commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for March 2016

Here’s a shocker: Houstonians wasted more time in traffic in 2015

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Let’s start with me. Yes, I’ve wasted more time in traffic this year than last year and that is despite being off on medical leave and working from home for an unusual three months and two new knees of the year. I knew before this report that my commute has increased since I first started making a regular trek to the big city more than two decades ago.  Ask my suburban friends who are appalled at the two hours I spend to and fro work every day. I’ve been saying that my commute has increased a lot lately.

Praying that this truckload of Madonnas help me get there a little quicker

Praying that this truckload of Madonnas help me get there a little quicker

When I agreed to this gig, my commute was 45 minutes or less. Heck, when I used to teach at University of Houston at night, I gave myself 35 minutes to get to campus from my Livable Forest home, leaving my toddlers with their father who was home from his day job. But then, none of my UH students ever cared if I was on time or even absent. Such is the life of an adjunct professor.  And I had a silver convertible — also named Streak, like my current road bike. It was fun to drive home in the open air to find the kids asleep and the husband mellow. Today, it’s much different. As an empty-nester with a cool new swimming pool, great garden of flowers and a husband who is an inventive cook, I have a lot waiting for me at home.

I hated to see it counted in specifics and real-life metrics. This week, a new report from the Washington-based Inrix Inc. shows Houstonians wasted 12 more hours in traffic in 2015 than in years past. OMG! That’s a season of binge watching “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black.” It gives me several meaningful episodes of “Game of Thrones” that I will now have to sit in a chair and lose my life to. Luckily, I’ve already binge watched all of “Luther” or I’d be in trouble, perhaps trying to watch on my iPad in the car.

The average Houstonian wasted about 74 hours in his or her car last year sitting in gridlock traffic, the report says. Yikes!  Of course, true.

Looking over my shoulder for trouble in the train lane.

Looking over my shoulder for trouble in the train lane.

Just last week, a terrible story erupted about a woman in a three-car wreck in Houston who took off her clothes and danced wildly on an 18-wheeler, stopping traffic for hours. I could be that woman! I have wanted to make a statement many days as I sat in my Nissan Rogue Clarence, going nowhere. Luckily for my now-adult children, I’ve kept my clothes on  . . . so far. They are still worried about their mom being tossed against the hood of Clarence and handcuffed by “The Man” who has stopped me three times in the last six months in sneaky speed traps for breaking the traffic laws.  I’m certain I’m being profiled now that I’m no longer a cute young thing who can talk her way out of a traffic ticket. They think I’ll pay and not complain. So far they are correct.

This week’s findings make Houston the city with the fourth worst traffic in the country.  We fall  behind Los Angeles (No. 1 ), Washington, D.C., (No. 2), and San Francisco (No. 3). It was the only Texas city to make the top 10.

Houston can brag of being the road most traveled in five of the top 100 most congested stretches of roads in the country. The city’s most trafficked area was the portion of Interstate 610 from the Woodway Drive exit to Beechnut Street, near the Galleria. The less than 7-mile strip, which has received low ratings before, should take about six minutes to traverse, according to the report. At peak travel time, the strip takes about 26 minutes. I believe it takes longer.

Almost to work

Almost to work

Other highly trafficked roads in Houston within the top 100 in the country were:

  • S. Highway 59 from Lorraine Street to Texas 288 (been there; done that.)
  • Interstate 45 from Texas 5 Spur to Gulf Bank Road
  • Interstate 610 from Evergreen Street to W. 11th Street
  • S. Highway 290 from Antoine Drive to N. Eldridge Parkway

Now, here’s the even worse news:

The Texas Department of Transportation recently announced that it would invest $447 million toward relieving traffic on three of the city’s major highways. TxDOT has even proposed elevating lanes in some of the most congested areas of 610 to help alleviate traffic. However, construction on other roads is still expected to bring about closures and congestion.

When this road work creates even more traffic jams, I will certainly shed my clothes, dance in the grid-locked traffic and make a spectacle of myself. All I can say to the family is “Be prepared; I’m not quitting anytime soon.”

A new season for a favorite neighbor

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Tucker frisking Over the years, I very gradually have gotten to know an elderly dog walker in my neighborhood who I’ve written about before when he lost his old girl, Cookie, to old age. He is such a kindred spirit that I’ve created an entire story around him – without really knowing him much at all.  I think he’s a lot like me or like I will be if I ever retire.

He may be as old as 80 but certainly in his late 70s. A bit of a curmudgeon because he can’t be bothered with two-legged creatures. He keeps his head down, watching his feet as he carefully slugs through the uneven turf of the gully. A little deaf so he doesn’t invite much conversation. A regular gent and loner. A lover of nature and solitude.

I hadn’t seen him for at least a year. Of course, the last year has been pretty busy for me with getting my new fake knees and marrying off my only daughter. But still, I walk Tucker every day. You would think I would have seen him before now. I wouldn’t let my mind wander to him or his three hounds – down to two with the loss of Cookie. I just pretended he was still in the world and we were taking the same path at different times of the day. But occasionally I couldn’t help but think the worst and that I’d never see him again.

Then, last Sunday, I was about halfway on my return trip on the gully. Up ahead, I saw his familiar cadre making their way my way.  His stance was familiar, a bit slumped, and he thudded through the dirt, like always.  And there by his side were three dogs.

“Must not be him,” I thought. Last time I’d seen him, he was down to two dogs and was mourning sweet Cookie as we commiserated over my lost girl, Patsy.

I hurried forward with hope and was rewarded.

“Hey,” I couldn’t contain myself, “How have you been?” And he looked up with these faded gray eyes and recognized me.

He had traded his straw-colored bowler for a head helmet, no longer attempting dapper in the name of safety. Otherwise, he looked healthy and as happy as I’ve ever seen him – meaning not happy at all but weary, faded and tired. He is definitely a disciplined person, though, and resigned to complete his long walk with his friends.

In my experience, he doesn’t bother to look up when people pass by and never speaks first. It’s as if he doesn’t want to trouble anyone else along the journey.

“Good. Good. You?” he said and a twitch made its way to his lips, not a smile but almost.

Tucker, me and Patsy from our old gully days. Dog walks have changed without my high maintenance princess.

Tucker, me and Patsy from our old gully days. Dog walks have changed without my high maintenance princess.

“I’m still down to my one dog,” I said, “But I see you’re back up to three.” And, in fact, he had the happiest teen-aged dog running with his pack. Another German shepherd-looking creature but clearly a mix. This pup knew he’d landed in doggie heaven and gave me a big hound-smile.  With a devoted owner, sweet old Virgil and another hound whose name I continue to miss when we talk, New Pup was frisking around, knowing he’d soon be unleashed when my gentleman friend felt like it was safe to do so.

He said it had taken him awhile to find the right fit for his other dogs and him. He had to be careful with the pup and not let him jerk much or pull him over, thus he’d stuck with wearing the head helmet.

We exchanged dog pats – me giving all three of his attention while he talked and cooed to Tucker, letting Tucker sniff him thoroughly. Tucker is a great judge of character and never once fussed or worried about this man. Typically, he wants to bark at everyone and sniff but he knows kindness immediately. The only time he didn’t bark at the pizza delivery man, I was curious, and the guy told me he had six dogs at home. Ha!! How did Tucker know that from the other side of the door? But he did.

My neighborhood experiences are more like this one instead of the angry man from last week. I love seeing other dog walkers and their creatures. I never visit long because I have my own opinions and often don’t want to hear much from others.

Besides, dog walking is solitary experience in my case – solitary, that is, except for Tucker. It’s when I get inside his head and he gets in mind. And, when that happens, all I care about is the squirrel up ahead and how the grass smells.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 13, 2016 at 9:18 am

Two neighbors diverged in my suburban wood

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Dastardly neighbor with umbrella as weapon -- Penguin from "Gotham."

Dastardly neighbor with umbrella as weapon — Penguin from “Gotham.”

And me, I keep thinking about the bad one. Make that the horrible one.  Well, I’m determined to get this bad neighbor experience out of my system and move on to the rewarding experience I had just days before this. So, here goes.

You never know what your neighbor has been thinking or doing when you happen onto him on a routine dog walk. I can be pretty internal so I’m not always looking for conversation and neither, most times, is the other guy.  Typically I know the dog and not the neighbor. Less often I meet neighbors I know but we may not have dogs in common. Our talks are shorter.

In the recent rain, I made a mistake — a mistake that I will, in fact, make again. I took Tucker for a walk in the neighborhood with his leash in my pocket. No one was outside, I justified. He sticks so close to me, I amplified. I will leash him as soon as I see anyone, I lied to myself.

We were more than halfway when we came upon a couple. Tucker sniffed; they cooed. All was well.

When we entered the loop of the park, we headed right. We were 20 feet to the counter-clockwise side – about 5 o’clock – when a man and his black lab with a short leash came out of the fog at 7 o’clock. It was late in the day and I figured him for a businessman after work, now in his yellow bowling shirt and getting some exercise.

We went our separate ways, Tucker not noticing until the man turned to face us. We both thought it was a friendly gesture and Tucker scampered his dog’s way, me not five feet behind him and pulling his leash from my pocket. That’s when the man raised his huge umbrella in a menacing manner to strike my dog, my guy, my pampered best friend. Tucker shot away from him and back to my side where I leashed him immediately.

I'm Batman in this story, only I didn't have an umbrella.

I’m Batman in this story, only I didn’t have an umbrella.

I stood still as a statue in my surprise. That’s when the man laughed. My freeze unfroze immediately.

“You’re threatening my dog and now laughing?” I said. What he said next was quite X-rated and would have made my husband and son break his umbrella over his head. They could do it, too, so he was pretty lucky – lucky, that is, except for the part where I was raised on 14th Street in Port Neches, Texas, deep in the heart of the wrong side of the tracks. He didn’t know I learned to fight to the death before I entered elementary school, especially when someone threatens a loved one of mine.  Heck, I tried to chase him with my two fake knees.

I kept my language in check because I thought we’d end with cops called. That was attempted aggravated assault after all. In fact, I don’t think it even occurred to me to cuss him back. The situation itself did not call for bad language. He was out of line on all accounts. He even did this girly mimic of me flailing my hands and claiming I’d get Tucker on his leash.  It was quite disturbing and not at all comical. I tried to chase him again.

I never backed down and, in the end, he didn’t much either.

I got in the usual zinger about him taking his bad work day out on me. But I seemed to hit my mark when I asked, “do you even love your dog?”

“I couldn’t threaten a dog like you did just then unless I had to defend myself. I love dogs. You can’t possibly love your dog.” I also added something about him having serial killer tendencies because he liked to torture pets. With that, he actually headed along his way.

And now that I’ve written about it, maybe it will be off my mind.

Did you know the brain focuses on the negative? That’s why we walk away from an excellent evaluation with the one criticism on our minds. Why we remember our speech as the one mispronounced word. Why I remember the bad neighbor and need to focus on the good. The good neighbor experience happened on the weekend and is about a man I’ve written about before. I will write about that pleasant visit next and give it more thought and energy.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 9, 2016 at 3:43 pm