Archive for March, 2009

Preparing for Chuck’s UTMB hearing…

Monday, March 30th, 2009

As I explained back in November, UTMB plans to terminate my Dad’s position come August, despite his tenured professor status. They claimed that the vast costs of Hurricane Ike damage contributed to a “financial exigency,” requiring them to terminate faculty in order to save the university. However, I failed to convey that he has a right to appeal the decision.

UTMB is part of the University of Texas System, which is governed by a statewide Board of Regents. The relevant policies in the Regents Rules allow tenured faculty to contest on two bases:

  • that Chuck was the wrong guy to select, even if faculty terminations were necessary, and/or
  • financial exigency wasn’t actually the initial basis for the decision to terminate faculty.

Chuck is appealing on both counts. He has evidence that a) his department chair made an arbitrary decision to terminate PhDs and keep MDs, without regard to who is capable of teaching the core courses, and b) the University has been trying to terminate research faculty since at least 2006. Further, he has evidence that the selection process did not comport with the protections and procedural requirements set forth in the Regents Rules, even as minimalist and inadequate as they are.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. I offered to help Chuck prepare his appeal because I know it’s important to him. I also recruited my b-school employment law professor to review our work, which he has generously done pro bono. (Thank you, Larry!)

Chuck submits appeal materials
Chuck submitting his appeal materials to the Dean’s office

600-page appeal binder
Chuck’s appeal and supporting documents run nearly 600 pages

family document assembly line
We worked together to assemble five more binders for the panel

We had to finish the appeal document ten days ago so that Chuck could submit it and the evidence for “the other side” to review, which he did. We then spent most of this week turning the materials into five sets of exhibit binders for the hearing panel. What’s left is to outline the most important arguments and evidence for Chuck to convey during the scant two-hour hearing.

While the hearing will be over quickly, the panel has until May 12 to make their recommendation to UTMB’s President. President Callender then has until June 23 to decide whether to overturn Chuck’s termination and allow him to stay. I know the waiting will be hard. Please wish him patience and luck!

In the meantime, Chuck made both his appeal and supporting documents available online for other terminated faculty to draw from. In addition, he agreed to share his story with a reporter from the Galveston Daily News. That led to a front-page story, “UTMB faculty members fight for old jobs,” in Wednesday’s paper.

Also in recent weeks, UTMB has secured some much-needed funds and has begun to rehire staff for the hospital. However, they do *not* seem to be rehiring any of the terminated faculty, which reinforces the notion that UT intends to “bust tenure.”

What’s happening at UTMB has implications for faculty at institutions across the nation. The American Association of University Professors is watching closely and has communicated their concerns to UTMB’s leadership. In addition, the story was picked up in turn by the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Hearings Begin for Laid-Off Faculty Members at Flooded Medical School in Texas.” Here, too, I hope that national scrutiny helps lead local leaders to do the right thing.

Doing our part to support local news…

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

One night while I was working with Michael Cooper, the Times reporter, Bill and I went to dinner with him. Cooper expressed an interest in Tex-Mex and said the only place he’d heard of was Ninfa’s. Bill asked whether he wanted to go to a Ninfa’s or The Ninfa’s, and Cooper asserted that he always prefers the stronger article.

An hour later we were at the original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Much salsa verde, vast Mexican plates, and a few margaritas later, the conversation inevitably turned to the sad state of the newspaper business.

In both Houston and New York, the business and metro sections have been trimmed down and combined. Subscribers are getting less of the news they pay for, and paying more for it. And most readers aren’t paying at all. The Chronicle just laid off 1/4 of their newsroom. There are rumors that Hearst Newspapers may combine the Houston and San Antonio papers, or worse, discontinue them altogether. It’s not clear what will happen to the archives if the paper folds, and the fear on the street is that it’s only a matter of time.

The following morning, Bill observed that we’re part of the problem and we should do something about it. He’s right: we depend on the Houston Chronicle for local news coverage. I also depend on the Chronicle to help get the word out on CTC issues. In the absence of a paper, we would be relegated to graphic “it bleeds, it leads” television coverage that is less in-depth and more difficult to garner. The paper provides a service we value and it’s in our interest to help pay for it.

But up to now, we haven’t. Taking a daily print paper is antithetical to my environmental views and counterproductive in my battle against household clutter. Meanwhile, the online edition is free.

Mobilized by Bill’s urging, I looked again at the Chronicle’s subscription offerings and discovered an e-edition for $5 a month:

Houston Chronicle's 'e' edition

Bill and I signed up on principle. $5 is a pittance to pay to sustain independent local reporting. If you live in Houston or value local Houston news, we encourage you to consider subscribing, too.

And heck, the e-edition may actually have real value. While I’m ambivalent about seeing the news formatted like the print edition, I’m excited about getting access to back OpEds. Because Outlook pieces are written by third parties who retain copyrights, they don’t make it into the Chronicle’s archives and are therefore only available same day online. With our new subscription, I can read them later.

Bob’s work in the New York Times!

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Two weeks ago, I spent two long days working with Michael Cooper, a reporter from the New York Times. Cooper flew to Houston to see the Katy Prairie and learn more about the proposed Grand Parkway. I coordinated his itinerary, chauffeured him to the Prairie and back, showed him around Houston, shepherded him to meetings with a host of local advocates, and accompanied him to dinner. He proved to be a friendly and inquisitive guest.

Cooper, Brandt, Mary Anne
Michael Cooper with Brandt and Mary Anne

Brandt and Stravato
Brandt showing Mike Stravato indigenous prairie flora

The resulting feature, “Stimulus Ideals Conflict on the Texas Prairie” ran on the front page of Monday’s New York Times:

WALLER, Tex. — Over the years the Katy Prairie has survived the cattle ranchers who tamed its fields, the rice farmers who cleared its wildflowers and tall grasses, and even the encroachment of Houston, some 30 miles to the east, whose spiraling outward growth turned most of the formerly lonesome prairie into subdivisions and strip malls.

Now the prairie is facing a new threat: the federal stimulus law.

Texas plans to spend $181 million of its federal stimulus money on building a 15-mile, four-lane toll road — from Interstate 10 to Highway 290 and right through the prairie — that will eventually form part of an outer beltway around greater Houston called the Grand Parkway.

The road exemplifies an unintended effect of the stimulus law: an administration that opposes suburban sprawl is giving money to states for projects that are almost certain to exacerbate it.

A new master-planned community called Bridgeland is rising on the prairie along the proposed site of the road; once completed, the development is expected to have 21,000 new homes on 11,400 acres. Other developers are eagerly awaiting the new road so they can start building on their empty land, too.

Though the road is welcomed by developers, it is bemoaned by transportation advocates who lament that it will lead people to settle far away from the main centers of employment — locking more people into long commutes.

“They should be spending the money where the people are,” said Robin Holzer, the chairwoman of the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, a Houston-based advocacy group, who added that the money would have been better spent on transit or on alleviating congestion on roads through more developed areas.

President Obama made his opposition to sprawl explicit during a trip to Florida last month while he was pushing for the stimulus bill’s passage. “The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over,” he said, urging officials to employ “innovative thinking” when deciding how to spend their transportation money.


As part of the story, we also worked with Michael Stravato, a local photographer who works for the Times. He snapped a great photo of me just north of downtown, which ran (huge! across four columns!) on page A13 of the print edition.

Bob on the Crockett Street bridge over IH-10 and IH-45
Bob on the Crockett Street bridge over IH-10 and IH-45

This is hands-down the best earned media we’ve ever garnered. Not only did Cooper do an excellent job of focusing on the policy questions at the heart of the issue, but also the Times undoubtedly has the widest circulation of any outlet we’ve appeared in. The story prompted emails from friends I haven’t heard from in years as well as a colleague in Congress, giving me hope that our federal decision makers may yet set this issue straight.

Pretty cool, huh?

Tour de Houston 2009 (Part 2): Of Hammerheads, Sunshine and Human Error

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

As Bob writes, below, I did manage not only to start the Tour de Houston (TdH), but also to finish it. While bicycle rides “out in the country” have tended to start between 8 am and 9 am, city rides apparently don’t have that luxury (if a non-competitive running event is a “fun run”, is a non-competitive cycling event a “like bike”? “fun bike”?). For the TdH, the start for the 70 mile ride was at a sleep-challenging 7:15 am. This was made all the more challenging because of a lack of port-a-cans at Discovery Green. Seriously, there was greater capacity at two of the rest stops than there was at the central start/stop location. As a result, I was still “in line” at the point at which my ride “started”. Fortunately, so were a bunch of other people. Since this isn’t technically a race, the start time is really more of a suggestion, right? At least, that is what I tell my inner competition demon.

Anyway, the start was pretty nice, though the spacing was cramped for the number of participants. As Bob’s photo shows, I ultimately swung wide to be sure to get out onto the course in a reasonable grouping (riders were released in bunches).
Start of the 2009 Tour de Houston 70 mile ride

I was pretty juiced with the start. We left Discovery Green and went directly onto the Elysian Viaduct, a pretty nice little warm-up climb. After that, it was up Elysian to within spitting distance of 610, then back around onto Hardy street headed towards downtown. We got to Quitman and hooked a right, and headed into the Heights. There were some light “hills” going up and down the overpasses and the White Oak Bayou watershed, but this course is effectively flat. Reagan High School was our first stop, 10 miles into the ride, with an average speed over 16.5 mph. Gotta love group rides (drafting) in the flats!
More bathrooms here than at the start!

Leaving stop 1, we headed for the heart of the Heights, but there a serious miscommunication occurred. The ride was segmented into three distances: 20 miles, 40 miles and 70 miles. The 20 mile route was a loop from downtown through the Heights and back. The 40 mile route added a 20 mile jaunt down through our Montrose neighboorhood, past Rice University and on through a few neighborhoods near Brays bayou. The 70 mile route added a 30 mile leg up north through Oak Forest and up into western Aldine. We were supposed to do the northern leg last, prior to the finish, but, instead, we were routed onto the northern leg first, or at least some large chunk of the 70 mile riders were. This wouldn’t become a problem for a few hours, but this was definitely a problem.

In any event, we left the Heights behind and headed north up along Ella Boulevard and then TC Jester. Stop 2 was at the 18 mile mark at 43rd and TC Jester, TC Jester Park, a park that is remarkable for two things: it has what looks to be a fairly playable, but well-treed disc golf course, and it has a pool with 5m and 10m diving platforms (these aren’t ever open — too much liability).
Locusts, attack!

The good news about Stop 2 was that it was well-stocked. The bad news was that it would also be Stop 4, and there were apparently no supply ships coming. Ugh! I’m glad I grabbed a couple of nut bars of some flavor there to shove into my pockets. For those considering riding in a “fun bike”, never leave a rest stop empty, if you can help it. Always leave with filled water bottles, preferably with at least one of them filled with Brawndo, and grab a snack pack (e.g., banana, trail bar) to carry with you. Bonking is no fun (more foreshadowing).

About a mile up the road, we were stopped at the light at Tidwell, and a pace line of hammerheads came flying past headed the other way. At this point, I am at mile 19, give or take, and they are flying past mile 34. This was both an inspiring (“hey, I want to do that!”) and a humbling (“hey, I can’t [yet] do that!”) sight. For those curious about what a “hammerhead” is, this is cycling slang for people who are really good/fast. People who “hammer” on a ride. A pace line is a line of cyclists drafting each other so that the collective is faster than the individual. In a well-tuned team, the lead rider will push the pace for a mile or so, and then drop off to let the line pass him or her, where he then tucks into the back of the slipstream.

After that, it was time to put my head down and go. There was another somewhat ill-placed stop at mile 23, but after that, it was taking the loop through Aldine and back to TC Jester park at mile 35, half-way. Having had the locusts visit the stop once before, TC Jester was a LOT more barren than it was when I had come through the first time. The riders are also starting to look a lot more tired than they had a few miles ago. Oh, yeah, the sun is fully out now, and the temperature is headed up.
Locusts attack!

Locusts attack!

Unfortunately, there was no Brawndo here, so I had to settle for slurping down my bottle of Gatorade from the prior stop and refilling with DHMO. It’s not got ‘Lectrolytes. I also savaged one of the two nut bars I had grabbed the first time through so I had some incremental energy to make it through the next 15 miles, since there were only Christmas Tree-shaped pretzels available for snacks (no thanks; it’s March!). I did not know that it was 15 miles to the next stop, but I’m glad I kept some stuff to munch in reserve.

Given the uncertain resupply situation, I think I need to back down on the pace a bit to avoid “bonking” (aka “cratering”, aka experiencing an over exertion body failure or injury). Gotta love those flats, though! Time to head “downhill” (towards the sea) and the southerly leg through our hood.
It's a flat world, after all!

Riding back down TC Jester and into the Heights on 11th Street, I was yet again thankful that the course designers skipped putting us over Mt. TC Jester, the tall overpass that crosses over a rail yard and White Oak Bayou. I can hit upwards of 30mph on the downhill leg of that overpass if I put some effort into it. Anyway, we hit Heights Boulevard, did a squiggle over onto Yale, and then headed south across Memorial Drive and through our neighborhood. That’s where Bob caught a picture of me as we passed through the intersection of Commonwealth and Fairview about mile 44, just four miles shy of the longest I had ever ridden.

Bill racing down Commonwealth

We did a squiggle on Westheimer to get onto Mandell, and then headed for the Rice campus. As we came down out of the Heights and onto Waugh, there was a definite increase in the amount of bicyclists we saw coming at us. Glad to see the 40 milers weren’t all done. However, the cops are starting to get complacent to non-existent, and there are a lot fewer of us in any given pack. I’ve managed to pick up with a group of mostly female riders and a couple of middle-aged and older guys (yikes, like me!), all of whom are asking, “Where do we go next?” Fortunately, I know approximately where we are headed, even though I lost my map pretty quickly into the ride. One of the guys looked like Rice’s Baseball, coach Wayne Graham, but he is plastered to my rear wheel, so I only get a few chats with him at traffic stops (e.g., “Are you doing the MS150 this year? How about you? …”).

After 15 miles since I left TC Jester Park, I finally arrive at Pershing Middle School, and what would turn out to be the final rest stop. It should not have been, but it was. At 51 miles into the ride, the pack is definitely looking ragged and worn-out. Lots of people are off in what little shade is available stretching and resting. Time for more sunscreen, courtesy of the HFD medic tent (in blue, next to Sun-n-Ski). Thanks, guys!
Cruel, cruel sun!

Fortunately, this rest stop had Branwdo, and I loaded up. I made a tactical error, though, and drank another half of a bottle without refilling before setting off. Not smart, Bill. Not smart. No worries, I thought, since we are supposed to have one more trip through the Reagan High School rest stop, so I’m not too worried about running out of juice.

Well, I left Pershing Middle School behind and pedaled back up through the Rice area and Neartown and up into the Heights. Coming up Main, Mandell and Waugh, several of the cops at intersections were starting to pull up the cones for traffic control, which was Not A Good Thing. This took me from a slower, but still aggressive pace to backing down to the staccato pace that embodies safe cycling in a city (coasting into lights, pedaling like hell to get through lights or through dangerous traffic, stopping abruptly when you really can’t make it safely). The average speed starts falling, and the stress level rises a bit.

Needless to say, when we made the turn onto 11th street, I was starting to get excited about Reagan High School, since the sun was really starting to beat down on me (it’s after noon, now), and we were back onto a route that hadn’t been fully released to the cars yet. However, these dreams were crushed cruelly by fate as we were never routed into Reagan High School. Apparently, since we were supposed to do the southern leg first, rather than the northern one, the route we ended up riding did not go back through another rest stop. Yep, 20 miles through urban traffic in 80+ degrees with the fluids you brought with you, if any. Not good. I expect more than a few people had a bad end to their day because of this. At least the few 70 mile riders who got routed (correctly) south initially (apparently some were) did get an extra rest stop at Reagan HS, even if they probably did not have anything but water left for them by the time they made it to TC Jester. Or at least I hope they still had water left!

Having ridden for another 15 miles with no stops, I decided to stop at the top of a small rise along White Oak Bayou for my own impromptu rest stop. Down the hatch went the last half-bottle of Brawndo and a smaller bottle of water. I’ve got five miles left, and nothing left in the tank otherwise. Fortunately, while a little saddle sore, I still felt fairly good. I had to bid my riding group goodbye when I stopped, but five miles solo is no big deal. Of course, there are two “hills” left for the finish (Quitman overpass and Elysian Viaduct), so it could still be interesting.

I headed along White Oak street to where it turns into Quitman, and there, I got stopped by a cop at the intersection of Quitman and the off-ramp from I-45, just prior to the Quitman overpass. Thanks, Deputy Dawg, you couldn’t let a lone cyclist through?!?! I now get to do the climb from a standing start. Time to gear down and Mash!

Pedaling furiously in a low gear, I get up and over Quitman and onto a small downhill from there to Hardy Street. The cop at Hardy and Quitman is picking up his cones, so I’m definitely racing time and traffic now. I look up ahead, and the “big finish” awaits: Elysisan Viaduct, Hardy edition. It’s a nice double-climb, with an initial elevation gain to get over the railroad and a second climb to get over Buffalo Bayou (I guess canoes need extra clearance vs. trains). There is a small group of cyclists on the side of the road who are resting up before tackling it. Nice idea, but I’m out of water and ready to be done. I gear down, look up for my goal point and start to push. And push.

Up ahead on the road, I see a couple of cyclists, and I’m really hauling them in. Yet again, I feel good that my mountain bike and I can keep up with some of the slower gazelles, even if we aren’t as pretty. I fix my gaze on those guys and let the inner predator go: catch ’em and pass ’em. Push.

Then, the guy on the left really starts to slow down. He stops. He falls over. Literally, he came to a dead stop and fell over most of the way up the first incline. I pull over to render aid, if needed, and his buddy/companion/guy-just-happened-to-be-next-to is there as well. The downed cyclist is apparently cramping up and can’t get his feet out of his clips. We detach him from his bike and get some water into him. Unlike me, he has one bottle almost full and one completely full. This is a good thing because I have nothing to offer him, but I suspect I know why he got into trouble. (Brawndo! It’s got ‘lectrolytes! It’s what plants crave!)

The guy catches his breath and starts working out his cramps. A cop car pulls up behind us, blocking traffic, thankfully, since this guy is spread over two lanes. He refuses an ambulance, and I offer to help him stand up and get over to the side of the road. I haul him up, get him situated (the water seems to be helping a lot), see that he’s got coverage, and then resume the rest of the climb.

The best part of a climb is that, generally speaking, there is a nice downhill to complement the up. However, this small joy is ruined if you don’t know whether you are going to get flattened by a car at the other end. Thanks race organizers for not having the right coverage, especially for us slow pokes at the end! I have to ride my brakes coming down the Elysian Viaduct, not getting much over about 22 mph, so that I can stop quickly if a light changes. Back to paranoid traffic mode. Fortunately, the end is very close. Unfortunately, the route to the end is not well-marked. Besides, I paid for a 70 mile ride, and I will get my 70 mile ride, traffic control be damned. So, I overshot Discovery Green, circled back around the George R. Brown and came under the start line, again, only to U-turn for a finish. Not quite the full goal, but it’s hot, I’m tired, and really, I’m pretty disgusted with how the course ended, so it’s time to call it quits for the day.
I'm willing to round-up.

Bill at the finish

Epilog(ue): Well, having proved that I can ride 70 miles at a stretch on my mountain bike with big knobby tires, I don’t feel the need to do that again. After getting cleaned up and having lunch at El Meson in the Rice Village, I went to Bike Barn and added a new steed to the stable.

Tour de Houston 2009! (Part 1)

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

As you have read by now, Bill is training for his first century ride: the BP MS-150 from Houston to Austin. The event is just four weeks away (the weekend of April 18-19), his training is going well, and he’s halfway to his fundraising goal!

To help riders prepare, there are organized rides every weekend from now until the MS-150. This morning, Bill is participating in the fifth annual Tour de Houston, which includes three (untimed) routes through some of Houston’s oldest neighborhoods. Bill is tackling his first 70-mile ride, and Sharon is riding this morning, too, tackling her first 40-mile event! While I can’t imagine riding that far myself, I got up this morning to drive them downtown to the start and see them off:

Into the garage before dawn
Thanks to daylight “savings” time, we got a pre-dawn start

foggy sea of lycra
Discovery Green was a sea of lycra amidst skyscrapers shrouded in fog

Bill at start line
Bill at the start line with the 70-mile group

Bill away
Bill (at left) got away at 7:43 am

Sharon at start
Sharon and the 40-milers got away closer to 8:00 am

parents with trailers
Babes in trailers will go 20 miles today but won’t be sore!

last six away
The last half-dozen headed out at 8:20 am, with HPD at the rear

Both the 40- and 70-mile routes pass within two blocks of our house (on Waugh and Commonwealth), which means I’ll walk down in a few minutes to see if I can catch Bill and Sharon as they cycle by. Look for a post from Bill later with his account of the ride!

Irony is a dish best served piping hot!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

As I was riding this afternoon, it ocurred to me that Hollywood was missing an obvious plot device for an Evil Overlord:

Evil Overlord: Bwahaha! It is almost complete!

Minion: What is it, master?

Evil Overlord: I have almost perfect my Mind Uncontrol ray!

Minion: Mind uncontrol, master? I thought we were working on a mind control ray?

Evil Overlord: Oh, I gave that up weeks ago. Too hard. The Mind Uncontrol Ray is much simpler. Easier. More elegant!

Minion: Sounds stupendous, Master! How does it work?

Evil Overlord: Harnessing the power of cell phone towers, the Mind Uncontrol Ray blankets an area with high-power cell phone rays, making people lose all ability to process information or to make decisions while driving. Imagine, the world will be at a standstill as people will drive around, unable NOT to hit each other. Imagine: the damage, the chaos! The roads will be clogged, the courts will be clogged and people will be forced to walk or to stay home and starve to death unless they agree to do my bidding!

Minion: Oh, so very brilliant, my Master! Sounds exactly like Los Angeles, only better organized!

Yes, in case you are curious, I got hit while on my bicycle by a woman who still had her phone in her hand as she was asking me, “Are you alright?” Fortunately, I had seen that she was not paying attention and had slammed on my brakes to avoid her as she was coming out of her apartment building in her car (this was near Memorial Park, and I was coming uphill on a sidewalk frequented by cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, etc.). I was lucky in that I came to a stop with my front wheel just short and ahead of her front bumper. I was unlucky in that she turned her steering wheel hard to the right so that her front bumper pushed over my front wheel anyway.

How do you miss a 300 pound white man screaming at the top of his lungs, “Look Out!” when he is mere feet from you. Oh, yeah, cell phones.

Where irony comes into the equation is that, on Saturday, a guy, who was also on a mountain bike, asked me whether I had been hit by a car, yet. To which, I had answered that I had been grazed a few times, but never hit outright. Then, today, as I was climbing the fateful hill that would lead to the apartment building’s driveway, I thought to myself, “I hope no one is coming downhill quickly, because I am going fast enough that maneuvering out of the way may be difficult.” Looks like I was right, which is why I can’t blame her 100%, but I really, really hate the irony.

Magnolia Miles: Mad Dog 40/40

Monday, March 16th, 2009

This past weekend, I had planned to do two rides. The first was the Magnolia Miles ride in the northwest exurbs. This was to be my “hill” ride for the week. The other was the Great Escape ride down in Manvel, put on by the Pearland Cycling Club. Given that Manvel is down in Brazoria County, whose highest point is about 30 feet above sea level, one would be charitable calling any elevation change there a “hill”. This was to be mostly for endurance building. OH, but how the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!

Having been home sick this week, it was no surprise to me when the cold front moved in late in the week. Invariably when the temperature drops, rain follows, so the question was not whether the weekend was going to be wet, but which parts. Fortunately, while Friday saw some scattered showers, Saturday morning was fairly dry. However, it was cool. Brisk, even. And that’s coming from me. So, three layers of clothing later, I pack off my bike in the dark and head north.

I get to the race, check-in and grab my t-shirt and marketing collateral (aka my “packet”), haul it back to my car and then head for the starting line. At this point, I’ve already put a half mile on my odometer. Nice, huh? It feels a bit cold, but I think, “I’ll warm up once I have some mileage under my belt.” Oh, yeah, it is 40 degrees and I am on the 41 mile course (hence the post title). And the wind is between 10 – 15 mph, with gusts up to 20 mph.

I ended up not taking a lot of pictures on the trip because a) photography while cycling is dangerous, and b) photography while wearing cold weather gloves is awkward. Yes, I was wearing my good lined leather gloves. It was that cold. Here is what the rest of the riders were wearing at the first rest stop, about 15 miles into the ride:
What does the fashionably smart set wear?
Notice what they have on:

  • Full-length leggings
  • Jackets and/or coats
  • Ear warmers
  • Foot warmers – cute little oversocks that went over the cycling shoes
  • Hard cycling shoes
  • Multiple under layers
  • Rain ponchos

What did I have on? A cotton short-sleeved t-shirt, a thin fleece and a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, cycling shorts and work-out shorts. On my feet were my usual running shoes, and on my hands, my winter gloves. I think the only area where I was really ahead in meeting the elements was on the glove choice. For most of the ride, my hands were fairly comfortable. I can’t say the same for my torso.

You see, despite the air temperature, one does sweat when one engages in vigorous exercise. One might even see all three layers of his clothing get soaked. Then, when one stops, this exposed moisture might then act as a wick to the cold, facilitating rapid cooling of the overheated body. I have rarely had such a disincentive to stop exercising in my life as how cold how quickly the rest stops got.

Sad though it is to say, I am glad the weather “held”, since it only spat rain a bit on us for about a seven mile leg of the course. Granted, that leg was almost all up-hill (gentle, but upwards) and directly into the prevailing wind, but it could have been much worse since the skies basically opened up as I was heading back into town, with 43 miles under my belt. Needless to say, the rain did not really let-up until Sunday afternoon, at which point I had decided to skip the second ride, and just do a brief “mud fest” around the bayous here by our place.

Time to accelerate my search for a replacement anorak for the one I lost about nine years ago. Next week: the Tour de Houston, and my first attempt at 70 miles. On a mountain bike.

Some stories stay with you…

Friday, March 13th, 2009

steam shovel Mary AnneOne of my absolutely favorite books from my childhood is about Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mary Anne.

Mike and Mary Anne work to dig canals, excavate mountain passes for trains, and remove dirt for big projects. They are a good team and they work well together. But as the years go by, new technology brings rivals who can dig more and faster. Mike and Mary Anne are soon out of work.

Determined to prove they are still up to the job, they move to a new town and tackle the challenge of digging the foundation of a new building. Mike and Mary Anne work and work until the foundation hole is complete! But then they realize a problem: Mary Anne is stuck at the bottom of the hole and there’s no way to get her out. What to do?

Mike refuses to leave behind his lifelong friend. In a heroic example of adaptive reuse, he reconfigures his trusty steam shovel as a boiler for the new building, and retires to become the building supervisor. Hooray!

I vividly remember being very concerned when Mary Anne became stuck, and relieved that she found a happy ending. It’s from this perspective that I looked down on the scene below:

TCH foundation dig
Site of Texas Children’s new maternity hospital building

scoop loaders
Two backhoes excavating dirt from the foundation of the new hospital

I took Gran’mom to see an ear-nose-throat specialist last week. From his office, we looked down on the construction site for Texas Children’s new maternity hospital. At first, I was just impressed. But then I noticed not one — but TWO! — Mary Annes working away down there.

I suppose that backhoes can theoretically be adapted into a modern, energy-efficient combined heat and power co-generation plant for the new hospital. But really I hope that their friends help them out of the hole at the end of the day. That would be a happy ending!

Support the Multiple Sclerosis Society?

Friday, March 13th, 2009

For those of you who donate to the MS Society, or are thinking about it, then please also consider helping make me look good to get over my minimum pledge amount ($400). I know times are tough, but every dollar you contribute makes my post-ride pain that much more severe as I feel the need to push my unprepared body that much harder.

Click here if you would like to contribute to either of these worthy causes.

Adventias: Sarah home again after TIA

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Tuesday morning, I met up with several of my CTC colleagues and carpooled downtown. The County Commissioners were scheduled to vote on $9.8 million of engineering contracts for the controversial Grand Parkway toll road (which we are fighting to prevent construction of) at the same time they were considering requesting an investment-grade traffic and revenue study which would determine whether the project is even viable. We had just learned that Sierra Club had filed suit against the state over the project, and the media were showing up in droves. I was ready to testify and it was going to be a dramatic meeting.

But then my phone rang.

The head nurse at Belmont Village said that Gran’mom appeared to be having a major stroke (left side of face droopy, left arm limp, unable to respond verbally) and he was calling 911 to take her to the emergency room. I made quick goodbyes to my colleagues, two reporters, and the County Judge, and caught a cab home. I regrouped and borrowed Sarah’s Honda to drive to the Med Center.

Meanwhile, Sarah started to recover within ~15 minutes from what appears to have been another transient ischemic attack (TIA), like a mini-stroke, but temporary. I heard later that she was flirty and chatty for the “attractive, young paramedics” (her words) who showed up to “rescue” her and transport her to the ER. The nurse told me Sarah joked, “Is this what I have to do to get some attention around here?”

At Methodist Hospital, they did a battery of tests including a CAT scan of her head to rule out major hemorrhaging, a chest x-ray to rule out heart attack, and blood and urine lab work to rule out infection or other imbalances. As her medical power of attorney, I spent the day with her at the hospital shepherding her through the process and holding her hand.

As hospitals go, Methodist is great. And being at Methodist made it easy for Sharon to flash her Methodist lab coat and come visit. Sharon has a gift for helping Sarah calm down and focus, and walking her slowly through what decisions she needs to make. I’m so grateful she took more than an hour out of her work day to join us! She really took the edge off my day.

Sharon and Sarah at Methodist

Fortunately, all the tests came back “normal” and by 3:00 pm they discharged Sarah. I took her back to Belmont, waited while she rested, and stayed to have dinner with her. While it all started out scary, in the end it was mostly just confusing for her and inconvenient for me. What a relief!