Cycling to work on the street

Birch, Newcastle, Mildred, Baldwin, Verone, Wendell, Jim West, Betty, Lula, Oleander, Jonathan, Phil, Jane, and Ione are all streets I either cross or bike along just to get to Bellaire Boulevard. It’s a little under 5 miles each way, and takes about 25 minutes, what with lights at Bellaire, Weslayan, Buffalo Speedway, Kirby, Morningside, and Greenbriar. Cyclone Cycle is always happy to help out, filling our tires, dusting me off after my panier got caught in the rear wheel and flipped me, and it is a delight to have a bike store right on the route in.

My favorite part of the ride is crossing the field under the power lines from Ione to Bellaire. I like hitting the break in the curb just right, even when it’s muddy. I like it when I spot a Northern shrike on the wire, or a pair of crackly-winged inca doves in the weeds. And I love the Monk parakeets, and their communal stick nests high in the power lines. Their noisy calls make me think for a moment I’m in an auditory Venezuela, and the next tree will be painted white to chest height, and there will be a small empanada and arepa stand around the corner. The palm trees in a front yard help with the tropical impression. So does the small country fundamentalist church, right there on the edge of Bellaire. It has the shell of an old evaporative swamp cooler, that functioned by evaporation. Houston is so wonderfully humid, that evaporation never worked very well, but it can be great elsewhere. Crossing the tracks I avoid the hole, a 2 foot deep washout just on the side of the road that someone has stuck part of a telephone pole in. It’s been there a couple of months at least.

Across the tracks, and across Bellaire Boulevard are the great-tailed grackles, posturing and squeaking, or bedding down in the trees in the winter.Dave and I like to count the birds we hear or see on the ride in. It isn’t so many now in the autumn, but a good spring day can yield a lot, mostly heard. For example, last April 29th, I heard or saw, in order, a Carolina wren, blue jay, northern mockingbird, house sparrow, white-winged dove, cardinal, rock pigeon, starling, red-bellied woodpecker, common grackle, monk parakeet, great-tailed grackle, mourning dove, chimney swift, purple martin, American robin, red-shouldered hawk, and a collared dove. Today I simply saw a shrike in the field, and a dead yellow-billed cuckoo on the ground, covered in fire ants.

Our longest stretch is right down University, through West University from one end to the other. It is a lane and a half, so not too bad for traffic. We avoid Houston’s so-called bike lanes because they tend to get painted in odd, dangerous places, like right down Westpark. Sometimes I bike hard, and feel it in my thighs and my heart, wondering which is limiting me most, pulling up as much as I push down on the pedals. Other times, lost in thought, I hardly realize I’ve arrived at my Rice University office, or home. But once we get on campus we are supposed to ring our Rice-issued bells as we approach pedestrians. They have a nice tone, but I don’t think people like to hear them very much.

We wear visible vests like the construction workers, and have well-lit, reflective bikes, and helmets with rear view mirrors. It’s not Copenhagen where the traffic lights are timed for bikes. It’s Houston, and cyclists greet each other like members of a small cult, and all too often we know each other.

My bike is a hybrid, and I once heard it described as not a serious bike, but what could be more serious than daily transportation to work? We’ve biked to work most days since 1993, and plan to continue until we leave Houston. It sure would be great if more people realized what a great city Houston is for biking.IMG_8334 IMG_8340 IMG_8343 IMG_8348 IMG_8350 IMG_8361 IMG_8357 IMG_8362

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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