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.….

Three Goes to Two: How about You?

Mimi, Merrilynn & Melanie — Houston, TX, 1980

Forty years ago, we were three.

The first of the Miller girls married one July afternoon in 1980. We used the occasion to pose for the first formal picture of Sisters United!

Melanie & Merrilynn atop Breckenridge Mountain, CO — 2014

As of last October, we’re down to two.

The sudden death of our sister Mimi is a loss that reverberates too much.

Daily, we sort through her life and what she left behind. We face more weeks, if not months, of emotional intensity.

It means a life that mattered. Matters. 

I struggle with the idea of joy this New Year. After these past nine weeks, life echoes with an odd familiarity: New Normal.

A few days ago, while on the road (again) at Mimi’s house, I found this:

A word which will live in my life’s infamy?

Merriam-Webster’s definition:

ENDURE means to put up with something trying or painful.” 

Something was missing. Synchronicity delivered this Maya Angelou poem:

CONTINUE 

My wish for you
Is that you continue

Continue

To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness

Continue

To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart

Continue

In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter

Continue

To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined

Continue

To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you

Continue

To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely

Continue

To put the mantle of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless

Continue

To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise

Continue

To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected

Continue

To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good

Continue

To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit

Continue

To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing

Continue

To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name

Continue

And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue
Eternally

Back to the dictionary I went. Out leaped a deeper definition of endure:

to CONTINUE: to exist over a period of time or indefinitely.

Aha! I merged the two definitions into my own ENDURE: to continue to exist over a period of time while surviving something painful.

This isn’t the first time I’ve hurt (and it won’t be the last)—but there’s a unique pain in the death of a sibling. It’s more than your oldest secrets they take.

Treasure the gifts they bring to your life.

My command to you rings in my own ears.

For 2020, I seek new hope and special intentions. I travel forward, hoping and intending for continued endurance to clear two homes, complete a novel, and create an I‐develop‐my‐full‐potential kind of life this year.

What are your special hopes and intentions this year?

The Russians Aren’t Coming — They’re Here

At risk of prompting a NSA wiretap, I’ll admit the big news of my week.

I visited Russia. Its music, that is.

Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra program

Courtesy of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, DH and I heard the best of three composers in what was billed as “Russian Fireworks.” Also on display was a full range of art, collectibles, and life goods from the Russian Cultural Center of Houston, Our Texas (sic).

At the Stafford Center? Near Houston?

Blog post deadline looming, I headed inside the concert hall, recognizing only one composer—Tchaikovsky.

But at “Symphony No. 2 – Little Russian,” my ears poked up, Spock‐like. They pointed even higher when conductor Dr. Dominque Royem offered, Little Russian references the Ukraine.” 

FBSO on Stafford Center stage

How often our desperate escapes lead us back to the Real World!

How could I not  think of present‐day political realities? As the orchestra thundered through the composition, my mind launched.

It imagined world domination by multiple autocrats. Armageddon beckoned in the brass and strings. Amid cymbal bursts and trumpet blasts, my body slunk deep into the red velvet seat.

Wild imaginings soared. Long pause. Self‐talk roared back.

Strings crescendoed. Gongs clanged.

You came here to escape mental meanderings! This is what art can do for you. Step away into this world, not that one. Just for this afternoon. Hand over heart, my breath began to slow.

Post‐concert and heart calm, we sauntered through a lobby with cruising babushkas hawking samovars. So much color!

An interesting discovery about the lavish metal pots. Samovar is basically a fancy tea pot. For this daily tea drinker, it took discipline to not buy this samovar. I consoled with practicality: too big for a single user, too ornate for expanding Zen tastes.

Through both music and merchandise, gratitude surged from deep inside me.

I rediscovered why I attend cultural events. Each one expands my horizons and eliminates ancient biases. Only one‐on‐one connection can minimize, eliminate outdated propaganda.  

Hug‐a‐Bear with Royem and Ormand?

Sometimes those links get really close, as when the hug‐generous conductor walks by.

Besides samovars, babushkas, and bears, I discovered a new appreciation for grand and battle‐worthy music.

All my life, I’ve been a lover, not a fighter.

What prompts this rush to big, bold, and brash?

Further Down That October Road

Sometimes things just happen that catch my attention. That’s what happened to me Sunday night when my Dear Friend and I went to the Alley Theatre to see the play Vietgone. The playwright is Qui Nguyen. As soon as I walked into the Neuhaus Theatre, I knew I was in the right place. I took one look at the stage and knew this was a play for a RoadBroad!

If you have not seen this yet, I highly recommend it. The story takes you back to 1975 and is told from the viewpoint of some of the Vietnamese refugees that came to this country at that time. It is both humorous and dramatic. You will laugh and you will cry. What more recommendation do you need to go see this play? Go!

When I wasn’t visiting the theatre this past week, I was walking again around Rice University. There are so many works of art and while we are actually experiencing fall‐like weather, I want to get out as much as possible. I don’t remember what the name of the building it was that I was walking past, but I just happened to catch a glimpse at these door knobs.

I have heard of using gargoyles to scare off evil spirits, but what exactly is the purpose of these doorknobs? And just what exactly are these creatures? Are they snakes? Dragons? Mythical sea creatures? Are they supposed to ward off students with nefarious intent? I did not go in this building. I was afraid of what I might find. Maybe a mad scientist brewing up potions for Halloween. It really makes me wonder about the founders of Rice University and the architect they hired for their buildings.

In another part of campus I found this wonderful fountain. It was very peaceful here. I wasn’t worried about my immortal soul in this part of campus. This was a spot where I could stay for a while and listen to the soothing sounds of the rippling water cascading gently over the rocks and down the sides. I am calm just thinking about it. I may have to go back there.

But there is one more question I must ask before I sign off for today.….…Why does the Energizer Bunny wear blue flip flops? You will only know what I am talking about if you watch television. The Energizer Bunny shows up in commercials for batteries. He is a bunny. He doesn’t even wear pants! Why does a bunny need flip flops? I wonder about these things. If you have any answers, please let me know.

Until next week.….

October Road Into Fall

Remember that really nice Saturday we had a while back? It felt like fall. The temperatures were cool…which in Houston meant that it was anything below 90 degrees. I couldn’t wait to get outside to get some fresh air and sunshine. Well, maybe big city air isn’t the freshest and I always use sunscreen so the sun won’t inadvertently kill me. But I was ready for the day.

I just had one errand to run first. It was a trip to Ikea to buy a floor lamp. Now a trip to Ikea is a treat all unto itself. Just walking through the store gets you whatever number of steps is considered healthy these days. My Dear Friend went with me and he saw several variations on new and modern chemistry labs which were disguised as kitchens.

We finally found the lamps and had several to choose from. I chose a nice white number which would fit nicely in my living room. It passed all possible “cat safety” protocols. It had two settings so I could either see to read or put on the low lights when I want to rest and chillax. It sends light up which I understand to be very good feng shui. What more could I want? Sold!

Then I went out to the parking lot. I turned to the right and saw this combination of signs. Where was I supposed to go? Would I ever be able to find my way home again? It certainly could be construed as a philosophical question for life. The road is clearly marked as “one way”, but the exit goes the other way. Which way would you choose?

So after escaping the parking lot conundrum, the day was ours and we took it to Rice University. Beautiful campus, beautiful trees, beautiful works of art. A great place for a walk. We started out walking and then noticed that this campus if full of interesting critters. Of course at Rice there are always many examples of owls. This one is a favorite of mine. I love the smooth lines. And look at those talons! I am only grateful that this is a statue and not a real owl. Of course I have never heard of this owl attacking anyone. Both students and faculty members remain safe as they navigate their ways between buildings and classes. I am sure they sleep better at night once they figure this out.

Next we went to see the Cohen House Sundial. It is one of the fanciest and most complex sundials I have ever seen. Befitting the Rice standards of intellectual excellence, I think it requires a PhD. in either science or engineering to figure it out. However, I just thought it was pretty. Then I noticed a lizard either napping and sunning himself or he has his PhD and was noticing the time. I’m not sure which. I’m willing to bet that even the lizards on the Rice Campus are smarter than most of us mere mortals.

The next sculpture really caught my attention. It shows two people sitting down and facing each other. It looks as if they are talking among themselves.  I wondered about this for a while. Then I noticed that a fair number of students were walking around campus and the vast majority of them looked at their phones as they walked. I finally decided that this sculpture was a tutorial for the students to show them what face‐to‐face communication can look like. Oh, I’m sorry. Does that last statement make me seem old? Probably, but only because compared to the college youth of today, I am.

Until next week.….

When Roads Flood

Wasn’t it just days ago that Melanie visited the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern? The location that used to hold much of the drinking water for the City of Houston? It is no longer in use.….except to catch flood waters when the rains set in.

I can only imagine that the Cistern is now full of water. Houston, and many surrounding areas have now been dealing with Tropical Storm Imelda for days now. For the longest time, Houston was spared the worst of the rains. However, all of that changed today. Starting overnight and all through today we have been enduring a severe rain storm. It technically started out as a “rain band” from Imelda. Then the the rains started a thing called “training”. A line of storms just keeps raining over and over the same area until everything is flooded.

Much of the talk on the television news reports that have been running all day make many comparisons to Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Allison. Of course this area received 50 to 60 inches of rain during Harvey. So far we have only received 20 to 30 inches of rain with Imelda. There is an ever increasing list of creeks, lakes and bayous that are out of their banks. News reporters are out in the field and have assisted with many rescues of folks who need to evacuate their homes.

The saddest part is that many people who were flooded out by Hurricane Harvey two years ago are once again flooded out by Imelda. Some just moved back into their homes last spring. Other Harvey victims are simply being tested with PTSD today and trying to remember to breathe and relax.

Since the weather wasn’t so bad early this morning, many people made it into work and kids made it to school. Now freeways are both flooded and congested. Schools are letting out, but kids can’t get home and parents can’t get to the schools. Here is a picture of a Metro bus that is close to the Intercontinental Airport. Shortly after this picture made the news Metro suspended all of their routes until “conditions improved”.

Of course there are always those who will get out in the middle of a storm and try to buy one more batch of groceries just in case the lights go out. Here is a glance of the grocery store parking lot near my home. It is not a very good picture, because I was standing out of the rain. I wasn’t going to get any closer. I hope all of these folks made it home safe and sound.

How did I fare? Since I am retired from the local government job I had for many years, I am home safe and sound. My lights flickered a few times earlier while it was lighting and thundering, but the electricity never went out completely. I was supposed to go to hear the Houston Symphony this evening and that has been cancelled. Many streets in the downtown area are flooding or flooded. Much of the downtown Theatre District just got completely up and running after the damage done during Harvey. I have not heard about any damage this time. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Compared to many who have just lost everything for the second time in two years, I am very lucky and thankful.

Until next week.….

How Fascinating is Glue?

In days gone by, I never got very excited about glue. I have used it all my life, but there was a time during my long lost youth when I simply used whatever the teacher handed me or what I found at home.

I remember when a plastic bottle with an orange pointed cap and Elmer’s glue inside held everything I needed for any school or craft project. Then someone came out with super glue. You could hurt yourself with that by attaching your hand to a table or your hands to each other. Until everyone got the hang of super glue, one could wind up in the local Hospital Emergency Room. Luckily most of us have gotten a lot smarter over time.

Now my journey through collage and mixed media art work has caused me to discover how many different types of glue are available to me (or at least how many are sold at Texas Art Supply). During my most recent collage class, I actually used four different types of glue. Different materials require different glues. Our focus this week involved textiles. I used different pieces of cloth, paper, yarn, paper, beads, etc.

I was enjoying lunch today with my Dear Friend and I innocently asked him what he thought about glue. Since he is an Engineer, he had many bits of knowledge, factoids, and streams of thought about glue.

There is Elmer’s Glue and then there are glue sticks. Then there is epoxy. Epoxies are exciting because they come in two liquid parts that when combined creates a chemical reaction that makes one hard part. There are pressure sensitive adhesives. Some glues and adhesives need to be flexible; like when you are fixing a tire or fixing the sole of a shoe. Some glues are made of polymers and some are made of monomers. Converting monomers to polymers is polymerization. That’s what happens when super glue hardens. Sometimes you get a chemical reaction when glue is exposed to light. That’s called photo‐polymerization. Then if you want to talk about glue and quantum mechanics you can consider that the shorter the wave length of light the more energy each photon has. A photon, of course, is a quantum of light. And, as everybody knows, light is both a particle and a wave. Thank you, Albert Einstein. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this point of the conversation my eyes rolled in the back of my head and I stopped taking notes. I just want to make pretty, or at least interesting art!

My Dear Friend has a history of buying his glue and adhesives at a hardware store. I have always purchased my glue and adhesives where I find art supplies. I guess this is just the difference in perspective between engineers and artists.

Maybe this is the metaphor for life. Regardless of your approach, there are many ways to keep your self, your act, your art or your life together. Engineers want to make sure they keep things together in scientifically proven ways. I want the world to be artful and interesting.

How do you keep your life together?

Until next week.….

When Sex & Allergies Collide

When the Yankees take on your pollen count, you know the joke’s on you.

Houston’s pollen count — 2536 spores for oak trees alone — led the nation last week.

That translates into more sneezers and wheezers in the Bayou City than anywhere else in America.

Nowadays on my daily walks, I see sights like this pile of oak tree pollen on every sidewalk and driveway. Emphasis on every sidewalk, every driveway. For four miles.

These piles congregate to pollinate. In other words, it’s plant sex.

Holy moly, are they promiscuous!

The yellow wormy, stringy things are called catkins, also known as the flowering male of the tree. They morph into pollen then ride the wind, hunting receptors known as stigmas and pistils (the flowering female of the tree).

When male pollen grains meet female flower stigmas, voila! Acorns (as in: nuts!) sometime result.

That Mother Nature recreates this act every spring amazes, in and of itself. But that She, concurrently, creates allergic misery for so many of us humans strikes me as the epitome of irony.

Who’s in charge, you say?

Copyright, Sig McKenna Izbrand

My San Antonio friend Sig McKenna Izbrand dubs this year’s agony “Pollengedden.”

One photo from her backyard illustrates why.

Would you want to swim in those inviting waters after seeing that line of pollen?

The line resembles a crossing‐of‐the‐Rubicon of sorts: what’s in the water, what can I not see?

What’s a RoadBroad to do?

Pack eyedrops, an extra wad of tissues plus sore throat drops then hit the sidewalk.

Sagging senior thighs outrank four miles of sniffles.