commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

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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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tiger

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.

fence

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

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

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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

Accidental swim reminds me of Carnegie Hall

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carnegie hall

I accidentally swam in my jammies yesterday. It came about quite innocently and, as we now say in the business world, “organically.” That means it evolves naturally and without a specific plan in mind and without anyone noticing or raising a ruckus.  “Organically” is a good thing, both personally and business-wide. So, here’s what happened.

I went into the backyard early early so that I could beat the Texas heat to my flower garden. I did some snipping, some watering and some weeding but was not at all sweating or glistening. I write this because I was not drawn to the water as a cool down as I have after bike riding in the middle of the summer. It was a perfect morning. Temperature still in the 70s and comfortably windy. Birds singing, frogs croaking off at the distance, no mosquitos or flies awakened just yet. I was one with nature and my backyard.

As I headed back inside for some indoor chores, I thought what a shame it was to go back inside when I’m seldom out so early unless I’m in the car commuting. Happens that this week I’ve taken a much needed stay-cation to recover and refresh from an arduous year of knee surgeries – two for me and one for my husband. So, instead of “getting away” for an island vacation (I always prefer the beach to the mountains), I’ve decided to stay home and enjoy the luxury of my own pool (still new from last year). My plan for the week is to read, float and sip umbrella drinks made by my own cabana boy. If I remotely attempt to clean a garage or an attic or sign on to work, I will be much embarrassed at my own lack of discipline at not allowing myself to be lazy. This Type A personality can certainly relax on command.

So I kicked off my Crocs and put my feet in the water. Before knee surgery, this itself would have been a production of Broadway standards. I couldn’t remotely get to the first step of the pool last year without first pulling over a chair or a bench for leverage.

Thus, I found myself sitting on the side of the pool, feet dangling in the refreshing turquoise water – still wearing my jammies.

It happens, too, that I was wearing hand-me-down jammies from my daughter. These are black and white musical notes over a too large t-shirt with the only color being “Carnegie Hall,” written in red on the left side where your shirt pocket would go. I never sang at Carnegie Hall but Laura did as a high school senior. We bought these jammies as a souvenir and, later in life when she went off to college; I found them in a pile of clothes to be handed off to Society of St. Stephens, our church’s donation center.

I had even written a story about the trip for the cover of the Houston Chronicle’s lifestyle page. It was spring of 2001 before the world would change that September. It’s still a story and adventure I love to reread, although it’s shaded by the circumstances of seeing the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers only months before they fell.

http://www.chron.com/life/article/Carnegie-Hall-appearance-teaches-lesson-in-2048894.php

Of course, I couldn’t give up Laura’s Carnegie Hall jammies even if she was ready to move on. So, they went into my jammie stash.

Back in the backyard, I waded for a while on the first step of the pool and then ventured to the second. I eventually sat on the edge and dangled my feet, thinking the water was a bit brisk. While the old lady in me was feeling pretty cold, the organic part of me tossed aside my glasses and dove in head first. I was underwater, swimming with no contacts or goggles and relatively unencumbered, and that’s how I stayed for the next hour or so. I had no towel, no book to read, no electronics and no glasses or contacts. Pretty uninhibited for a change.

Today, I’ve started a new habit for staycation. When I get up, I put on my bathing suit first thing. It’s not that I minded swimming in my pajamas, and, as a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed it. However, at some point when you’re not in appropriate bathing suit attire, it gets late enough in the day that it’s a bit awkward to get out of the pool.If I truly want to spend the day in the pool, I have to be a bit more prepared.

 

 

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 31, 2016 at 7:34 am

Here’s a shocker: Houstonians wasted more time in traffic in 2015

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Let’s start with me. Yes, I’ve wasted more time in traffic this year than last year and that is despite being off on medical leave and working from home for an unusual three months and two new knees of the year. I knew before this report that my commute has increased since I first started making a regular trek to the big city more than two decades ago.  Ask my suburban friends who are appalled at the two hours I spend to and fro work every day. I’ve been saying that my commute has increased a lot lately.

Praying that this truckload of Madonnas help me get there a little quicker

Praying that this truckload of Madonnas help me get there a little quicker

When I agreed to this gig, my commute was 45 minutes or less. Heck, when I used to teach at University of Houston at night, I gave myself 35 minutes to get to campus from my Livable Forest home, leaving my toddlers with their father who was home from his day job. But then, none of my UH students ever cared if I was on time or even absent. Such is the life of an adjunct professor.  And I had a silver convertible — also named Streak, like my current road bike. It was fun to drive home in the open air to find the kids asleep and the husband mellow. Today, it’s much different. As an empty-nester with a cool new swimming pool, great garden of flowers and a husband who is an inventive cook, I have a lot waiting for me at home.

I hated to see it counted in specifics and real-life metrics. This week, a new report from the Washington-based Inrix Inc. shows Houstonians wasted 12 more hours in traffic in 2015 than in years past. OMG! That’s a season of binge watching “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black.” It gives me several meaningful episodes of “Game of Thrones” that I will now have to sit in a chair and lose my life to. Luckily, I’ve already binge watched all of “Luther” or I’d be in trouble, perhaps trying to watch on my iPad in the car.

The average Houstonian wasted about 74 hours in his or her car last year sitting in gridlock traffic, the report says. Yikes!  Of course, true.

Looking over my shoulder for trouble in the train lane.

Looking over my shoulder for trouble in the train lane.

Just last week, a terrible story erupted about a woman in a three-car wreck in Houston who took off her clothes and danced wildly on an 18-wheeler, stopping traffic for hours. I could be that woman! I have wanted to make a statement many days as I sat in my Nissan Rogue Clarence, going nowhere. Luckily for my now-adult children, I’ve kept my clothes on  . . . so far. They are still worried about their mom being tossed against the hood of Clarence and handcuffed by “The Man” who has stopped me three times in the last six months in sneaky speed traps for breaking the traffic laws.  I’m certain I’m being profiled now that I’m no longer a cute young thing who can talk her way out of a traffic ticket. They think I’ll pay and not complain. So far they are correct.

This week’s findings make Houston the city with the fourth worst traffic in the country.  We fall  behind Los Angeles (No. 1 ), Washington, D.C., (No. 2), and San Francisco (No. 3). It was the only Texas city to make the top 10.

Houston can brag of being the road most traveled in five of the top 100 most congested stretches of roads in the country. The city’s most trafficked area was the portion of Interstate 610 from the Woodway Drive exit to Beechnut Street, near the Galleria. The less than 7-mile strip, which has received low ratings before, should take about six minutes to traverse, according to the report. At peak travel time, the strip takes about 26 minutes. I believe it takes longer.

Almost to work

Almost to work

Other highly trafficked roads in Houston within the top 100 in the country were:

  • S. Highway 59 from Lorraine Street to Texas 288 (been there; done that.)
  • Interstate 45 from Texas 5 Spur to Gulf Bank Road
  • Interstate 610 from Evergreen Street to W. 11th Street
  • S. Highway 290 from Antoine Drive to N. Eldridge Parkway

Now, here’s the even worse news:

The Texas Department of Transportation recently announced that it would invest $447 million toward relieving traffic on three of the city’s major highways. TxDOT has even proposed elevating lanes in some of the most congested areas of 610 to help alleviate traffic. However, construction on other roads is still expected to bring about closures and congestion.

When this road work creates even more traffic jams, I will certainly shed my clothes, dance in the grid-locked traffic and make a spectacle of myself. All I can say to the family is “Be prepared; I’m not quitting anytime soon.”

A new season for a favorite neighbor

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Tucker frisking Over the years, I very gradually have gotten to know an elderly dog walker in my neighborhood who I’ve written about before when he lost his old girl, Cookie, to old age. He is such a kindred spirit that I’ve created an entire story around him – without really knowing him much at all.  I think he’s a lot like me or like I will be if I ever retire.

He may be as old as 80 but certainly in his late 70s. A bit of a curmudgeon because he can’t be bothered with two-legged creatures. He keeps his head down, watching his feet as he carefully slugs through the uneven turf of the gully. A little deaf so he doesn’t invite much conversation. A regular gent and loner. A lover of nature and solitude.

I hadn’t seen him for at least a year. Of course, the last year has been pretty busy for me with getting my new fake knees and marrying off my only daughter. But still, I walk Tucker every day. You would think I would have seen him before now. I wouldn’t let my mind wander to him or his three hounds – down to two with the loss of Cookie. I just pretended he was still in the world and we were taking the same path at different times of the day. But occasionally I couldn’t help but think the worst and that I’d never see him again.

Then, last Sunday, I was about halfway on my return trip on the gully. Up ahead, I saw his familiar cadre making their way my way.  His stance was familiar, a bit slumped, and he thudded through the dirt, like always.  And there by his side were three dogs.

“Must not be him,” I thought. Last time I’d seen him, he was down to two dogs and was mourning sweet Cookie as we commiserated over my lost girl, Patsy.

I hurried forward with hope and was rewarded.

“Hey,” I couldn’t contain myself, “How have you been?” And he looked up with these faded gray eyes and recognized me.

He had traded his straw-colored bowler for a head helmet, no longer attempting dapper in the name of safety. Otherwise, he looked healthy and as happy as I’ve ever seen him – meaning not happy at all but weary, faded and tired. He is definitely a disciplined person, though, and resigned to complete his long walk with his friends.

In my experience, he doesn’t bother to look up when people pass by and never speaks first. It’s as if he doesn’t want to trouble anyone else along the journey.

“Good. Good. You?” he said and a twitch made its way to his lips, not a smile but almost.

Tucker, me and Patsy from our old gully days. Dog walks have changed without my high maintenance princess.

Tucker, me and Patsy from our old gully days. Dog walks have changed without my high maintenance princess.

“I’m still down to my one dog,” I said, “But I see you’re back up to three.” And, in fact, he had the happiest teen-aged dog running with his pack. Another German shepherd-looking creature but clearly a mix. This pup knew he’d landed in doggie heaven and gave me a big hound-smile.  With a devoted owner, sweet old Virgil and another hound whose name I continue to miss when we talk, New Pup was frisking around, knowing he’d soon be unleashed when my gentleman friend felt like it was safe to do so.

He said it had taken him awhile to find the right fit for his other dogs and him. He had to be careful with the pup and not let him jerk much or pull him over, thus he’d stuck with wearing the head helmet.

We exchanged dog pats – me giving all three of his attention while he talked and cooed to Tucker, letting Tucker sniff him thoroughly. Tucker is a great judge of character and never once fussed or worried about this man. Typically, he wants to bark at everyone and sniff but he knows kindness immediately. The only time he didn’t bark at the pizza delivery man, I was curious, and the guy told me he had six dogs at home. Ha!! How did Tucker know that from the other side of the door? But he did.

My neighborhood experiences are more like this one instead of the angry man from last week. I love seeing other dog walkers and their creatures. I never visit long because I have my own opinions and often don’t want to hear much from others.

Besides, dog walking is solitary experience in my case – solitary, that is, except for Tucker. It’s when I get inside his head and he gets in mind. And, when that happens, all I care about is the squirrel up ahead and how the grass smells.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 13, 2016 at 9:18 am

Two neighbors diverged in my suburban wood

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Dastardly neighbor with umbrella as weapon -- Penguin from "Gotham."

Dastardly neighbor with umbrella as weapon — Penguin from “Gotham.”

And me, I keep thinking about the bad one. Make that the horrible one.  Well, I’m determined to get this bad neighbor experience out of my system and move on to the rewarding experience I had just days before this. So, here goes.

You never know what your neighbor has been thinking or doing when you happen onto him on a routine dog walk. I can be pretty internal so I’m not always looking for conversation and neither, most times, is the other guy.  Typically I know the dog and not the neighbor. Less often I meet neighbors I know but we may not have dogs in common. Our talks are shorter.

In the recent rain, I made a mistake — a mistake that I will, in fact, make again. I took Tucker for a walk in the neighborhood with his leash in my pocket. No one was outside, I justified. He sticks so close to me, I amplified. I will leash him as soon as I see anyone, I lied to myself.

We were more than halfway when we came upon a couple. Tucker sniffed; they cooed. All was well.

When we entered the loop of the park, we headed right. We were 20 feet to the counter-clockwise side – about 5 o’clock – when a man and his black lab with a short leash came out of the fog at 7 o’clock. It was late in the day and I figured him for a businessman after work, now in his yellow bowling shirt and getting some exercise.

We went our separate ways, Tucker not noticing until the man turned to face us. We both thought it was a friendly gesture and Tucker scampered his dog’s way, me not five feet behind him and pulling his leash from my pocket. That’s when the man raised his huge umbrella in a menacing manner to strike my dog, my guy, my pampered best friend. Tucker shot away from him and back to my side where I leashed him immediately.

I'm Batman in this story, only I didn't have an umbrella.

I’m Batman in this story, only I didn’t have an umbrella.

I stood still as a statue in my surprise. That’s when the man laughed. My freeze unfroze immediately.

“You’re threatening my dog and now laughing?” I said. What he said next was quite X-rated and would have made my husband and son break his umbrella over his head. They could do it, too, so he was pretty lucky – lucky, that is, except for the part where I was raised on 14th Street in Port Neches, Texas, deep in the heart of the wrong side of the tracks. He didn’t know I learned to fight to the death before I entered elementary school, especially when someone threatens a loved one of mine.  Heck, I tried to chase him with my two fake knees.

I kept my language in check because I thought we’d end with cops called. That was attempted aggravated assault after all. In fact, I don’t think it even occurred to me to cuss him back. The situation itself did not call for bad language. He was out of line on all accounts. He even did this girly mimic of me flailing my hands and claiming I’d get Tucker on his leash.  It was quite disturbing and not at all comical. I tried to chase him again.

I never backed down and, in the end, he didn’t much either.

I got in the usual zinger about him taking his bad work day out on me. But I seemed to hit my mark when I asked, “do you even love your dog?”

“I couldn’t threaten a dog like you did just then unless I had to defend myself. I love dogs. You can’t possibly love your dog.” I also added something about him having serial killer tendencies because he liked to torture pets. With that, he actually headed along his way.

And now that I’ve written about it, maybe it will be off my mind.

Did you know the brain focuses on the negative? That’s why we walk away from an excellent evaluation with the one criticism on our minds. Why we remember our speech as the one mispronounced word. Why I remember the bad neighbor and need to focus on the good. The good neighbor experience happened on the weekend and is about a man I’ve written about before. I will write about that pleasant visit next and give it more thought and energy.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 9, 2016 at 3:43 pm