commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Fort Worth

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.”

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.

 

The perfect storm of commuting

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ParkingI’m one of those contrarian commuters who likes to take my vacation days against the grain and when most folks are off the Houston freeways, out of town or at home on vacation. This works really well for me at Christmas holidays and most days during the summer months but is very tricky for spring break.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker estimated there would be 350,000 more people in my path every single day this week and next week – making for the perfect storm of Houston commuting. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo converged with spring breakers everywhere who are anxious to visit the Houston Zoo and Houston Museum District, right down the street from me at the Texas Medical Center.

For instance, there were days this week when I made it from Kingwood to the medical center in 35 minutes, and that’s a 32-mile drive. All week I pulled into my parking spot way before my usual 8 a.m. arrival time, even counting once when I stopping at Starbucks and once to get gas and Diet Seven-Ups.

Interestingly, this was the same amount of commuting time I gave myself as an adjunct professor at University of Houston when I was teaching night classes of news writing, editing and helping to support the content of the “Daily Cougar.” Thirty-five minutes, you say? And I’m a bit shocked myself. The drive was close to the same distance as today, of course, but I was teaching at night and always against the rush hour traffic.

In those early days, driving my silver Chevrolet ES turbo convertible with car seats in the small backseat, I would wait, briefcase in hand, for Big Johnny to hit the door from his day job, and I’d be on the road as the night shift. Hmmm. “Turbo” might be the operable word here. Of course, no one ever minds when the professor is late or even when she’s held up and can’t make it to class. Everyone gets to go home early. No harm; no foul. So perhaps I wasn’t always on time, although I don’t remember timeliness ever being a problem. College professor is the only job I’ve ever had when no one truly cared if I showed up or not. And, in fact, I was the same way as a college student awaiting my professors.

So, let’s take this commuter mentality a step further into my past and the days when I commuted from the big city of Port Neches, Texas, to my hometown institution of higher learning, Lamar University in Beaumont. I gave myself seven minutes from Port Neches to Beaumont and that included the highly volatile Railroad Avenue when a train would always waylay a commuter with its backing and forthing.

By my freshman year at Lamar, I’d basically moved in with my best friend and her aunt and uncle. So, if I’d stayed with Penny in Groves, then I would give myself a solid 15 minutes to make it to Beaumont. I remember thinking what a terribly long commute that was and how I needed to get an apartment in Beaumont as soon as possible, especially after I switched from the bi-weekly “Mid County Chronicle Review” to the daily “Beaumont Enterprise.”

Seven minutes from Port Neches to Beaumont, I say. Fifteen if I were driving from Groves to Beaumont. I can’t believe it myself this many years later as a professional commuter who first commuted to Dallas and Fort Worth from Arlington before I even began the challenge of Houston.

So my slide into work this week was surprisingly easy, but my drive home was very rough – especially if I forgot and shifted into automaton mode. That meant I’d be on Fannin Street and stuck in the long line of stop and go before I realized I hadn’t taken my alternate route – around the bottleneck of U.S. 59 to my favorite parallel of Dowling Street.Cuties on the rail

For those of us who travel the medical center every day, we can forget what a royal pain in the ass of confusion it is for regular folks. And, I must say, we can be impatient with people who don’t quite know where they are going. I try to be considerate, knowing some of these folks are sick and in need of expert medical care. And, in fact, it took me weeks and months to know where I was going when I first joined the medical center traffic. You think I wouldn’t be so arrogant.

 
Tuckered out cuties on the rail in a photo taken by fellow Port Neches-Groves graduate and now coheart at Texas Medical Center, Pam Taylor-Glass

So, this week, I tried to stay calm while cars in front of me veered all over the road, pointing and almost stopping. Even the parking police created havoc by posting their vehicles halfway inside of otherwise useable traffic lanes.

I love the wonderful mix and match of couples and kids who live in our international melting pot. And, I’m really enjoying my new ride, Clarence. Unfortunately, he lulls me into some comfort zone with his satellite radio, warm seats and sun roof. Before I even realize it, I’m on Fannin, unable to turn around and not finding the comedy channel very funny anymore. Next week, I will try to stay alert and navigate spring break better. As a contrarian, I have to take advantage of the circumstances.