commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Accidental swim reminds me of Carnegie Hall

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I accidentally swam in my jammies yesterday. It came about quite innocently and, as we now say in the business world, “organically.” That means it evolves naturally and without a specific plan in m…

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 31, 2016 at 7:53 am

Accidental swim reminds me of Carnegie Hall

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carnegie hall

I accidentally swam in my jammies yesterday. It came about quite innocently and, as we now say in the business world, “organically.” That means it evolves naturally and without a specific plan in mind and without anyone noticing or raising a ruckus.  “Organically” is a good thing, both personally and business-wide. So, here’s what happened.

I went into the backyard early early so that I could beat the Texas heat to my flower garden. I did some snipping, some watering and some weeding but was not at all sweating or glistening. I write this because I was not drawn to the water as a cool down as I have after bike riding in the middle of the summer. It was a perfect morning. Temperature still in the 70s and comfortably windy. Birds singing, frogs croaking off at the distance, no mosquitos or flies awakened just yet. I was one with nature and my backyard.

As I headed back inside for some indoor chores, I thought what a shame it was to go back inside when I’m seldom out so early unless I’m in the car commuting. Happens that this week I’ve taken a much needed stay-cation to recover and refresh from an arduous year of knee surgeries – two for me and one for my husband. So, instead of “getting away” for an island vacation (I always prefer the beach to the mountains), I’ve decided to stay home and enjoy the luxury of my own pool (still new from last year). My plan for the week is to read, float and sip umbrella drinks made by my own cabana boy. If I remotely attempt to clean a garage or an attic or sign on to work, I will be much embarrassed at my own lack of discipline at not allowing myself to be lazy. This Type A personality can certainly relax on command.

So I kicked off my Crocs and put my feet in the water. Before knee surgery, this itself would have been a production of Broadway standards. I couldn’t remotely get to the first step of the pool last year without first pulling over a chair or a bench for leverage.

Thus, I found myself sitting on the side of the pool, feet dangling in the refreshing turquoise water – still wearing my jammies.

It happens, too, that I was wearing hand-me-down jammies from my daughter. These are black and white musical notes over a too large t-shirt with the only color being “Carnegie Hall,” written in red on the left side where your shirt pocket would go. I never sang at Carnegie Hall but Laura did as a high school senior. We bought these jammies as a souvenir and, later in life when she went off to college; I found them in a pile of clothes to be handed off to Society of St. Stephens, our church’s donation center.

I had even written a story about the trip for the cover of the Houston Chronicle’s lifestyle page. It was spring of 2001 before the world would change that September. It’s still a story and adventure I love to reread, although it’s shaded by the circumstances of seeing the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers only months before they fell.

http://www.chron.com/life/article/Carnegie-Hall-appearance-teaches-lesson-in-2048894.php

Of course, I couldn’t give up Laura’s Carnegie Hall jammies even if she was ready to move on. So, they went into my jammie stash.

Back in the backyard, I waded for a while on the first step of the pool and then ventured to the second. I eventually sat on the edge and dangled my feet, thinking the water was a bit brisk. While the old lady in me was feeling pretty cold, the organic part of me tossed aside my glasses and dove in head first. I was underwater, swimming with no contacts or goggles and relatively unencumbered, and that’s how I stayed for the next hour or so. I had no towel, no book to read, no electronics and no glasses or contacts. Pretty uninhibited for a change.

Today, I’ve started a new habit for staycation. When I get up, I put on my bathing suit first thing. It’s not that I minded swimming in my pajamas, and, as a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed it. However, at some point when you’re not in appropriate bathing suit attire, it gets late enough in the day that it’s a bit awkward to get out of the pool.If I truly want to spend the day in the pool, I have to be a bit more prepared.

 

 

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 31, 2016 at 7:34 am

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

Mama said there’d be days like this

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 30, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Mama said there’d be days like this

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Good but fake attitude

Physical training in the hallway with a half-hearted smile

I never expect bad days and am always blindsided.  I am lucky enough to have a Pollyanna spirit so I don’t see it coming until it’s here. Same with drinking; I’m a happy drinker of alcohol instead of a sad or angry drunk. You won’t see me “crying in my cups.”  Instead, I’ll be dancing on the tables.  I also now know that I am a highly optimistic taker of pain killers. This is something new I’ve learned about myself by having two knee replacement surgeries in four months.

I call into work and take on a dozen assignments while I’m working from home and only days out of surgery. “Yes, you can expect me back at work on Monday,” I say and then I fall promptly to sleep for the next three days. Or I tell a friend I will meet her in the medical center for lunch on Friday and an hour’s drive away, thinking I’ll surely be driving in no time. Luckily, my friends and co-workers spotted this about me even before I did.  They take my optimism and whittle it down by at least three.

Then, comes a bad day as happened yesterday. I’m not at all prepared for these feelings because I don’t have that many of them.  I’m miserable, aching all up and down my new knee and can’t get comfortable. Not sitting, not standing and not laying. I’m lonely, depressed and feeling my age – which lands on the more experienced side of the half-century mark plus some.

As someone with a high threshold for pain – two children by natural child birth, a broken ankle without realizing it and a silent heart attack that I only learned about three months later — I was terribly surprised at the constant pain of knee replacement. No wonder gangsters are always threatening to shoot enemies in the knee caps. It’s damned painful. I’ll tell you anything if you threaten knee pain.

My first knee replacement was Sept. 1, 2015, and it was the worst. I whined for the first four weeks, stayed up all night uncomfortable and begged for prayers at 3 a.m. from FB friends. The prayers helped so I’m glad I did it. As I tell friends and family, I’m a communicator by nature, and everyone within my sphere knew I was miserable.

For my second surgery on Dec. 29, I was prepared for the pain and recovery period. I even asked to be out of the hospital a day sooner. Last time, I didn’t trust myself to go home because I thought I was about to be paralyzed by the extreme pain.

And, as luck would have it, this second knee has been easier anyway. This left knee turned out to be more damaged than the right — absolutely no ACL left so that had to be replaced, too. That means that I immediately was relieved to no longer have the natural pain of a bone-on-bone knee, beginning to turn outward and with totally no ACL for stabilization. So, when I went through my first surgery, I had a bad knee as my secondary during physical therapy. It wasn’t much help. This time, I’ve had a repaired but great secondary knee support.

Now that I’ve come to a bad day, I forced myself through it. Like you, I read a lot about how to keep my attitude good, how to get enough sleep, what to eat, etc. I’m a Baby Boomer of the first order, thinking I will live forever and feel like I’m 19 years old for my entire lifetime.

I’m lucky in that I can write about my pain and spill my guts. That’s a huge help. That’s what I’m doing right now and started yesterday in the throes of my misery. It’s giving me great relief. I have notebooks and notebooks filled with streams of consciousness about every problem and misery I’ve ever felt. No, you don’t want to see them. I can’t even stand to read them myself. The worst are my three diaries from junior high. Yuck. Definitely an awkward, self-centered and shallow age for me.

dirty shoes

Muddy shoes and loyal Tucker at our halfway point

My best mood adjustments are exercise and nature.  I have biked, swam or played tennis every day of my life.  I don’t sleep well if I’ve spent a day at my desk with no exercise. As a kid, I played all sports, ran the roads and used up my energy and then some. When I’m in a bad mood from the injustices of work or life, I go for long bike rides until I come home exhausted and happy again. I often have to force myself on the bike but am glad I did it within the first five minutes.

So, on my recent bad day, I gutted it out and took a long walk on the gully out back of my house and in the beautiful sunshine. With my loyal hound, Tucker, at my side, we walked about a mile to the park, rested and then the mile back home.

We were lucky enough to spot a busy egret or two who were doing some fishing in the murky gully water. Toads and turtles jumped out of our way as we walked the dirt path that was a bit muddy in spots from recent rains. I had to watch out for slip and slide in the mud – not having my balance back quite yet. The highlight of the walk came when three houseshoe-sized and shaped dogs joined us with their owner. Who can stay depressed in a bevy of lively hounds?

I can’t say I was in good spirits when I got back from my walk, but I felt like I’d been productive and more positive. After last night’s sleep, I’m doing well today. It helps that the sun is shining and my pain has subsided. Soon I’ll be back to myself. Soon.

Gully friend

Gully buddy to lift my spirits

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm