Monthly Archive: March 2007

Flying out of Houston

My first business trip to Houston was actually my second trip there. My first trip to Houston was in 2001 when I bought a car on Ebay (a Mercedes 300TE wagon), then drove it home. It was a nice trip. I stopped in Bouluxi, Missisippi when I got too sleepy to drive and got a hotel room for the night. Anyhow, leaving for the airport on this recent trip I was driving from Webster, Texas to the airport. As I stopped at a turn light at the on ramp to the Interstate, there was a slight moment–less than a second–when I quickly ascertained that no traffic was moving and I could turn right on red, which I did. Maybe a second later I saw the blue light in my rearview mirror of a motorcycle cop, one of Webster’s finest, who induced me to pull over into the road leading into a shopping mall. I explained my situation: I have a flight. I was here for a NASA meeting. “Did you see the sign saying NO RIGHT TURN ON RED?” he said. “No,” I said. “A woman crossing the street almost got run over there recently,” he said. I apologized profusely. After thoroughly checking me out on his computer, he let me go with a warning. God bless Webster, Texas’ finest. As I neared the airport, the directions to the rental car place included all companies except the Alamo brand I needed to return. A call to Alamo got me bad directions, so there I was, heading in the wrong direction, which intuitively I figured out. I pulled off the road and called again, this time getting better directions. People drive fast in Texas. That’s fine. I love it. But, I’m used to Orlando and now, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. (When I lived in Fort Worth, the speed limit was 55 mph on the Interstate and on the loop around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex it was a rare soul doing less than 80 mph. It was common to see people routinely do 100 mph.) I must cross two lanes and turn left as I get back on the road, which doesn’t seem to be a main thoroughfare. As I pull out to cross the two lanes, a car going a very high rate of speed comes along in the lane I want to pull into, so I stop straddling the lane (no choice). Now I’m driving a Ford Taurus, which over ten years ago I told myself I’d never rent again, yet, here I am in one, because I made the mistake of giving the bull another chance. (Yes, this car is a dog. Anyway, there’s no human way one can get it into reverse with the sloppy shifter and backup in a couple of seconds.) This last part is important, because when I stopped I observed on my left a large SUV-type pickup truck moving directly towards my driver’s door at a very high rate of speed. There was no time to backup (as noted). I had the sudden thought that it was not my intention to have it all end, not my expectation to give up the game, here in Houston this morning, hurrying to catch a plane. The second and a half or so it took the pickup truck zooming towards my door quickly passed. Right as he approached me, he managed to stop his truck a few feet away. He was laughing. I pointed in the direction of the car that cut me off in explanation, then managed to back the clunky, new Ford Taurus off the road. When I finally made it to the rental car return, I boarded the shuttle to the airport most gratefully and have never been so happy to be sitting in an airport shuttle.


Spent the day in a Technical Interchange Meeting here at a conference center. Saw an interesting video this morning about the new journey back to the moon and saw the launch manifest of vehicles from about the next 15 years. The ship going to the moon is rather big. It oughtta be, considering they are planning on establishing a permanent base on the moon. Had a “business” lunch at a great Mexican restaurant, Mom Alone. Impeccable service, great food, and, when I asked the woman alone at the cash register if she was Mom, she verified that indeed she was. When I bought a Mercedes on Ebay several years ago and flew to Houston to pick it up and drive it to Florida, I talked about what there was to do in Houston with the salesman, who was from Iran. (We ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant, and when I offered him some hummus–a favorite of mine–, he recoiled in horror, saying, “No! That’s Arab food.!” I recall from business school that a deal was lost when a person insensitively spoke of the “Arabian Sea” to the wrong person. Try “Persian Sea” or whatever.) My Iranian salesman remarked that it was so hot in Houston that people went to restaurants and ate a lot, not having a lot of recreational opportunities in the heat. Not sure what the connection is, but in as expanse of road I was driving today I saw so many good-looking restaurants that it seemed that within a few miles you could eat at a different good restaurant every day for months. Like Fort Worth, there are a lot of fat people here. Too hot to exercise? I don’t use fat as a pejorative term. If I were fat, I’d own up to it. Being fat is something people take seriously. When I was working at Disney, I heard a woman had complained that when she wanted to buy a shirt, they didn’t have her size: XXXL. Disney took this complaint seriously. Disney takes every word a guest says seriously, and analyzes it with the highest level people who can be hired. Impressive operation. Fat. A woman was at the back of the plane I arrived on. Before we took off, she couldn’t fit in her seat. They had to get two people in first class to move so they could sit her down up there. I didn’t laugh or make fun. After all, she’s going to Houston, where the streets are paved with restaurants. I decided I wanted a salad. Tooling down the street, I saw the neon sign: SALAD EXPRESS. Turning lane time. Other restaurants all over the place, I noticed as I got out of the car. As I approached the door, a woman exited, about the same size as the woman who couldn’t sit in coach. The biggest salad bar I’ve ever seen, all fresh. Baked potatoes, soup, fruit, Mexican tacos, ice cream, brownies, etc. For a nominal price–all you can eat. It would take weeks to sample everything here (if you ate once a day). I put my backpack in a booth, then head to the salad bar–a long, deep one. A young lady has started just in front of me. It’s slow going, as I wait for her, slightly annoyed as she yacks on the phone. Slowly, she progresses. Although I’m not intentionally listening to her conversation, I cannot help but discern that she’s talking to her mother, who has lost a lot of weight. The woman says she’s trying to lose weight, too. Step by step, I move down the line. As we reach the end, I look at her. Although I realize it’s the height of rudeness to comment on someone’s private conversation, I find myself saying, “You won’t lose any weight eating here.” She looks at me, smiles, and says, “No. I live on the road anyway. this is all for me” (this last with a firm finality). As I sat eating my salad, I observed several heavyset women, some of normal weight, and a few fat ones. Obesity really is a problem in the U.S. I got small seconds on the salad, a bowl of Italian chicken soup, some fruit and a little apple-nut-coconut-etc. concoction, which, when I was eating I felt my belt getting dangerously tight. I definitely gained some weight in the brief time I was in Houston. Back at the hotel, I decide it’s time to hit the pool, it having been a year and a month since I last used my total immersion swimming skills. Putting on my trunks, I exit the door wearing nothing else. Barefoot, I immediately step in some mud on the sidewalk that I momentarily mistake for dog doo. Investigation over, I head for the pool. Stepping into the water, it feels cold. Step by step, I go down until my trunks are wet. Remembering my goggles at the side of the pool, I get out and retrieve them. Getting the goggles, I’m suddenly no longer cold. I start swimming in the small pool diagonally. One breath and a few strokes from one end of the pool to the other. Back balance… A few people come to the window to see what is going on. As always, after the swim I feel younger.