Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘Xterra

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

Vinny drives away into the sunset

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The beloved and loyal Vinny

The beloved and loyal Vinny

I’m a pretty sentimental person and a tragic romantic who fights daily to stay away from my Jerry Springer, drama-rama side that is my trailer park heritage. I have broken the cycle, haven’t I?  But today, I’m fighting away my emotional “hissy fit” at the loss of Vinny, my trusty steed and commuting companion of 10 years. Two of the local yard-doers, clearly all cleaned up to make an honorable impression and a good deal, surprised me with a cash offer yesterday  that I eventually took.

I never even put a “for sale” sign on Vinny, the 2003 Xterra that was in pretty pristine condition despite an odometer reading of 175,000-plus miles. It would have taken a lot for me to make the effort to sell him, but the idea had started crossing my mind on occasion. Perhaps it was fate who led these guys to my house yesterday to say they’d noticed the Xterra had been parked for a while, and they wondered if it was for sale. They said they were from Brownsville and did some work in the neighborhood but mostly didn’t expect to be back for a while. Could we make the deal right away? They had cash if I had papers.

On first sniff I sent them away, thinking I had a lot of thinking to do. It took a couple of hours for me to decide it would be the right thing, an easy thing to let him go on to his Chapter 2. They were making it easy for me to say goodby. And me, I needed to let go. Vinny was getting less and less use. He was my main go-to guy for trips to the vet with hounds Patsy and Tucker or to parks and neighborhoods to keep my walks from being so routine. But honestly, the last time I’d picked up my hounds from the vet, I’d taken Clarence, out of convenience.

So, the new owner was delighted when I called back and agreed he could take Vinny away that day. Vinny fired up after a false start or two because he hadn’t been driven lately. Eventually, he roared to life, and his new owner knew he’d gotten a good deal and a much beloved ride. I even told the two, later three, rustic gentlemen his name, Vinny, and explained that I’d named him for Vin Diesel the year that the movie XXX came out.  I laughed while all the men — including my husband — rolled their eyes at my love for my fire-engine red vehicle that had become a beloved, living and breathing character in my life.

I told them how important Vinny was/is to me. How he’d delivered me safely through the terrible weather and flooding in Houston. How Vinny had been the winner in four different rear-enders during heavy Houston commuting. How he’d taken me on the eight to 10-hour drive to Lubbock during the years my daughter was at Texas Tech and how he and I had traveled, often alone, to Galveston to stare at the beach.

A native Texan whose five-year out-of-state experience was in Motor City, I’ve always considered my vehicles personal — a speedy limb to my body. I love to drive, and I love my cars. A bit of a control freak, I always had to have the kids in my car, later my tennis team and most recently my co-workers. If we are going somewhere, I want to drive. And, as an old cop reporter, I’m used to traveling the roads alone as frequently as not. I’ve never minded hopping in my car to chase a hurricane or a tornado or to cover a murder or head to the violent part of town. And, back in those days, my traveling companion was never as reliable as Vinny. He is a tough act for Clarence to follow.

The spot in the driveway  where he’s been sitting mostly idle since I bought Clarence is depressingly vacant today. The purple and gold shrub that sat beside him for the last few months has spread hugely  across the driveway to need a trim. Today, he’s exploring new trails with new companions. And, if I get the chance to glance him on the roadways again, I will know he’s my old friend. The road is long.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Dreaded phone call: In honor of commuting mothers

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When I first decided to take a job in the big city and start making the daily drive from the ‘burbs, I was concerned about the welfare of my two children who would be faced with the lag time of a commuting mom. Like most moms, I had fielded many calls to bring lunch money, forgotten homework, PE clothes, choir clothes, etc. Typically and because I worked closer to home, I would have it to the kids before they even knew they missed it. At the very least, I would high tail it to school before they could get points off.

So, after my first few weeks of commuting the one hour each way, I was not surprised when I received the dreaded phone call from my son who maybe was 13 years old at the time. Lunch money? Homework? A visit to the office?


Instead, he whispered into the phone from inside the school office, “Mom, I forgot my jock strap.”

What could be more classic? It was the day of the big game, and my son was out there without his usual support.

I knew the drive itself would have taken me too long. I didn’t even have Vinnie to drive yet, much less Clarence. I was still driving my mom-mobile van that was the size of a living room and perfect for hauling carpools and tennis teams. Plus, I was still new enough on the job that I didn’t want to take a mini-break from the day-to-day grind for a jock strap run.

I calculated that I had only a couple of hours to solve this dilemma. After several tries, I did not reach his dad. And, frankly, I knew John would have the same problem. Could his son’s athletic support compete with a big lunch with customers? Maybe, but more likely, not.

My thoughts then went to my loyal friends. Those who said they would be available to my children and myself through this new phase in our lives. I started calling.

A commuting mom's first line of defense -- her tennis teammates.

A commuting mom’s first line of defense — her tennis teammates.

The hero of the week was my tennis buddy Jan. No one could have been more perfect. Not only is she the mom of a son but she also has her own big, rowdy dogs. To get into my home and to my son’s jock strap, she would first have to make her way past my two spoiled dogs in the backyard.

The only issue still holding me back was my own personal humiliation. By Thursday morning, the dogs were the least of my worries about the condition of my home. As a matter of fact, I even suggested my friend look for said item on the couch where laundry had been located most of the week.

It was much like a “Mission Impossible” episode when she called back. “I’m in,” she said, announcing her arrival passed the dogs and inside my home while I whispered back from my office phone.

Then, she proceeded to walk around my house, cell phone in hand, while we tried to find support for my son’s future in athletics. She rummaged through laundry on the couch and — of all places — the laundry room.

I felt certain I would have to guide her to (YIKES) upstairs — an area of the house I seldom see except on weekends. Should she have to face the stairs, she also would have been facing (DOUBLE YIKES) my son’s room where I know there are no clean jockey straps. As a matter of fact, there also could be some items in his room that are even more unspeakable than unwashed under clothes.

However, we were both saved from further embarrassment. She found the item — and I would like to mention that it was brand new and not quite as disgusting as this sounds. It was found, however, on the dining room table. (READER’S NOTE TO SELF: Accept no formal invitations for dining at Denise’s house.)

My friend put the necessary item in the proverbial brown paper bag and brought it to the middle school office.

Meanwhile, my son had become concerned and called me again. While he may have forgotten a few thousand items in his school days, he is quite aware of distances and the time it takes to cover distances.

“Mom,” he said in his loudest whisper, “I got to have it!”  He said, worrying that I was still at my office desk an hour away.

“It’ll be there in about 20 minutes,” I responded.

And, after a pause where I could hear his mind whirring, he screeched, “WHO’S BRINGING IT?”

However, no names were mentioned so that my friend can continue to greet my son in public places without any awkward pauses.

With that I bid a happy Mother’s Day to all you commuting moms.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

May 10, 2013 at 8:12 am

Road Warrior: Beyond Astrodome

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New Road Warrior

New Road Warrior

The day finally arrived last week when it became clearly time for a new Road Warrior to join me on my commute. Vinny has been a good and loyal companion, but the days are gone when I feel secure he will get me to Houston and back without a problem.  Frankly, such a trooper deserves a break from the concrete and the crowds. He will remain in my family forever but needed help carrying the load of the day to day.

I went with my favorite mechanics’ recommendation and stayed in the Nissan family, this time with a midnight blue Rogue that I expect will get a bit better gas mileage than Vinny. I drove him home for the first time on Friday and will begin the commute with him right away. He’s a magnificently sleek piece of machinery with all the bells and whistles. Of course, I’m not for sure what that means – considering it’s been 10 years since I drove a new car and don’t quite know what is standard these days.

For instance, I mentioned to some friends that my airbags will disconnect if there appears to be a child in the front seat and may do so even if my purse or briefcase is too heavy.  One of them laughed that this has been true for a while and is now pretty standard. Vinny was among the first with airbags on all four sides, and “they” hadn’t decided what to do with the too small person sitting nearby. I was amazed to know how behind the times I am with car equipment.

The huge differences so far appear to be the speaker system that hooks up to my cell phone, the satellite radio and the keyless entry – something I haven’t quite figured out as yet. Of course, I’m just getting started with my new friend and have plenty of time for discovery.

I am pretty loyal and trusting with my car dealer like I am with my mechanics and have come to depend on having regular people like this in my life. There’s quite a bit to be said for return business, and I believe I get a good and honest deal with the folks I have come to admire in their line of business. This particular Nissan salesman has sold my family now six Nissans, starting with sweet Vinny back in 2003. That’s been followed by two Sentras and two trucks – taking into consideration that both of my children totaled new vehicles and went back to the same  dealer for the same purchase a few months later.  Wow! That’s scary, and we’re lucky for those airbags.

And so, he spent about 45 minutes with me on Friday explaining all the perks in the new Rogue – enough that I was so overwhelmed that I almost couldn’t find my way to work, even with the built in GPS. Yikes!

Of course, I was quite melancholy when I removed my parking pass from Vinny’s rear view mirror and grabbed out of the center overhead my electronic card that lets me in the gate of my parking lot.  But once I got close to my new wheels and the door opened at my presence, I knew this new guy “gets me.”  Then, he recognized my phone, turned on some jazz and called my family members at the sound of my voice. Yes, I say, he feels like family. Now, he just needs a name.Vinny in the stable with his new friend

I am waiting for him to speak to me, but, while I do, I thought I’d offer a naming contest for you regular readers. Just like television shows today allow you to choose an ending, vote folks off the island and create the next superstars, I’m going to tap into the power of social media. If you have a name you’d like to suggest for my new Road Warrior, just send it along as a comment.

Do I have a prize? Of course, I do. The prize is your own guest blog in Commuter Chronicles. And, if you’re not much of a writer, I will help smooth it out and make it wonderful. And, if you’re still not interested in writing, I will buy you a meal and hear your stories first-hand.

How’s that? You know from my blog what books I read, what movies I see. I’ve attached a photo in case he speaks to you visually. I’d love to see your thoughts in these first weeks while we get to know each other.

Vinny in the stable with his new friend

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Updates on Screen Door Jesus and Vinny

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Aging nicely for a 1969 Polaroid

Aging nicely for a 1969 Polaroid

This has been an exciting and eventful weekend for Commuter Chronicles with a couple of important followups to recent columns. First up, the great grandson of the former owner of the house behind the Western Auto where Jesus appeared on the screen door in 1969 commented on “Remembering Jesus and Dollie.” Mitch filed this as a comment but I wanted to emphasize it a bit. Many of us who’ve followed the legend of the screen door know some of this information to an uncertain degree. It feels more official coming from a related source. All very interesting and worth a read.

Also, I got Big Johnny to do an official scan of my personal Polaroid that was recaptured from display on my mom’s dresser at least 30 years after the event itself. He’s done a bit of an artsy job so that you can see the quality of this wonderful memento of my past that is cherished as much as a treasure from my mom as well as the event itself.   Here’s the update:

Jesus appeared more than once on the screen door

01/25/2013: That’s my Great Grandmother Lela Bass’s house. She was a very devout Pentecostal woman. This is so cool to read. I was unaware of the movie. I’ll have to check it out. All my friends from Port Neches Groves Elementary have brought this up on Facebook and we’ve had some really cool discussions about it. People from all over the world as far away as China and Australia came to see it. She had a book for visitors to sign. I drove by and visited the new owner last year, 2012, Grandmother’s place looks very different in the back now. The screen door is in storage I’m told, but the fig tree that sheltered the door & was nearly torn down from all the people climbing it for photos remains and is healthier and bigger than any I’ve ever seen. in 1969, The University of Texas took the screen door down, with Grandmother’s permission and ran tests on it. The image disappeared while they had it but reappeared when they placed back on her home. I would love to see the door again now that I’m 50. I was only 7 when all this happened. Thanks for posting this. All the best friend, God Bless. Ps. My family & I would so enjoy seeing any photos you have of the door. I have to go to my mothers now and revisit this and see if I can post some pics. Of note too, the image would change. Sometimes Jesus had a crown of thorns, sometimes facing left etc. sometimes a cross appeared, angels and moreVinny and me. Awesome!
Mitch Goody, Orlando, FL

Vinny gets the greenlight for more commutes

Then, let’s raise a glass to the heartiness of a true Road Warrior. Vinny passed inspection without even a hiccup. At 172,589 miles, he’s got another year in him. I feel 200,000 coming for us. I’m a bit worried about the change of weather because his air conditioning seems to be on the fritz. But the heater feels fine. I’m thinking of celebrating with some flames or lightning decals on his valiant haunches. And, I’m afraid we may still need to have the talk about adding another brother to our stable. But not today; today we celebrate.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm

At the crossroads with Vinny

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The beloved and loyal Vinny

The beloved and loyal Vinny

Dear Vinny:

We are at a crossroads this month. I think about it most days but can’t bring myself to do anything about it.  It is time for your annual inspection, and I don’t know that you will get another year on the road without some costly repairs. Last year, when Dan the Car Repair Man called to say you passed, he was almost as ecstatic as me. I cried; Dan laughed.

“Looks like you’ve got another year, Ms. Hensley,” he said, chuckling deeply in his throat, and he went on chuckling while I laughed and cried and punched the air all around me. This from a hearty manly man who has been my mechanic long enough to recognize my voice at the first syllable.  Of course, we do bring him cigars and cookies at Christmas — appealing to all ranges of car shop interests.

Now, as you, my dear Vinny, near 175,000 miles and more than 10 years as my Road Warrior, I am severely attached to your company. I know you have almost always had that disgusting egg baked into places on your hood where only I can see it. Sure, the lining in your ceiling is falling in a bit. You have that crinkle in your left back bumper. I know I can only have heat on high and maybe no air conditioning at all come summer. But I love you, man.

You have been my companion through thick and thin; flood and drought; traffic and straightaway. I don’t know how I will ever maneuver Houston without you. You got me home in four feet, five feet of flood when lesser drivers and vehicles were stranded in the intersection. The time the railroad arm came down on us and we dragged it through the streets, undeterred. The medians we’ve straddled when we needed to make a quick turnaround. The curbs we’ve taken when we drifted a bit to the right, a little to the left.

We’ve survived four rear-enders together, driving away every time while lesser cars like Lexus and Mercedes had to be towed, including one who was driven by a heart surgeon (Gotta love a wreck in the medical center for the quality of crashers and crashees.) And remember that time I came into the garage too quickly and crumpled your front end. Or the time I drove away with the gas nozzle still in your tank – once, twice, perhaps three or four times.

Remember when we cross-countried to Lubbuck to see Laura while she was still at Texas Tech? How many times did we go West together like the cowboys we are?  And the wonderful pieces of concrete art we would find and haul home in your spacious “way back.” Oro-cito – the once golden Griffin, now verde, like his brother, Verdecito. The horned toad, the second one. The snail we named for Paul McCartney (not quite a walrus) but who later lost an antenna and now hides in the back of the beyond. The skinny tall hound that reminds me still of my beloved German short-haired Andy who has been gone for too long while you remain with me.

HoPatsy, Paul and Andy in their younger days. Caption: They have landed."w many kids and friends and tennis teams have we hauled together? Four comfortably, five just last week. And, in your younger days, more kids than a clown car can fit.

The very worst possible scenario is that you will be retired as the stallion you are to live in the garage until you are called on to haul cargo instead of passengers. I will not part with you. No one else could possibly know your reliability or pay high enough for your loyalty.  But, unfortunately for you, I am a true Texan and can’t survive a Houston summer without some real AC.

Love always, your sincere and familiar Commuter Chronicler.

Patsy, Paul and Andy in their younger days. Caption: They have landed.”

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 21, 2013 at 10:11 am

Sailing the concrete ocean

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Elf Vinny

Christmas is one of those holidays where I always walk the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and decorations. Clever on the verge of crass. “Ahhh” bordering on “ohhh.” “Ha ha ha” crossing the line into OMG.

You may not be surprised to learn that I’m one of “those drivers” who likes to decorate my vehicle with reindeer antlers, elf ears, candy canes or some other festive holiday offering as a celebration of the season.  I joined in this craze as soon as the idea was on the road, and I seek every year to find the newest and latest in possible Vinny-wear for the season.

As a matter of fact, I’ve always felt like Vinny should be more elaborately adorned on a daily basis. I’d love for him to sport lightning bolts on his car doors or some elaborate figurehead on his hood. This would not be the usual hood ornament that you see on a Jaguar or Mercedes. Nor would it be an old-fashioned ornament like in bygone days of classic American cars. I’m thinking something more like the mermaid on a front of a ship. I would love to have some beautiful carving of a mythical creature as the eyes and spirit of Vinny sailing through oceans of traffic.

Of course, all these ideas seem to cross into the “inappropriate” column in the eyes of other family members. Thus, I look forward every year to the season when I can decorate Vinny and fit in with some other like-minded travelers.

We decorated travelers are a team. We are simpatico; like minds along the holiday roads. We honk and wave at each other. We laugh and point. We let each other into traffic during the holiday rush; we yield to each other on major highways.  We are united; we are the world.

After I lost one of my reindeer antlers this year, I switched to elf ears with an elf hat as Vinny’s nose. However, I was empathetic enough to keep my extra antler in my car for a couple of weeks and astute enough to be on the lookout for other single-antlered vehicles. It was not long before I spotted a sad one-eared vehicle behind me at a redlight and jumped out to deliver an extra ear to the driver. The look on her face was priceless and festive. Of course, it was after I’d risked my life in Houston traffic that I noticed she had elf ears instead of reindeer antlers. So, I’ve been on the lookout for other mismatched cohorts. ‘Tis the season.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 24, 2012 at 11:12 am