Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘hound

“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

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

A successful dog walk-bike ride combination

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Biking with TuckerThese days, I mostly saddle up on old Blue Streak and ride the gully with my lone hound, Tucker. Bike riding while dog walking is something I’ve tried frequently with varying degrees of success and in varying stages of my own nimbleness, theory being that I can get in both chores at once. This time is my most successful with this, my most obedient and loving hound and my best bike for the concept.

In the course of a mere month since I lost my much beloved senior hound Patsy to lung cancer, Tucker has become so well trained that my bike ride and hound walk are one in the same. Blue Streak is the perfect vehicle for my bike ride-slash dog walk. With a wide seat, big straw basket and easy balance, I can keep pace with Tucker or fall back while he sniffs. It’s his walk after all, not mine.

Today is a perfect day to take Tucker out on the gully. The gully itself has been mowed this week. It’s an almost perfect surface for Blue Streak, which is, after all, a mountain bike and perfect for a bit of uneven terrain. I fill a water bottle, grab one of my small white hand towels, toss Tucker’s leash and my phone in the basket and off we go.

I gamble a bit by opening the gate and letting Tucker out without looking for other dog-walkers, bikers or kids with their fishing poles. In the past, he’s been a bit of a barker but never a biter. Of course, other folks don’t know that. In our first walk, after losing Patsy, I had a traumatic experience when he barked at a jogger who was frightened by him before I could get him back on the leash. She shouted at me while I cried, apologizing for having him off leash. “You will do nothing,” she said over and over as I pleaded that I would. Then, as I continued to hang my head and cry, she shouted “fuck you” several times and for several more feet. Already devastated by the loss of my best friend, I couldn’t blame her and had nothing to say for myself.

A month later, Tucker has become so obedient that it’s a small gamble. We don’t have a problem today. I make a quick canvass and see neighbors working their garden a few houses down and kids in the gully, but that is all.

The gully comes up to a bank on both sides before it dips 15-feet to 20-feet down to the slow-moving water below. I come out of my wooden gate behind Tucker pumping at full speed, trying to get up the hill without stopping. I need to meet the rise at an angle and am getting better at this as I get stronger and more familiar with Blue Streak’s capabilities again.

I push hard up to the sandy path that is a high school track-like oval. It’s a mile and a half to go the loop, but I sometimes extend my ride down the gully to the park or in the other direction to a wooden bridge. In both cases, I have to be prepared to put Tucker on the leash to cross roads. My mind unconsciously chooses simply to make the loop with my loyal hound.

First up on the right is a formerly beautiful cactus that grew for years in front of a neighbor’s gate. The huge pink flowers were so enticing one year that I attempted to grab one for my own cultivation, picking needles out of my arm for days after my attempt. It’s been mowed down recently but continues to grow in patches along the fenceline. I hope to see the flowers again some day.

Almost immediately after the cactus is a sort of community garden that expands every year. I think three neighbors are involved these days. They have beautiful sunflowers this year, growing to eye level. Beans loop around trellises, and young tomatoes, okra, peppers, lettuce and typical vegetables grow in even, perfectly weeded rows. It’s become a pretty spectacular effort with compost, fallen logs, some flowers and a watering hose that’s permanently looped over the fence. I reap the rewards on occasion and without any effort on my part when the tomato or okra crop comes in successfully and a neighbor shows up at my door with a bag full.

Today, adults are walking beside the gully, which is not the norm. It’s usually the kids who traverse the steep incline to the water for fishing or turtle torture.

These folks have a small white houseshoe dog, and they grab it up when they see me and Tucker. It could also be because our neighborhood red-shouldered hawk is making its rounds, swooping close to them. He’s flown by my face once at such speed that I knew I wouldn’t survive a hit, and, similarly, heard the screams from a squirrel when he grabbed it off the neighbor’s rooftop.

Also nearby, is a huge turkey buzzard the size of a small child. I holler to Tucker, and he comes to the side of my bike, trotting parallel to me. “Good boy,” I say, and we keep a tight mass, even though I think Tucker is too big to entice Mr. Hawk. He’s so great and well trained these days.

As a former police reporter, teacher and general busy-body, I tell the neighbors to maintain their own tight circle to appear to be too big of a target. They seem to appreciate the advice, something that’s not always true when I choose to impart such wisdom.

Tucker and I cross the wooden bridge with ease this day. My speed is good enough to make the hills and the extraordinarily high bump up to from the concrete to the wood. We keep going past the turtles that I’ve watched grow from quarter-sized to a foot across.

On the other side of the gully is more shade, and Tucker starts to stall, sniffing and relaxing. I look over the fences at the pools until I’m halfway and at the neighbor’s house where folks typically have peaceful Zen music playing so loudly that I hear it on my side of the water.

Then it’s another bridge and we’re in the home stretch. Tucker has the most vocabulary than any of my hounds. He knows “bridge,” “left” and “right” or else he knows that I don’t want him to get near the road. As we approach a neighbor who has moved a lawn chair out to watch her kids fishing on the gully, I get him to trot beside me with my bike between him and the strangers.

He’s a great guy. It’s been a nice ride and he’s had a nice walk. We kick into gear and head for the open gate.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 18, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Extreme sports enthusiast

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Among my newfound friends and followers of Commuter Chronicles are what appear to me to be some extreme sports enthusiasts. Maybe this is because I write about biking on my cool Trek bike Streak. Or maybe it’s because I drive around in my hot red Nissan Xterra, named for Vin Diesel. I didn’t even think it, but clearly I appear to be a bit extreme.

I even had someone say to me the other day that I’d always been a jock. Whoa! Wait a minute. I think I like that. And yes, now that I’m considering it, I’d like say it’s true. I have loved and played all sports all of my life. However, on this side of the old lady mark, my knees have given out and so have my tennis and racquetball games.  I still try to swim or bike every day. But extreme?

The last time I caught some “mad air” was when the neighborhood hooligans strung packing tape across my bike path and I hit it at 12 m.p.h., knocking me for a loop and eventually landing me on my extreme behind.

And, just as I am thinking of my readers who might even understand the term “mad air” and the potential skateboarders and other young Turks out there reading my thoughts, I happen to have what I consider an extreme sports workout. As a matter of fact, I had to call Big Johnny to tell him that I’d pushed my body to my limit at the heat of the day. He needed to be on standby in case Streak and I needed saving. Unintentional or not, I got in a good one today.

My workout went like this. I biked the first five miles to Lake Houston at about 10 a.m., so while it was starting to get hot but still pleasant. I sat on the bench, cooling down and drinking my water. I’d only brought one water bottle because I was thinking this would be a quick ride. It so happens that the drought has caused a lot of trees to be damaged and removed in Kingwood, so my bench was not as shaded as usual. Thus, I rested but it was in the heat. And pretty quickly, I finished all of my water. At the time, I was thinking I had the energy to make a quick dash home and get plenty of water after I arrived.

Now, here comes the extreme-ness of my sporting these days. I happened to make a new, chatty friend just as I turned around to head home. She was wonderful and entertaining with two well behaved and pleasant hounds who loved me immediately. It started with the story of her 16-year-old third hound who had been left back home because he couldn’t make the walk in the heat and ended with the entire story of her 71 years of life.

Long story short . . . her story was not at all short. I walked with her some, petted her delightful hounds and compared philosophies of life. It was a heavy and heated conversation – mostly because we were both getting hotter and hotter as the sun climbed in the sky.

When I finally headed home, my knees were stiff, my water was gone and the temperature had reached 100 degrees. I called John once; he called me three times more. My 30-minute ride home turned into an hour-long chat and another 45 or so minutes of really slow riding.  The heat was killing me. I thought I would croak until I finally found fresh water at Greentree Pool and was saved. The water was even cold and sweet tasting; the water fountain not too icky from kid use. I doused my entire body under the cooling spray.

Then, Big Johnny was waiting with ice packs and cold water. I was totally rejuvenated and ready to play another day.

So, while my sports aren’t necessary extreme, my relationships are. And, the result is the same — over-the-top workouts.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

August 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

Weekend in bloom

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Everywhere I traveled this weekend — on two and four wheels — was filled with the sounds and sights of nature in bloom. Seems I’ve grown to appreciate more and more the lives of growing things of all types whether it’s animal, mineral or vegetable. I have this wondrous, lush life that brings me from one of the greenest, tropical suburbs in the world to a huge city of concrete and wonder mostly wrought by the hands of creative, energetic people.

I tell folks that I was raised in a newsroom, and that experience gave me the single most important skill I will have for life — the sense of observation. My superpower is my nose for news. My ability to spot something out of the ordinary. Which one is different from the other one? What is happening today that didn’t happen yesterday? What is that noise? Is that new? Is it consistent? Who is that person? What are they doing? Are they famous? Should they be famous?

I also love it all. I find it all shockingly interesting and entertaining. Front page. The hummingbirds are back for the season. This unique new petunia is colored like a bumble bee.  This beautiful iridescent blue bird is a purple martin.  This poor bullfrog croaked all night and then started back up in the morning. This stealthy red-shouldered hawk snatched a squirrel from the roof and flew him screaming across the gully. This steely blue falcon exploded the unlucky pigeon in the middle of the medical center.  This basement alley cat with its shiny coat stalks a grackle and drags it underground for dinner.

Nature is the original reality TV.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Last starfighter in training

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I’m a bit of an astronomer, a major star gazer and a grown up who loves sci-fi. Therefore, one of the most intriguing sights on my daily commute is the Galaxy Motel with its deep blue sign covered in shiny white stars. Along this highway dotted with express accommodations of a serial non-variety, it is a wisp of whimsy in the concrete jungle.

The old reporter in me would stop and get the story. I always believed there was one on every corner and at least one in every person.  Why Galaxy Motel? Who are these owners who have stepped out of Earthly norms? Who are the folks who choose the unknown over the known? And is the last starfighter training there?

You remember the old movie, the Last Starfighter. Two poor kids who live in a trailer park called Starlight Starbright have a big love and unique talents that allow them to save the world and escape their circumstances.

 So far I haven’t stopped to find out the real story of this cool motel. I still let Vinnie fly me and my imagination into the galaxy where we are the last chance for humanity to be saved from invasion – at least until we get to the med center.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm