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.

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:

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.

When Voodoo Beats ‘Rona

I smiled at the fence and whispered, Ah, Dorothy, we’re not in Portland…” 


Memories of this infamous shade of pink — and the tasty product it telegraphs — drew DH and I to burst our bubble of coronavirus quarantine.

The lure?

Newest location of Voodoo Doughnut. In Houston.

As it’s been eight weeks since we’ve driven into The City, this road trip felt like an excursion into a foreign land. A first after 40+ years of Big H living.

We expected a repeat of our first Voodoo experience.

Portland, Oregon. Summer, 2018.

The locals swore a Must‐Do was sampling Portland doughnuts. Not a normal food choice for either of us. But DH and I share a hard travel rule: wherever, whatever, indulge as the natives do. Within reason, of course.

A two mile walk from our hotel, we discovered the Voodoo crowd: 

The never‐ending line outside Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, OR (Image copyright, DSC_0242.jpg.)
Whatever you can doughnut, plus more.

Their wall‐mounted menu elicited a “Holy moly!” shriek. What you see to the left is one section of a three‐paneled menu.

Hard to see the variety. I remember what we ordered: Viscous Hibiscus, Blueberry Cake, Raspberry Romeo, Voodoo Doll, and School Daze PB&J. 

Good!” understates the divinity. 

But, truth is, the ensuing sugar rush hijacked my blogger’s eye and writer’s brain. And I no longer remember what else was on the menu — doughnuts or drinks. I do remember The Pink. 

The same Portland pink dominates the Houston store, too.

I smacked on these local bites of heaven but my eyes rebelled at all the Pepto‐Bismol pink.

Maybe that’s the point? 

A second point: after you eat your box of doughnuts (because who buys or eats only two or three Voodoos?), you need yummy tummy medicine! 

So, why not sell PB in your stores, Voodoo Doughnuts? A commission later?

Oh dear reader, I beg your forgiveness for my doughnut‐brain. This post does stink like a commercial. I promise the only green exchanged came from my own pocket. And it was a pricey grab: $2.80 per doughnut on average.

The second ouch! came two days later when I stepped on the scale. 

Alas. Must we always pay in both pennies and pounds?

Can’t we catch a break in these pandemic days?

Pandemic Road: Week 10

Hello Friends! Does this picture make you feel better or worse?

I saw this artistic gem earlier today when I walked into the local restaurant known as 100% Taquito. I laughed out loud. The decision to visit this establishment today revolves around the idea that Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo. (May 5th for you gringos who don’t speak Spanish.) Otherwise known as my birthday. I won’t tell you which birthday, but I am getting closer to Medicare than I care to admit.

Having a birthday on May 5th was never a big deal growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. I think I heard about Cinco de Mayo while studying Spanish in high school, but it was not considered a significant holiday. Then I moved to Houston. I learned that Cinco de Mayo rivaled St. Patrick’s Day as a major party and celebrate day. I even heard one bartender in Austin refer to it as “Cinco de Drinko”.

When my new Houston friends discovered this was my birthday, I was taken out to many Mexican restaurants over the years. We would all gather in the bar for a couple of hours drinking margaritas while waiting until our table was ready. Mexican restaurants are really crowded on this date. Unless you’re in the middle of a global pandemic with face masks and social distancing.

Originally way back in the wayward youth of my 20s, I was told that Cinco de Mayo was the Independence Day for Mexico. Wrong. That is still a common misconception that many have today. Please stop thinking that. Cinco de Mayo represents the Mexican victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. If you need more information than that, then I would suggest you goggle it for yourself. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. Who says you can’t learn something by reading random blogs? You’re welcome.

I now go to other restaurants on my birthday. However, again we are in the middle of a global pandemic. So this year my Dear Friend delivered a delicious dinner from Giacomo’s to my home and we ate on a cool and breezy balcony. I enjoyed a vodka martini. It was the quietest birthday I have celebrated in a while, but I am still lucky to be safe and healthy.

I took one other picture while I was at 100% Taquito. I saw this quote by Abigail Smith Adams hanging on the wall just to the right of the counters. Just in case you don’t know who Abigail Smith Adams is, I will give you a second history lesson for the day. (Are you feeling smarter yet?) Abigail Smith Adams is considered to have been the strongest female voice during the American Revolution. She is also sometimes considered to be one of the Founders of the United States. Oh, and yeah, she was also the wife and closest advisor of the second President of this country, John Adams.

Abigail Smith Adams really doesn’t have anything to do with Cinco de Mayo. However, just like 100% Taquito, I am adopting this quote as my motto for the rest of the pandemic.

What’s your motto?

Until next week.….

Does Climbing Ladders Equal a Road Trip?

I didn’t plan these 48 hours: climbing ladders and cleaning attics.

Blame two insurance companies and Covid‐19.

The latter led to what I call a Double D.C. with DH.

Translation:  DeCluttering & Deep Cleaning Project with Dear Husband.

OMG! We have to clean this? 

With time on our hands and remembering last fall’s house‐clearing experiences, we began The Project.

This weekend, it was the garage; today, the front closet and our attic. Of all the ancient goods we rediscovered, only two of each now remain: boxes of books and nearly‐new suitcases.

There’s an ancient stuffed reindeer bagged up there, too. A post for next year’s holiday blog?

I’m grateful for an unused bedroom. It’s now two feet high with donate‐ables, all Goodwill‐bound when ‘Rona bails and frees us to venture wide again.

When an attic ladder meets sisterly memories…

Post‐attic, I scaled a second ladder, this one at my sister’s house.

Standing at its highest rung, I looked down. Gulped. Hard. The ladder’s lowest step peeks right into her empty bedroom. 

Sniff, sniff. I’m still not used to her absence, six months ago last Thursday. 

A broken heart does what it must.

I climbed the ladder because we’re checking Mimi’s roof. Big Leaks, we fear. Total repairs are guess‐timated $26K+, funds none of us has. Hearing that number, I ouched louder than I’ve cried since this nightmare began.

But as I stood atop this ladder, my inner fight grew.

Get roof repairs fully funded, somehow! Either by the crotchety manager who just cancelled the existing homeowner’s policy because we don’t insure vacant houses or the new company which insists we’ve got to see the roof! 

Me climbing ladders, much less two within an hour, marked a first. In these days, it’s particularly curious as Uncle Sam considers me ‘high‐risk.’ I stepped up anyway, scaling rungs and standing higher than nine feet, nearly twice my height.

Boys will be Brave & Adventurous?

Before the afternoon ended, I rejected a third climbing opportunity. No go! to the roof, I nearly shouted. Instead, two young hunks, shod in Super Soles, shimmied up to play their high‐in‐the‐sky games. 

I played mine. I stood on terra firma and I spun around. My eyes spotted him.

A headless man, climbing a tree. Desperate to escape. Is that a stand‐in for me, today?

Play “name this scene!”

Take a peek: what do you see?

Your answer echoes the moral of my post: climb two ladders, save half your things, then go play.

Your life will be richer.

For each and every experience you name.

What’s your Essential Business?

Standard response to a pandemic health appointment?

First came the email from my doctor’s office. Then came a phone call, instructing me: “Wait in the parking lot with the security guard until the nurse calls you.”

The next day came a second request: “Enter through the side door, off Sweetwater Boulevard.”

Then the third call, command: “You must come alone.”

Rather high maintenance for a little female problem, I thought.

When the nurse called the fourth and final time, she said, “Come up to the 3rd floor and walk straight back in to Room 5.”

She didn’t warn me about what came before the doctor’s hands.

I call it the Full Corona Treatment.

Outside the hospital stood a lone sentry. He eyeballed me head to toe then keyed the sliding glass door.

Inside, a six‐person team stood, sat, and stared. Waiting. For. Me.

Amazed by this focus; my hands shook as I snapped the photo!

Hard to see here (I became too intimidated [yes, me] to snap a closer photo), but each person wore full coverage, a head‐to‐toe white hospital suit.

Faces stayed impassive, shielded behind masks, glasses, AND plastic sheeting that extended past their shoulders. Hands raised skyward, both gloved to the elbow.

Before I could step forward, the tallest responder barked, “Temperature, ma’am!”

He poked my forehead with a steel‐spiked thermometer gizmo. No assent/dissent allowed.

The woman sitting to my right—like a queen behind her table throne—fired away: “Are you having any breathing problems? Are your lungs clear? Have you had any fever in the past two weeks? Have you traveled overseas since March 1st? Have you been around anyone with confirmed coronavirus?”

A second woman, standing near the plate glass window, shook her head “yes” to my every “no.” Questions completed, she stepped forward and banded my wrist with a yellow bracelet.

My body responded “no” to every query. Why did I merit a coward’s color? Don’t ask here! 

Orange barricades block entry/exit for all.

Moments later, I turned the corner and saw massive orange barricades extending across the hospital’s main entrance.

I froze.

My mind raced back to 9/11, ruminating, assembling, connecting.

Full racks of weighted barriers. Six‐person checker teams.

A nasty bug we cannot see.

Coronavirus as terrorist? War? 

What else will I experience in my lifetime?

The doctor did what my body needed and I’m healing nicely.

What did I learn during my CoronaWorld Medical Adventure?

  1. Most people will rise up to your expectations if they understand your ‘why’, — and -
  2. Essential business” applies as much to individuals every day as it does nowadays to grocery stores and gas stations. 

Both involve a choice. 

What better time than a pandemic lockdown to identify what’s essential in your life?

As for me, I’m focusing on my health first, and writing a close second.

How about you?

When a Census Counts…and Doesn’t

Thank the U.S. Census for repeating itself last week.

Such are my days:

  • I received a pair of 2020 census forms: one at our house, another at my sister’s house;
  • Two flashbacks followed: one to 1980, my year as a census enumerator, another to five months ago

I wish my parents had snapped a photo of me as a census girl. We didn’t take many photos 40 years ago. Each print! It costs money! If I had a picture from those days, you’d see a Melanie‐circa‐1980‐Census photo:

**right here**

I prized the homemade outfit I assembled. Over‐coordinated in perfect reds, whites, and blues, I reminded myself, “I’m working for the U.S. government!” 

I also proudly toted the government‐issued shoulder bag, a cheap black vinyl thing that swamped my small frame. It arrived with a massive U.S. CENSUS! sticker slapped on the diagonal across the bag’s front.

If I had a photo — again — you’d see that bag:

*right here**

But I grew to hate the bag’s wide black straps. They bit into my shoulder, the gouges deepening each day I criss‐crossed the streets of my Pampa hometown.

Many of its roads I’d never driven, much less walked. At 23, I was frighteningly young, long sheltered from another side of life in a small Texas town.

When Derek opened his door, I recognized him as a high school classmate and former football star. He now lived alone with his mother in a unpainted shack south of the tracks.

He grimaced, remembering me. I smiled. It was my job.

A day later, I stood on Mrs. Wilson’s porch. Her youngest daughter had been my best friend in first grade. Mrs. Wilson complimented my outfit, validating my sense of style.

But her face remained blank. I didn’t know whether to feel hurt or gratitude.

Fast forward four decades:

My family received two census forms in, yes, two different mailboxes: my house, plus the same form at my recently deceased sister’s home.

I opened Mimi’s first. It read “To Resident at….”

I entered her census ID, expecting questions about her status.

Instead, a plethora of questions gushed forth like a wave, all focused on the structure at her address. I answered that no one was living in the house. The computer responded:

Swallowing the lump bulging in my throat, I asked the screen, “Empty doesn’t matter?”

On our census form, DH confirmed we still occupied the building as “residents of the address.” Up popped a question about our names. Answering led to gratitude from Uncle Sam: I know, I know. The census exists to count people for many reasons.

But we only matter if we’re living? 

Yes, I’m still grieving my sister’s sudden death. Last week marked five months.

Time does ease the loss. It won’t go away when reminders keep coming.

And 40 years later, I remain sad about those porch moments with Derek and Mrs. Wilson. 

Interesting, isn’t it, remembering what we’d like to forget.

Pandemic Road: Week Three

Last week I wrote about going out to eat at a restaurant where all patrons were spaced out, food was cooked. Wasn’t that nice? I really enjoyed it. Today as I walk around the neighborhood, I see many signs like this one. Many shops are closed. The gym that I like to attend is closed. Movie theaters are closed. The Houston Theatre District has ground to a halt.

This provides me with a challenge. What to do with myself?

I accept this challenge. I am finding things to do every day. Today I went to a mid‐day mindfulness meditation group. There were six of us and we spaced ourselves out and used hand sanitizer and no one sneezed or coughed. We did not hug each other as we usually do, but it felt good to be in this group of people who are all working our way through these times that are like no other.

Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day. By then bars were closed and restaurants were open on a take out/delivery option only. I even tried to ask that if I walked into a restaurant and placed an order to go, could I get a drink at the bar. NONONO! Okay, you only have to tell me once. Apparently the local pandemic police are really strict about that. However, I want to support local businesses that may be hurting right now. So, I am happy to order take out from my favorite restaurants.

Welcome to 100% Taquito and St. Patrick’s Day.

You may remember that I wrote about 100% Taquitos as my go to restaurant for El Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Now they are my new favorite restaurant for St. Patrick’s Day. As you can see the taxi with the leprechaun on top and skeletons inside is surrounded by tables that have been stacked up so no one coming in for take out will be able to sit down. On top of the front of the taxi are two floor mats as further evidence of the seating area not being open. Also, all employees who prepared the food wore gloves. Again, I ordered food that required cooking.

As you can see, instead of the well known phrase, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, your only requirement at 100% Taquitos is to buy tacos. I did. My dear friend and I both bought vegetarian tacos. We took them home and ate them outside on the balcony. They were delicious.

As I left 100% Taquito with tacos in hand, I passed this cute doggie called “Lucky”. I didn’t pat him on the head, because I was respecting his social distance. But I did wave good‐bye. I will continue to go by my favorite local restaurants and support them with my take out orders.

What local businesses are you supporting during this unusual time?

Until next week.….

Springing Forward into a Wild Week

I’m baaaaack!

My blog sabbatical**  extended an extra week, thanks to a seasonal cold that kicked me flat and left me off the road.

Interesting, isn’t it, that every member of Team Mimi got sick?!

Is that Life’s commentary on the impact of stress and grief? But, if we all had to get sick, I can give thanks for the timing.

Look at this week: a return to Daylight Saving Time and International Women’s Day, Monday’s a Full Worm Supermoon, and a Friday the 13th. These four events lead to the biggie: next week’s Spring Equinox.

My garden celebrates a lonely rose and an early spring.

So much activity compressed into 12 short days? Normally, I don’t wig out on calendars. Curious, I found connections and learned new trivia:

  • It’s Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time.

The worst part of this spring forward/fall back shenanigan? More car accidents and road deaths occur on the Monday after the spring time shift.

A Stanford University study analyzed 20+ years of highway accident figures and reported a 5.3% hike in the “spring forward” Monday accident rate. Blame sleep disruption.

Drive carefully tomorrow, friends!

  • It’s International Women’s Day this Sunday. For 43 years, we’ve been celebrated. Why don’t I feel better about this event?

First, it took until 1977 for such a day to be declared? Why not sometime in the previous 1,977 years?

When’s real change going to occur? This isn’t a political statement. It’s more like a truth‐check for Women.

We’re half the population. Why can’t a woman be America’s president? If not our generation, when? 

  • It’s a Full Worm Supermoon on Monday at precisely 12:48p Houston time. Thank Native Americans for the naming. It’s how they tracked the year’s seasons. Every March, the tribes noted that earthworms returned to the topsoil, encouraging birds to feed again.
Full Moon as shot through what looks like a forest: it’s only my backyard!

Supermoon” merely means the lunar orb appears bigger and brighter because its orbit that month involves “perigee” that swings it closer to earth.

Get ready: we’ve got full supermoons each month through May.

  • Friday the 13th looms large for those with paraskevidekatriaphobia. Yes, that’s fear of Friday the 13th. I’m looking forward to it. If you add up the numbers — as in 1+3 — it equals 4, my luckiest number. Bring it on, baby!

A week later, Spring arrives on March 20th. Then the calendar slides back into routine, day‐to‐day. Breathe… 

I’m so ready. It’s been a tough four months but I’ve turned a corner.

Self‐care matters. So does forward movement.

Let this week pass, then let spring begin!

** NOTE: A special shout‐out to Ellen: thank you for understanding and carrying forward with RoadBroads. I am grateful for you!