Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Texas Medical Center

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.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 21, 2017 at 4:54 pm

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

My bionic life – the sequel

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Countdown begins for Mr. Lefty

Countdown begins for Mr. Lefty

The countdown has started.

One month from today, Dec. 29, I will do it all again – replace my left knee to go with my right knee replacement. I look back over my notes and posts from the Sept. 15 operation and can’t quite believe I’m going to do this – at all, much less already. But then, I go for a hound walk or easily stroll a few blocks for lunch or a meeting at work in the huge Texas Medical Center, and I know I’m ready. I go upstairs in my two-story home (something I avoided for at least a couple of years) or bend over to pick up something I dropped, and I know I’m ready. I can even get on my knees and look under the bed or couch for a dropped earring or, more likely, a missing remote.

If one knee replacement has made me feel 10 years younger, there’s a strong possibility that the second knee replacement will give me my old self back.

I also know I’m ready because of Thanksgiving. Earlier this week, I started a column about how Thanksgiving was my least favorite holiday. It was a lot about the cooking, which I’m not good at, and the martyrdom of mothers everywhere on this feast day. Matriarchs (yikes to that word but it’s the one I’m looking for) have a big job on Thanksgiving. We not only put on a good spread but we keep harmony and please everyone. Only then is it a good holiday. And basically – despite how much help we get from others – we are the center of activity for this eating event.

This year, as Thanksgiving Day was winding down for my family, about 11 p.m. or so, I realized I was still standing. I felt good. I had energy. I now like Thanksgiving again. I can’t write a column about it being my least favorite holiday because that’s no longer true.

I now think it was the insidious pain in my knees that made me dread Thanksgiving. Sometimes as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, if I’d been standing up at the kitchen island after work and doing pre-Thanksgiving chopping, I’d start to get exhausted. Before noon on Thursday, I could hardly stand. And, as someone who always has been healthy and active, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Actually, I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I supposed I was overdoing it. And I always overdo it. I totally pushed through without much of a complaint. I blamed Thanksgiving and not my knees.

Mr. Right Knee, one week after surgery

Mr. Right Knee, one week after surgery

I also now realize a lot more about chronic pain. In my case, it had gotten so gradually worse that it had become part of my routine. I ignored it when I could and lived with it when I couldn’t. It typically wasn’t a huge problem in my day to day. I became a biker and a swimmer instead of a tennis player and a distance walker.

I knew I couldn’t walk around so much on vacations and I’d plan my touring accordingly. The last couple of conferences I went on for work, I rented bicycles to get from my hotel to the conference hall. I didn’t really think that much about it. I must have inherently known that I couldn’t walk the couple of three blocks as easily as I could bike them. It worked out; I had great fun. In Madison, Wisconsin, I biked around the lakes after hours. In San Francisco, I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge. It wasn’t my endurance that was a problem; it was my knees.

The last big touring vacation I took was when my children were young adults. My youngest had just graduated college, and he wanted to visit Washington, D.C. Now, that’s a lot of walking! Our routine was to take a cab to wherever we were going to start our tour – Washington Monument, the specific Smithsonian we would visit, etc. Then, we’d visit as much as possible, eventually walking our way to our nearby hotel. It worked great until the fifth and final day when I was done by about noon. Of course, my daughter and son were not remotely ready. I’m going to have to offer that trip to them again in the next year or so. This time it will be six of us, but we’ll do D.C. up right with new knees.

So, the countdown begins. I know what to expect. I’m ready. I’ve asked to get out of the hospital after two days this time instead of three. Last time, I was still in shock and confused by the amount of pain I was in around the clock. Now, I know that will come to an end after about three weeks. I’d just as soon suffer at home and be on the couch for New Year’s Eve.

My PT team -- coach and support

My PT team — coach and support

John will be my primary PT coach. He and my nurse want me to hit the rehab folks a couple of times and I may, but I can tell you John was the ticket to my good health right now.

And I’ll post. My Facebook friends will see more of me every day and this blog will be my outlet for longer thoughts of a non-commuting kind. I’ve promised no whining this time. I’m sure I’ll shout out at midnight or 3 a.m. on occasion but I’m ready.

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

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.”

Kingwood looks so good in my rear-view mirror

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CCDBH morning 3Every work morning, when I leave my tree-shaded suburban neighborhood for the throbbing concrete of the Big City and a job I love, I have regrets. The streets of Kingwood never look so good as they do at 7 a.m. on a Monday, a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. It’s lush and green with smells and flowers that remind me of a childhood I spent in small town Texas, mostly outdoors.

I have always left my suburban neighborhood for my city job wherever I’ve lived and in a career that now spans 40 years. This may be because I’m a bit of a small town girl at heart but it’s also because of costs. In the ‘burbs, I have a bigger back yard and plenty of room for kids, dogs and biking. Lucky for me because I couldn’t afford that kind of space in the city.

CCDBH morning 4

On my commute every day, I see nature — bunnies, birds, an occasional early morning raccoon and once a coyote. I used to see deer fairly frequently but haven’t seen any deer on my route in about three years. I see neighbors walking their dogs, others jogging. Folks sit outdoors at the coffee shop and are reading and lingering. On many occasions, I pick out a person or two who I know by name and sometimes honk or shout out.

“Must be nice,” I say if we make contact, and I can tell the other person is glad to be the one staying home and not in the car so early and so fully dressed for a work day.

I think I’m always alert to my neighbors, the trees and the flowers. Every morning and every evening. It’s when I get to the city that my blinders are more likely to go up.ccdbh mornng 3

I’m off all this upcoming week, leading into the August 1 wedding of my only daughter. I’m going to soak up every minute of my suburban town.

Kingwood. A place created by an oil company as one of the nation’s first “planned” communities. A place of mostly homes and chain restaurants. Where mom-and-pop businesses seldom survive for long. A place that always felt like a way-station. A not real city on my way to another place.

A place where my kids’ best friends were always moving away and they were having to make new friends. Same with me but less painful to watch for me. We even did the same for a period of about five years when we moved from Kingwood to Troy, Michigan, and back again.

CCDBH morning 2We will have Laura’s wedding at the church she grew up in, Kingwood United Methodist Church. This is where she first went to Sunday school, where she interned in the summers and worked with the education director during the school year. Her catering will be done by the Webbers at Tin Roof in Humble, a business owned by friends of ours for years and who go to church with us. Her cake is being made by another fellow church-member Ginger Robertson whose cakes I’ve eaten for a million years. We’ve known the pastor who will officiate, Chris Harrison,  since he was a much younger man with only a couple of kids.

We will have the reception in a hall where I’ve attended community theater with my best friends and down the street from the athletic club where I learned to play tennis, worked out every day and where Laura and Travis were both lifeguards.

In other words, this sojourner has found a home in a town of wayfaring strangers and transient friends. When did that happen? Must have been sometime before 7 a.m. and after 6:30 p.m. or on the weekend.



Credit for all of these cool illustrative photos goes to Big Johnny. John Hensley is just like working in the news room. I tell him the idea, and he gets the shots. Thank you, John.

CCDBH morning 6

Buck a bum policy disgustingly becomes hug a bum

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Flash forward to my move to Houston where the homeless dominate many of the main arteries of the city. Even when I taught at University of Houston, I would drive by panhandlers on the street corners. That was before Hurricane Katrina and the explosion in homeless folks, many from New Orleans where the poor were driven out by  flood waters.

At University of Houston, I established my “buck a bum” policy. That sounds harsh, but, as I said, I have a love for all humankind and a tender heart for the homeless.  But as a writer and old police reporter, I can’t help but go for the word play and alliteration. Thus, I always kept – still keep — $1 in my car’s console to dole out to the many homeless folks that I encounter. No more, no less. That way, I have plenty of money for the next guy and can somewhat assuage the critics who believe I’m contributing to the liquor supply for the poor guy or occasional woman. One regular at UH could count on his $4 from me every week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, coming and going. He’d meet me at my car some days.

Once, my “buck a bum” policy went out the door when I came across a woman who – when she turned her body sideways – was incredibly pregnant. I emptied my purse and then all the money my elementary age son happened to have on him at the time. We both remember my reaction as crazed, depressed and unyielding. I gave her all we had and I’m sure it still wasn’t much more than $40.

Occasionally, I go through bouts of other contributions to the routine homeless I see – bag lunches, McDonald’s coupons, peanut butter crackers, apples. I once gave a homeless guy an egg McMuffin I’d just bought for myself. God was watching me stop at that McDonald’s.

Most recently, I’ve taken to giving away umbrellas. This started one rainy day in the medical center when a mom and her young daughter were lost and confused in the pouring rain. I pulled up and gave them my umbrella. After that experience, I replenished my supply and would hand them out on rainy days or when it looked like it might be threateningly appropriate. I once chased down a lady, attempting to give her an umbrella, and I think she thought I was the crazy one. She said she had a perfectly good umbrella, and I begged to differ. It had two of its extensions totally broken so that her umbrella teepee was pretty one-sided. However, after I seemed to frighten her, I went back to cash handouts.

Thus, I’m on the outskirts of Houston one day when I run into this same guy who I just saw in the Mercedes in my neighborhood.

I love Houston and always feel safe, but it’s a big city with big city problems and some areas have neighborhoods where crime is more frequent. Of course, the medical center is one of those areas, so I’ve gotten comfortable on my usual streets. Plus, as an old police reporter, I’m always conscious of my surroundings and stay aware of any trouble that may be happening near enough to me for me to be drawn into the fray.

But, on this day, I needed gas pretty desperately and had pulled off the freeway and into an unfamiliar gas station in a neighborhood that I thought would be fine. In any case, I was going to mind my own business, get my gas and get going. I’m pretty tall, definitely athletic and not what the cops consider “a victim personality.” I checked my supplies before I got out of the car — keys, credit card. Then, I locked the door behind me and went matter-of-factly about my business.

That’s when I saw this same originally homeless man in the area around the gas station. Like I said, I’m always giving a little handout to the homeless so he didn’t stop me from going about my business. I’m pumping my gas when I realize he’s heading my way. What can I do but stand there, gas nozzle in hand, and wait.

He pushed his empty grocery cart up to me and started his spiel. I remember him but not his story. And the only reason I remember him is that I thought he looked a bit like a leprechaun. This may even be why I remembered him so clearly when I saw him in my neighborhood about six months later. He was a little guy, much shorter than me and with red hair and a red beard. If he’d have had on green clothes and a green hat, it would have been laughable.

Then, his shopping cart was empty and relatively free of rust. I’ve seen a few homeless folks with shopping carts and have made a bit of an inventory of what folks believe is essential to their lives. Clothes, blankets, empty water jugs, smokes. My mom was the same, collecting and keeping the weirdest stuff that was vital to her existence.

This particular homeless man was pushing a cart but there was nothing he’d collected as yet. I remember thinking he was new to the homeless business or his cart would not have been empty. That maybe he couldn’t pass up the good luck of finding an empty cart. Whatever, he didn’t worry me.

Well, here I am, standing there with the gas nozzle in my hand when he came up for a donation. I immediately reached for my dollar that I had put in my pocket beside my always present pencil. I handed him the donation, took his “God bless”and then realized I wouldn’t be able to get back into my car until the tank was full. I had to finish my transaction at the pump. Typically, when I give a handout, I’m careful to roll the window down only as much as I need to and be prepared to skedaddle if anyone looks like trouble.

In this particular case, I felt like I could take this guy if he made any strange moves, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to talk to him. But that’s exactly what happened. He continued to stand by me and try to talk to me.

Remember, at the time, I’m thinking this is totally a legitimate homeless person and that I’m just caught outside of my car, so I attempted to make small talk, too, and act like I spoke to homeless folks every day. After all, I think to myself, this may be this man’s only human contact in weeks, maybe months.

We’re close to an overpass, so I’m considering asking him if that’s where he’s staying when I decided to stick to the safe topic of the weather. So, I’m standing outside my car, having given $1 to a homeless man and having a pretty weird conversation as the fuel trickles into my vehicle.  Painfully slowly.

Finally, I’m done and I move to get back in the car. That’s when, my new leprechaun friend says, “I hate to ask you this, but I’d really like a hug.”

I’m so surprised and still moving for the car door that I don’t say anything, don’t do anything. I swear. I gave no consent. But he quickly grabbed me, hugged me and, then, oh my God, gave me a kiss on the cheek before I could even react. Ewwwww!! Did I mention I’m a germ-a-phobe? I was so icked out and yet tried to remain polite. Who am I anyway? Always polite no matter the situation. Even when a homeless guy gives me a smack on the cheek. Get over your manners! Get out of here!

In any case, my buck a bum policy had accidentally turned into a hug a bum policy and I was forever changed. And, in fact, the spot on my cheek throbbed like a toxic leak for the rest of the drive home and until I could give it a good scrubbing.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 1, 2014 at 3:49 pm