Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘commute

Wrong side of the conversation in my head

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Today, I’m listening to Harry Bosch’s adventures as written by Michael Connelly in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and it’s transported me fully into the story. I’m getting in a few steps to shake off the holiday fatigue and the quiet of being one of a very small skeleton crew at work.

So, I’m walking the halls and crosswalks of the Texas Medical Center fully engaged in a bit of a Connelly throwback to his police procedurals of the past.  I’m really liking it because it reminds me of my old police reporter days. The crimes were just as horrific but we seemed to solve them with more concrete and less cosmic methods. Also, we took crime more seriously – perhaps not anesthetized so much as yet. But, I digress from what happened that was not at all serious.

I come to the part in the book about the weapon that was used to commit these atrocious series of crimes. It’s a knife of the killing people kind and used in war kind. So here’s what I’m hearing:

“Definitely for use on a silent kill squad,” he (Bosch) said.

“He drew the knife back horizontally with the edge of the blade out. He pantomimed attacking someone from behind, covering their mouth with his right hand and then sticking the point of the blade into a target’s neck with his left. He then sliced outward with the knife.

“You go in the side and slice out through all the bleeders in the throat. No sound. Target bleeds out in under 20 seconds. Done.”

Your gentle reader (in this case listener) is so engrossed that I don’t even realize that I’m following the narrative with my own pantomime. It so happens that both of my hands are empty because I have a dangly small bag hanging from my shoulder and my MP3 player pinned to my sweater.

throat-slitI reach up with my right hand and cover my own mouth. Then, I draw up my left hand with an invisible knife and look up just about ready to go for my own jugular.  I’ve just crossed over a walkway and have entered the section of restaurants, shops and even a hotel of mostly normal or sick people. There are now a ton of people in my vicinity and about three of them are watching me carefully. They all have looks of concern, horror and maybe even panic.

We make eye contact. I re-enter my own world. Oops. Not normal, I think.

I casually drop my invisible weapon, smile innocently and proceed to the sandwich shop for a turkey reuben.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 28, 2016 at 11:57 am

How does a pencil-skirted commuter climb a security fence?

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Little Lucy has a big roar

She has to be pretty desperate. If you’ve been commuting as long as I have – in years and in hours – then you know how desperate I am for hearth and home and wine at the end of a long day and an hour-plus commute.

Settle in for this one because it takes some ‘splaining and the ‘splaining starts with Little Lucy, a ball of fluff and an unexpected addition to our household. She came to us Halloween night, in need of a home. She’s shaken up our household and brought more smiles and laughter than I could have expected.

At eight-weeks-old, she had to be left home today with Big Dog Tucker for a bit while my husband went to some important meetings. As the usually longer-distance commuter, I’m never home first. But I was today and excited to be.  I couldn’t wait to let her little self out of the cute teal-colored kennel and get kisses and licks all over my long-day face.

That’s when I realized John had locked the back gate. Of course, he had. We’ve got a cool pool back there and no one was home. Unfortunately, my key to the gate hangs just inside the back door of the house. Now, I realized, that wouldn’t do me any good anyway because I didn’t have any keys to the house. I’ve been using this just-right-size-for-my-credit-card-and-iPhone as my side bag to my briefcase. My house keys were somewhere inside the house with my regular purse.

This wave of facts rolled over me as I heard the first cries and whines from my three pounds of mostly fur. It was a pitiful, pitiful sound.

First I ascertained that I was, in fact, screwed.  Back gate locked; front door locked; garage door locked; son’s keys to his own home and not mine; my keys not in the briefcase or console of my Clarence, my Rogue.

The cries from the little teal kennel continued, heartbreakingly louder every minute. Big dog Tucker was enjoying the show because I could reach over the fence, pet and reassure him.  He’s been around for 11 years and has seen many similar adventures. He knows that one of my pet peeves is to be locked out of my own home – something that happens way too often if I leave for a bike ride without house keys.

My first thought for a solution was of the two-by-three-foot, box-like plastic recycle bin on my side of the fence from recycle day. I didn’t really give it much thought before I tossed it over the fence, flat side up and against the other side of the fence. I was thinking I’d climb over and that would give me about two feet less to jump to the ground. Now, though, how was I to climb over on my side?

We have a marble bench that gave me a leg up, but, did I mention I have two new fake knees? I’m starting to think I may be jeopardizing my until-now record-breaking recovery.  I teetered on the marble and realized I couldn’t throw my leg over just yet and make my way down on the other side. I needed another boost of inches or maybe a foot on my side.

The barbecue pit is quite small. The fire pit is almost immovable. Thus, I chose the wooden rocker, swing and dragged it painstakingly over to the fence. Still, I’m not convinced I’m going to do this, and my sensible side of my brain keeps hoping John will return any minute to divert this action.


Heights to climb at the end of a long commute

But, I did it. I climbed onto the marble bench, then to the higher arm of the rocking chair. I teetered from this height, thinking of the new knees before I threw my right leg over the fence and lifted my full body off the rocker, straddling the fence in my skirt – it had a lot more give than I’d have thought.

Finally, I could feel the recycle beneath my tippy toes. And TA-DA!! I was over. This reluctant commuter was home.

Lucy was released and everyone lived happily ever after. Now, let me put those keys back in my briefcase or change out this cute purse.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 15, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Commuting is like time travel

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20140501-210901.jpgCommuting can be like time travel. I often lose time when I’m in the middle of it. It’s like the slo-mo scene in the movie when the hero starts shooting or dodging bullets really slowly or does a triple somersault before kicking an arch-villain. Everything slows down. On a commute, it needs to do so, and you learn to face it. You can’t get there any faster.

You leave a million chores at home on your way to a full day of projects at work to complete and, all of a sudden, you are suspended in time. Suspended in the commute. Nothing you can do about it but relax. You’re in real life slo mo.

Happens to me on a bike ride, a bit, and a lot because I ride many of the same roads often or at least many of the tree-shaded greenbelts look exactly the same. This curve, that tree. Where am I?

If I know I’m running late for work, I know it an hour early and before I’m truly late. I have the urge to call into the office before any one of the city-dwellers have left home. If I leave work late, I know it will be dark at home and almost time to go to bed. I won’t have time to walk my hound on the gully because of the mosquitoes, take a bit of a bike ride for exercise or tend to my plants, dig in the earth and revive.

Then, as soon as I get home, I start the cycle all over again. Until today; the weekend.

When I lose track of time in the middle of the commute, I come back to myself and have to figure it out.  Did I make my turnoff? Where am I precisely? What time is it now? I see the same people sometimes in the cars beside me. I recognize their bumper stickers, their breakfast-eating habits. Please don’t put on your makeup; don’t slow down because you’re on your phone. I’m behind you. Please get out of my way.

I see Galaxy Inn every day, twice a day and wonder again about “The Last Starfighter” movie. I’m thrown back in time to the first time I viewed it, the second time, maybe even the third when the kids were little and loved to watch it over and over. I loved it, too, of course, because the plot starts with a character who is really good at an arcade game. I loved pinball as a kid and still love gaming. The hero gets so good at the “Last Starfighter” game that he is called on to save the world because the game actually has been training for reality. Wow. Just what my daydreams were/are made of.

There’s a condition in the real world that’s called synesthesia and you hear a little bit more about it these days. The scientist David Eagleman, author of “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain” studies this condition. It’s when one of your five senses overlaps the other. Most synesthesia folks are musicians who hear music in colors. A couple of characters in books I’ve read in the last couple of years have this condition. I’ve even heard it mentioned on television recently in the plot of a detective drama.

I’ve read about it some because I think I’m a bit of a synesthete. Not much, but it explains some experiences I have that most people don’t understand. I see geometric shapes when I hear loud and sudden sounds. A yellow circle, a black triangle, most often.

I think a lot of people get a taste in their mouths when they smell a specific food. You smell cinnamon and taste apple pie. You smell jasmine and taste grape Kool-Aid.  But it’s a little more arbitrary when you see time or days of the week in squares or columns. I see days of the week in geometric spaces. Thursday is often blue.

I never really knew this experience may be unique when I was a kid, young adult, mother or ever. I only considered it to be something unusual when I read about it. Just like holding a hand of cards upside down, I didn’t know others held their cards differently until I was in college and looked at someone else’s hand. As a kid, I never peaked at others’ cards, so how would I know? Eventually, and in recent years, I’ve discovered, others don’t see time in squares and columns.

Perhaps my most pronounced experience may not be synesthesia but it’s an experience I can control and can make happen again, if I’d like. It’s an overlap of sound and memory. I hear a passage in a book on download, and I’m transported back to the original place where I heard the passage for the first time. I’m in the car, rewind the audio to listen again and I’m transported to the bike path where I was the first time I heard the same words. I’m cleaning the house, rewind, and I’m back upstairs vacuuming instead of in the laundry room downstairs. It’s cool and a bit amazing.

As a commuter, I survive on book downloads. Fiction for my book club. Murder mysteries. Popcorn for the mind. And as an audio book listener who originally was a voracious reader, I don’t want to miss a word, and I often reread to hear it again and catch the nuance. I’ve even been known to buy a book because I want to physically look at the words that I’ve loved.

When I’m lost in the story. I rewind. I could go back an hour; I could begin again. Then, I’m transported to the original place where I heard it first. When I’m in my car, I’m back on my bike. I’m riding the greenbelts and listening to the Scottish accent of Catherine McCarron as she reads Denise Mina’s latest, “Red Road.” It’s cool and fun and green and yellow. I can make the experience repeat itself and take me back. I see my path specifically, colorfully, and I’m transported.

A really good story must be like time travel — if you’re reading a book or listening to it on download. Commuting and listening combine the two easily. You’re in the car; you’re on your bike. In either case, you’re in Glasgow listening to an excellent whodoneit, and you’re in Houston, on your way to work.


When home is colder than the big city

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Andy dog and a butterfuly

Andy Dog photo by Big Johnny

Disclaimer: This is really a sad and violent blog today. It is dedicated to my sweet Andy Dog who ran the roads of Kingwood anytime he got the chance. He was a hound’s hound, sometimes running until the pads of his feet bled on the concrete. I watched him run right into the path of many cars. He was wiry and fast. Once, when just a puppy, he jumped out of the window of my truck, slipped out of his dog collar and ran the roads of a strange neighborhood. We were always lucky.

But, as we all know, luck runs out quickly and when you least expect it.

It happened for a neighbor and her sweet Princess this week when Princess was killed by a hit-and-run driver just a block from my house and on the very last leg of my commute home. It was far enough ahead of my car that I couldn’t quite tell what was happening. I saw the pet owner run from the grassy area of the gully and just fall into a clump on the side of the road. It was only when I pulled my car up beside her that I could tell it was a woman and her dog. I didn’t know her but knew the dog, Princess, and had seen them walking all the time. Princess was a small little white dog, Jack Russell-looking. I believe the pet was killed pretty instantly but her body was still beautiful and fully intact.

I reacted instinctively. I know it surprised the owner because it surprised me, too. I just parked my car, jumped out and ran to help. We were both wailing and hovering over the dog to see if we could do anything. We spent about an hour, just crying and angry. I was holding the owner while she held Princess. It’s really shaken me up to watch the sweet thing die like that. I can’t get over it. Then, I can’t forget the carelessness of the driver who was going so fast and didn’t stop.

A third neighbor and I just sat with the owner, so upset while time stood still. Eventually, I went home for a box and the other woman got a towel out of her car. We finally moved Princess into the box, taking off her collar for the owner as a keepsake. Then we wiped all the blood off of the owner and ourselves. It was so terrible.

The other neighbor, who was a bit older and more experienced with such tragedies, talked about how people can be so inconsiderate and preoccupied.

“This is our home,” she kept saying. “This is our home; this shouldn’t happen at your home.”

I wonder what would have happened if the driver had stopped. At first, we compared descriptions and considered tracking her down. It was a mom with a car seat for a baby in the back of the car. She was entering the neighborhood instead of leaving. We were crazed and angry. But, in the end, we knew it was over. My neighbor’s four-legged companion was lost forever in a moment of carelessness. It was unforgivable. Nothing more could help.

Here’s the pretty good part, though. When it was all done and the owner finally stood up and wasn’t crying so much, we made incredible human contact with each other and the third woman. I saw her and she saw me. We were unprotected and honest with each other. We hugged like we were part of the same universe, easing each other’s burden just a bit. A real connection. That doesn’t happen very often. We never exchanged names or phone numbers, but I will know them when I see them again. We are kindred spirits. I saw them and know them. They know me.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Road Warrior: Beyond Astrodome

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New Road Warrior

New Road Warrior

The day finally arrived last week when it became clearly time for a new Road Warrior to join me on my commute. Vinny has been a good and loyal companion, but the days are gone when I feel secure he will get me to Houston and back without a problem.  Frankly, such a trooper deserves a break from the concrete and the crowds. He will remain in my family forever but needed help carrying the load of the day to day.

I went with my favorite mechanics’ recommendation and stayed in the Nissan family, this time with a midnight blue Rogue that I expect will get a bit better gas mileage than Vinny. I drove him home for the first time on Friday and will begin the commute with him right away. He’s a magnificently sleek piece of machinery with all the bells and whistles. Of course, I’m not for sure what that means – considering it’s been 10 years since I drove a new car and don’t quite know what is standard these days.

For instance, I mentioned to some friends that my airbags will disconnect if there appears to be a child in the front seat and may do so even if my purse or briefcase is too heavy.  One of them laughed that this has been true for a while and is now pretty standard. Vinny was among the first with airbags on all four sides, and “they” hadn’t decided what to do with the too small person sitting nearby. I was amazed to know how behind the times I am with car equipment.

The huge differences so far appear to be the speaker system that hooks up to my cell phone, the satellite radio and the keyless entry – something I haven’t quite figured out as yet. Of course, I’m just getting started with my new friend and have plenty of time for discovery.

I am pretty loyal and trusting with my car dealer like I am with my mechanics and have come to depend on having regular people like this in my life. There’s quite a bit to be said for return business, and I believe I get a good and honest deal with the folks I have come to admire in their line of business. This particular Nissan salesman has sold my family now six Nissans, starting with sweet Vinny back in 2003. That’s been followed by two Sentras and two trucks – taking into consideration that both of my children totaled new vehicles and went back to the same  dealer for the same purchase a few months later.  Wow! That’s scary, and we’re lucky for those airbags.

And so, he spent about 45 minutes with me on Friday explaining all the perks in the new Rogue – enough that I was so overwhelmed that I almost couldn’t find my way to work, even with the built in GPS. Yikes!

Of course, I was quite melancholy when I removed my parking pass from Vinny’s rear view mirror and grabbed out of the center overhead my electronic card that lets me in the gate of my parking lot.  But once I got close to my new wheels and the door opened at my presence, I knew this new guy “gets me.”  Then, he recognized my phone, turned on some jazz and called my family members at the sound of my voice. Yes, I say, he feels like family. Now, he just needs a name.Vinny in the stable with his new friend

I am waiting for him to speak to me, but, while I do, I thought I’d offer a naming contest for you regular readers. Just like television shows today allow you to choose an ending, vote folks off the island and create the next superstars, I’m going to tap into the power of social media. If you have a name you’d like to suggest for my new Road Warrior, just send it along as a comment.

Do I have a prize? Of course, I do. The prize is your own guest blog in Commuter Chronicles. And, if you’re not much of a writer, I will help smooth it out and make it wonderful. And, if you’re still not interested in writing, I will buy you a meal and hear your stories first-hand.

How’s that? You know from my blog what books I read, what movies I see. I’ve attached a photo in case he speaks to you visually. I’d love to see your thoughts in these first weeks while we get to know each other.

Vinny in the stable with his new friend

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Nora Ephron always along for the ride

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Nora Ephron has accompanied me on many commutes — most recently, reading me on download her latest book of essays, “I Remember Nothing.” She died yesterday at age 71. The cause was pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She could always make me laugh and make me think. (Not to mention she knew who Deep Throat was before ex-husband Carl Bernstein ever revealed the secret. Ha!)

I was reading her before 1973 and Watergate, and I passed on my love of her work to my children. So her legacy will continue. Daughter Laura and I talked of her death last night, just minutes after husband John hollered out to me on the porch to tell me the news.  Son Travis and I spoke about her screenplay work this morning. “You’ve Got Mail” is a famous Christmas tradition around my house because of all the great lines about writing in that movie. Before my family ever saw the movie, they knew my love of a well-sharpened No. 2 pencil and of my enthusiasm for the crisp pluck of a typewriter key. I still have my Royal from sixth grade, prominently displayed at home.

Nora Ephron also wrote “Silkwood,” one of my most famous stories that I ever covered for the Beaumont Enterprise.  Karen Silkwood was from the big city of Nederland, Texas. I interviewed her dad, the reporter she was heading to meet when she was killed and spoke often with the union rep who is portrayed in that movie.  I also used the story of covering this story in my teaching days at University of Houston. Her dad was my toughest interview ever. They had not been that close, and he had blown up Karen’s driver’s license photo as large as possible, framed it and had it hanging over the couch in the very dark living room.  I can still see that room in my head. Bleak.

Nora Ephron foreshadowed her death a bit with these lists at the end of “I Remember Nothing.” They are worth repeating in her honor:

What I Won’t Miss

Dry skin

Bad dinners like the one we went to last night


Technology in general

My closet

Washing my hair



Illness everywhere

Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism



The collapse of the dollar

Joe Lieberman

Clarence Thomas

Bar mitzvahs


Dead flowers

The sound of the vacuum cleaner


E-mail. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it.

Small print

Panels on Women in Film

Taking off makeup every night

What I Will Miss

My kids





The concept of waffles


A walk in the park

The idea of a walk in the park

The park

Shakespeare in the Park

The bed

Reading in bed



The view out the window

Twinkle lights


Dinner at home just the two of us

Dinner with friends

Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives


Next year in Istanbul

Pride and Prejudice

The Christmas tree

Thanksgiving dinner

One for the table

The dogwood

Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 27, 2012 at 8:42 am