View from Suburbia: Thrustmaster, the Yellow Gate, and Garage Culture

One of the signs along my way home, photoshopped, the way my imagination does it every day.

Fifteen minutes was about all that it used to take for me to get home from work, and after checking the mail and changing clothes, Annie and I’d take our walk, sometimes making a circuit to the edges of Memorial Park, but more often than not, just to “our” little Camp Logan Park, where we’d meet up with friends of both the human and canine kind.  I’d often drop my little digital camera into my pocket and take shots of flowers or interesting bits of architecture, signs, or anything else that caught my eye along the way.  The yellow metal gate at a house just down the street was one of my favorite points of interest.

Yeah, so? Maybe the commute does make my mind go a bit far afield. But what really goes on inside a place called "Thrustmaster"?

Now, most of the first hour after I head out my office is spent wending my way home on a mish-mash of freeways and roads in front of, behind, and alongside the thousands of other Houston commuters performing that same daily ritual.  As I get closer to home, the  small, mostly petroleum-related industries along 529  help stimulate my imagination, because the radio certainly doesn’t.  I have thought for a long time that Houston has the worst selection of radio stations anywhere in the U.S. and my drive home has only proven it.

Once home, I’m greeted by Annie, she runs out to the backyard to perform some of her daily rituals, and then we’re off for our evening walk.  First, we’re off to the communal mailbox around the corner to see what bills and advertisements there are (some expected some not, but there are sure to be some every day).

Once we see that nothing too unexpected has arrived in the mail, we start off on our walk around the neighborhood, sub-division, I guess some would say.  I like my neighborhood, especially my little cul-de-sac street and the next couple of ones which have large, mature trees and a nice homey feel.  But soon after we leave our street, the houses become newer and the large trees fewer.  Unlike in the old neighborhood in town, there’s no real park to head for; there is a kids’ play area on the far side of the sub-division, which can serve as a destination, but nothing much that would be worth taking photos of.

In reality, our neighborhood feels like it’s surrounded by a moat.  Driving out of it is no problem, but walking is another matter because the major streets on either side have big ditches next to them with no sidewalks, and the other two sides have high wooden security fences.  I suppose this is the way the developers designed this sub-division (and when I start paying attention, I realize it’s the same for many others), so even though there’s a Walgreen’s and other small businesses and services no more than a quarter of a mile away, it’s not that easy to get there on foot.  Adjacent to the sub-division are an elementary school, a junior high, and a parochial school, but because of the ditches, kids can’t really walk to them.

Likewise, when Annie and I continue on our evening walk, we’re limited.  Consequently, we take almost the same one or two paths every night, and while the houses aren’t as cookie-cutter as in some suburbs, there aren’t many interesting features like yellow gates.  Our walk, though, does give us some exercise and time to smell and think.  She does more of the smelling than I do.  Hopefully, I do more of the thinking.

Suburbia definitely has a different lifestyle.  One thing I’ve noticed here is people and their garages.  When I lived near Memorial Park, though I lived in an apartment, the people I met at the dog park generally lived in the surrounding townhouses, which, of course, had garages.  I’d hear stories about how someone had left a garage door open for a few minutes, and during that short time, bicycles or other items had been stolen.  Therefore, most of time, unless a car was going in or out or perhaps was being washed in the driveway, garage doors were kept closed.  Even when they were open, what I noticed, but hadn’t given much thought too before, was that aside from cars and maybe a few stored boxes and other items, the garages in my old neighborhood basically were used for keeping the cars.

And that was one of the big reasons I wanted a house–to have a garage to keep my car out of the elements and in a more secure place.

But here in suburbia, the garage is part of the life.  It seems as if there is almost a garage culture.  For one thing, people here must feel much safer.  When Annie and I walk, we see many garages left wide open, sometimes with cars inside but more often not.  These garages appear to be used not primarily for car storage, but as some type of game room or party room.  What struck me the most is how many of these open garages have TVs–big TVs– in them, which are almost always turned on, whether anybody is around or not.  Not that it’s just the TVs.  There are bars and recliners and other such items that add to this party room element.  One garage has a glass door into the rest of the house and another has an entire dining room set up.  Perhaps some of these garages are being used as “the man room”.  I have to laugh at that.  I’m wondering if any gay guys have ever felt the need to have a “man room”.  I mean whether you’re single or attached, if you’re gay, every room in your apartment or house is yours, you don’t have to escape, so is there any need to have a “man room”?  And then again,  if there were a need, what would be in it?  I’m just saying.

All of this “garage culture” has been a sort of revelation to me, a former apartment dweller, who only wanted a garage for a place to keep the car and as a place to putter and paint.  I had to ask myself if I was being nosy giving so much attention to what people in my neighborhood have in their garages, but in the end, I decided that I was just noticing what there was to notice, because when the neighborhood “moats” limit how far you can walk and when there aren’t any attractions like yellow metal gates, you notice what there is to notice.

A Bit of Culture Shock in the Suburbs or “I Want My Barnes & Gay-ble”

From the most recent issue of "The Advocate," contained in an article about some of the young organizers of the National Equality March. (If you're someone who doesn't agree that this about one of the most tender images you've ever seen, you'd probably better click right back to the site you were on before.)

Last night another go at the turkey I had baked over the weekend wasn’t going to be my supper, so after getting home and walking Annie, I decided to head up the road to Stripcenterolandia.

One of the benefits of living in my new (new to me) house is that I’m actually closer to all kinds of shopping than I had when I lived close to downtown.  Before, I had to drive at least 3 miles to the super market and about 10 if I wanted a megastore like Walmart or Home Depot.  Now, even though I live more than 20 miles from downtown, I have, within “spittin’ distance” at the corner of Highway 6 and 529, more shopping opportunities than I really need.  I don’t even have to cross the main intersection to get to both Home Depot and Lowe’s, and if I do decide to wait at the never-changing light to make that journey across all those lanes of traffic, there’s Target and Walmart and almost every other smaller chain retail store that one might think of.  Without crossing the corner, I can get treats for Annie at PetSmart, a new camera at Best Buy, or something to read at Barnes & Noble.

Even with all the great shopping nearby, every time I go out to buy groceries or just check out the other stores, I almost go into culture shock.  Yes, the demographics of 77084 are not the same as those of 77007.  77007 is the land of the singles and couples.  Whether straight or gay, young or old, people either come “one to a package” or at most two.  And while the two might be married, or not, kids are not usually part of the deal, even if they have some.  Most of the time the couples are young, so no kids yet, or older, empty-nesters, with the kids happily off to college or now married with offlings of their own.

Not so in the land of 77084.  Can you say f-a-m-l-i-e-s?  So it’s kids dancing in the canned goods aisles of the HEB, kids punching at Dad outside the McDonald’s, kids begging for something they want anywhere and everywhere.

OK.  It’s not that I didn’t expect that.  I just didn’t expect it in such a big way.  I just miss all my single people and my coupled people, my without-kids people, who had some sense of my existence and my space when waiting in the check-out line, who, even though they may not have spoken a word to me, make me feel that I wasn’t  alone.  (However, I love my house, and living in 77084, I can afford this house.  If this house were in 77007, I couldn’t touch it.  I’m just whining to be whining on a cold night.)

Last night, after polishing off my Angus burger, I decided to hit the strip with PetSmart, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble.  At least, at PetSmart, there’s a bit of kinship with the other petlovers.  The Best Buy is typical, stocked with all the electronic gadgets.I thought it would be great to have a Barnes & Noble Bookstore down the road.  Finally, I stopped in at Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble has always been a retreat for me, no matter whether it was the store near where I lived or one in a city that I was just passing through.  Last night, I thought I’d buy a 50% calendar with the gift card I had been given for Christmas.  I remembered looking at the selection when everything was full price and hadn’t been tempted by anything, and the reduced price didn’t help with the selection. I browsed through the books, but nothing lured me either.  What does this store have the biggest selections of? All kinds of stuff for home schooling and aisle after aisle of religious stuff.  The gay and lesbian section is housed on two bottom shelves, but as I looked closely there were fewer than ten gay books, the rest were definitely lesbian.  I faired no better in the magazine section.  The really don’t want people to browse the magazines in this store; their selection is all stuffed together on four stands directly at the front of the store, and whoever is in charge of the magazines needs a short course in organization.  I couldn’t find any gay magazines; likewise, there were hardly any of the typical soft-core skin magazines for straight men like other bookstores usually have.  Maybe the person who decides on which magazines this store will stock is the same person who fills half the store with religious materials.  This is beyond culture shock!

My little evening outing reminded me that I still hadn’t changed my address for my Advocate and Out subscriptions.  Today I found out that it’s very hard to do online.  After much searching, I changed tactics and found the numbers in the magazines themselves.  It’s easy to do.  A real person answers the phone, and because they are published by the same company, if you change your address for one, your address is automatically changed for the other (as I found out with my second call).  So for anyone who wants to change your address for The Advocate or Out magazines, call one of these numbers: (800) 792-2760 or (800) 827-0561.

I’ll probably go back to this Barnes & Noble.  Maybe ordering some gay books and picking them up at the store will get them to add to their selection.  Maybe I can shock their culture a little bit.

Funeral for a Pine

Dead PineI’m not religious and I don’t mind admitting it.  I’ve never had any meaningful conversations with god or felt any kind of emotion enveloping me when I enter any kind of church, temple, or mosque, be they a small roadside chapel or a huge medieval cathedral.

On the other hand, I can feel a spirit in trees.  I can’t say whether it’s anything really spiritual emanating from a tree or just the incredible ornateness that I see in their trunks, limbs, and leaves.  I think I’ve felt a kinship with trees ever since I was a boy climbing up into their boughs or walking among the ones that grew alongside the banks of the Smoky Hill River near our farm.  With my siblings older and basically out of my everyday life, I often played or just spent time watching the quiet world with trees around me, mostly elms and oaks.

There’s a wonderful grove of live oak and other trees in the triangle near the swimming pool, which I always feel a connection with each time Annie and I walk by.  I have the idea of making a quilt that would be a representation of those trees, but how I can transform pieces of fabric into the spirit of these tress just hasn’t come to me yet.

A couple of these trees were damaged last year by Hurricane Ike, and a great many more wered downed by the strong winds of the storm thoughout the park.  People who live near the park have told me of the loud booms that exploded from a number of huge pine trees when their trunks cracked and broke, finally falling onto the ground.

In our small, Camp Logan Park, which is only a short, couple of blocks from Memorial Park, the trees withstood Ike’s torment, but most of them, for a long time, appeared to be in a kind of shock.  Of course, some had lost branches and had their leaves battered, but they seemed to be reviving during last winter.  Then came the long dry spell this spring.  Several months back, it was obvious that a couple of the smaller trees were dead, maples, I think.  But the other trees seemed to have deep roots, and even though, the grass in the park became dry and brittle, the bigger trees appeared to be doing OK.

Dead Pine TrunkThen about a month and a half ago, the biggest and probably oldest tree in the park began showing brown needles on some of its branches, and little by little the entire tree turned brown, still with hundreds of dry cones attached.  I’m not a dendrologist, so I have no idea why this majestic pine tree died, maybe the dry weather, maybe because of the hurricane, or perhaps some kind of disease.

All I know is an orange X recently appeared on its thick truck, a sure sign that the city soon will come to cut it down.  I know too that the living spirit that breathes out of other trees no longer comes from this glorious ghost.

Post Mortem

It was lucky that I took the pictures of the tree when I did; the tree was cut down the next day (yesterday).  I don’t know what happened to the main trunk but a lot of large branches and limbs are still laying in the ditch awaiting pick up.

Today (October 15th), I counted the rings as best I could and aproximated 100; another park-goer said he had counted 95.  That means that this tree was here when the Camp Logan Riots took place and before this was a residential area.

Even though the tree was big, many of the rings were very narrow.  I took my measuring tape and the diameter of the stump is 4 feet 8 inches at the widest point.  Here, two of the neighborhood Westies, Luke and Lexy, are sniffing out the edges of the stump, which obviously had absorbed a lot of varying types of moisture over the years.Luke and Lexy at the stump

Come Take a Walk to the Park with Annie

Annie Resting on the Bench

Annie Resting on the Bench

Having a dog means walking, or at least, it should mean that. I’m so fortunate that I live within “spittin’ distance” from what I think is one of the nicest parks anywhere, Memorial Park in Houston. Annie and I are out the door, and within five minutes we can be to the edge of the park. For the both of us, there always seems to be something new to see, or in her case, to sniff. This evening she got to sniff, and I snapped some photos.

Here are some of the highlights of our walk this evening.

Bright Yellow Trumpets

Bright Yellow Trumpets

Dwarf Magnolia Blossom

Dwarf Magnolia Blossom

Orange Trumpets Along the Road With the Park Behind

Orange Trumpets Along the Road With the Park Behind

Tiny Purple Flowers with Seed Pods Like Miniature Bananas

Tiny Purple Flowers with Seed Pods Like Miniature Bananas

A Shiny Pot and Palms Near the Esplanade

A Shiny Pot and Palms Near the Esplanade

The Majestic Oak Tree Shading the WOW Roundabout

The Majestic Oak Tree Shading the WOW Roundabout

Flowering Vines Overhanging the Yellow Gate

Flowering Vines Overhanging the Yellow Gate

The Wonderful Century Plant Crowding the Walk

The Wonderful Century Plant Crowding the Walk

A Walk to the Park with Annie

Bougainvillea and a Mailbox

Bougainvillea and a Mailbox

Annie and Azaleas

Annie and Azaleas

On This Side of the Path

On This Side of the Path

What great days we have been having here in Houston since I got back from Colorado–nice clear afternoons with a cool breeze. Annie and I took our walk through part of Memorial Park, starting out just at 5 PM. In my pocket, I carried my new little camera (Nikon Coolpix S230) to try it out on some of the sights we might see.

Flags Behind the Fence (Yes, I know they're irises, but we always called them flags on the farm.

Flags Behind the Fence (Yes, I know they're irises, but we always called them flags on the farm.)

Color Pops

Color Pops

Christmas in February? Or Maybe Even March? How About April? These Blossoms Bring Out the Spirit Even If They Are A Bit Confused

March 8th--The first of the yellow buds to open.  It's just the palest of yellow with a bright pink stamen.  The pinks are still going.  Their flowers seem to last a long time.

March 8th--The first of the yellow buds to open. It's just the palest of yellow with a bright pink stamen. The pinks are still going. Their flowers seem to last a long time.

April 1st--And it's no April Fool's joke.  This is a single blossom on a plant that was in full bloom before Christmas.

April 1st--And it's no April Fool's joke. This is a single blossom on a plant that was in full bloom before Christmas.

It’s just the most pleasant Saturday morning. It’s crazy, but every weekday morning when I have to pull myself out of bed, I tell myself, “Wait ’til Saturday,” knowing that I’ll be able to take Annie out for her morning “ablutions” (damn, I thought that word was spelled with an ‘O’, I guess I got it confused with “abolition”, ha) and crawl back into bed for another round of sleep. However, it seems that each week, by Friday, I’m ready to get myself into bed at a normal person’s bedtime, so Saturday morning, no matter the weather, I’m fairly awake and the warm bed doesn’t pull me back in.

There are never enough pictures of Annie!  She "sits" with the Christmas cactus.

Feb. 28th--There are never enough pictures of Annie! She "sits" with the Christmas cactus.

This Saturday morning is no exception. It’s quite pleasant outside, not warm at all but fresh feeling and fresh smelling (the air, not me–yet), but there are some clouds in the north that look as if they might bring some showers or, perhaps, keep the day on the grey-side. However, even the prospect of rain didn’t push me back under the covers, so while my coffee was brewing (Saturdays and Sundays only), I got all my plants–inside and out–watered.

Most of the time I have no plants inside, but late in December, because I was going out of town for the holidays, I brought in my Christmas cactuses, most of which were already in full bloom, although the flowers in each pot were in varying stages of being at their peak: the nearly white one had already passed its best moments; the fuschia had many blooms but some had already dropped off; the new yellow one, which I had just bought at the Farmer’s Market, was completely aglow; the true red one, which may be my favorite as a Christmas plant, had buds that were just starting to open; the smallest one, which comes from pieces that have dropped from the others, had the tiniest of buds on the ends of its leaves.

One gorgeous, but lone blossom.  This red plant was in full bloom right after Christmas.  This one came back out of jealousy, I think, because of the pink.

Feb. 28th--One gorgeous, but lone blossom. This red plant was in full bloom right after Christmas. This one came back out of jealousy, I think, because of the pink.

When I returned home ten days later, the Christmas cactuses looked a sad lot sitting there on the window sill, except for the red one, which is perhaps the hardiest; there were just a lot of dried-up blossoms hanging from the plants or already dropped onto the sill and floor. Even the little one had lost its buds, the ones I had been so curious to know what color (or wishful thinking–what colors) they would be. After about a week, even the Christmasy red had finished its blooming. “So that was that,” I said to myself, thinking that I would have to wait another year for the colorful show that these small plants make just once a year.

Feb. 28th--The yellow one has some buds too.  They are much slower to open than the others.

Feb. 28th--The yellow one has some buds too. They are much slower to open than the others.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, as I was watering them, I noticed something on the small plant that hadn’t bloomed. “Were those little nubbins on the ends of some of the leaves buds?” I hoped. “Or maybe just new little leaves.” But in a day or so, I could see for sure. Buds! So thinking what else I could do for good measure, I stuck in about half of one of the Miracle Grow fertilizer sticks that I had found hidden away. And just to be fair, each of the other plants got a piece too.


Feb. 21st--Taken with the still setting on my Everio Camcorder because my digital camera has decided to go retro and take pictures like it's the 60s on LSD--not bad quality for a camcorder still, huh?

Now here we are, February 21st, and this small Christmas cactus is giving out its happy show of color! Theses are just the first blooms, there are at least 10 more buds in varying stages, that will be opening in the weeks to come. And as if not to be outdone, both the yellow plant and the red on either side of this one have buds, though just a few. I’m anxious to see the yellow blossoms again, because I never really had time to appreciate them in December.

It’s amazing really, how nature will surprise us, and give us so much joy.

It’s these surprises and differences in nature that always seem to wow us. Why is it when it comes to people, so many of us search for those that are familiar and those who are most like we are, and tend to push away the ones who are different?

Why is it that we don’t find joy in the amazing differences that others have?

Feb. 28th--This bright pink Christmas cactus is just going strong.  No blossom has even dropped off since they started opening more than a week ago.

Feb. 28th--This bright pink Christmas cactus is just going strong. No blossom has even dropped off since they started opening more than a week ago.

Maneuvering the WOW (A Short Film with No Intermission)

They have a lot of roundabouts in Europe, but, comparatively, there aren’t so many, of what many of us call traffic circles, on this side of the Atlantic. I remember one of the first I ever encountered in a car was in Sheffield, England years ago. I had a hard time maneuvering this circle, not only because I hadn’t ever had to traverse one before, but I was also driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life. Whatever I did was obviously wrong because other drivers started honking at me, something the polite British seemed to rarely do.

This is the WOW at Westcott and Washington. I see some drivers, who themselves obviously haven’t encountered very many traffic circles before, trying to make their way around it, deciding which lane they need to be in, and finally figuring out which street to exit on. I’ve seen some get so confused that they go all the way around it before realizing that they are back where they entered the circle. I’ve seen semi trucks crunching up the curb and squeezing out cars. I’ve even seen a few fender benders and almost have been in more than one because drivers in the other lane try to make a fast move into mine. Even worse is that very few drivers pay attention to the yield-for-pedestrians-in-the-crosswalk signs, some of them even “gunning” their engines because, despite seeing the man and his little dog, they want to beat him to the crosswalk so they don’t have to wait for them to cross.

Most people that have lived in Memorial Park area for some time really like the roundabout. The WOW works so much better than the old intersection of five streets, where cars backed up at the never-ending red lights. Not only that but the traffic circle adds character to the neighborhood, especially with its old Live Oak tree (which came through Hurricane Ike practically unscathed) standing majestically in the middle.

Even with some near misses and encounters with a few arrogant drivers, I like the WOW too; thus, I’m using it as the setting for one of my first attempts at making a little video on my very recently purchased Everio camcorder. (And by the looks, I still need a great deal more practice.)