Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Port Neches

“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

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

Suburban sentiments and sightings

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God's thumbnail

God’s thumbnail


Star-gazing on the gully

It happens about once a week. I might complain about the traffic or muse about something interesting I saw on my commute from the ’burbs to the city. I won’t go for an after-work drink or out to dinner in Houston because “I’ve got to get home.”

Then, I hear myself say it, “It’s a long drive – about an hour each way.” My listener, mostly city residents, will flinch at the thought.

The commute actually is getting longer and longer every week. It wasn’t but about 45 minutes at the most just 10 years ago. Before that, when I commuted at night, I’d give myself 35 minutes to get to University of Houston where I was an adjunct professor.

“Sure, I mind,” I answer to the follow-up flinch.

“But I like where I live and I like where I work.” I actually love my home and my job but I don’t want to rub it in. I couldn’t have this job in the ’burbs and I couldn’t afford a place in the city with so much space, I say instead.

“It’s a choice. My choice,” I say, and I choose it five days a week.

One of the main reasons I love my suburban home is the gully behind our house.

I grew up 90 miles from here so I’m used to waterways — bayous, gullies, rivers, drainage ditches, canals and, of course, the Gulf of Mexico, leading straight to the ocean. In Southeast Texas, we build every type of water containment possible to help with drainage because we live in a hurricane-prone area that is often below sea level and basically has its own rainy season.

We are lucky to have this gully behind our house not just for the extra space but because it keeps us from flooding . . . at least so far. And, it makes for evening and weekend adventures.


Patsy always enjoyed a dip in the gully after a hound walk.

Tucker in the grass

Tucker enjoys a back scratch on the gully

We have an abundance of birds including egrets, blue herons and two red-shouldered hawks that visit daily. I saw one of those hawks swoop down in front of my dog walk once, grab a snake from the high grass nearer the water and go soaring away with about a three-foot snake in his mouth. Quite a surprise. I hadn’t seen the hawk much less the snake.

We have dog-sized turtles and cat-sized frogs. I used to walk at sunset intentionally to see two deer who made their way to a nearby bridge every evening. I once saw a coyote, carrying what looked like a bunny, home for supper — make that breakfast, it was early.

Neighbors' garden

Neighbors grow flowers and vegetables on the gully

We have good neighbors along the gully including three families in a row who are gardening back there – some vegetables and some beautiful flowers. The open space also allows some great star gazing. I’m an amateur astronomer and we can take the Celestron to the gully for our own star parties.

Frog - Copy

The gully has a “frog season” and we are visited by hundreds

Mostly, I walk the dogs — now just Tucker — on the gully. I’ve chased every hound I’ve ever had into and around the gully many days. My old Patsy hound, gone now about 18 months, loved to lounge in the gully like a hippopotamus. Tucker is an easy boy. We walk or we bike. He stays beside me and we appreciate and enjoy the extra space.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 21, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Neighborhood rises from the dead (especially on Halloween)

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too long to find Waldo

Took too long to find Waldo

Kids coming

Cute kids coming and going at the front door

The life of a neighborhood ebbs and flows.  You know what I mean. “There goes the neighborhood,” you think when the yards get trashy and the houses need painted. (I’m guilty of both so no judgment meant.) Good friends come and go to more lush yards with bigger houses. Family activity becomes prank-ish as the kids grow into teenagers. Sometimes the pranks turn into vandalism. Cops are called and burglaries occur and you wonder if it’s time to find a new, more peaceful home.

I’m surprised to learn of a neighborhood’s revival because I’ve never lived in one house for long. But, now I have. Last night’s Halloween in my neighborhood was the liveliest ever in my 20 years here and compared quite favorable to the days when I led the fun with my scary-but-friendly husband and my superhero, princess and pirate-costumed kids.

Most of my neighbors had open houses and block parties down every cul-de-sac — adults gathering in front yards about every five houses or so.  Parents pulled out lawn chairs and sat in driveways to welcome trick-or-treaters. One family served a never-ending casserole of pasta and salad to offset the sweets. I biked around and around with invitations shouted from everyone. A couple of dads had zombie movies going in one garage; another had some kind of not-so-scary spookhouse. I’d say I had as much fun as possible for an empty nester on Halloween.

don't say a word

Don’t say a word, but we’ll be keeping our eyes on these guys

It was just last year that we made the decision to stay put in this house and neighborhood  after looking for two years for a new home that never quite met the qualifications we were after — one story, cool swimming pool and closer to Texas 59 and my route as a commuter to the Texas Medical Center. It just didn’t happen for us.

We had lived through kids growing up, horrible hurricanes and personal disasters with the same neighbors on either side of us. Then, in a blink of an eye, one family moved. The market was turning over quickly so they were gone before we could say much of a goodby. We could go, too, if we could find home elsewhere.

Robin hound

Buster, the hound, as Robin, the sidekick.

We are fortunate in a cookie-cutter ‘burb to back up to an excellent, spacious natural gully. Not even a bigger yard could make up the difference, in our minds, so we were tough home-buying customers. We have plenty of space for two so that wasn’t it. But we needed open space and  tons of updates. So, after an unrequited search for new digs, we settled in, put in our own pool and began reconstruction of some important and failing upkeep.

Last night confirmed, once more, that we made the right decision for us. Although we don’t know most of our neighbors any more, the adults were making the same kind of effort we did when our kids were young. Everyone was out and about, supervising what had to be a hundred or so kids from all over. I gave out 300 pieces of candy so I know it was a big crowd, even if I doubled and tripled up treats for the especially cute or young kids.

The kids who came to my door were as polite as could be. Even the older, rambunctious boys eventually let down their cool to laugh at our “where’s Waldo” skeleton. We saw mostly princesses, superheroes and Army guys with a few dress-for-success doctors and nurses. Everyone had made a pretty big effort so no casually clad teenagers just popping by for a treat.

The only other time I lived so long in one house was my original neighborhood on 14th Street in Port Neches — many decades ago. I’ve carried those neighborhood kids and adventures around with me my entire life, teaching me rules of the road that were especially useful as a longtime cop reporter in some of the roughest cities in the nation.

My kids

My kids from a couple of decades ago


Superheroes who visited this Halloween

You learn a lot about survival and about being kind from your neighbors. I’m glad to see my current crew has positive lessons to impart. If they can keep me entertained so nicely for Halloween, I’m ready to knock on a few doors and introduce myself  . . . again.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 1, 2015 at 9:57 am

Yard art and other decorative thoughts

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I just renewed my blog name “” on Word Press and looked back to discover I haven’t written a new installment since January. A writer’s work is never done, of course, and it is not my intention to slack off this blog. I see more folks reading every day and that encourages me outside of my day-to-day writing life in the Texas Medical Center, not to mention the rewrite of a novel at the urging of my best agent yet.

My life has taken a twisty turn since “Proof of Life Sundays,” filed in January — the most huge change being that my  only daughter’s wedding is coming up this summer. Also surprisingly time consuming has been the construction of my first and only swimming pool. (Both subjects I hope to discuss in blogs later.)

I return today with some thoughts out of the commuting realm and into the yard-decorating arena. I recently acquired a contemplative frog for poolside (Bruce, at left) and it reminded me of my constant inner struggle with my country girl roots and my sophisticated city evolution. I always have been drawn to unusual — some, especially my husband, might call tasteless — forms of artistic expression, especially in the way of yard decorations. I don’t know if this stems from my humble beginnings, the influence of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or just my soul’s code. I can remember some of my first memories and longings as a Texas girl of having those spectacular lions adorn the sidewalk to my palatial home some day. I don’t even know who would have had such concrete lions in Port Neches outside of Beaumont, Texas, equally distanced from the ocean, Houston and the Cajun influence of Louisiana.


First purchase of yard art is traditional lion.

When my husband and I acquired our perfect paradise in the ‘burbs from where I would commute to Houston every day, I longed for a lion to decorate my lawn. John made this first purchase, coming home with a perfectly acceptable example of concrete artistry. However, by then, I’d spent some time covering the Vietnamese immigration to Port Arthur and Kemah after the fall of Saigon and also had become heavily influenced by Asian writers including Amy Tan who wrote of superstitions and traditions that remind me of my East Texas, cotton-picking pioneer mom on the other side of the world. My heart was set on Chinese lions, something unique and more a reflection of the cool souls who resided with me.

That’s when the honeymoon was over. At the same time John came home with a concrete lion, I fell totally in love with a green concrete gargoyle at a favorite gardening store and, despite him weighing more than 100 pounds, brought him home and placed him on the porch beside John’s lion. I promptly named him Verdecito, the little green one.

Verdecito -- the little green one.

Verdecito — the little green one.

My more conservative husband with Bible study at our home on Thursdays freaked. That’s putting it mildly, and, I must admit that Verdecito has a bit of a demonic appearance. I reject such superstitious nonsense and have tried hard to keep my mom’s many omens and traditions out of my kids’ psyche even while they torture me daily. Still. I loaded up Verdecito and took him to work with me where he resided for months in the backyard of my friend’s communications company on Quenby in the city.

It took a while before John could convince me that, on second thought, Verdecito was wanted. It felt like a kidnapping adventure for poor Verdecito who experienced many “proof of life/concrete” days before I brought him home.

Then, I, too, compromised. After buying a series of gargoyles, John suggested I should add variety. I bought a long skinny dog who reminded me of my German short-haired pointer, Andy; a beautiful huge snail who I named Paul and a happy relaxing frog, named Cecil.Andy

When my daughter started going to Texas Tech, I’d saddle up my old ride,  Vinny, and trek the eight to 10 hours west, stopping at garden shops with concrete art along the way. I acquired a huge green horned toad, among others. John was frustrated, and I must admit now that I may have had a yard art problem. He suggested it would be different if I had a theme.

“A theme?” I cried. “I had a theme. It was gargoyles. You said, ‘no more'”

I promptly and surprisingly ran into the exact same gargoyle as my original, only in gold. Orocito joined the family and John acquiesced somewhat. Clearly, I couldn’t be deterred.


Yikes! I’m thinking as I write this. He may be right. I hate when that happens.

I have ventured into other yard decor since the controversy over concrete art and none have really pleased my beloved mate’s sensibilities. When we added the backyard pool recently, he took the redesign to move all of my favorites into an area that he now calls my “English garden.” As we say in Texas, “that’s just putting lipstick on the pig.”

My goal is to let my spirit soar in the English garden. My humble roots and untraditional taste will out and prove to be so artistic it is kitschy. Meanwhile, John has allowed my one recent purchase, the meditative frog who I’ve named Bruce (after Lee as much as Springsteen) to remain poolside. Hoorah for small victories.

Weathered birdhouse

Weathered birdhouse

Butterflies from North Carolina

Butterflies from North Carolina

These three glow-in-the dark creatures have not aged well.

These three glow-in-the dark creatures have not aged well.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 28, 2015 at 2:31 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.


Remembering Marina, Kennedy and My Dad

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Charlie Bray

Charlie Bray

Of course I remember the day Kennedy was shot because it was only one month after my dad died. Thus, a romantic, imaginative 9-year-old watched funerals for two months — often confusing the two deaths and thinking the nation was mourning my loss.

We had spent the summer on the banks of the Angelina River as my dad helped to build Sam Rayburn Dam. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world that summer, picnicking every meal and swimming every day, even if my mom required me to wear a life jacket because of the deep, deep water.

My brother and I were like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, swinging the rope to the very middle of the muddy, muddy water where it was deep enough to float a tanker. I had cheese sandwich after cheese sandwich and went to sleep to the sound of owls and katydids. When he was home, my dad played checkers, dominoes and double solitaire with me. He never seemed to get tired of it and neither did I.


John Kennedy

Then we moved to the city of Jasper for school and he was dead by October at the age of 52 from “natural causes” of 1963 – meaning too much smoking of those unfiltered Camels, too much drinking of any kind of brown whisky and too much heart that caused him to be as angry as he was loving.

We moved from Jasper, back to my hometown of Port Neches where I was perhaps the only kid who didn’t have a two-parent family. At least it felt that way. I spent many years trying to blend in and not remind folks that I was different, but, of course, I was too different for it not to go unnoticed.

I don’t believe that experience made me any more obsessed than the rest of the nation 50 years later, but I’ve certainly read, visited and looked at anything to do with the Kennedy family since then. Most recently my family visited the Sixth Floor Museum (a structure I saw burned by protesters during the 1984 Republican National Convention when I was deputy city editor of the Dallas Times Herald) and then listening to the breathy tape recordings Jackie Kennedy made to the Warren Commission only two months after the assassination.

Marina Oswald Porter

Marina Oswald Porter

But I would be remiss not to mention that — only 20 years after the assassination — as a young reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I was given the assignment of interviewing Marina Oswald Porter. I was the only reporter she talked to that year, a lot because of my persistence, certainly not because she had anything profound to say at that time.

She was 39, 10 years older than me, and I considered her quite mature and experienced. Remember, this is before I’d lived anywhere but Beaumont and Arlington. Heck, she was from Russia. I was in pretty deep with that simple fact. Add to it that her husband had killed Camelot, and I couldn’t have been more unprepared for her commanding presence.

The highlights are this: She still thought her husband was a lone gunman at that time in 1983. And she reminded me that she was a mere 19-year-old when her husband assassinated the president.

I can still see her face today as she leaned forward, locked eyes so carefully with me and said, “Who were you at 19?” Of course, I’m not that person and am sometimes shocked at the person I was compared to the person I became. “I’m not that person and neither or you,” she said.

I still have directions to her house with the swimming pool in the front yard. I suspect she’s redecorated from the stories I’m reading these days. You are welcome to join me for a road trip someday.