commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Detroit

On the cop beat for life

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Recently, I’ve been listening to Harry Bausch’s adventures as written by Michael Connelly in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I can’t get past the feelings it evokes. “They” say your sense of smell is the strongest sense to activate your memories. For me, hearing can be equally haunting. Or is it sight and reading? A good book, read again, listened to again. A favorite author can feel like home and long ago at the same time. Or, in this case, a same character – Harry Bausch, the hard-nosed anti-hero and Los Angeles cop as written by another former reporter on the cop beat.

This book has me transported to the past. It has me reminded me of quick trips to the grocery store when I could rent a book on cassette tape, mostly abridged and somewhat unacceptable. But I’d take anything on tape to get me through a day of housekeeping or cleaning out when my kids were young and chores were routine.

Or it’s Sunday and the only library that was open was 10 miles away so I’d bike there and bike back – for 20 miles and two hours roundtrip at the minimum. I’d have to plan my clothes – light as possible but with a cover-up t-shirt, two waters and a light weight bag that would be book-laden for the trip back.

Or it’s a road trip to Austin where I would meet my friend from Michigan at her mom’s house so that we could keep up an important relationship for me where she was my rock while my son went through and out the other end of a heart condition.

Or to Lubbock for my westward bound road trip to visit my daughter at Texas Tech. That eight-to-10-hour trip meant a couple of really good books by favorite authors who would keep me occupied but focused.

concrete-blondeI’m transported by Connelly’s new book not because the book is about yesterday because it’s not. But because I’m reminded of some of the first books I ever listened to as an audio book addict. “The Poet,” “Concrete Blonde,” “Trunk Music.”  Ahhhhhh. I may need to listen again.

Listening to audio books is as common in my daily rituals as is my commute to work. Actually, I’ve been listening to read-aloud books far longer. I was first attracted to Connelly, now world famous, of course, long before the charismatic Texan Matthew McConaughey played the role of his “Lincoln Lawyer,” Mickey Haller, an attorney who works from the back of his car, so another commuter. Or before Clint Eastwood played a side character from the Harry Bausch books in “Blood Work.”

I may have listened to “The Poet” as one of my first audio books, if you don’t count the classics or old radio broadcasts that I could find on the car radio or at truck stops. Remember, this is long before the days of the internet or downloads and when libraries seldom carried anything but the written word.

the-poet“Death is my beat. I make my living from it.  I forge my professional relationship on it.  I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker — somber and sympathetic about it when I’m with the bereaved, a skilled craftsman with it when I’m alone.  I’ve always thought the secret to dealing with death was to keep it at arm’s length.  That’s the rule.  Don’t let it breathe in your face,” Connelly says in “The Poet,” back in 1996.

Connelly is back to his police procedural hard core in the “Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I love it. It’s the routine of day-to-day police work. Keeping your notes in order. Working your sources. Doing favors. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. So I’m transported not only to my listening past but also to the heyday of my career as a cop reporter. Back in the day, I rode the beat with cops, went door-to-door with detectives and sat on stakeouts. I’ve discovered bodies, been shot at and, actually, solved a couple of murders myself. We were a team, on the same side mostly.

That’s the police beat as I worked it, back in the day of the press as Fourth Estate. My cop shops were on a rotation – whether it was Port Arthur, Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or a bit of Detroit. The bigger the city, the more often I visited the police station. But even the one-cop towns showed up on my calendar once a month. I called or dropped by. That way, when a body got dumped at Kennedale, a small town outside of Fort Worth, the dispatcher knew my name and would give me the story.

cub-reporter

Working traps on my first daily, the Beaumont Enterprise, two years after I’d started my journalism career at a bi-weekly. 

“Running my traps,” my first city editor called it. Joe Broughton was a feisty hellcat of a newsman with a kind heart but a trashy mouth. I learned a lot from him and from running my traps, a work ethic that has served me well in a writing career that soon will have paid my bills for half a century.

So, on this rainy day when I can’t be running the roads, I think I’ll finish “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” while I do my house chores and then run through some repeats including “The Poet.” I think I may even have that one in hard copy.

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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.”

A dog walk is not a person walk

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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

Right smack in the middle of my life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vinny and me

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Vinny is ready for a canoe trip

Vinny is ready for a canoe trip

I feel the clock ticking on my commuting days with Vinny the hot red Xterra as my sidekick. I know this because I find my eye wandering to sleek new models on the highways and my thoughts turning to the wonderful and unique smell of “new car.”

As a Texan who lived in Detroit, I come by my love of cars naturally. And, while I’m loyal and getting pretty level-headed with finances these days, I still love the thrill of shopping for a new vehicle with the thought of opening it up on the long and winding road.Vinny recently passed 170,000 miles and I still hope for more. But, I feel the call of the wild.  I’ve been shopping a bit for replacement vehicles and thought recently that his commuting days were at an end. He’s been in the shop off and on for the last several months — costing me $500 or more with every repair. He will be due for inspection in January and last January we were lucky to get a pass. I’m prepared for the worst or else the time may come sooner.

I have driven a fully loaded Nissan Rogue with a moon roof and four-way cameras on all sides. My family seems to believe that the cameras are a great idea with my commando style of driving. Then, the 2013 Pathfinder has been redesigned for long road trips, my favorites. And, of course, I’m always drawn to another convertible.

Dan and Derrick, my friends and mechanics, advised me to purchase Vinny when the Xterra was a new idea, and they’ve never steered me wrong. That means they worked on no fewer than four used cars that I’d bought for my two kids at mileages over 100,000 and for $6,000 and less.  I believe my daughter’s Sweet Sixteen Corsica only had 60,000 miles and was the only real deal I got. Then came my son’s Mustang that burned up on Highway 59, a Pathfinder that my daughter had and  passed on to my son who totaled it while wearing his Batman t-shirt and then the short-lived Isuzu we bought from an engineer and that should have lasted longer because of the original owner’s excessive fastidiousness.

We had just welcomed a new century, and I was commuting the 30 miles or so to Houston in a mom mobile at the time I switched to Vinny.  I had raised my kids in a convertible with hardly a back seat when I switched to a green Grand Caravan — just when the kids didn’t want to be in the car with me anymore. I remember wanting to trade it in within weeks of its purchase because there were so many green vans in the parking lots I frequented. Once, I even got into someone else’s green van, thinking my automatic opener had worked. It was after I was sitting inside and looking around that I realized I had the wrong vehicle.

I went down immediately to a car dealership and found a similar model that was a different color. Gold instead of green this time. I can remember sitting in the salesman’s office with him saying, “Now, why is it you want to trade in your almost new  van?”

As a woman who prides herself on her non-materialistic and sophisticated nature, I heard the words come out of me, “I wanted a different color.” How shallow. I immediately grabbed my keys, headed out of the dealership and remained silent about choosing the most popular color for a mom mobile of the times.

As my Grand Caravan crossed 126,000 miles, dozens of tennis team trips and innumerable outings for both girl and boy middle schoolers, Dan called to say, “Mrs. Hensley, please don’t make us fix your car again.” They recommended a Nissan, Vin Diesel was just out in the movie “XXX” and Vinny was bought and christened.

As I say on Vinny’s home page, I have spent more time in the last 10 years — now 12 — than I have with any other vehicle, creature, person, etc., in my life. He has protected me through four car crashes in Big City traffic and has  become exactly what I wanted in a commuting vehicle. Something tough, high sitting for the routine Houston flooding and basically a road warrior. He sits up high so that I can view my domain and the whizzing 18-wheelers and lane weavers. He’s tough and resilient, fending off flying debris from big trucks in front of us. Sitting all day in a crowded lot in the medical center where aggressive parkers may or may not give him a smack.

Tomorrow, I will get back inside for another commute. Vinny will fire up, drive smoothly and we will make my way to the medical center. He doesn’t have the perks of today’s new cars, his driver’s seat is a bit frayed and the lining in the ceiling is hanging a bit low. In any case, Vinny will never be a trade-in. He is far more valuable to me than he would be as a number to the bottom line.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 11, 2012 at 7:15 pm