Tag Archives: Houston

Into The Sun

The interstate was packed with red taillights as far as the eye could see, leading on to the horizon, flanked by the businesses of west Houston. Orange light crept over the mauve glow of dawn as the sun announced its arrival in the chilly morning. Just over the Horizon, coming west from downtown, a bright speck slowly grew in the morning sky. It became two specks as it neared and the sunlight glinted off the silver bodies of the aircraft. The smaller one was a T-38 Talon trainer and was used by NASA to escort the larger Boeing 747 jumbo jet and it’s piggy-backed cargo, the space shuttle Endeavor. The planes had stopped over in Houston enroute to California, where the shuttle will sit in retirement. It was reflective to watch the planes fly low over the city, the colors of dawn reflecting off of their fuselages. I stopped on the shoulder to capture a picture of the planes as they passed. Then, as they flew off in the direction of what would be the sunset, I rode off into the sunrise.
And that hurt.
I never realised how bright the morning sun is, nor did I stop to think that living west of where I work and driving on a freeway that runs east-west would be a problem. I ride my motorcycle into the sun in the morning (unless I have to go in early, in which case I am at work before sunrise) and I ride home in the evening into the sunset.
I know that riding off into the sunset is supposed to be a romantic notion of the hero moving on to help the next damsel in distress, but seriously, even sunglasses don’t help the burned retinas that I’m surely inflicting on myself. At least in a car you have a visor you can pull down to block some of the sun, but on a motorcycle, no such animal.
And it seems the sun is bigger this time of year, too. Perhaps the elliptical nature of our orbit causes this, maybe it is refraction through the moist early morning atmosphere, or maybe the Mayans were right and the sun is about to blow up. Either way, it is big and bright and hurts my eyes. It also makes the idiots on the freeway slow down even more.
The Katy freeway has never been a speedway during rush hour. Even after the expansion project completed two years ago, traffic is still at a standstill during the commuter hours. Add the sun blinding people into the equation and the parking lot analogy is even more apropos.
I guess I will have to leave for work earlier to avoid the sun in my eye….or, waitaminute, maybe I could leave later…yes! That’s it. I will just head into work at say 10, when the sun is high enough to not shoot beams into my eyeballs. My boss will simply have to understand that my coming in late is only to protect my vision. It is a health issue. Yeah, that’s it! And I can leave the office at 3 so the evening sun won’t hurt either. 10-3. I like those hours. Think I can sell it? Nah, me neither.
So I ride off on my iron horse every evening squinting into the sunset, another day finished, another day of good work done, another day waiting, and another morning sun waiting to burn my retinas.

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Filed under Humor, Personal

The Trouble in Praying

There’s trouble, friend. Yes, there’s trouble. I say we got trouble. Right here in Houston. There’s some politician preachin’ in the stadium, and that spells trouble with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for preaching.

Well, for some people it seems to be trouble anyway. Texas governor Rick Perry has been backing a national day of prayer event called “The Response” for the past several weeks and it has the political left all up in arms. This prayer event is being held in Reliant Stadium near downtown Houston on Saturday, August 6th. Rick Perry will be in attendance and will speak and I imagine, will pray.

The news has been replete with stories of “activist groups” who oppose the event, oppose Perry’s backing the event and oppose his speaking at it. Some call it an anti-gay event since some of the religious groups sponsoring it are opponents of gay issues.

The most vocal have been the agnostic/atheist groups who claim that Rick Perry’s involvement somehow violates the separation of church and state. This is the claim that gets to me. The supposition seems to be that, once you become a political leader, you cannot express your faith at all. The Response is not a mandatory thing. Rick Perry is not forcing the citizens of Texas to kneel and pray. He is not decreeing that Christianity is the new state religion. He is not saying that people of other beliefs cannot pray in their own fashion.

Governor Perry is simply asking for those who wish to participate to pray for the future of our country.

Rick Perry is Christian. The organizers of The Response are Christians. The event is a call to prayer to Jesus Christ. This is a Christian event. Should political leaders abandon their faith just to satisfy the left? What’s more, Rick Perry is not a minister. He is no preacher, just a man of faith who wishes to freely exercise that faith.

If you choose not to pray, then don’t. But it seems that the anti-Christian movement is actively trying to deny Christians their constitutionally guaranteed right to pray. The leftist agenda has long been trying to water down Christianity by insisting that any public expression of faith MUST include all faiths, which is kind of ironic since it is tantamount to a state-enforced religious structure.

I recommend to every Christian to pray, even if you cannot make it to the stadium. God does not need the stadiums PA system to hear prayers. Pray wherever you are. Our nation desperately needs our prayers, especially at a time when so many are trying to silence them. That’s the real trouble not only here in Houston, but all over the country; trouble with a capital ‘T’.

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Filed under Politics, Religion, Society

Terror in the Lanes!

There is a new menace on the highway these days. Drivers are falling victim to dangers they never anticipated would become so numerous. These dangers lurk in the managed lanes on the Katy freeway in Houston and they can strike without warning. Beware as you commute lest you fall victim to the Harris County Constable!

One of the reasons I bought a motorcycle (the first being to save gas) was the ability to ride in the HOV lanes on the Katy freeway, thus saving some time on my morning commute. I probably only save maybe ten minutes overall, but it is nice not having the stop and go traffic for the whole trip. Since I have been riding in the lanes, I have noticed a lot more police cars along the route than before. The HOV lane is actually a “managed lane” according to the Harris County toll road authority. This means that during the rush hours, any busses, commuter vans or cars with two or more passengers can drive in the lanes as well as motorcycles, but so can single passenger cars with an EZ Tag to pay a toll. In fact, during non-rush hour times, the EZ tag is required for all vehicles in the lanes. If a single passenger car drives in the lanes without an EZ Tag, it is a fineable offense. There have been a lot of fines issued lately.

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the toll roads in Houston and how much of a rip-off they are, but now the county is really going after that revenue. On any given day in either direction, I see at least four cars pulled over at different spots in the managed lanes. All of them single passenger cars with—I can only imagine—no EZ Tag. One afternoon, the managed lanes were backed up as bad as the main lanes were. Five lanes in the main lanes and both managed lanes were at a standstill. This usually happens when there is a wreck in or near the managed lanes as people tend to rubberneck a lot. As I neared the heart of the congestion, I saw several lights flashing—typical of a wreck. It was, however, nothing of the kind. Four Harris County constable cars had each stopped a different car at the same time at the same place. Four drivers getting tickets caused all the traffic to come to a near standstill during rush hour.

There are two toll booths (really they are just monitoring stations, since the tolls are paid by EZ Tag, there is no need to man them) with at least one constable cruiser parked in each direction. Yesterday, I noticed the constable standing on the concrete barricade with a pair of binoculars looking down the road for what I suspect are HOV Violators. This morning, I passed the booth and noticed there were five constable cars parked at the standby waiting to pounce on unsuspecting violators. In both cases, traffic slowed past the point of safety to annoying. Not out of fear of getting pulled over—everyone slows to the speed limit when they notice a police car—but out of fear of hitting the officer who was in a dangerous position, or one of the cruisers that were parked too close to the lane.

I can understand the county trying to make up a budget shortfall by collecting fines. That is understandable and since I am a law-abiding citizen, I have no problem paying for any mistakes I might make. What is most irksome to me is the length to which these officers are going to catch the violators. They are creating unsafe conditions in their zeal to write tickets. Are there not more pressing needs for law enforcement in our community than HOV/EZ Tag violators? I’m not saying to ignore them or give them a free pass, but surely 10 constables lying in wait at rush hour is a bit much.

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The “Open” Road?

The open road calls to people the world over to get out and drive, to see the countryside, to go places. We enjoy the freedom of going wherever one wishes on the roads which are open to the public. The US has one of the more expansive highway systems in the world and the maintenance of all that concrete and asphalt has created several agencies at several levels to administrate it. Of course, with all those agencies—the department of transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Public Transportation to name a few—comes the need to fund them. This does not include the actual construction and upkeep of the roads themselves either. Americans pay fees for driver’s licenses, license plates, vehicle registration and in some states, property tax in addition to fuel taxes in order to fund the highway system and the states get funds for the federal highway system from the Federal government which is paid for by income taxes. So since we pay over and over again for these roads, why then do we have toll roads? We pay an ever-increasing amount of money in tolls to drive along sections of road that, by definition, are no longer “open.”

The interstate system has traditionally been funded by the federal government but maintained by the counties through which the roads pass. The states and counties also tax the citizenry who use the roads to pay for this maintenance. This system worked fine for decades. Then cities began to grow and wanted more and better roads than the existing system could fund.

In Houston during the 50s, the city determined that the I-610 loop was going to quickly become insufficient for traffic management to avoid traffic jams downtown so they commissioned an outer loop called the beltway. In the 70’s, they built a section between I-45 and Hwy 59 called it the north belt and people drove on it waiting for the complete loop to be finished. The project languished for years because the city didn’t have the money to pay for the completion until, in 1982, the city passed a bond referendum to establish the toll authority. The idea being that the users of the road would pay for its construction.

Ever since its completion, the city has become so reliant on the revenue from the toll booths, that several more toll ways have been added and many more are on the drawing board. The sad part is that we continue to pay these tolls long after the construction costs have been defrayed. In fact, so many people use the Westpark toll way that HCTRA considered raising the tolls merely to discourage people from using it.

In order to maximize revenue and ease congestion, HCTRA installed EZ Tags so that drivers don’t have to slow down to pay the tolls. Money is simply charged to a credit card automatically when a driver uses the system. They do aid in traffic flow, but more to the point, HCTRA now doesn’t have to pay someone to sit in the booth and collect the money. The Westpark toll way is entirely EZ Tag and several exits off the Beltway are as well. In fact, the managed lanes of I-10 require an EZ Tag if you do not qualify for the High Occupancy Vehicle access during set hours.

If they are making so much money from the toll booths and EZ Tags, why then do we still have to pay such high fees to drive our cars or get our licenses or registrations or even our gas? It seems to me that if we continue to pay tolls to drive on these roads as well as the new batch of coming toll roads such as the Grand Parkway toll way, we should pay less for our vehicle registrations and fuel tax.

I have been driving in Houston since 1980 and I have driven all over this country and others. On a cool sunny day with the windows open or the top down, a drive along a lonely country road taking in the sights, enjoying the scenery and going new places still stirs the heart. There’s nothing like a drive in the country answering the call of the open road, but with all the tolls one must pay, it seems these days it’s calling collect.

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Driving Rush Hour Courtesy

The automobile is one of the pinnacles of technology. Once considered a diversion for the rich, it has driven society to the level of advancement we currently enjoy and has risen to the level of necessity for all income levels. So significant is its place in society that many jobs hinge on applicant’s possession of a car. Without the car, not only would the economy tank, but municipal revenue streams would dry up as registration fees, road taxes and license fees vanish. Governments have whole departments dedicated to regulating the use and possession of a car. Unfortunately, even with all the regulations, restrictions and requirements, many people seem unable to understand the simple concept of how to operate one courteously.

Once was a time when the obtaining of a license required study and practice and testing. When a candidate successfully passed the driver’s exam, it was a cause for celebration. Oh, sure, in the earliest days of automobiles, there were no rules or licenses. My grandmother told the story of how her older brother would—at the age of 14—drive his sisters around the family farm in their father’s old model A. The girls would cling to the doors while standing on the running boards. Such a maneuver today would get all the children arrested and the parents charged with reckless endangerment.

Today, it seems, the once-rigid requirements have gotten lax. Either that, or people are just rude. While driving on interstate 10 this morning, one particular driver of a light-colored Toyota SUV demonstrated the extreme swing of the rudeness pendulum. For those who don’t know, I-10 is 12 lanes wide and literally thousands of cars traverse that artery between the hours of 6 am and 8 am. Even with that many lanes, traffic slows to a crawl in many places so no one in their right mind should expect to fly through at the posted speed limit, let alone any faster.

Well, this morning while heading to work, the traffic was flowing fairly quickly for rush hour. I was actually driving at the posted speed limit and had the recommended 2-second buffer space in front of me. It had just occurred to me that I might get to work early when this SUV came flying up behind me and quickly started riding my bumper. I’m doing between 65 and 70 and this idiot begins flashing his brights in my mirror indicating his insistence that I move over so he can go faster. There was a line of cars in front of me doing the same speed as I was, mind you, so even if I felt gracious enough to give him the lane, he wasn’t going to go anywhere. Besides, there was no room in the next lane for me to get in—and they were going slower in that lane than I was. So, I ignored him—at first. He flashed his lights again. Well, now he’s getting me angry. I slowed down. I pulled into the next lane as if to go around me. I sped up. He got back behind me again. I paced the next lane.

We played this game until I got to my exit, where I pulled over. I had not even gotten my vehicle half-way into the lane when he guns his engine and swerves wildly around me to the left, honking his displeasure as he accelerated. Of course, he sped about 50 feet before slamming on the brakes again for the car in front of him. This was rush hour traffic, after all. There is no shortage of cars in front of you. As I existed, I spied him flashing his brights again.

I had all but forgotten this incident when I left the office. Getting onto I-10 to come home, this F-150 almost drives over me to get into my lane so he can have a better position on the interstate on-ramp. After I passed him, I drive on toward home, noting the police cruiser with the officer texting on his cell phone. Once the traffic spreads out and speeds pick up to posted limits, I’m driving along—minding my business—when a white SUV flies by, cutting into my lane and give me an obscene arm gesture.

Now, look people. If someone is going five miles per hour over posted speed limits in rush hour, they are not impeding you. You are just an idiot for trying to drive so fast in rush hour traffic. Get a grip on yourself and realize the whole world is not about you besting your commute time. There are a thousand other cars sharing the road and those drivers and passengers have lives every bit as important to them as yours is to you.

There should be some kind of metric to measure courtesy, and if a driver’s license applicant doesn’t score high enough on the courtesy scale, they don’t get a license. And if they are pulled over, or involved in an accident, there should be a courtesy-alyser spot test that the officer can give. If you fail, you get a ticket, or your license revoked. Maybe if it is regulated, people will remember what common courtesy is. But then again, maybe they won’t.

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