commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Beaumont Enterprise

On the cop beat for life

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Recently, I’ve been listening to Harry Bausch’s adventures as written by Michael Connelly in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I can’t get past the feelings it evokes. “They” say your sense of smell is the strongest sense to activate your memories. For me, hearing can be equally haunting. Or is it sight and reading? A good book, read again, listened to again. A favorite author can feel like home and long ago at the same time. Or, in this case, a same character – Harry Bausch, the hard-nosed anti-hero and Los Angeles cop as written by another former reporter on the cop beat.

This book has me transported to the past. It has me reminded me of quick trips to the grocery store when I could rent a book on cassette tape, mostly abridged and somewhat unacceptable. But I’d take anything on tape to get me through a day of housekeeping or cleaning out when my kids were young and chores were routine.

Or it’s Sunday and the only library that was open was 10 miles away so I’d bike there and bike back – for 20 miles and two hours roundtrip at the minimum. I’d have to plan my clothes – light as possible but with a cover-up t-shirt, two waters and a light weight bag that would be book-laden for the trip back.

Or it’s a road trip to Austin where I would meet my friend from Michigan at her mom’s house so that we could keep up an important relationship for me where she was my rock while my son went through and out the other end of a heart condition.

Or to Lubbock for my westward bound road trip to visit my daughter at Texas Tech. That eight-to-10-hour trip meant a couple of really good books by favorite authors who would keep me occupied but focused.

concrete-blondeI’m transported by Connelly’s new book not because the book is about yesterday because it’s not. But because I’m reminded of some of the first books I ever listened to as an audio book addict. “The Poet,” “Concrete Blonde,” “Trunk Music.”  Ahhhhhh. I may need to listen again.

Listening to audio books is as common in my daily rituals as is my commute to work. Actually, I’ve been listening to read-aloud books far longer. I was first attracted to Connelly, now world famous, of course, long before the charismatic Texan Matthew McConaughey played the role of his “Lincoln Lawyer,” Mickey Haller, an attorney who works from the back of his car, so another commuter. Or before Clint Eastwood played a side character from the Harry Bausch books in “Blood Work.”

I may have listened to “The Poet” as one of my first audio books, if you don’t count the classics or old radio broadcasts that I could find on the car radio or at truck stops. Remember, this is long before the days of the internet or downloads and when libraries seldom carried anything but the written word.

the-poet“Death is my beat. I make my living from it.  I forge my professional relationship on it.  I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker — somber and sympathetic about it when I’m with the bereaved, a skilled craftsman with it when I’m alone.  I’ve always thought the secret to dealing with death was to keep it at arm’s length.  That’s the rule.  Don’t let it breathe in your face,” Connelly says in “The Poet,” back in 1996.

Connelly is back to his police procedural hard core in the “Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I love it. It’s the routine of day-to-day police work. Keeping your notes in order. Working your sources. Doing favors. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. So I’m transported not only to my listening past but also to the heyday of my career as a cop reporter. Back in the day, I rode the beat with cops, went door-to-door with detectives and sat on stakeouts. I’ve discovered bodies, been shot at and, actually, solved a couple of murders myself. We were a team, on the same side mostly.

That’s the police beat as I worked it, back in the day of the press as Fourth Estate. My cop shops were on a rotation – whether it was Port Arthur, Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or a bit of Detroit. The bigger the city, the more often I visited the police station. But even the one-cop towns showed up on my calendar once a month. I called or dropped by. That way, when a body got dumped at Kennedale, a small town outside of Fort Worth, the dispatcher knew my name and would give me the story.

cub-reporter

Working traps on my first daily, the Beaumont Enterprise, two years after I’d started my journalism career at a bi-weekly. 

“Running my traps,” my first city editor called it. Joe Broughton was a feisty hellcat of a newsman with a kind heart but a trashy mouth. I learned a lot from him and from running my traps, a work ethic that has served me well in a writing career that soon will have paid my bills for half a century.

So, on this rainy day when I can’t be running the roads, I think I’ll finish “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” while I do my house chores and then run through some repeats including “The Poet.” I think I may even have that one in hard copy.

Houston commuters … I’m back!!

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View of the Texas Medical Center from my ortho doc's office

View of the Texas Medical Center from my ortho doc’s office. Photo by John Hensley.

After being housebound for a month and a half because of a knee replacement, I will hit the roads next week with my doc’s permission to drive again. And, yes, the new knee is the right one. And, yes, I know that’s my gas pedal foot. And, finally, I realize the drive is at least an hour and I’m supposed to straighten out my knee as much as possible. Houston drivers, beware! Like the Terminator, I’m back and better than ever with some new, somewhat expensive, better-than-nature new parts.

I’ve always been known as a bit of a lead foot but now I’ll be heavier in the knee area – cobalt and titanium, that is. It actually doesn’t feel any heavier so that’s an empty threat. It can be quite a bit stiffer when I keep it in one position long, but it doesn’t hurt at all. As a matter of fact, it’s much better than my real, left knee. Now, when I go for a walk and want to rest, I can put all my weight on my right side and stand and stand. Perhaps forever.

Uncommon sights of Houston. This man is sharing his bread with some pigeons from an artsy chair.

No sight is uncommon in Houston. This man sits in an artsy chair in downtown, sharing his bread with some pigeons.

I’m looking forward to being behind the wheel of my Nissan Rogue, Clarence, weaving in and out of slow-goers and perhaps finding my way onto a magic lane or two. I’ve missed the skyline at sunrise as I approach from the ‘burbs. I miss the airport at sunset when the planes come in from all directions – often looking like spaceships before they come into sight completely. I miss the Texas Medical Center and the characters who ride and walk the streets of the big city. I’ve tried Metro and carpooling but prefer to saddle up and ride alone. I listen to Bruce , the Joel or Paul Simon. More often, I have a murder mystery on download. Still, I keep my head on the swivel I was taught in ninth-grade driver’s ed. In Houston, you want to see who is behind you, beside you and what might be flying out of the sky.

As a kid growing up 90 miles from here, I never loved Houston. It felt too much like home, I think, being from a smaller but similar version of an oil boomtown. And, as a newspaper reporter in an era when the Houston papers were known for being in bed with big business, I skipped right over my nearby city and headed straight for Dallas, then Fort Worth and on to Detroit. Motor City was the only other place in the United States where I would get as much solid driving experience in crowds of hostile, aggressive motorists. Driving in floods in Houston is nothing compared to driving on black ice at 4 p.m. in Troy, Michigan, when it’s already pitch dark and you have two elementary age children in your convertible.

But now, I’m all in. I love Houston’s melting pot of ethnicities and people – from art to cuisine. I love speaking Spanish as my second language and eating Mexican food as my first preference. I love the Texans, the Astros and trying to get used to soccer with the Dynamos, driving by their Dowling Street stadium on days when I want to see what’s going on in Houston’s lively Third Ward. I’m just as likely to hear some street music as I am to witness a public oration or see a boxing match or the athletes running outside the boxing hall.

So this weekend I’ll polish up Clarence; he’s pretty dusty from all the pollen in the air. I may even vacuum and dust him out some and certainly fill him up with gas. I’ll find my office key, my name tag and my parking pass. I’ll locate my sunglasses and maybe a second pair, just in case. I’ll kiss my faithful hound and adorable husband goodbye and ride off into the sunrise. Baby, I’m back.

Shop in Third Ward where folks are invited to rent a bike and “tour the hood.”

Reminded today of the first time I interviewed a murderer

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The Beaumont Enterprise newsroom -- back in the day. I'm in the middle of this photo, in front of the curtains, and facing the camera with a phone in my hands.

The Beaumont Enterprise newsroom — back in the day. I’m in the middle of this photo, in front of the curtains, and facing the camera with an old rotary phone in my hands.

I was maybe 22 years old and covering Port Arthur police for the “Beaumont Enterprise” in one of the most violent and newsworthy communities of the ’70s. Lucky for me, I was indestructible and fearless because the woman I am today would be way too wise to have conducted this particular interview

  • in a small jail cell,
  • across from a man who had beaten a friend to death with his bare hands
  • and with only one jailer nearby for my protection.

When I’m reminded of my old police reporting days, I’m lucky the story gets to end with, “I lived.” I now realize I was foolish and foolhardy and not at all unbreakable.  But, before I was 30 years old, I always was focused on “getting the story.”

I was reminded of this first interview with a murderer today because I’m listening to a new author, Allison Brennan, who has written a book “Compulsion” and it begins with a reporter interviewing a killer awaiting trial. It doesn’t read like the writer ever really did this, is my thinking.

On my commute to Houston both mornings and evenings, my choice most often is murder mysteries, police procedurals and serial killers. I read “Dexter” before he became an HBO series, “Bones” without Booth, “Wallander” before Kenneth Branaugh, “Bosch” before Amazon even existed.  You get the picture.

I tried to look at the newspaper archives today to lay my hands on reality but it’s not available. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I can’t quite recall enough facts to make the search viable.) Many of my reporting memories pre-date good web content. Most of my recollections are indelible only because of the retelling over the years and not because of the facts. At the time, I was always good with quotes and solid memories, but these decades later – who knows?

Facebook has been interesting for me because I often tell old police reporter stories and old friends come out of the ethernet to remind me of details or confirm my own remembrances. This happened most notably with my most painful interview – Karen Silkwood’s father. The photographer who was present is now a FB friend and remembered more details and confirmed some others. It was fun. But, that’s a story for another column. This one is about murder and how I survived. It also was a good lesson and one I used frequently in my stint as an adjunct professor at University of Houston.

Sharon Englade, a wonderfully generous courthouse reporter at the Enterprise at the time, gave me the lead. Generosity is an uncommon trait in the reporting world, even more so today. It happens only when you’ve seen your byline on Page 1 enough times that it doesn’t make a big difference to your ego about the next time.  Very rare indeed in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Sharon’s tip was facilitated by the jailer at the Nederland substation who had become a source of mine along my routine police “traps” I ran every day.

A convicted murderer (and I can’t find or remember his name) was transported to Jefferson County to testify against his co-conspirator in a murder trial. This man – the one I would interview – had pleaded guilty without a trial, and his partner in the crime had chosen to stand trial.

In his 30s, he was a solid figure, strong and compact. A bit attractive but, of course, I thought he was terribly old, he had been given life in prison for beating his friend to death. Now’s the part I can’t remember: Why did he and his buddy turn on this third man? I don’t quite know and can’t find the old clip; seems like it was over a woman. Isn’t that always the case?  My memory tells me they originally were all three friends. Happens. Friends turn on friends.  Stranger-on-stranger crime is the most uncommon – 2 percent for women; 25 percent for men. In my story, the likelihood of these three being friends is 75 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Now, here’s the rub.

When Sharon called to tell me there was a possibility I could interview this man, he had just testified against his friend. However, his friend was fully acquitted. The verdict was returned somewhere along the man’s police-escorted route from the courthouse to the substation. His friend would walk away free. My interview subject would go back to prison for life.

Originally, he had pleaded guilty in anticipation of a lighter sentence. It didn’t happen.

Bad lawyering? Bad judgment on his part? Well, you see what I was walking into . . . an angry man who had just been further angered by what he had to perceive as terrible injustice.

Nederland’s substation for Jefferson County was a fairly new structure – linoleum tiled with white walls, clean and safe in the suburbs.  The jailers were usually smart men (all men in this ’70s era) on their way up in the criminal justice chain. They were taking night classes at Lamar University, down the street, and showing potential to either be professional police or lawyers. They wore jackets and ties and looked like detectives instead of street cops.

I went by or phoned this substation every day that I was on the beat, and my office itself was only a few blocks away.

I remember some finagling between the jailer and me and me and Sharon and then transportation of the interviewee to the substation after his testimony. I was waiting when he arrived. He already had been told his friend was acquitted, so I was not the one to bear that news. Lucky for me.

To say the least, he was pissed by the time I first laid eyes on him.

Now, here’s the part I taught at UH: You have to have a good gut to be a good interviewer. Your job is to make the subject comfortable and trusting. This is your first job and how you determine how you will get your notes for the story. Some subjects are comfortable with you taping the interview. In those days, most were not. Most subjects are comfortable with you taking notes, but there was a trick to writing or not writing to help with the interviewee’s comfort level. In this story, the subject was not comfortable with anything.

I sensed right away that he was no longer interested in talking to me about his experience, thoughts or anger. If I had pulled out my pencil and skinny reporter’s notebook from the pocket of my jeans skirt, he probably would have broken my Ticonderoga No. 2 in half — maybe over my head.  So, we just talked. I took absolutely no notes. I never pulled out my notebook or put pencil to paper.

I didn’t have to ask “how he felt.” Such a stupid, stupid question.

I didn’t have to ask if he wished he’d stood trial instead of pleading guilty.

I didn’t dare ask about his guilt.

I didn’t have to ask anything. All I did was listen.

He felt railroaded and betrayed, of course. Prison sucked, of course. His life was over and he hated everyone and everything. Couldn’t blame him.

I walked away with very little in the way of new information. It was just a story to say the Enterprise had gotten the story. And, indeed, I had gotten the story. But I didn’t have a single note.

He was dragged away into a police car for transport back to Huntsville; I headed for the quiet of the Ladies Room. (And yes, it was the “ladies” in this day.)

I took out my notebook and began to scribble – every single word I could remember. In those days, my shorthand was still good. Today, my aged and feeble mind can still see my tan reporter’s notebook on my jean-skirted lap, writing away – at least some brief forms.

The story itself when it was published the next day may have been eight inches; I hope it was 12. Not long. Not worthy. But certainly worth the experience and the experience of telling it over and over again for the next few decades.

And the ending? I lived.

A spiritual reminder of going home again

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Image by National Geographic

How my Viking ship looks in my memory, courtesy of National Geographic.

Perhaps my most religious experience in my life was giving the eulogy at my mom’s funeral, now more than 10 years ago. I am always reminded of that day as I prepare to make the road trip, once more, to my native Port Neches, a singular community on the crossroads between Texas and Louisiana.

The community is unique in its diversity, that is. Grandmothers may speak French as often as they speak Spanish or country. The Beaumont Enterprise had a Louisiana edition as well as an East Texas edition when I worked there, and my job included calling French-only radio stations for obituaries. I could spell Atchafalaya and Opelousas as well as Anahuac and Kountze.

In my hometown tropics, the swamp can become a flood during hurricane season, displacing thousands and making hurricane season a way of life for us with our generators, flashlights and outdoor stoves. It’s where, when I was growing up, anyone with a job at the plant could have two cars and a boat right out of high school. Where the conservatives carry guns, have grandchildren with beautiful sun-resistant skin and turquoise eyes, sport ink that is so old no one even thought of adding colors and consider boats and motorcycles as common of transportation as cars.

The "real" Viking ship that sailed my mother's dresser for 40 years.

The “real” Viking ship that sailed my mother’s dresser for 40 years.

In the city, if I have electrical or plumbing problems, I call a repairman and pay a hefty price. Back home, my nieces and nephews call their brothers and sisters and the job is done for a return favor down the road. Everybody has a “low boy” to haul that extra ‘frig to the camp, and it’s nothing to install your own hardwood floors.

It was February 2002 when I got the unexpected call from my girlhood friend and former neighbor from that rowdy crowd of kids on 14th Street. She said she was riding with my mom to the hospital, and the last thing my mom had done was handed her my business card and said, “Call Denise.” I was just halfway across the Lake Houston Bridge, still an hour away from my mom and my hometown, when my girlfriend called back and asked me to pull over on the side of the road.

It hit me hard that I did not get there in time. I’ve chased that phone call and that ambulance many nights in my sleep. I’ve anticipated better; I’ve fulfilled promises. But, in the end, I’m trudging through the mud with leaden feet and no voice to call out.

The family eulogy was the least I could do to honor my mom for my independent soul that made me doubt how badly she needed me on the last day of her life. Of course, it should have been Charles standing there in the pulpit, giving the family’s message at my mother’s funeral. As the oldest son, he had always been our spokesman, and we were still aching from his loss while still at his liveliest at a very young 60.

Charles had died of lung cancer just four months earlier and while the world was still reeling from 9-11. I stood by my mom in the shadow of a lonesome pine as a 21-gun salute rattled me to my very bones. You would never suspect by her Depression-shaped exterior how little time her heart would beat after this terrible heartbreak.

Lifelong Methodists, my mom had joined the Mormon church in the last few years of her life, and we respected her choice to have her service in the Port Neches church she attended and loved. However, my surviving brothers and sisters wanted someone to speak for the family and the duty came all the way down the line to me, the sixth and baby of our family.

None of the speeches I’d made as a lifelong communicator nor the years as a teacher could have prepared me to give the eulogy after my mom’s unexpected and quick death. The crowd couldn’t have been more familiar with my brothers and sisters, their kids who are like siblings to me because of the birth order of my family, even mom’s great-grandchildren and distant cousins from miles around. And then, of course, the old neighborhood of my girlhood running buddies, many or whom are still in my hometown and some of whom have moved back to 14th Street. The crowd couldn’t have been more familiar but I couldn’t have been more cotton-mouthed and shaky.

I remember opening my bag of remembrances as I began to speak. I explained how Charles should have been there instead of me. But, like Charles, I could make them laugh at the memories but I’d also make them cry for the loss.

Then my mind is blank. My next memory is of reaching for the final item in my bag — a Viking ship I’d made in fourth grade that still held pride of purpose on Mom’s bedroom dresser. In between the shaky beginning and the smoother ending, I feel now like I was possessed with the Lord’s spirit, leading me through about 30 minutes with hardly a thought of my own. Needless to say, it went better than I could ever have hoped.

I stepped down and into the loving arms of my oldest sister and surrogate mom who congratulated me in her cigarette-deepened voice. “You did so good, Baby,” she wept, squeezing me hard and long, a memory I hold dear now that I’ve also lost her to lung cancer — another striking characteristic of my hometown.

It was only a few weeks later that I had my first and only dream where God spoke directly to me. He told me I was being prideful to think the eulogy had anything to do with me. He said He used me to honor my mom, assured me she was in a heavenly place and left me to contemplate the virtue of humility.

I wish I could capture and revisit the feeling of peace His words gave me. I would like to hold it like an experience instead of a memory, again and again like the many fireflies that appeared to me on the swampy road from Port Neches back to Houston and in the next few days on my bike rides in Kingwood.

I felt closer to my mom in those intimate days after her death than I ever did during her lifetime. The experience gives me a warmth that I never knew in her company. My relationship with my mom was a bumpy road with a quite respectful journey’s end.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

September 4, 2013 at 9:33 am

The perfect storm of commuting

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ParkingI’m one of those contrarian commuters who likes to take my vacation days against the grain and when most folks are off the Houston freeways, out of town or at home on vacation. This works really well for me at Christmas holidays and most days during the summer months but is very tricky for spring break.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker estimated there would be 350,000 more people in my path every single day this week and next week – making for the perfect storm of Houston commuting. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo converged with spring breakers everywhere who are anxious to visit the Houston Zoo and Houston Museum District, right down the street from me at the Texas Medical Center.

For instance, there were days this week when I made it from Kingwood to the medical center in 35 minutes, and that’s a 32-mile drive. All week I pulled into my parking spot way before my usual 8 a.m. arrival time, even counting once when I stopping at Starbucks and once to get gas and Diet Seven-Ups.

Interestingly, this was the same amount of commuting time I gave myself as an adjunct professor at University of Houston when I was teaching night classes of news writing, editing and helping to support the content of the “Daily Cougar.” Thirty-five minutes, you say? And I’m a bit shocked myself. The drive was close to the same distance as today, of course, but I was teaching at night and always against the rush hour traffic.

In those early days, driving my silver Chevrolet ES turbo convertible with car seats in the small backseat, I would wait, briefcase in hand, for Big Johnny to hit the door from his day job, and I’d be on the road as the night shift. Hmmm. “Turbo” might be the operable word here. Of course, no one ever minds when the professor is late or even when she’s held up and can’t make it to class. Everyone gets to go home early. No harm; no foul. So perhaps I wasn’t always on time, although I don’t remember timeliness ever being a problem. College professor is the only job I’ve ever had when no one truly cared if I showed up or not. And, in fact, I was the same way as a college student awaiting my professors.

So, let’s take this commuter mentality a step further into my past and the days when I commuted from the big city of Port Neches, Texas, to my hometown institution of higher learning, Lamar University in Beaumont. I gave myself seven minutes from Port Neches to Beaumont and that included the highly volatile Railroad Avenue when a train would always waylay a commuter with its backing and forthing.

By my freshman year at Lamar, I’d basically moved in with my best friend and her aunt and uncle. So, if I’d stayed with Penny in Groves, then I would give myself a solid 15 minutes to make it to Beaumont. I remember thinking what a terribly long commute that was and how I needed to get an apartment in Beaumont as soon as possible, especially after I switched from the bi-weekly “Mid County Chronicle Review” to the daily “Beaumont Enterprise.”

Seven minutes from Port Neches to Beaumont, I say. Fifteen if I were driving from Groves to Beaumont. I can’t believe it myself this many years later as a professional commuter who first commuted to Dallas and Fort Worth from Arlington before I even began the challenge of Houston.

So my slide into work this week was surprisingly easy, but my drive home was very rough – especially if I forgot and shifted into automaton mode. That meant I’d be on Fannin Street and stuck in the long line of stop and go before I realized I hadn’t taken my alternate route – around the bottleneck of U.S. 59 to my favorite parallel of Dowling Street.Cuties on the rail

For those of us who travel the medical center every day, we can forget what a royal pain in the ass of confusion it is for regular folks. And, I must say, we can be impatient with people who don’t quite know where they are going. I try to be considerate, knowing some of these folks are sick and in need of expert medical care. And, in fact, it took me weeks and months to know where I was going when I first joined the medical center traffic. You think I wouldn’t be so arrogant.

 
Tuckered out cuties on the rail in a photo taken by fellow Port Neches-Groves graduate and now coheart at Texas Medical Center, Pam Taylor-Glass

So, this week, I tried to stay calm while cars in front of me veered all over the road, pointing and almost stopping. Even the parking police created havoc by posting their vehicles halfway inside of otherwise useable traffic lanes.

I love the wonderful mix and match of couples and kids who live in our international melting pot. And, I’m really enjoying my new ride, Clarence. Unfortunately, he lulls me into some comfort zone with his satellite radio, warm seats and sun roof. Before I even realize it, I’m on Fannin, unable to turn around and not finding the comedy channel very funny anymore. Next week, I will try to stay alert and navigate spring break better. As a contrarian, I have to take advantage of the circumstances.

When your young wife turns into an old man and other Halloween tales

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In my commute on both two and four wheels, I’ve watched the Halloween decorations spring up to keep me entertained on my sometimes monotonous routes. Some are more subtle and classy, if you will, while others are full-blown graveyards and harrowing sights. I’ve always loved Halloween, tricks and treats and this trend of effusively decorating for this holiday is fun for me.

In my girlhood, Halloween was quite an adventure. We wore homemade costumes, ran the roads and filled pillow cases with enough candy to keep all the dentists in town in business. I passed on the tradition to my kids, and the real celebrating began with elaborate and creative costumes, roaming the roads again and candy limits for a generation who never experienced cavities.

As Big Johnny, our Commuter Chronicles photographer, and I went looking for fun photos to share, we told old ghost stories and tales of Halloweens past and were reminded of one of my favorite pranks that he will tell you I didn’t quite pull off.

It was the golden era of the Fourth Estate in the years right after Watergate and when everyone was an investigative reporter. I was covering police or maybe still writing obituaries for the Beaumont Enterprise when one of our most ambitious reporters received a death threat. That’s right. Pretty dramatic, huh? I can’t even remember the story or the reporter, but I can remember the mask that had been stuck with a knife to the reporter’s apartment door.

It was paraded around the newsroom for its realistic and amazing appearance. Remember, this was back in the day when an authentic-looking mask was not so common. This one was quite fleshy and very scary. A bald old man with a tuft of white hair, sticking out of the top of his head.

I don’t know how I convinced the newsroom troublemakers to let me take it home because they were a crew right out of the movie, “The Front Page.” But, I won the prize that day and got to bring it home for my prank on Big Johnny.

I hid it away in my briefcase, put the briefcase beside our bed and kept mum as we turned in for the night. My plan was to wake up a bit early for our usual morning classes at Lamar University where we were maybe sophomores or juniors, and John was playing football. So, you’ve got to give me credit for still being pretty young and still a kid, even though a married lady with a big high powered career at a daily newspaper with the likes of all sorts of future famous folks.

And, in fact, the prank went off perfectly. I woke up a bit earlier than John, slipped the mask out its hiding place and put on this realistic old man face over my young Lois Lane reporter face. I pulled the covers up to my chin so that when John saw me, he would think he was in the sack with a scary old bald guy. Ha!!

Minutes passed, and I began to realize I would have a problem. I didn’t count on having breathing difficulties in the close-fitting mask. But, the next thing John knew, he had a heavy breathing bald guy in the bed next to him, making enough noise to wake the dead. And that’s how the story goes. John was not scared, of course. He thought I’d lost my mind, of course, and we got a good laugh. Then, he put the mask on himself and headed over to the football dorm to scare all his teammates.

An excellent Halloween idea if the execution was a bit of a misfire.

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm

On the road home

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Class of 1972 graduation invitation

I have a couple of work days ahead and then a road trip of about 90 miles to my hometown of Port Neches and the 40th reunion of PN-G class of 1972. (Can you see the embossed date on the old invite?)  I will be blogging a bit about old sights that are new places now, old friends who are wiser and the drive home with Vinny. He still has those prom dresses in the back seat so we’ve got several chores and some packing to do before we hit the road. But we are getting excited.

My writing career begins

I was not much for home as a kid and left when I was 18 years old and am as surprised as the next guy that I have made my life — after different lives all over Texas, Michigan and the East Coast — this close to home.

I would argue that Houston is not the super-sized Beaumont that I once thought it was when I jumped over it for the media Mecca of Dallas. But then, the Golden Triangle is not the same and certainly Houston has become the international melting pot of the world. It helps that I work in the Texas Medical Center with its combination of academia, scientists and healthcare professionals.  There is always something new to learn and something amazing happening. Not to mention the poor, homeless and tragically sick who I pass by every day on my way to my “Laverne and Shirley” style office in the basement with windows lining the very, very top. It’s a big world I live in and a small world I go to.  How many times will I say it next week? It’s a small world, especially in this technical communications explosion.

We’ve all grown up, and where we’ve been is just as important as where we are and where we wish we will be some day. Today, I’m a better person because I live and learn. Occasionally, I admit my mistakes and grow some. But at my heart and in my soul’s code, I am the smart girl who was editor of my high school newspaper more than the dancer who was on the drill team. I am the nerd who wanted to be popular. And, in my long travels, I’ve finally discovered that no one feels like they fit in — even the prettiest, funniest and the most popular. Everyone’s story — at its heart — is about a loner who creates conflict and drama in an attempt to make the world a less lonely place.

Mel and her soldier boy, Cliff

It will be fun if melancholy. I will see my surviving sister Mel who is celebrating 50 years of marriage to her soldier boy Cliff. I will think of how she was my parenting model for fun with my own kids because she was the one who always planned beach and camping adventures and threw me my first birthday party back when I was at Port Neches Elementary. My kids can thank her for the fun we still have.

I will see those oldest and dearest friends, my old block where some of my neighbors still live and Oak Bluff Cemetery where my folks are buried down the sidewalk from Tex Ritter. I also want to check out my talented nephew who plays trumpet at some of the music spots and an old photographer-friend who is probably just as surprised to have loved the Beaumont Enterprise as much as I am to love Houston.

As an old police reporter, the towns I covered are marked by the crimes and stories I covered as much as the memories of hometown friends. I remember most Karen Silkwood and her home in Nederland and Janis Joplin whose home is now a museum after I reported that it was set to be condemned – back in the 1970s and before I left the Beaumont Enteprise. How about the family that lived under the Rainbow Bridge at Thanksgiving back in the day?

That brings me back to growing up in Port Neches and memories of driving over that steep bridge on my brother’s motorcycle with him on the back and me at the controls. Could I have been 16? It may have been junior high. I can still see the speedometer as clear as it was yesterday.  It was buried at 90 m.p.h. with me riding the brakes and Wayne hollering with glee all the way down. He has such a wicked laugh that makes you want to join in and not think about the mischief he’s led you into. I have never been so scared in my life and that includes coverage of murder and mayhem in far bigger cities than Beaumont.

I’m still not where I’m going so my Commuter Chronicles may be a long, long blog. Home is just a stopover.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

July 15, 2012 at 10:27 am