commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Beaumont

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.”

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Yard art and other decorative thoughts

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Bruce

Bruce

I just renewed my blog name “commuterchroniclesdbh.com” on Word Press and looked back to discover I haven’t written a new installment since January. A writer’s work is never done, of course, and it is not my intention to slack off this blog. I see more folks reading every day and that encourages me outside of my day-to-day writing life in the Texas Medical Center, not to mention the rewrite of a novel at the urging of my best agent yet.

My life has taken a twisty turn since “Proof of Life Sundays,” filed in January — the most huge change being that my  only daughter’s wedding is coming up this summer. Also surprisingly time consuming has been the construction of my first and only swimming pool. (Both subjects I hope to discuss in blogs later.)

I return today with some thoughts out of the commuting realm and into the yard-decorating arena. I recently acquired a contemplative frog for poolside (Bruce, at left) and it reminded me of my constant inner struggle with my country girl roots and my sophisticated city evolution. I always have been drawn to unusual — some, especially my husband, might call tasteless — forms of artistic expression, especially in the way of yard decorations. I don’t know if this stems from my humble beginnings, the influence of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or just my soul’s code. I can remember some of my first memories and longings as a Texas girl of having those spectacular lions adorn the sidewalk to my palatial home some day. I don’t even know who would have had such concrete lions in Port Neches outside of Beaumont, Texas, equally distanced from the ocean, Houston and the Cajun influence of Louisiana.

Lion

First purchase of yard art is traditional lion.

When my husband and I acquired our perfect paradise in the ‘burbs from where I would commute to Houston every day, I longed for a lion to decorate my lawn. John made this first purchase, coming home with a perfectly acceptable example of concrete artistry. However, by then, I’d spent some time covering the Vietnamese immigration to Port Arthur and Kemah after the fall of Saigon and also had become heavily influenced by Asian writers including Amy Tan who wrote of superstitions and traditions that remind me of my East Texas, cotton-picking pioneer mom on the other side of the world. My heart was set on Chinese lions, something unique and more a reflection of the cool souls who resided with me.

That’s when the honeymoon was over. At the same time John came home with a concrete lion, I fell totally in love with a green concrete gargoyle at a favorite gardening store and, despite him weighing more than 100 pounds, brought him home and placed him on the porch beside John’s lion. I promptly named him Verdecito, the little green one.

Verdecito -- the little green one.

Verdecito — the little green one.

My more conservative husband with Bible study at our home on Thursdays freaked. That’s putting it mildly, and, I must admit that Verdecito has a bit of a demonic appearance. I reject such superstitious nonsense and have tried hard to keep my mom’s many omens and traditions out of my kids’ psyche even while they torture me daily. Still. I loaded up Verdecito and took him to work with me where he resided for months in the backyard of my friend’s communications company on Quenby in the city.

It took a while before John could convince me that, on second thought, Verdecito was wanted. It felt like a kidnapping adventure for poor Verdecito who experienced many “proof of life/concrete” days before I brought him home.

Then, I, too, compromised. After buying a series of gargoyles, John suggested I should add variety. I bought a long skinny dog who reminded me of my German short-haired pointer, Andy; a beautiful huge snail who I named Paul and a happy relaxing frog, named Cecil.Andy

When my daughter started going to Texas Tech, I’d saddle up my old ride,  Vinny, and trek the eight to 10 hours west, stopping at garden shops with concrete art along the way. I acquired a huge green horned toad, among others. John was frustrated, and I must admit now that I may have had a yard art problem. He suggested it would be different if I had a theme.

“A theme?” I cried. “I had a theme. It was gargoyles. You said, ‘no more'”

I promptly and surprisingly ran into the exact same gargoyle as my original, only in gold. Orocito joined the family and John acquiesced somewhat. Clearly, I couldn’t be deterred.

Horned

Yikes! I’m thinking as I write this. He may be right. I hate when that happens.

I have ventured into other yard decor since the controversy over concrete art and none have really pleased my beloved mate’s sensibilities. When we added the backyard pool recently, he took the redesign to move all of my favorites into an area that he now calls my “English garden.” As we say in Texas, “that’s just putting lipstick on the pig.”

My goal is to let my spirit soar in the English garden. My humble roots and untraditional taste will out and prove to be so artistic it is kitschy. Meanwhile, John has allowed my one recent purchase, the meditative frog who I’ve named Bruce (after Lee as much as Springsteen) to remain poolside. Hoorah for small victories.

Weathered birdhouse

Weathered birdhouse

Butterflies from North Carolina

Butterflies from North Carolina

These three glow-in-the dark creatures have not aged well.

These three glow-in-the dark creatures have not aged well.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 28, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Right smack in the middle of my life

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You spend a lifetime making clear choices, dictated by specific nuances and needs from the family you love and the internal drive of your DNA. Then, you find yourself in the middle of your life – a lot behind you but as much in front of you. The kids are grown, the job satisfying, the marriage good, and your next decision is open to anything.

Shall I travel or stay home. Do I want to shop or read? Bike or walk my easy hound? Shall I have white or red wine?

I think of my life in 10- to 15-year increments. Fifteen years a highly driven reporter, 15 years an intense mom with a bit of teaching and freelance writing on the side, now I’m into the latest 10 to 15 years as a commuter and writer in the big city of Houston.

As a young reporter, I met and profiled celebrities, politicians and criminals of the day. I wrote stories about characters that my students at University of Houston barely knew because they were too young when those headlines were made. Janis Joplin, Karen Silkwood, Mark Chapman, John Hinckley, Mick Jagger, Bob Hope. I covered Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader at the apex of their careers when they were crossing barriers and debating issues that no one else considered and not when they were controversial caricatures of themselves. Jesse Jackson moved me like no other politician, Jimmy Carter’s smile dazzled in the days after his election, and Ronald Reagan walked easy among the people.

I’ve enjoyed interviews from my last 10 years as much as any from my Page 1 journalism days. Heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire George Mitchell, statesman, ambassador and father, Roy Huffington are all visionary men who surpassed mental boundaries to think and go places beyond the grasp of most people. I routinely visit with a researcher who is probably one of the top two or three mathematicians in the world. I’ve discussed DNA with a scientist who helped sequence the human genome. I’ve held my breath as I watched a heart start to beat again after open-heart surgery.

I’ve made and kept friends from all of those different iterations of me. School friends from the hometown I left at age 18; ethically unshakeable reporters in Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Detroit and Houston; moms who would do anything for their kids or, in fact, for their friends, like me; and the elegant country club friends I made playing tennis who are big hearted, generous volunteers in every community.

I’m an empty-nester with a good-guy husband and one easy dog. It’s the quietest home life I’ve ever experienced. In other words, most of the choices I now make some days are just about me. On work days, I don’t have that many chores so I have relaxed evenings at home. I can bike, walk the dog, sit on the porch. On weekends, I can dine out or stay in. I can watch what I want on television. I can travel with very little hassle and have plenty of vacation time. I’ve been a bit lucky, some would say, but I’d give all that luck to hard work and a strong work ethic, something I’ve practiced every day of my life since I first became employed at age 14.

I’m a bit controlled by my bad knees and occasional lack of energy but I’m still freakishly strong and competitive. I’m happy if not satisfied but in some ways I’m very satisfied and feel like I’ve led a big life already.

Perhaps the second half of my life can be smaller, more relaxed and comfortable. I can travel or soak up more of the view from my backyard. I can let others decide and go along more.

You, my darling, are right smack in the very middle of your life.

I read a line somewhat like that recently in the book “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty. Like most books, even my favorite murder mysteries, there is always a line or two that makes you reflect long after the plot leaves your mind.

I had been thinking this for a while before I read the words. What will you do with the second half of your life? It feels a bit urgent but not driven like it was at the beginning of my life. My urgency relates to friends, family, people, even strangers – leading a path of gentle kindness while not changing the whole world or even changing an individual.

It’s interesting to find yourself with more choices than obligations. It feels pretty good to be in the middle of my life.

 

Cub reporter raised by wolves

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As a police reporter in the 1970s and 1980s, I was treated just like a partner by the cops I covered. I saw them daily, sometimes twice a day and became as much a part of the cop shop as I was the newsroom. It was an era of respect by both sides for the other. I earned the trust of the officers I covered by showing objectivity and thoroughness, and they were given my highest consideration about when and what I reported for the good and safety of the community. Sometimes we disagreed, and I went to print anyway. Then, I’d have to earn my way back into their good graces.

Really early in my career and before I’d finished college, the police chief of Port Arthur wanted me to become a cop on his police force at a time when they were trying to recruit more female officers. This was the ’70s and equality was at its height in Texas where Roe vs Wade had just been passed, Barbara Jordan, a black woman from the Fifth Ward of Houston, had been elected to the Texas Senate, and we’d had a viable modern-day female candidate for governor, Sissy Farenthold.

I declined the change in careers but  did a story based on running the police department’s obstacle course myself – a test that was popular at the time as police departments tried to figure out how to be indiscriminate and yet hire officers who could stand up to the physical conditions of the job. Climbing the six-foot fence was the toughest part for me at 5-feet-7, and a bit of a trick that I had to learn from other officers before I could successfully pass the test – even at age 19 or so. The best way to get over the flat face of a high wall is to make your initial jump as high as possible, plant a foot at a diagonal so it will hold for a few seconds and scramble the rest of the way while you still have momentum. It took me several tries before I could hurdle up the wall and throw my body to the other side. Then, I had to rest up so that I could make good time on the other obstacles — crawling in the mud, jumping into tires, rungs on the monkey bars, simple running for time.)

One senior detective in those early days wanted to bring me along on the job to show what now is called a six-pack, a group of pictures for the eye-witness to pick out the suspect. The officer said he needed a woman’s touch to help calm this particularly distraught rape victim in an era when cops were just beginning to take rape victims’ needs seriously. And remember, female officers were few and far between.

He gave me a quick up and down and suggested, “Put your hands in your pockets,” and I put my hands in the pockets of my skirt. “Take your pencil out from behind your ear.” I always had a well sharpened Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil on me somewhere – usually behind my ear for easy access.

“There,” he said, nodding his acceptance. “Just never say you’re a cop. Stand quietly with your hands in your pockets. You’ll be fine . . .  Don’t take notes.” As if he had to say.

As I remember, the assignment went well; the correct suspect was chosen. I then was granted privileges to go with the primary detectives on stakeouts and often helped in rape cases. I also helped searched through dumpsters and canvas neighborhoods. I was good at it. After all, interviewing was becoming my super power.

Often I was a sounding board in a room full of detectives for ideas and scenarios for crime-solving. We once tried to figure out how to get the photo off the backing of a Polaroid that was left behind. It wasn’t the picture itself that was left at the scene but the negative-like other side. When we finally got an image, using my newspaper’s photographers, we realized the angle was toward a certain body part and not at all a body part that would be visible on the street. The clue we got from this experience was the realization that the victim knew his assailant pretty well and at least went to his heavenly reward after a night that started with fun.

Then came my biggest conflict with the officers I covered. I wanted to report the disappearance of a diamond salesman. The cops I covered daily objected. They said it was not a story. It was merely a man who had gotten tired of his life and took a hike, perhaps to Mexico. A pretty common occurrence for folks in Texas who were ready for a change. If I wrote about the missing man, as a diamond salesman, everyone would go bananas and blow the story out of proportion, the officers said.

The missing man’s wife called me off and on all that week after his disappearance. She was desperate, scared and crying. I went over and talked to her. She said their son was about to get married. He may have left her but he wouldn’t leave his son, she said. Then, his twin brother came to my office. Wow. That was weird. I talked to him, of course, and it made quite an impact. They had always been terribly close, like twins can be. They talked or saw each other every day of their lives.

Finally, I wrote the story. And yes, it was a banner headline across my newspaper’s front page. My city desk ate it up. “Diamond Salesman Goes Missing.” Then, all hell broke loose among my competitors who already believed I was getting special treatment. I argued that I worked harder, and I did. I always ran my traps, even at the smaller police stations that seldom had anything to report.

My cop sources were livid. They thought I’d blown out of proportion the story of a consenting adult who decided to leave his life and wife. Then, to make matters worse, they were forced to hold a press conference for the rest of the media and especially the television cameras to discuss a case they didn’t believe was worthy of a story much less a Page 1 headline.

And, it seemed like they were right for a few months. Time passed. Everyone was cranky with me. No one loosened up. I sweated like a workhorse for every inch of newsprint I got out of the cop shop.

Then one day, a couple of men walked into a bar with a briefcase where the bartender was not your average guy. He noticed that the briefcase matched the description of the missing man’s case where the diamonds were kept.  A detail published in my story. He quietly called the cops and served them up a couple more beers, delaying them until the officers could arrive.

A couple of confessions later, and the diamond salesman’s body was found. He’d been dead since the day he went missing. Yes, he was seeing another women who’d set him up. He was driving her and “her brother” when the man in the back seat of his vehicle hit him over the head. They buried his body on a lonely street and covered it in lime to delay the odor. Without a confession, the body probably never would have been found.

Interestingly, the officer in charge of the case apologized to me and began to trust my instincts more and more. If you called him up today, he’d say that I solved that crime. Of course, I was just a reporter of the facts and not an investigator nor anyone who helped dig up the body or present the evidence. And, at the time, I’d never have considered my instincts to be on target because I was always doubting myself. But, in the end, I had a really good nose for news and mostly called a story correctly and got the right interview out of the right person. Mostly.

The wife of the dead diamond salesman called me after her husband’s body had been recovered. She wanted me to sit with the family that night and listen to old stories about his life. I had never met him but I sat with his wife, his son, his twin, neighbors, their pastor and others. I listened to stories of his kindnesses when his child was young and the pranks he and his twin pulled. I soaked up all the details and joined in the mourning, but I never printed a word in the newspaper about the personal evening I spent with the family.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 15, 2014 at 8:18 am

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

A kid of the outdoor generation

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Happy trails 2This week, I’ve biked most evenings after work, and I’ve been doing this for the years since I stopped playing tennis four to six times a week. It’s my attempt at balancing the eight hours a day that I spend behind a desk and indoors. It is in my DNA, and I can’t really settle down to my evening at home until I’ve first spent some time outside — especially in the rain on hot summer days when the rain is a plus instead of a minus.

I’m a kid of the outdoor generation. We had nothing much on television, not any video games and very little parental guidance or even involvement. Our parents were too busy making a living to wonder much about the kids, especially when there was a neighborhood full of them to keep each other entertained.

I remember skating with my new pair of roller skates and my brand new key all around the “carport” beside my post World War II era home. We had canals around the margins of our streets in sea level Port Neches, Texas, and there was always something interesting about the water — even if we were discouraged from swimming in it. My girlhood friends and I would “walk the pipe” over the canals, proving our balance and our courage but occasionally falling in and causing hubbub because no one was supposed to “walk the pipe.”

We’d catch “mosquito hawks” or dragonflies as they landed on the clothes line. We’d get an empty mason jar and see how many honey bees we could catch before it got too full. We’d look for four-leaf clovers for hours and hours, until that became a skill I still have today and probably helped teach me to be an editor with an eagle eye and perseverance.dragonfly

We’d play softball and fly kites in the way back area between our backyards and the canals. My neighborhood full of boys had more than enough kids to make up teams of anything. I learned my competitive nature by being raised as the youngest kid in a neighborhood full of mostly athletic boys. I wasn’t even as good at playing board games so I got used to losing and trying harder at an early age.

We shot BB guns and bows and arrows and became good shots by nature. I remember asking for and receiving my first BB gun when I was a sixth grader, about to enter junior high and the world of cute boys. Little did I know that my tomboy ways would be distracted so soon and so thoroughly.

I remember when I got my first and only childhood bike. None of this buying bikes for different sizes and styles. It was one bike for life. It was blue, my favorite color, and it lasted until I was in high school and bought my own 10-speed, expensive enough on my $1.60 an hour salary and unassembled to save just a little. Who had heard of a 10-speed? And now folks are going back to our one-speed, easy breaking bikes of my childhood. They call it “fixed-gear” bikes, and it’s all the rage. Took me awhile to realize that I knew exactly what they meant and could ride a “fixed-gear” into oblivion. There are excellent tricks to it, and it was bred into me like the Texas heat and mosquitos.

I still can remember reading the instructions carefully and putting my 10-speed together in the backyard. That’s the same bike I brought into my marriage a few years later to bike my way to classes at Lamar University in Beaumont. It was sadly one of three bikes I had stolen as I learned the high crime rate of college campuses and the precious nature of a faster mode of transportation.

So, now when I get a day off of work, one of my favorite activities is to play outside like the kid I will always be. I want to look at a spider’s web really close up and personal. I want to watch an ant travel to its ultimate destination. I wonder what this plant is and why it looks so much like a map of the United States. I wait for something new and intriguing that I’ve never seen or seldom see these days — a bunny, a cool snake, a raccoon, a possum.

Then, I hop on my bike and take my observation skills on the greenbelt paths of Kingwood where there’s always something new to see on the same old traveled paths. If I’m lucky, I catch sight of a deer in the distance. If I time my ride home just right at dusk, I see fireflies along this very close patch of dense bushes. Flowers and friends and dogs of all varieties. All interesting and unique.

It’s just like riding a bike. You never forget.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

August 15, 2013 at 9:15 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.