Have Shields, Will Travel

Four months buried in the ‘burbs, this RoadBroad needed a break.

Off to The City — that’s Houston, by the way — I drove, my trunk bearing sack loads of face shields. Each was destined for other broads, all writers like me.

We Wednesday Writers “talk” weekly to share stories either written or read in the previous six days. Yes, it’s a Zoom chat — what else is there nowadays?

Each visit renews my life. Literally. And connection matters.

During last week’s screen visit, I casually mentioned a recent find: face shields, available by the table‐full at a local store.

What do they look like?”

The question landed in multiple. I tried to describe: It’s a sheet of clear plastic that hangs below your chin, almost to your chest, with a blue plastic band that goes around your head.

I modeled mine then volunteered to gather more for those interested. On Sunday, I delivered, realizing on the way that the drive marked only my second trip into The City since March. Another first in 30‐plus years living here.

How many more firsts will I live? How many in this pandemic alone?

The next surprise came with when I saw my writer friends for our carefully‐planned, all‐masked, mostly‐distanced reunion.

Happy.

No hugs.

Sad.

I learned it’s hard to stay physically away from people I care about. It’s triple‐hard when it’s several people.

I learned real human connection delivers a buzz that nothing else can. That buzz amplifies the more I connect with others in person as evidenced by another friend reunion later that day.

Maybe that’s my Big Learning from this entire coronoavirus pandemic: relationships really do matter to me, the self‐proclaimed, fiercely fiesty, independent creature.

Pandemic Road: Week 17

Last I wrote, I was on the cusp of beginning a 10‐day writing intensive retreat. I had planned on doing this in Boulder, Colorado and sharing the glories of a road trip with my faithful readers. However, thanks to Covid‐19, the road trip turned into a zoom fest. I imagined the flat irons every time I logged on for a meeting.

While it wasn’t as scenic as actually being there, I did get a lot of writing done. So much so I wore out my printer. No problem, you might think. I thought I could get a printer today via curb side pickup. Silly, silly me. My dear friend and I looked up both Office Depot, Microcenter and Best Buy.

Apparently too many people are working from home and ink jet printers are nowhere to be found within the city limits of Houston. We even checked with Amazon and could not get the printer delivered in under 10 days. Great big expensive laser printers.….no problem. Practical, compact, inexpensive ink jet printers.…..no luck. So I ordered one that should arrive before the middle of July. I will keep my fingers crossed that my old and cheap printer will last.

This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I’ve just been invited to join a new critique group. It meets via zoom once a week and I need to be able to print out submissions so I can give feedback. I will figure out a way. I am honored to be included in this group and many thanks to Fern Brady, author and publisher for inviting me.

All this reminded me of how things have changed during the global pandemic. Tuesdays used to be the day that DF and I would enjoy culture from any of the local museums followed by a quiet and relaxing dinner at one of our many favorite restaurants. Bollo Woodfired Pizza was one of those establishments that we would visit.

Today we dined again at Bollo’s…virtually. We ordered the pizza by phone, picked it up and took it home. It’s amazing how easy it was! Have credit card, will charge!

Printer ink will be delivered tomorrow, critique group begins later this week, and the printer will show up soon.….I hope.

Please send positive thoughts to my old printer so it won’t die in the next 7 working days. If it does, I will come up with “Pandemic Printer Plan B”.

Until next week.……

Why I Became a Street Walker

Note to Reader: She’s on the war path. Just sayin’…

I walk four miles every day.

Before dawn each morning, I don my black pack then stuff my orange towel into the waistband.

My exercise comes from a habit born of a health crisis. It mimics, on a much smaller scale, this Covid‐19 nightmare that whacked us all three‐plus months ago.

The lessons, however, are the same.

I walked and I’ve kept walking. Then the neighbors joined in. Great! I thought.  A collective pursuit of better health!

Not so great anymore. Now, we’ve got neighbors of neighbors walking our sidewalks and pedaling our streets.

Frustration overwhelms me these days because of this one simple irritant: a common lack of sidewalk manners.

I do not mask up to walk. I would suffocate in such a four‐mile adventure.

I do, however, step off the sidewalk when someone approaches. In one fluid move, I cover my nose and mouth with my towel and never lose my stride.

The two actions matter as much as my breath. Together, the pair of moves protects my fellow walkers. And me.

In these recent weeks, a minority of walkers has matched my move. Sometimes they even beat me to covering up or stepping away.

But the more common reaction involves what I call the barrel away. These strangers scooch steadily toward me, never slowing. As they barrel into their shortened version of social distancing, I hop down to the street. These walkers, oblivious, continue their barrel away down the sidewalk. It appears only their walk matters. Is this their corona daze?

On the worst walks, crowds come. I’ll spot three to five walkers jammed in a horizontal line across the concrete, aimed head‐on at me. And as I step down, they glide by like an incoming tide.

The guiltiest party involves the high school track team but I’ll forgive them. They’re teenagers, self‐involved.

Even so, age shouldn’t matter—aren’t we all in this together?

Elected officials have re‐opened most places. To get to any of those locations, we must walk. Through parking lots, malls, and airports; along beaches and dirt roads, into/out of restaurants and shops; even down to the mailbox. Then there’s those of us who walk to live.

Can’t we all walk and, when it may save a life, step away from each other? It’s only for a few feet and a few seconds. It might keep all of us safe.

Perhaps it’s a futile question and I should give up my rant and pray. Maybe, ultimately, the littlest among us are correct in their offering of sidewalk calm:

Pandemic Road: Week 16

Has it really been two years? Just over two years ago in May of 2018 I retired from my long long time career as a Social Worker and set off to become a full‐time writer and artist. One of the first things I did was to take a road trip with Melanie to Boulder, Colorado to attend Max Regan’s Writing Intensive. It was magical. Pearl street mall, Boulder Bookstore, the Flat Irons. I attended classes with Max at the Boulder Bookstore and then we met at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House for one‐on‐one meetings. No matter where I was in Boulder, I could look out and see the Flat Irons. I was happy. I was writing. My future and my next career were in front of me.

This is how our blog, RoadBroads was born.

Two years later I wanted to go back to Boulder. I wanted to revisit the Boulder Bookstore and the Pearl Street Mall. I had made reservations for living arrangements and paid a deposit for my space at the Max Regan June Writing Intensive. Then Covid‐19 happened. Travel cancelled. The Writing Intensive moved to an on‐line class. There are still approximately 20 of us who want to engage in this writing exercise. Those of us who want to develop our writing craft skills are willing to meet online and share our collective wisdom. Share our stories, exchange ideas, and listen to one another. But it won’t take place in Boulder. Instead of looking out at the Flat Irons, I will look out at my living room. I will see all of the wonderful writing companions via Zoom. Little boxes with heads inside of them.

Online is not as good as being there; however, it’s what I can do for now. I love my writing community. I value their input. I will enjoy spending time with them for the next 10 days even if I’m not in Boulder. This promises to be a new adventure in my writing life.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 15

What have you been doing during this pandemic? Have you cleaned house? Have you finished your novel? Have you returned to work or are you still working from home? With over three months of time on our hands, I initially thought that I would give my home a thorough cleaning. I have started several times. Other than wiping down everything with bleach and rubbing alcohol, I have not done much in the way of cleaning out closets or organizing art supplies.

Yes, I have been writing.….some. I have also been walking a lot. You may remember in previous blogs I have written about walks in the Houston Arboretum and Hermann Park. Unfortunately, the hotter it gets this time of year, the more I look for inside venues for exercise. The YMCA has an indoor walking track. This may be my best bet. I can go there and not have to touch anything but two elevator buttons to get in and out. It amazed me that during this time of pandemic I could think through on such a detailed level going into a building to walk. And of course I will wear a mask the whole time I’m there.

What I have done a great deal of the time is divide myself between binge reading and binge television watching. That explains why I have to walk so much. The pictures show just a few of the books that have taken up my time. Sometimes books and movies are connected. I have both binge read and binge watched The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The next book I will begin tonight is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also by Suzanne Collins. I read If It Bleeds by Stephen King and found it very relaxing in light of all of the craziness and uncertainty going on around the world these days. A couple of books of poetry always sit on my coffee table to peruse when the mood hits me.

What have I been watching on television? My goal is to find something comical to put a dent in the stress of the day. Men In Black, Ghostbusters are both fun movies series. I have also binge watched the television series Cosmos and What We Do In The Dark. Lately I have started watching movies from the 1930s and 1940s. These include all of The Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I have watched Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant twice and have it saved for Halloween. Next I am going to watch the original Sherlock Holmes  movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

If this keeps up for much longer either things could get really strange or I may find myself writing and cleaning house.

What are you doing with your time?

Until next week.…..

When FART = New CAR

Can six characters determine a car and its future?

His guffaw offered the first clue. My second glance confirmed the news.

This new car of mine is, shall we say, special! 

I’d called the insurance agent to report I needed to update our auto policy, thanks to new wheels.

He asked for the car’s VIN, short for Vehicle Identification Number. You know it as that windy string of numbers and letters tucked deep into the driver’s side of a car windshield.

The line of figures lies so low and tiny along the dashboard even children can’t read it. Thus, when I read the figures out loud, I concentrated on reading each letter and number. Each meant nothing.

But when the agent laughed, I scrunched my eyes, leaned in with my magnifying glass then echoed his guffaw. What slipped out was, “And I thought I bought a hybrid.”

After the phone call, I resorted to my old reporter days. I dug in for information. Thank you, Internet. Early popped up this VIN translation:

Image copyright. www.drivingtests.org.

The above graphic reveals the meaning behind the 17 characters that comprise a VIN. Imagine an automotive Social Security number. The VIN teases out the vehicle’s manufacturer, type, brand, model, series, engine size/type, year made, assembly plant, and vehicle production.

The first three digits comprise what’s called the WMI, short for World Manufacturer Identifier. In my new car, that = “7FA.”

The only problem? Those characters don’t fit WMI’s own rule. Said guideline states these identifiers refer to the car manufacturer’s country plus the vehicle’s maker and type.

Translation (and apologizing in advance for all these automotive acronyms): in WMI language, “7FA” indicates I now own a “multi‐purpose vehicle” manufactured by an unidentified car maker in Oceania. The latter includes only Australia and New Zealand.

True fact is I bought a Honda CR‐V, manufactured in Indiana by a Japanese‐owned car company. The window sticker verifies that, as does the rest of the VIN. Either I don’t know how to read long sets of characters. That’s somewhat probable. Or maybe there’s a secret system to protect against vehicle hijinks (aha! global conspiracy!).

Interesting that only the first three digits are wrong in this VIN. But it’s so simply corrected.

Change “7FA” to 1HA” and there’s my car: an American‐manufactured Honda “multi‐purpose vehicle.” (It’s actually a sport utility vehicle, but who wants to quibble?) Add that 1HA” to the existing “RT” and you get “1HART” — a car I’d drive with just that.

Alas, I’m stuck with the VIN I have. So I’ve named the car.

She’s Gassy.  For grins.

Pandemic Road: Weeks 13 &14

My, my! It’s been a busy two weeks! Here is a picture of my cat, Hannah, giving me her editorial opinion of humans. No, she is not upset about the global pandemic. Nor is she upset about all of the national protests. So what is my most adorable feline upset about? Leaf Blowers. Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Leaf Blowers. They are noisy and obnoxious and everywhere. I have to agree with Hannah that I notice more and more of them every year. When was the last time you saw anyone using a rake? Do they even sell them in Houston anymore?

I can remember the time a few years ago when I thought I was at a retreat center in Montgomery County in the middle of nowhere. I was sitting outside admiring the trees and even saw some deer walking and frolicking around. Then I heard it. The leaf blower. Apparently the wilderness had eluded me once again. Even the deer had grown accustomed to the sound.

Now they surround me. When I walk around my neighborhood, when I visit a grocery store. They are always there:

What will I make of all this? When they disturb me in my home, my opinion is much like Hannah’s. However, I appreciate the sentiment that one is taking care to make the landscape look nice. I am a city‐dweller at heart. I usually only walk on leaves when I am at the park or the arboretum. Of course when it is October and I am reminded that Halloween is close and the yearly hurricane season is over, that is a special joy.

When I google “leaf blowers” I find out that they are useful because they are speedy and versatile. In some parts of the country they are even used to blow away snow. I have never seen them used to blow away snow here in Houston.

At the end of the day, I have dinner out on my balcony. It is shady and usually there is a breeze. All of the leaf blowers have retired for the day. It is quiet enough that even the lizards come out for a visit. He stays long enough to discuss the state of things in the world. He wishes all of us humans peace and understanding.

Until next week.….

When Cars & Age Don’t Mix

I began driving (gulp!) nearly a half century ago. I figured out that factoid yesterday after buying a new car left me feeling Ancient.

My decade‐plus car gave up its air conditioning last week.

Second time in two years. I shouted Sayonara!

A plethora of car research later, I headed out on the road.

Blast from the past: when gears want a push, not a pull.

Inside car #2 at the second dealership, I guffawed at the dashboard: push‐button gears? 

My mind flicked back to childhood. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mother struggling to shift the skinny gear stick that poked out of the steering column like an Auto Gumby. Further back, I spied, from the back seat, as my grandmother Allie pushed what looked like sticky buttons on her dashboard then her big car inched forward.

Other car memories dropped in. None of our autos had:

  • Air conditioning
  • FM radio
  • Center console
  • Seatbelts, or
  • Power anything: windows, locks, brakes, or steering 

In the demo car, I eyeballed the dashboard, looking for the familiar, the necessary.

CD player?” I asked the salesman.

Nada,” he said. “Bring your phone and play your own music.”

I didn’t dare mention I have never downloaded music. I play CD’s or an old radio. Both serve my audio‐challenged purposes.

I asked about the car radio. He turned it on. I spied nirvana: high‐definition (HD) radio. Interrupting his chatty spiel, I hijacked the dial and searched for my favorite music — the tunes that calm, never crank‐ify, me. Eureka! Classical music!

The salesman interrupted my reveries, sharing other shockers about today’s cars (is this what I get for hating to car shop?):

  • Tires filled with nitrogen, not air
  • Auto inspections = no more stickers
  • Keyless entry = bigger fob, and
  • Cameras and radar eyeball parking, lane centering
The orange‐circled headline (lower right corner) screamed at me in the checkout lane the day I got my new car.

All these radar sensors, linked together by cameras and computers, come with repeated assurances about ‘spectacular’ safety devices.

I swallowed the Kool‐Aid. It’s called New Car Giddiness.

But I swallowed hard the next day when I spotted Consumer Reports. A cover article revealed a multi‐billion dollar industry now salivating over its planned “harvesting” of driver data from American cars.

Their goal? Million‐car tracking next year alone, salivating at a multi‐market revenue stream.

All fine, if data is used legally. But everything has a cause‐and‐effect. And a price. As do new cars with new gizmos.

I head off here now — to learn how to silence most of what I just bought.

Pandemic Road, Week 12: Art Deco Road Trip

Week 12. Sitting here I stare at my computer screen and let that sink in. I have been writing about the effects of the pandemic on my life for 12 weeks. I don’t think I realized when I went down this road that I would be doing it for this long.…..and with no end in sight.

Even though the pandemic continues, many places are opening back up again. I don’t think I am ready for that yet. However, while resting at home, I have come up with a couple of short story ideas. One involves an art deco building, a theatre company and a bunch of ghosts. Bahwahaha! Obviously in order to do this right, I need to look at some art deco buildings around the Houston area. The first one that comes to mind is Houston City Hall. If walls could talk!

Yesterday my Dear Friend and I drove around downtown, the Heights, and Montrose for 3 hours looking for these buildings. This included more driving than I have done since March 13th. It was also the longest time I spent outside of my home since this all began. It was all very exciting. Some of the buildings are kept up and some have changed. Some have been either completely altered or torn down. But we did find some gems.

One was Trader Joe’s, which used to be a book store and before that was the Alabama Theater. It was built in 1939. I am old enough to tell you that the first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show was in the Alabama Theater.

Another famous art deco landmark is the River Oaks Theatre. This picture is especially poignant, because the marque shows that it is still closed due to the pandemic. I look forward to the day I feel comfortable enough to go back to a movie theater. Inside much of the interior has been preserved in its original style.

There are a couple of small strip centers that were originally built as art deco buildings. The businesses have changed, but the style has been preserved.

The crane above the Soma Sushi restaurant is foreboding. It tells of the next high rise going up in the Heights. New shiny buildings to overshadow the rich history of art deco. I don’t know what the new building will be. The future keeps coming whether we are ready or not.

Then there are these two bars in downtown Houston. I have never been to either of them. I think they cater to the sports crowd that visits the Astros or Rockets. However, I like the way they have kept up the outside design of their buildings. I have no idea what they look like on the inside.

Finally there is Hugo’s. A unique upscale Mexican restaurant that is typically on my short go‐to list for special occasion dining. It was built in 1925 and designed by Joseph Finger. This same gentleman designed the Houston City Hall that is shown in the first two pictures in this post. Mr. Finger is quite well known in Houston for designing many of the buildings in the first half of the 1900s. I can’t wait until I feel comfortable and safe enough to go out to dinner in one of my favorite Houston restaurants.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 11

Beginning a blog post with a picture of beautiful Texas wild flowers might give you the impression that I’m going to write about another visit to the Houston Arboretum. That is in fact where all the pictures here were taken. However, that is not my topic of choice for today. I just have these really nice photographs of flowers and wanted to share them with you. With all of the walking I have been doing since this pandemic began, I have taken the time to really look at all of the flowers blooming all around me.

What I have also noticed during the past few weeks is how different it is now to eat dinner. While many of my friends talk about how much cooking and baking they’ve been doing, I have been ordering take out. I used to say that the best thing I ever made for dinner was reservations. My take out skills have developed significantly. My Dear Friend and I eat food from our favorite local restaurants approximately three times a week. We set an intention early on to support locally owned restaurants. Initially, we could walk into a restaurant and look at a menu. We would place a take out order and wait while it was prepared. Then restaurants turned more and more to pickup or curbside business where you have to order your food and pay for it online.

I have lost count of how many restaurant “accounts” I have now. Each of them have their own passwords. It is quite the challenge for this aging boomer to keep track of all this, but I am making a good and valiant effort. Also, I went into a restaurant yesterday and saw signs announcing that they no longer accept cash. Credit cards only accepted. Anywhere there is an opportunity to reduce human contact keeps both staff and customers that much safer.

Whenever I walk into any type of establishment now I make quick mental notes about their safety measures. Who is wearing masks and who is wearing gloves. How many times is the food handled by different people before it is handed to me. DF and I have a rule about only ordering food that has to be cooked. Then when we get it home, we transfer the food to my own plates and bowls. The final step is to microwave all food for 20 seconds just for good measure.

Add to this process the washing of hands at least twice and cleaning off the counter where the take out containers were placed. Whew! This is almost enough work to give me the incentive to learn how to cook. But I’m trying to not go too crazy during this strange time.

Now that restaurants are beginning to reopen, I know I will return to dine in service at some point. Just not yet. I will wait another month or two before venturing out into public too much. In the meantime, I am becoming very accustomed to online restaurant accounts and keeping up with all the passwords.

What new skills have you developed during the past couple of months?

Until next week.….….