commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Houston

Elevator Karma

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Today’s elevator conversation started when I thanked a nicely dressed younger woman with long brown hair for holding the elevator for me. I often talk to strangers in the Texas Medical Center. It gives me pleasure to hear the work of the medical professionals as well as the patients and their families. Everyone is looking for directions, and I happen to know how to help. It’s taken a decade but, most often, I can get you there — even if you’re in an entirely wrong building and with just an address in your hand.

Elevators are most often other staff folks, like me, docs, nurses, etc. Frankly, I thought this woman was “one of us.” She seemed comfortable, rested and relaxed. She also seemed to know my parking garage and certainly knew my elevator.

She said she’s usually at the elevator at night so she doesn’t see much of a crowd. Then, she said she got out today to get a chocolate milk shake.

“I’m being a good daughter,” she said, and I noted the plastic bag she held that was filled with ice. It had something heavier in the middle but clearly had some cubes from drive-through.

“Smart plan,” I said and, now that I knew she was family of a patient somewhere, I attempted my usual banal two-cents worth of a comment to make a human connection. I give my brief flash of humanity and take away a little myself.

Her response was that she was there for her dad. He was waiting for a heart and liver transplant.

“He really only wants chocolate milk shakes these days; the least I can do, ” she said.

Indeed. That makes two of us. Glad I was awake for that walk to the elevator and not just head down, pushing buttons.

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 21, 2017 at 4:54 pm

The time I went to the Super Bowl and paid $20 per ticket

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super-bowl

The Golden Couple of the ’70s at their big Super Bowl adventure.

It’s not unusual to exchange Super Bowl stories on this, Super Bowl Sunday. And, by now, many of us have had the opportunity to attend.  Although it’s in Houston this year, I’ve chosen to stay home and watch. Had either of our favorite teams made it in – Texans or Cowboys – I might have dug deep into my connections or pocketbook to find the cash.

Feels like I’ve seen plenty already, having driven in the Super Bowl traffic on Thursday and Friday with the potential of being extremely late to work in the Texas Medical Center tomorrow when everyone tries to get back out of town.  But then, I’ve been. Knocked it off my Bucket List and have “highlights” evidence to prove it.

My story of attending the Super Bowl is not quite as cool as the story of technology over the last three decades. After all, I attended the game in 1978 when we had no idea the advances that would take place in technology and that some historic moments would be memorialized forever – including this one.

It was Dallas vs. Denver, the Superdome in New Orleans, and I had a friend who had just gone to work for the wire service UPI in New Orleans. Joan Duffy, an outspoken journalist and mentor who had been with me on a news desk during Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, had taken me under her wing for my impressionable early years at the Beaumont Enterprise. I was hot to maintain the relationship as well as score the best birthday present of all time for my new husband during our honeymoon days. These 35-yard-line tickets to the big game would never again be matched or surpassed in now 44 years of marriage.

Face value for a Superbowl ticket?  A mere $20 compared to $3,000 today.

Husband John was marking off a huge one on his life’s bucket list. Here he was, a guy who had played football through high school and college and who was now attending an actual Super Bowl game, watching some of his childhood heroes. Huge deal, huh? Could other big events like a World Series, Wimbledon or a presidential inauguration be far behind? We were young and cool and heading for rich and famous.

It was a momentous day even before the game.  Joan, John and I were walking Bourbon Street, of course, hobnobbing and pressing the flesh. That’s when I spotted my childhood hero, Walter Chronkite, whose calming voice and knowledgeable news reports were the highlight of every evening.  These were the days when journalists were among the smartest people walking, and he inspired me to more than writing – to knowledge, to objectivity, to honorable presence, to be the Fourth Estate. He was the real deal and there he was in real life.

I was the first to recognize him and, of course, stopped in my tracks — dropped-jawed and cotton-mouthed — while Joan and husband John kept walking. Uncle Walt was so self-effacing. He chatted easily with us fellow news reporters just like we were contemporaries. I still believe he would have gone into the bar behind us for an afternoon of drinking and story-telling, had I been able to stop stuttering.

The game itself was not that momentous and Dallas stayed ahead pretty easily. We even skipped out a bit early to see the King Tut exhibit, another fantasy come true for a kid who loved to read about Egypt.  It was the exhibit’s first tour to the United States and the long lines had caused huge headlines. We made it only moments before the exhibit closed for the season.

Now, flash forward through the years and into our current day living room and the real story.

With today’s technology, we now can tape the Super Bowl highlights no matter what time they come on. We had taped them all. They are only 30 minutes long but John loved to watch them all and relive the games like the true football beast he is.

So, one day, John says he thinks he recognizes the three girls who were sitting in front of us during the Super Bowl. What? No one else would ever have known we were frozen in time on camera were it not for John’s incredible memory of football plays and peoples’ faces. And now we have slo-mo.

It goes like this:

The Cowboys’ player Golden Richards catches a pass from Roger Staubach that seals his team’s victory. The Cowboys celebrate with Hollywood Henderson throwing his arms into the air. That’s the signal for us to start watching the recording closely.

The camera goes to Cowboy Ray riding his stick horse in the stands and then pans among the many revelers. The view begins to take in the crowd in the aisle beside Cowboy Ray. The fans are wild with celebration. Then, there are the three girls – arms thrown into the air in celebration – and . . . slow, slow, frame, frame.

Yes, there is John under one of the girl’s armpits. We stop action, focus and enlarge the picture on our home television as video-John turns his head, smiles and talks to . . . me, sitting beside him. With the magic of today’s technology, we can move the picture, frame-by-frame and close in on this young couple who had been hidden for years behind these same girls.

There we are, images preserved for national recognition during such a historic event as Superbowl XII.

I had to run the picture back and forth a thousand times, frame by frame, to be sure this wasn’t some trick of the camera. How could I possible have gotten my hair that big? It looked like Marlo Thomas from “That Girl” days.

And then, there’s John. Here’s a guy who has been big enough to be shaving since Little League baseball, and, well, let’s face it: He’s wearing a powder blue suit with lapels wider than my hair. Is this John Hensley or John Travolta? Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Ah. Ah. Ah.

The kids started yelling “leisure suit,” “leisure suit.”

John swears he never owned one. But there it is, preserved forever.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 5, 2017 at 2:14 pm

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.

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