Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Clarence Clemons

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.”


Clarence takes a hit for me

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Clarence decked out for Christmas

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I was commuting to the city as part of our skeleton workforce for the day. It couldn’t have been a smoother ride. I’d breezed in without a hitch, not even bothering to take the toll (it was closed anyway) because there was so little traffic. I’d say it was among my most pleasant drives ever. Until it wasn’t.

I’d spoken to my niece — hands free — on the cell phone, but we’d finished our conversation minutes earlier, me saying I was in the final one-mile stretch before I arrived at work. I remember looking at the passenger seat on my right, taking my eye off the road briefly, perhaps. It was in that seat that I had all the paraphernalia that I insist on bringing into the office every day. Books, pencils, pads, iPad, lunch, etc. I know I had leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner and that was unusual but nothing else. I’m not quite sure why I glanced away from the road.

Then, here’s the surprising part, I heard voices screaming “no.” A ton of commotion erupted in my head just as, to my left, a car came careening at my driver’s door, T-Boning me and Clarence and shoving us the rest of the way out of the intersection and near the right side of the street. Did I hear the cries of the folks in all the other cars? Was I imagining it? Is this some adrenalin rush that happens when your instincts kick in and tell you of danger? I don’t know, but I heard warnings.

The unique part of this car crash, unlike about a dozen before in 40 years of driving, is that it happened out of nowhere. I didn’t even see it coming. You know how it typically is when a car pulls out in front of you on a rainy road, like my first crash ever, and you can’t stop and instead see it happening for what feels like hours. You are helpless for what feels like a long time.

Instead, this was: One minute totally fine and wonderful. Next minute: Totally crushed and out of commission.

The other driver and I had a he-said; she-said situation on the sidelines. He felt like I’d entered the intersection too soon and before the red light had turned green. I felt like my light was green and I just have quick reflexes.  I suspected he was crashing through a yellow, near red light, into me. In the end, I was guilty enough at having taken my eye off the road to knuckle under and not continue with my objections.

No one got a ticket. As a matter of fact, in Houston, you don’t even have to call the cops if you can get both cars to the side of the road. Later, Houston police came to the scene at the insistence of our insurance folks (none of whom quite understand the dynamics of Houston traffic, certainly being from smaller cities.) But the two patrol cars and their officer-occupants didn’t even take out a notepad.

Everyone looked at the tragedy that was Clarence, wheels bent in like he was pigeon-toed. Then, they expressed concern at my condition – totally uninjured but high strung, edgy and standing in the middle of the intersection of Fannin and Binz in  one of the most congested cities in the country. The other driver kept being overly concerned about me and kind of over-the-top gentlemanly. His license plate was New York so certainly he knew about city driving. Maybe he was sincere, but I felt undermined. Of course, I’m prepared for a wreck. I drive Houston streets every day. I’d be silly to think this wouldn’t happen every few years or so. I wonder now at the social implications of such a pleasant person at the site of a car wreck. Did he suspect he could send me over that edge too easily so he needed to be extremely friendly? Probably so. All turned out for the best in the end.

So, it is today, almost two weeks after the incident occurred, that my true holiday begins. Clarence has been cleaned up, polished and repainted. Fortunately, his engine experienced no damage so he’s as good as new. I picked him up today and decked him out in his Christmas finery.

And me, I feel more attached to my new road warrior than ever. It didn’t hurt that while I was in a rental, I came to appreciate my First World attachment for my new Rogue with his moon roof, hands free phone, full navigation gear, Sirius radio, keyless entry and electric seats that can be warmed in the cold weather. New is good.

The same type of crash had happened in the early days with Vinny and then four more rear-enders. So, while I feel unscathed in my daily travels, I’m certainly not. Clarence had the tough wheels of Vinny to fill, but this life experience has accelerated my growing affection.  He took a hit for me and we both survived.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Transformation from home to work

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Clarence t-shirt

Smooth riding with Clarence

He pops his head over the gnawed, wooden fence
And looks at me with love and longing.

We make our peace with my departure,
And I reverse out the long, friendly driveway.

The neighborhood is a still-life photograph
With no movement but me.
A glisten of dew makes home sparkle.

A basketball in the gutter, a bicycle, wheels up in the park.
A lone teen-ager waiting for a school bus, hoody and earphones pulled tight against invasion.

I pull open the sun/moon roof and watch dawn break.
Midnight blue to grey to pink to yellow. Mottled clouds form my companions.

Then, it’s the straight-away to the freeway
With its Starbucks, strip malls and fast food.

I turn onto the highway at the lime green couch
And pass a mattress, a fishing pole, a broken boat.

Halfway is marked by Fiesta, La Tienda, Arandas and Taco Cabana.
They identify my hometown, my home state.

I cross from suburbia to the city, concrete and crowds.
Up ahead, the skyline of Houston breaks through the smoky clouds, just like the Rockies.

Manmade but majestic with low wisps playing hide and seek with the peaks.
A challenge of structure and nuance and energy.

Straight through downtown by the courthouses
And the potential jurors called to court to uphold the peace and law of a melting pot,
sometimes boiling pot.

Suits, briefcases, umbrellas and overstuffed bags.
A grease-bottomed pastry sack, a steaming cup of coffee.

An elderly woman walks with her dowager back at a right angle.
I feel the pain and strain from my comfortable seat in the car.

A young man folds his sleeping bag from the open space in front of Hermann Park.
A line forms outside the church, serving breakfast.

Everyone is different; everyone needs to eat.
Volunteers, homeless, reasoning and unreasonable.

First suits, then mismatched rags, now scrubs.
Flower shops, uniforms, wheelchair and scooter sales.

We are now in the bustling business of medicine and patients,
Caretakers and care-givers, confused and calm.

I make one last turn before I enter the parking lot.
Look through the open roof and take a deep, long breath.

The sky is clear and blue and efficient.
I close the hatch, snap on my badge and step into the day.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Do I have to say his name – Clarence

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The Big Man Clarence Clemons

The Big Man Clarence Clemons

It was only two days into the contest when I realized the new name of my ride, Clarence for Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen’s longtime friend and saxophone player who died of a stroke a couple of summers ago. You are welcome to cry “foul” because the winners of the contest are in my head on a daily basis. They are my friend and former office mate, Thelma, and my cool son Trav who has been with me to many Bruce Springsteen concerts and knows my heroes. Of course, we first had to run the gamut of superheroes. I can be quite a Batman, Superman, Aquaman fan as well as Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. Some of those names just seemed too nerdy even for me.

So, it was Thelma’s saxophone mention that made me think of Clarence, and, when I mentioned the good news to Trav, he reminded me that he immediately suggested the name but he’d added a sick joke that made it fall out of my head. In any case, Clarence will be a perfect name for my new ride.

The winning prize is a guest blog for each. Thelma already is working on hers. Trav said he will wait until a subject moves him.

I loved all the ideas and interest from all of my friends and blog readers. Originally, I thought I would name my new ride, Luther, for my new favorite detective show. This one is a British production, and I watch it on Netflix. However, after I made my Rogue selection, the name didn’t quite fit. Hence, we needed the contest.

Some of my favorite suggestions were Lucius, Dewey and Lee Roy from my friend Dave. Stu from one of my favorite work buddies who also knows me well. Blaze from my high school girlfriend who has been my friend for life.  Blue, Mad Max or just Max from one of my former tennis partners with a very clever wit. Dolly and Baylee from other friends. Neches for my hometown roots and for the middle name of my nephew. Perhaps this is a clever time to mention that I have three nephews who are named for Texas Rivers – Neches, Brazos and Sabine.

One of my closest friends, suggested it was time to move to something proper and chic like Charles, Chuck, Edward, Vincent. Some people commented on the public section of the blog but others contacted me directly – perhaps too shy to put their ideas “out there.”

I couldn’t be happier with my new ride and with the name that seems to fit him so well. He sits calmly behind Vinny who is still on the road a couple of three times a week making heavy hauls. We have a full and fun stable for my commuting now.

When I thought about Clarence this week, I went looking for this copy of “10th Avenue Freeze Out” from Springsteen’s concert in Houston where he played wonderful tribute the Big Man. Do I have to say his name? I have attached the link to 20 minutes of the best time you will spend today. Clarence’s introduction happens about 15:30 minutes in if you don’t have that long. But you don’t want to miss Patti singing just before Clarence is introduced.  That happens 14 minutes in. This song is Bruce’s story of how his band came together and he saves the best for last. Last verse:

When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I’m gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When scooter and the big man bust this city in half
With a tenth avenue freeze-out, tenth avenue freeze-out
Tenth avenue freeze-out…

Laura and I were in this crowd – about 20-30 feet from Clarence. We watched him all night long and I know he sang directly to us for at least some of the performance. Best seats I’ve had during any of the six or so Springsteen concerts I’ve attended.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 10, 2013 at 3:30 pm