Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘bike

“Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”

with one comment

I was standing in the grocery store the other day when I noticed I was standing in the grocery store.

At a crowded meeting, I started looking for an empty chair and realized I didn’t need to sit.

I was looking for my kitchen step ladder when my brain told me I could climb up on a chair instead — like I always used to do before step ladders became a way of life.

When I walk my dog, Tucker, I actually am walking him the two miles or so. I used to say this but actually was biking while he ran along beside me.

Recently I jumped for witnesses in the hardware store, and they applauded. It was only about six inches off the ground and felt like I was lifting two bulldozers, but both of my feet were off the ground at the same time for a nano second.

hallwayMy office is down a long hallway that seemed, for many years, to be miles away. Today, it feels like only a few steps. I willingly go back to my car in the parking lot when I forget something. Unheard of for the last 10 years.

My first surgery to replace my right knee took place a year ago. Happy birthday, Righty.  My left knee surgery is four months behind it — so, by the end of the year, surely I will start writing about commuting again and stop giving you such an awestruck and amazed accounting of this journey to health.

One of the biggest surprises in this replacement of two knees in four months is the power of the brain and thought. My brain is such a partner to me in all my physical intentions. It is a miraculous machine, giving me sudden signals and changing realities every day.

My path appeared shorter when my walking skills were improved. My hobbled habit told me I  wanted a chair when my legs told me I was OK now and could stand awhile. Lately, my brain has been giving me signals on my walks to run a bit — something I honestly never did in the past. So I don’t know who my brain thinks I am but it certainly thinks I can run some.

Lately, I’ve tried standing in front of a mirror to kneel. My knees are still numb and I can’t really feel it when I kneel. It makes it hard to do and, honestly, the only residual pain left since before I got my bionic knees. So I’m trying to trick my brain into recovering feeling in my numb knees. My doctor and nurse tell me that this is a trick used to teach people with lost limbs. If your missing leg is itching, it sometimes helps to stand halfway in a full length mirror so that you appear to be whole again and scratch the remaining leg. Who knew? But, I’m thinking it’s helping me recover feeling in my artificial knees — both of which have remaining areas of numbness.

long_staircaseI get up from my desk job and walk several times a day now. I take the stairs instead of elevators and recently walked up 10 flights of stairs, according to my health app.  I walk to lunch spots that were drives for me in the past. I can keep up with even the most fast-walking of all my friends.

Oh and I’ve even taken a few tennis lessons lately. Tennis is one of the main reasons I had terrible knees in the first place, and I hadn’t played much for 10 years. I see other women on the courts with various forms of knee braces. That was me before. But now, these bionic knees won’t be helped by a wrap or a brace. They are the only thing on my body that doesn’t hurt after a tennis lesson. I’m not saying I’ll get back in the game entirely. I’m still wearing old lady tennis shorts and using  borrowed racket. But it could happen for fun.

Think I might could even travel and do some sightseeing. Last time I took my kids to Washington, D.C., they can tell you what a lug I’d become on a vacation. Who knew? It was the beginning of my realization that my lifestyle had changed because of chronic knee pain.

“Don’t it always go to show, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” But you certainly know when you get it back, Joni Mitchell.





Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

September 13, 2016 at 11:11 am

Houston commuters … I’m back!!

leave a comment »

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.”

She’s gone now

leave a comment »

Tucker in 2014

My good boy, Tucker, makes friends on the gully.

She’s gone now, of course. My old friend’s old dog. I’ve known it for a while but was unwilling to write about it or intentionally race out to the gully when I saw him walking his regular path. I didn’t choose to engage him until fate brought us back together anyway. My gully walks are not about plans but are about providence. Call it kismet, destiny, lady luck. Reality. You get what you get when you get it. I don’t often leave for a walk or a bike ride intentionally to see a bird, a deer or a neighbor. I leave when I leave. These days, I simply try to get home in time to beat the sunset.

Even before today, I’ve seen him walking his two surviving dogs, one named Virgil and the other’s name still unknown. I watch them through the slats in my fence while I sit on my porch after work and admire the birds and the sunset. First, I watched for him with hope after our last talk in June. His two healthy dogs lead the parade – one on a leash and the other running free. Then, this tall, lanky, methodical man. I’d hold my breath for seconds, then minutes until, finally, the sweet Cookie would trail several feet later. A blond lab with silvering hair who took longer and longer to keep up every time I saw them on their routine walks.

Today, the inevitable couldn’t be avoided. My lone hound Tucker and I were coming off the gully bridge when he came my way from the park. I stopped in the path and put down the kickstand on my bike — a sure sign that I wanted to talk a minute.

“I see you’ve lost your old girl,” I said when we came face to face at dusk.

“I have,” he answered. “A couple of months ago. She made it to 16.”

“A good long life,” I said, my standard response. Three extra years sounded sweet to me, having lost my Patsy girl at only 13 when she died a few months back. My friend remembers Patsy, so we compared girl dog stories. We both agreed they are unique and fun and miss them desperately.

I suspect he’s 80 or so. Plenty old and slow moving. Tonight, he didn’t have on his straw bowler. Instead, he wore a bike helmet – a sure sign of recent brain surgery or a head injury. He fidgeted with it while we talk, and I decided not to ask. Finally, he volunteered, “I like to wear more protection when it gets dark like this. I’m more likely to fall in the dark. If I fall, I need to protect my head.” Of course, he does, I think. And I want to wrap him in a flak jacket and help him put on boots with thick socks. And gloves. Doesn’t he need gloves, too?

Can’t we protect him from the misadventures an old man might encounter on a walk of the gully? Protect him from nature as it comes his way. Protect him from life. Protect him from death. Keep him as my gully friend forever.

I take routine spills on my routine adventures. Just this week I almost steered my bike all the way down the 20-foot incline when I got distracted by Tucker. One more foot over to my left, and I’d have been swimming in the murk or worse.  I tend to lean into trouble when I see it coming. It’s like I determine it’s happening while it’s still coming, and I lean in, bracing myself for the worst-case scenario before it becomes inevitable. Slo-mo, and I’m in big trouble. I righted myself in time, this time. Made my heart race as my mind continued to visualize the worst.

My friend is quite decrepit and frail. His walk is slowed and measured. I’m sure I’m a sweet young thing in his eyes. They certainly light up and dance when we stop to talk. My friends and kids worry about me on the gully and I’m decades younger. The least I can do is worry about him, watch for his shadow to fall on my fence. Wait until he passes with now two dogs. And I can put down my kickstand, and we can talk a minute. It’s nice to remember our old girls together.

Here’s the original blog from June.








Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

October 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm

A reporter must report, even without a daily newspaper

leave a comment »

Tucker and SambaAs a lifelong journalist now with no newspaper in this age that has changed the Fourth Estate forever, I am still a reporter at heart and must report. Now, I’m a one-person shop – like I was at my first biweekly. I report, edit, take photos and write columns. I also get to choose what is reported and how high the play is.

No longer am I reliant on a city desk to decide if I’ve made Page 1 or if I get to cover the big story. No longer am I an insecure writer with low self-esteem, dependent on the judgment of the editors who were always the boss of me in my daily days. Well, maybe still in need of approval like all writers but that’s another story.

Facebook, Twitter and this blog are my outlets, and my iPhone is my Nikon.

Social media also has saved my marriage and made me easier to tolerate for friends, my children and especially my husband. In 40 years of marriage, I can’t even tell you how often I’ve asked my husband to come see something – a beautiful sunset, deer roaming the woods, perhaps a man who’d hanged himself from a tree. John actually believed me this time; we turned the car around and discovered my imagination had been at work. Now that I think about it, this may be why he isn’t always willing to come see what I want to report.

As a longtime police reporter, I’ve actually discovered a few bodies in my day so I can understand why he’s a bit gullible. But we’ve had at least three incidents where I’ve convinced him I’ve seen a crime in progress, and it turned out to be an over-reaction on my part.

Then, there was the time I wanted to report child abuse in my neighborhood because I kept hearing the kids shout, “Daddy, Daddy, please stop.”.” When John urged me to check it out one more time, I approached the house cautiously, prepared to knock on the door and save the children. “No, no, no, Daddy,” I heard. Then, splash after the cries. “Daddy” was horse-playing with the kids in the backyard pool. Cops were not called; my reputation remained intact, except with my husband.

One of my favorite halfway points.

One of my favorite halfway points.

In any case, I no longer holler for family or friends when I see something exciting or different in my routine commuting travels or my bike rides. I just post. Now, I may be an over-sharer, but I try to pace myself a bit.

Thus, this weekend I’ve captured some photos of the sights I’ve seen along my bike rides. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the two brother Batmen, complete with masks and capes nor did I get my iPhone out in time for the convertible with the kid in the backseat with a butterfly net.

Fishing and paddling

Fishing and paddling



Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

September 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

A dog walk is not a person walk

leave a comment »

When I got home from work today it was after a thunder-boomer that had dumped a few inches of rain on my ’burb and clogged my traffic for all 30 miles home from Houston. My Tucker-hound had been mostly housebound and certainly en-fenced all day and was ready for a change of scenery – no matter how hot and sticky his human would get. The waves of vapor were coming off the greenbelts and concrete streets like wintertime gutters in my Michigan suburbs, outside of Detroit.

As I looked back across the throbbing mist at the beginning of our outing, I felt a change in perspective that was new-dimensional. I decided to go with it. Go with Tucker. Let it be his walk, not mine.

Dog professionals say that hounds smell scents as distinctively as humans see colors. We see a rose stand out in a field, and he smells a rabbit from its morning trail. Tucker decides our path, sets our pace and stops and stops and stops along the way.

Now that I have aching knees from too much tennis and racquetball, I bike while he walks. He is on an extended leash because we are on the streets and greenbelts and not on the water-logged banks of the gully. Blue Streak is the perfect bike for this because it goes as slowly as Tucker. It has a wide seat for sitting and waiting while he sniffs down to the last scent from last year or maybe two years ago.

He pauses longest on the path to the park. Does he still smell our Patsy-girl, gone now for four months? How about Andy-dog from a few years ago? He wouldn’t even know ol’ Barney, the Dalmatian who walked those roads near Detroit as well as another neighborhood in Kingwood.Tucker on the hunt

The smells must be like photos in an album to Tucker. He is reminded of old friends who used to be his companions on this walk. We stop longest at the decorative logs where every four-legged friend leaves a calling card. He smells a rabbit, a stinky boy walking home from the pool and maybe a squirrel. He has the taste of squirrel in his mouth from last week when he caught two on consecutive days, leaving squirrel tail feathers in his mouth.

Experts say that the sense of smell is the most significantly linked to memory, and I wish I could sniff as powerfully as Tucker and call up a full blown memory of Patsy walking beside us. Her hound ghost would walk beside us and maybe we’d be joined even by Andy dog from my three-dog days. Those were wild and out of control walks. Andy was an incredible specimen of canine magnificence, strong and physical yet mild mannered and easy going. He would lull me into a smooth, relaxed walk only to jerk me, face down into the dirt when he spotted a cat under a car. He fooled me every time. Bloodied and bruised me many days.

Patsy also kept both Tucker and I on our heels wondering if we would be dragged into the bushes, attack some unsuspecting neighbor or make a mad, powerful dash for parts unknown. She was a mischief-maker, unlike Tucker who is so easy that I’m inclined to take over the walk and make it human. But I won’t. This is a dog walk and not a human walk.

I compare my sights to his smells and know we have absorbed just about everything possible in this mile-long, 30-minute walk. I see the deep green of the newly watered leaves and yet spot the moving lizard as it jumps from one thin trunk to a wider one. An orange butterfly catches my eye and a mushroom blooms from the earth. Tucker, on the scent, pauses at a bush to sniff and move deeper into the woods to sniff again. Could this be Romeo, the aptly named hound whose owner allows him to roam our neighborhood most nights? Now that Tucker and I walk the gully most evenings, we don’t see Romeo as frequently but we know he’s making his rounds.

We pass up the park where we hear kids shouting and playing and choose, instead, to take a singular path that backs up to few houses and gives us deep breaths of peace. Tucker trots counter clockwise on the roundabout – like my own preference when I’m not forced to obey traffic laws. He pauses once to look up at me with curiosity, and we discuss whether or not he needs water in this humidity. Of course, I have plenty and offer him some. He takes a little but then gestures that it’s time to go home.
In the end, the sweat drips into my eyes and blurs my vision again, reminding me of the heat that originally had altered my view. We are nearly home and I lean forward and unleash my powerful companion. I ride, he runs for home.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

August 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Another unusual sighting on the usual road

leave a comment »

When I took a desk job and stopped playing tennis four to six times a week, in between paying contract assignments for my writing,  I told myself that I would bike more to make up for my lost exercise. Cycling is a sport I can do alone, at any time of day and for any amount of time that is available to me on any given evening after work. More on weekends. Over the months that became years, I established many routes, depending on the amount of daylight left and my own proclivity for exercise that evening after a full day of writing and office politics.

I have five-mile, 10-mile and even 20-mile routes that wind through the overhanging trees and greenery in tropical Texas where shade becomes as precious as oil. In the past, I would take out my heavy, grandma bike with the big basket and ride to the library and fill the basket with books. That’s a 20-mile haul over the Lake Houston Bridge, typically on the weekend when the Atascocita library is one of the few of the Harris County public library system that is open on Sundays. Now, I’m more likely to download a book on tape from HCPL mobile for free – even if I’ve been on the hold list for months – so I don’t have to schedule my rides around an open library.

In my particular suburb, on the outskirts of Houston, there are hundreds of miles of greenbelts, taking you to any and all of the city’s neighborhoods. And, if you’re careful and methodical, you can choose a route without ever crossing a major artery or putting yourself in harm’s way of ill-considered teen-aged drivers or multi-tasking soccer moms and dads who may not see you until they’ve killed you – and perhaps not even then. In other words, I prefer to stay off the main streets, even in my mild-mannered ‘burb, because it’s on the open road when, as a biker, I take my life into my own hands.

I joke that a teen-ager will mow me down and simply “call daddy” who will cut a check over my broken body in an attempt to make up for junior’s mistakes. It happens. I see the white wooden crosses with a spray of plastic flowers marking all the main arteries and even some side streets where I often wonder how someone can possibly get up enough speed to kill or be killed.

I won’t be a victim of this class war.  I won’t allow junior, in the years before s/he grows a conscience, to toss me aside like a beer can tossed out the car window over a weekend or on an after-school romp. I won’t become a wooden cross or a statistic.  I will drive defensively; I will always be on the lookout. I haven’t overcome my dysfunctional childhood, spent 20 years as a police reporter whose been shot at twice, faced countless murderers even some before I turned 20 years old,  seen more than my share of dead bodies and a few autopsies — to go down for the count to a teen-ager or soccer parent. I happen to cherish my own bones even if the drivers in my neighborhood don’t.

Today I wanted to log some miles but knew I wouldn’t be able to stand the cold weather for long. Right, right.  It’s 45 degrees. I know that’s not really cold. In my former Michigan residency, my kids would have been crazed to play in the sprinklers on a day like today, but my blood has thinned in my native Texas and I crave sunny, sweaty days before I settle in for hours and hours of biking.

I bundled up – gloves and earmuffs – and started my ride on the street during the afternoon and before kids are let out of school. The streets are pretty vacant on school days and I can pick up the pace before I head off road and onto the greenbelt. After I enter the umbrella of trees and heavy quiet, I bike a couple of three miles until I turn around, literally, at the big penis that appears beneath my tires. That is, a regular graffiti that’s been drawn routinely on this particular greenbelt for years, reappearing when it’s painted away. It’s become a crude marker, of sorts, for this particular route,  perhaps mistaken as an atomic bomb or lopsided mushroom by some less frequent passersby. I bike to the penis, turn around and come home behind a neighborhood that has several wooden bridges over the swamps and lowlands. This is about a 30-minute, six-mile ride. I’d say it’s lower on my totem pole of favorite rides. Not really much exercise but a pretty scenic route – if you don’t count the penis.

I finished the scenic part and started on the paved roads toward home. As I poured out onto the very last leg, there was a white truck parked at the entrance to my specific neighborhood. I noticed the parked vehicle up ahead for several minutes before I also saw that the guy sitting in his truck (I think a Nissan Frontier) was looking bizarrely uninterested in his surroundings. A young enough guy – maybe late 20s, early 30s. Cleancut with dark blonde hair, pretty even features otherwise.

Being raised in a newsroom from the time I was younger than 18 has made me a pretty good observer. One of my early mentors recommended a writing exercise when we sat in a diner on assignments. We would write specific and detailed descriptions of the folks in the restaurant and then look for triteness or overused descriptors to eliminate and rephrase,  make the writing clearer and more precise.

Like many childhood skills, I didn’t even realize I’d acquired such a careful eye for my surroundings until it became a popular subject of television shows like “Psych” and “The Mentalist.” That’s when I discovered I’d already assimilated the characters and details of my surroundings and picked out “which one is different from the other ones” without even being conscious of the specifics unless asked.  The only glitch is that I describe people bizarrely, perhaps even impolitely, without meaning to do so and with a strictly pure heart. It’s just my mouth that gets me in trouble if I say it aloud.

“Really pointy nose, big forehead,” I say and would never consider it an affront unless I hear it repeated or said to the person I’m describing – who actually is pretty normal-looking and even attractive. I just know without thinking the characteristics that stand out.

“A bit fat but clean and well dressed.”

“Really big head and little body. Long neck.”

“Huge boobs with incredible cleavage and broken fingernails.”

“Gangly legged guy with the shorter girlfriend who maybe had a strange spangle wallet in her pocket.”

See, it doesn’t sound nice, but I bet it would help you pick the person out in the crowd. Nine times out of 10, when I describe this person, my audience knows exactly who I’m talking about.

Instinctively, this truck and its driver caught my attention because the driver seemed out of place, doing nothing. His head was pointed dead straight, looking neither left nor right. I looked around to see if he had a passenger nearby and he was merely waiting for someone to hop in so he could drive away.

Average guy. Maybe cute enough but a bit weirdly awkward, stiff  and uncomfortable.

A couple of cars passed him while I approached on my bicycle as did one of my neighbors walking his two rowdy hounds. The truck driver never looked at anyone but sat alert, eyes forward, a stiff neck. Who does that?

And, when I biked by, I gave him a huge, long lasting, hairy eyeball and he never, ever swiveled my way.

Strike two.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 12, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Ode to an afternoon bike ride

leave a comment »

Dry bike rideA bike-riding fool in Houston has to pick her times to ride wisely during these 100-degree days. Too early in the morning, and it’s still terribly humid and potentially mosquito and gnat-filled. Too late and it’s easy to talk myself into a cool drink instead. So today, I headed out after church in the brightest and driest of suns. I survived and actually enjoyed the challenge of a workout made twice as exhilarating by the heat.

Ode to an afternoon bike ride

The sun on my shoulders; the wind in my face.

A dried out pinecone explodes beneath my tires

Like a firecracker on the Fourth of July.

Today’s colors are dust and tan; smoke and sand.

The few birds are fiery red like sparks in the bush.

Orange butterflies flash across the sky like flames from a campfire.

My first sign of sweat starts as a mustache across my lip,

And I feel a solid trickle down my spine.

My towel is a squeegee to my sweaty palms.

The katydids sing their dry, arid song –-

Now softer, now louder, now gone.

I dodge the sunlight for patches of shade

As refreshing as an icy drink of water.

I slog through one especially long bright path

And carry the weight of a day at 100 degrees.

I feel more like a kid in the Texas heat

Than any other time or season.

The stickiness is forgotten,

My mind goes blank,

And time is endless.

8.2 miles, 43 minutes, four bunnies and one lost sweat towel

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

July 28, 2013 at 1:30 pm