Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for November 2015

My bionic life – the sequel

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Countdown begins for Mr. Lefty

Countdown begins for Mr. Lefty

The countdown has started.

One month from today, Dec. 29, I will do it all again – replace my left knee to go with my right knee replacement. I look back over my notes and posts from the Sept. 15 operation and can’t quite believe I’m going to do this – at all, much less already. But then, I go for a hound walk or easily stroll a few blocks for lunch or a meeting at work in the huge Texas Medical Center, and I know I’m ready. I go upstairs in my two-story home (something I avoided for at least a couple of years) or bend over to pick up something I dropped, and I know I’m ready. I can even get on my knees and look under the bed or couch for a dropped earring or, more likely, a missing remote.

If one knee replacement has made me feel 10 years younger, there’s a strong possibility that the second knee replacement will give me my old self back.

I also know I’m ready because of Thanksgiving. Earlier this week, I started a column about how Thanksgiving was my least favorite holiday. It was a lot about the cooking, which I’m not good at, and the martyrdom of mothers everywhere on this feast day. Matriarchs (yikes to that word but it’s the one I’m looking for) have a big job on Thanksgiving. We not only put on a good spread but we keep harmony and please everyone. Only then is it a good holiday. And basically – despite how much help we get from others – we are the center of activity for this eating event.

This year, as Thanksgiving Day was winding down for my family, about 11 p.m. or so, I realized I was still standing. I felt good. I had energy. I now like Thanksgiving again. I can’t write a column about it being my least favorite holiday because that’s no longer true.

I now think it was the insidious pain in my knees that made me dread Thanksgiving. Sometimes as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, if I’d been standing up at the kitchen island after work and doing pre-Thanksgiving chopping, I’d start to get exhausted. Before noon on Thursday, I could hardly stand. And, as someone who always has been healthy and active, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Actually, I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I supposed I was overdoing it. And I always overdo it. I totally pushed through without much of a complaint. I blamed Thanksgiving and not my knees.

Mr. Right Knee, one week after surgery

Mr. Right Knee, one week after surgery

I also now realize a lot more about chronic pain. In my case, it had gotten so gradually worse that it had become part of my routine. I ignored it when I could and lived with it when I couldn’t. It typically wasn’t a huge problem in my day to day. I became a biker and a swimmer instead of a tennis player and a distance walker.

I knew I couldn’t walk around so much on vacations and I’d plan my touring accordingly. The last couple of conferences I went on for work, I rented bicycles to get from my hotel to the conference hall. I didn’t really think that much about it. I must have inherently known that I couldn’t walk the couple of three blocks as easily as I could bike them. It worked out; I had great fun. In Madison, Wisconsin, I biked around the lakes after hours. In San Francisco, I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge. It wasn’t my endurance that was a problem; it was my knees.

The last big touring vacation I took was when my children were young adults. My youngest had just graduated college, and he wanted to visit Washington, D.C. Now, that’s a lot of walking! Our routine was to take a cab to wherever we were going to start our tour – Washington Monument, the specific Smithsonian we would visit, etc. Then, we’d visit as much as possible, eventually walking our way to our nearby hotel. It worked great until the fifth and final day when I was done by about noon. Of course, my daughter and son were not remotely ready. I’m going to have to offer that trip to them again in the next year or so. This time it will be six of us, but we’ll do D.C. up right with new knees.

So, the countdown begins. I know what to expect. I’m ready. I’ve asked to get out of the hospital after two days this time instead of three. Last time, I was still in shock and confused by the amount of pain I was in around the clock. Now, I know that will come to an end after about three weeks. I’d just as soon suffer at home and be on the couch for New Year’s Eve.

My PT team -- coach and support

My PT team — coach and support

John will be my primary PT coach. He and my nurse want me to hit the rehab folks a couple of times and I may, but I can tell you John was the ticket to my good health right now.

And I’ll post. My Facebook friends will see more of me every day and this blog will be my outlet for longer thoughts of a non-commuting kind. I’ve promised no whining this time. I’m sure I’ll shout out at midnight or 3 a.m. on occasion but I’m ready.


Suburban sentiments and sightings

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God's thumbnail

God’s thumbnail


Star-gazing on the gully

It happens about once a week. I might complain about the traffic or muse about something interesting I saw on my commute from the ’burbs to the city. I won’t go for an after-work drink or out to dinner in Houston because “I’ve got to get home.”

Then, I hear myself say it, “It’s a long drive – about an hour each way.” My listener, mostly city residents, will flinch at the thought.

The commute actually is getting longer and longer every week. It wasn’t but about 45 minutes at the most just 10 years ago. Before that, when I commuted at night, I’d give myself 35 minutes to get to University of Houston where I was an adjunct professor.

“Sure, I mind,” I answer to the follow-up flinch.

“But I like where I live and I like where I work.” I actually love my home and my job but I don’t want to rub it in. I couldn’t have this job in the ’burbs and I couldn’t afford a place in the city with so much space, I say instead.

“It’s a choice. My choice,” I say, and I choose it five days a week.

One of the main reasons I love my suburban home is the gully behind our house.

I grew up 90 miles from here so I’m used to waterways — bayous, gullies, rivers, drainage ditches, canals and, of course, the Gulf of Mexico, leading straight to the ocean. In Southeast Texas, we build every type of water containment possible to help with drainage because we live in a hurricane-prone area that is often below sea level and basically has its own rainy season.

We are lucky to have this gully behind our house not just for the extra space but because it keeps us from flooding . . . at least so far. And, it makes for evening and weekend adventures.


Patsy always enjoyed a dip in the gully after a hound walk.

Tucker in the grass

Tucker enjoys a back scratch on the gully

We have an abundance of birds including egrets, blue herons and two red-shouldered hawks that visit daily. I saw one of those hawks swoop down in front of my dog walk once, grab a snake from the high grass nearer the water and go soaring away with about a three-foot snake in his mouth. Quite a surprise. I hadn’t seen the hawk much less the snake.

We have dog-sized turtles and cat-sized frogs. I used to walk at sunset intentionally to see two deer who made their way to a nearby bridge every evening. I once saw a coyote, carrying what looked like a bunny, home for supper — make that breakfast, it was early.

Neighbors' garden

Neighbors grow flowers and vegetables on the gully

We have good neighbors along the gully including three families in a row who are gardening back there – some vegetables and some beautiful flowers. The open space also allows some great star gazing. I’m an amateur astronomer and we can take the Celestron to the gully for our own star parties.

Frog - Copy

The gully has a “frog season” and we are visited by hundreds

Mostly, I walk the dogs — now just Tucker — on the gully. I’ve chased every hound I’ve ever had into and around the gully many days. My old Patsy hound, gone now about 18 months, loved to lounge in the gully like a hippopotamus. Tucker is an easy boy. We walk or we bike. He stays beside me and we appreciate and enjoy the extra space.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 21, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Urban observations

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 16, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Urban observations

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PIIn a parking garage basement, an extremely thin woman stands against the elevators of a Texas Medical Center parking garage, smoking aggressively. She’s wearing a blue-patterned hospital johnny, with fortunately enough room to be closed in the back because of her slim frame. An IV pump on rollers is her constant companion. I smell her cigarette on every floor as I look for a parking space and most strongly on seventh/purple floor where I finally park. As someone who has lost two beloved siblings to lung cancer, I consider vigilantism. Then, decide to go on to work. We nod at each other and mind our own business.

My workmate buys Chipotle for a man who says he is hungry. I forget to ask what he ordered and will be sure and ask her next week. Her only complaint is trying to make conversation with him while they waited. “How’s the weather under the underpass?” comes to mind. Been there myself when I gave a guy some cash while I was buying gas. Didn’t count on him standing with me the entire time I filled my tank. What do you say? Never found any common ground.

Man in a polo shirt and khakis ranting at an office chair on rollers that he’d pulled between two newspaper racks.

Homeless man sits in a huge wrought iron chair, designed as art in downtown Houston, near the entryway to the HOV lane. He reminds me of a child, feet unable to touch the floor,  because of the extraordinary proportions. He’s sharing what appears to be a 12-inch Subway bun with about a dozen pigeons. I’m glad to see he’s not that hungry.

minionCartoon Minion hanging from a car’s bumper, dragging his stuffed creature feet on the concrete freeway. Followed him all the way from Kingwood to Houston. I love Minions and certainly relate as one who feels like a member of the rat race, on my own hamster wheel and with many masters. I don’t get it. We already are downtrodden. Right?

Homeless woman on Main Street with a filled shopping cart and several bags of belongings. I see a blanket, other clothing but am always curious at what one considers of value when you live on the streets. I never make out anything but clothing. The thought pops into my head that it’s fall and perfect weather in Houston. It won’t get too cold or too hot this night. Maybe 55 degrees at the lowest. She should be comfortable.

Dead  body on my way into work one day. Police photographers still taking pictures. Looks like he’d laid down outside the church soup kitchen and just didn’t wake up. Fully clothed, hands behind his head. Could have been sleeping still. Once again, I become the chameleon and put myself in his shoes. Seemed like he may have chosen for himself.  As an old police reporter, I’ve seen my share of dead bodies — this one didn’t seem violent. Can’t say I am surprised or even sad. On the other side of the half-century mark (and, for me, even before) death has become a huge part of life.

On my way to get a new hair do on Montrose, I see a business owned by someone who must be leading my parallel life. “Private Investigations” it says. Locksmith tools, cameras, phone and computer forensics. I always wanted to be paid to be nosy, maybe on a stakeout with Dr Peppers and Cheetos. Seems like a great job.

Ran into one of the world’s leading breast cancer experts on my walk to my car for the commute home, and his smile upon seeing me pleased me beyond measure. “Where have you been,” he asked. We used to share a floor — with offices at both ends. What an inspiring, knowledgeable and kind soul he is. I’ve seen him be so tough and matter-of-fact and then kind, compassionate and at tears with kindness. And he’d miss me since my relocation. I’m so glad to be at this spot, at this time and seeing this person. We connect.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 14, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Lady Liberty slims down for new Bond movie

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 10, 2015 at 5:58 am

Lady Liberty slims down for new Bond movie

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heaviest image



And now

I loved the new James Bond film, “Spectre.” It couldn’t have been more suspenseful, action-packed, exciting and sexy. I was in absolute heaven for two and a half hours – unfortunately, having to visit the Ladies twice during a movie with no slow scenes. Thus, you might expect this “Commuter Chronicles” to be a timely assessment of this just-released movie. But, no, I will leave the “Spectre” reviews to the other million or so folks who will write about it. Instead, you’re going to get my off-center observation about what struck me the strongest.

It’s the opening credits. Lady Liberty was awfully thin. She was the slimmest Statue of Liberty I’ve ever seen in opening credits. And, as you know, the Green Lady of New York City should have remained pretty much her same size in the 120 years or so she’s been greeting the tired, huddled, tempest-tossed masses as they arrive in New York Harbor. Maybe she’s lost a little off the hips due to erosion but this weight-loss is dramatic. Paleo or Weight Watchers, I don’t think so. Remember Oprah when she wheeled in the 67 pounds of fat she lost on her first high protein diet?

First of all, let me say that I absolutely love beautiful people and beautiful bodies. Even as a girl, I always liked the cute boys and I liked having cute girlfriends. I was never that friend who had uglier friends to make me look good. But, I’m not much of a dieter and never have been. I don’t love the totally skinny society we’ve created but I do love long, lean lines and clothes that hang perfectly. For me, I separate people into athletic types and non-athletic types. Someone who is too thin is just frail to me. If she can still help me move a couch or push my stalled car off the road, then I’m OK with her being skinny.

I just don’t know about taking such liberties with Lady Liberty. I came home and attempted to look up Columbia Studio logos so I could prove it to myself and found a comparison that I’m including here. Thank heavens for the internet. Otherwise, we’d all think that Liberty was just trim in the first place and we’d lost our minds.

I will close now by admitting what a feminist hypocrite I am. My favorite part of the Bond movie is Daniel Craig. He’s so sculpted and beautiful that I occasionally forgot what was going on in the plot.  Maybe more than “occasionally;” let’s say “often.” He’s so sexy, smooth, confident and strong in this role  that I would have to comment out loud, disturbing the quiet audience who was shushing me and telling me to lower my voice (and that was my family members.) And this also happened more than “occasionally.” Let’s now say, “too often.”


His balance makes me swoon.

Mostly, though, I admired his incredible balance. When, in the opening sequence, he steps from high ledge to high ledge, strides from building to building (in what would be a long jump to mere mortals), I wanted to swoon. He never missed a step, never looked for a handhold, was so confident in his stride that it helped him get from here to there.

Then, getting off a boat, someone offers him a hand and says “watch your step.” I don’t even think he noticed. Also, I bet few movie-goes watched him walk up the middle of this very long, very wide staircase. “Oh, my God!” I shouted, and the audience wondered why this was such a marvel compared to the helicopter fight or the building caving in. Me, I’d be hanging on to the rail on either side of the stairs – nowhere near the middle.

As a Baby Boomer who is fighting old age at every corner, I’m coming off of knee replacement surgery and have been relearning my balance. Bond’s easy loping, fast running and confidence in his body were inspiring. Wow. I don’t care about thin but maybe I can attain that kind of balance again.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 7, 2015 at 10:12 am

Neighborhood rises from the dead (especially on Halloween)

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too long to find Waldo

Took too long to find Waldo

Kids coming

Cute kids coming and going at the front door

The life of a neighborhood ebbs and flows.  You know what I mean. “There goes the neighborhood,” you think when the yards get trashy and the houses need painted. (I’m guilty of both so no judgment meant.) Good friends come and go to more lush yards with bigger houses. Family activity becomes prank-ish as the kids grow into teenagers. Sometimes the pranks turn into vandalism. Cops are called and burglaries occur and you wonder if it’s time to find a new, more peaceful home.

I’m surprised to learn of a neighborhood’s revival because I’ve never lived in one house for long. But, now I have. Last night’s Halloween in my neighborhood was the liveliest ever in my 20 years here and compared quite favorable to the days when I led the fun with my scary-but-friendly husband and my superhero, princess and pirate-costumed kids.

Most of my neighbors had open houses and block parties down every cul-de-sac — adults gathering in front yards about every five houses or so.  Parents pulled out lawn chairs and sat in driveways to welcome trick-or-treaters. One family served a never-ending casserole of pasta and salad to offset the sweets. I biked around and around with invitations shouted from everyone. A couple of dads had zombie movies going in one garage; another had some kind of not-so-scary spookhouse. I’d say I had as much fun as possible for an empty nester on Halloween.

don't say a word

Don’t say a word, but we’ll be keeping our eyes on these guys

It was just last year that we made the decision to stay put in this house and neighborhood  after looking for two years for a new home that never quite met the qualifications we were after — one story, cool swimming pool and closer to Texas 59 and my route as a commuter to the Texas Medical Center. It just didn’t happen for us.

We had lived through kids growing up, horrible hurricanes and personal disasters with the same neighbors on either side of us. Then, in a blink of an eye, one family moved. The market was turning over quickly so they were gone before we could say much of a goodby. We could go, too, if we could find home elsewhere.

Robin hound

Buster, the hound, as Robin, the sidekick.

We are fortunate in a cookie-cutter ‘burb to back up to an excellent, spacious natural gully. Not even a bigger yard could make up the difference, in our minds, so we were tough home-buying customers. We have plenty of space for two so that wasn’t it. But we needed open space and  tons of updates. So, after an unrequited search for new digs, we settled in, put in our own pool and began reconstruction of some important and failing upkeep.

Last night confirmed, once more, that we made the right decision for us. Although we don’t know most of our neighbors any more, the adults were making the same kind of effort we did when our kids were young. Everyone was out and about, supervising what had to be a hundred or so kids from all over. I gave out 300 pieces of candy so I know it was a big crowd, even if I doubled and tripled up treats for the especially cute or young kids.

The kids who came to my door were as polite as could be. Even the older, rambunctious boys eventually let down their cool to laugh at our “where’s Waldo” skeleton. We saw mostly princesses, superheroes and Army guys with a few dress-for-success doctors and nurses. Everyone had made a pretty big effort so no casually clad teenagers just popping by for a treat.

The only other time I lived so long in one house was my original neighborhood on 14th Street in Port Neches — many decades ago. I’ve carried those neighborhood kids and adventures around with me my entire life, teaching me rules of the road that were especially useful as a longtime cop reporter in some of the roughest cities in the nation.

My kids

My kids from a couple of decades ago


Superheroes who visited this Halloween

You learn a lot about survival and about being kind from your neighbors. I’m glad to see my current crew has positive lessons to impart. If they can keep me entertained so nicely for Halloween, I’m ready to knock on a few doors and introduce myself  . . . again.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 1, 2015 at 9:57 am