs. Stevens would not be my only pseudonym. Many years later in life, I would have to pick another pseudonym. This was long after my byline was sealed as Denise Bray Hensley. It so happened the hometown newspaper needed someone to cover sports at the local high school. It also so happened that my son played football on the hometown team and was a star player. Once again, I needed a credible nom de plume and this time without the Hensley last name so that folks wouldn’t necessarily know that Travis’s mom was writing the stories – even though his name typically made it into one of the top two or three paragraphs every time. Of course, he was that good and his plays needed to be reported. I never once came down from my skill as a highly objective newspaper reporter from the days when such reporters existed.

jack burtonThus, we find the nexus of Inger Stevens and Kurt Russell who played Jack Burton in “Big Trouble and Little China.” Jack Burton became the byline on my sports stories.

Jack Burton who is famous for his one-liners from the movie that I watched with my kids at least a dozen times.

“Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call the president.”

“Have ya paid your dues, Jack?” “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”

“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.”

“May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.”

And, once again, I couldn’t make my first choice my pseudonym. Like Mrs. Stevens was better than Mrs. Ann Margaret for selling siding; Jack Burton was better than Snake Plissken for a sports byline in a hometown newspaper.Snake