Category: Uberalley

Uber Alley – The Astrodome

9/20/2020

To get this recent photo (August, 2020), there is a turn-out, just over the light-rail tracks from Fannin. I pointed the camera between the pair of gates because the fence is “privacy-enabled” (see green shielding foreground, right). Quite certainly, I was not supposed to park there. But I had it in mind to blame Uber directions if I had been confronted. I had thought it through even to when they asked to see the directions…
“Well, how do you like that? The son-of-a-gun cancelled on me!”, I would say.

In the Beginning

Called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, this first indoor, air-conditioned sports stadium suitable for both baseball and football was opened in 1965.  Your Humble Narrator was almost one of the first to see the new Wonder.  As a Cub Scout, I sold tickets to the Scout Fair, where Scouts would demonstrate things like rope-lashed towers, camping and cooking skills, woodwork (axe handling – they were manly scouts, back then) and semaphore communication.  Parents. Grandparents and Corporate Donors bought the tickets as donations, but few actually attended.  But, this year, somehow, the newly completed, but as yet unvisited Astrodome was designated the site of the Scout Fair.  And – not surprisingly – all the ticket holders suddenly wanted to attend the previously ignored Fair.  This writer was taken to the Astrodome that opening night by his parents.    Parking attendants – attired in spacesuit costumes – charged the unheard-of price of $5 and we walked toward the Dome – from far away since the lots were near-full – only to find that the Fire Marshall had forbidden more guests.  We returned to the car and left.  As Steve’s Mom observed, the parking attendants, in their space suits, had “Blasted Off” and were not available to refund the $5.    

   The dome was called “Astro…” for the astronauts who were to be trained at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston and the Baseball team name was changed from “Colt 45’s” to “Astros” to follow suit.  I suspect the whole, new and exciting subject of space travel was more appealing to the “powers that be” than an Old West weapon name – even if it was “the gun that won the West.”

Daredevilry

I saw Evel Knievel jump a motorcycle over 14 cars.  He had to start outside and come roaring into the Dome through the big door at the endzone, where the Football teams run out – and behind the Baseball outfield.  He appeared, hit the ramp, flew over the assembled cars, hit the landing ramp and went zooming out another door.  Spectacular!

Once, I worked as a teenage first-aid volunteer for what was called the Thrill Show.  There was a destruction derby and a World War II era “re-enactment” that included a “bunker” that was attacked with flame throwers.  Suddenly, a man ran out of the “bunker” on fire!  The ambulance was called into the Astrodome floor as was the Fire Truck.  After the man (in the flame-retardant suit) was extinguished, the announcer revealed that this was all a part of the show.  There had been only so much room on the floor-plate bumper of the ambulance for hangers-on (there was a handrail at the top) and I missed out on the bit.  I was glad later when the ambulance refused to start as the crowd looked on and the announcer kept saying, “Please remove the ambulance from the arena!”.

After that, one of the Officers of the Houston Harris County Emergency Corps (Charlie Hocker, if I remember correctly) found me and said, “Steve, come with me.”  We went up to the highest level of seats where Charlie greeted a security guard who allowed us to go and sit down in the back row of seats. “But, just be very quiet!,” he warned.

There I saw that a cable had been stretched across from the other side.  The announcer said that Karl Wallenda would now walk this tightrope.  Below us and in front of us we saw Wallenda’s entourage, including – I was told – his wife.  All of us watched as Wallenda slowly and carefully approached us across that cable with one of those long poles he used to help with balance.  Meanwhile, Hocker was snapping off pictures with an expensive-looking camera.

At last, Wallenda was approaching the end of his walk. He was now walking uphill on the sagging cable. The stadium was very quiet. We could hear Wallenda call out to the entourage.    

His wife said, “Don’t fall now!”  Just at that moment, Hocker’s walkie-talkie suddenly burst out – at extreme volume – with, “Say, Hank, I see a guy over there to the left of you that looks like he might have hurt his arm.  Why don’t you go check him out?”.

Charlie was frantically reaching to turn off the radio and the Security guard was desperately making “shushing” signals and I was sweating bullets!  A few of the entourage looked around for intruders but we were both in semi-official-looking uniform shirts and they couldn’t see the blue jeans we wore with ‘em.

Wallenda survived and Charlie got his pictures and the security guy hustled us out shortly after.

Tennis

I was there for the Billie Jean King vs Bobbie Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” Tennis Match in 1973.  Somebody gave me the tickets. They played the rivalry up as a big deal for “Women’s Liberation” and Riggs portrayed the perfect “Chauvinist Pig”.  That was all showmanship. As someone pointed out to me, “Look at this crowd!  If they split five percent, they’ve both made a fortune!” 

Riggs (55) lost in three sets to King (29) and the former vaulted the net to congratulate the latter – his alleged “hated rival”.  According to Riggs’ son, Billie Jean said, “Bobby, I want you to know that I love you, a lot.” And Riggs said, “Billie Jean, I love you, too.  And we did something great together.”

Baseball

I was in the stands with a college roommate on April 12, 1980 when this pitcher with an unprecedented 4-plus million-dollar contract (Nolan Ryan) got his Houston years started.  We were sitting just in front of a pair of “mature” ladies who – as avid fans -expressed doubts the value of this guy.  They also derided me for commenting that his batting average was listed as .000 – it was his first at-bat with the team, you see. Well, when Ryan hit a three-run homer, the Geritol Twins had to admit that Nolan might be worth it and Ryan’s average went to 1.000!  I seem to remember that game went way into extra innings and Jim Clarke and I wound up moving down to the “good seats”.

After a long and varied career that saw Baseball, Football, Basketball (and Tennis), as well as Music, Daredevilry and Rodeo, the Harris County Domed Stadium (as it was originally named) has been “mothballed”.  The place is in a weird “purgatory” state of existence.  It will cost way too much to bring the structure up to modern building codes and to tear it down would also be quite expensive.  So, it just sits there – a melancholy memory of Auld Lang Syne

Hasta Luego,

Steve      

Uber Alley – Art Cars and Signs of the Apoplexy

8/04/2020 The red Ford Explorer is back in service and driving near 200 miles per day.  It had been 150 miles, but now we are struggling to make up for the time and expense involved with the previously discussed Imbecilic Design of the Ford engine that cost so dearly.  Below are some points of interest around the city, captured in the last few weeks.

Art Car Museum

I pass a lot of places that stand out as quite unique.  This one is the Art Car Museum at 140 Heights Boulevard (77007). 

Figure 1: The Art Car Museum. The website seems to overrule the hours posted on the sign – “Now open by appointment only”. We assume that admission is still free. There was – at one point in time – an “Annual Art Car Parade”. We assume that has been canceled, like everything else.
Figure 2: An example of an “Art Car”. What on normal cars is “collision damage” becomes just another eruption of fruit, in this case.

Signs of the Apoplexy

Public notices and labels or roads and structures can be quite mysterious and or/or amusing:

Figure 3: Bean dip is an ancient product that pre-dates grocery-store tortilla chips by many decades. In the stone age, when I was young – it came in cans and was consumed with Frito brand corn chips – rectangular in shape and curled by the cooking process.
Figure 4: I had occasions to walk by this Hindu Temple and found out three things. 1. The Hindus attending left their shoes out front. 2. The local homeless population did not “walk off” with the Hindus’ shoes, because it would have been a step down. This is because Hindus are clever enough to not wear their best shoes where the have to be left at the doorstep. 3) Hindus are not intimidated by seven syllable words. This is an archival photo. The sign, today is faded to the point of illegibility and the Temple, closed and abandoned.
Figure 5: Just why this building is labeled “SICK” is still a mystery. It seems to be empty and unused, as are the neighboring offices. Could it be one of those asbestos-laden “sick buildings”? I doubt it. That’s entirely too obvious. On the Westbound Beltway 8 feeder, just East of the Highway 249 junction,

Hasta Luego,

Steve      

Uber Alley – Marooned in Houston

On July 13, I had to drop a passenger at a Timewise (or some other sort of convenience store/gas station) and refund her partial fare.  I couldn’t very well charge her $4.80 for abandoning her to call another Uber  – while still 12 miles from her destination.

 I had somehow managed to vaporize most of the coolant and the remaining liquid boiled out the reservoir when I opened it.  I had to buy and pour in a $14 jug of overpriced coolant.  NOBODY has water at a gas station anymore – even for money.  Unless you count the drinking water they sell in bottles.  As it turns out, I should have bought that, because later, I managed to boil off the coolant again and be left dry and overheated.  The Culligan water bottles would have worked out be to less of a loss.

The problem is not the thermostat – as I had imagined – but the water pump.  Water pumps are typically mounted where they can be driven with a belt.  They are normally a half-hour (and under $100)  job to replace.  But this particular water pump is driven by the timing chain – not by a belt.  And the timing chain is sealed inside the lubrication system.  So, when the water pump begins to leak, it spills coolant directly into the engine oil.  That can quickly destroy an engine if not corrected.

Figure 1: Here, the timing chain cover (that seals the water pump inside the lubrication system) has been removed.

You may also notice that to get this image, the author had to photograph an engine that has been removed from the automobile.  I am told that it is possible to change the water pump without removing the engine – but that it might be easier to yank that sucker out!  In either case, it is expensive – very expensive.

You might ask yourself (as I did)  “What were they thinking?”

And see, now?  You have – as I did – assumed that the jackass Ford engineers – who thought this up – were actually thinking

This is an egregious imbecility that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the vehicle owners.  Ford was being sued in a class-action that is currently dismissed.

 A quote from carcomplaints.com

February 15, 2020

— A Ford Duratec lawsuit has been dismissed, but the plaintiffs may have another shot to prove their allegations in court.

According to the Duratec engine lawsuit, millions of 2007-present Ford vehicles are equipped with the allegedly defective water pumps that cause engine damage.

The Duratec engines allegedly fail because coolant mixes with engine oil once the coolant leaks from the water pumps. The plaintiffs claim the engines may fail without drivers having any warning of the impending doom.

____________________.

Judge Laurie J. Michelson says she still finds the plaintiffs haven’t shown she made a mistake by dismissing the lawsuit, but the judge says she will reconsider her decision to dismiss the case with prejudice. Once all parties have presented their arguments, the judge will decide if the plaintiffs can file a second amended lawsuit.

carcomplaints.com

So, an expensive team of lawyers might be able to try again and see if they can come up with something the judge might like better.  You gonna pay for that?  Nope. Me, neither,

 Please notice that they have been building engines this way since 2007.  If you have ever in your life worked on a car engine, you know this is an irrational thing to do to an engine design and the fact that this happened in the first place is grievously irresponsible.  The fact that – once discovered – it was not corrected is unacceptable.

The result is that the Explorer that I depend on for my livelihood seven days a week is now sidelined for at least three days – probably more.  And the cost of replacing a water pump has gone from two figures to four. Tack on the lost Uber fairs and the cost will exceed a month’s revenue from the Ride-Sharing Business of which I am now the proprietor.  Revenue – not profit.  To clear enough profit to cover this setback will take so long that I prefer to drop the subject right now, rather than calculate same.

Hasta Luego,

Steve      

Uber Alley – Rusty Bird at 288

In Houston:

Go South on Texas288 just South of IH 610 and have your passengers (you are driving – on a freeway – after all) look off to the right with cameras ready.  There, you will find a compelling field of Artwork on a scale seldom seen.  Too big for any gallery or museum – it comes out of Nowhere and slaps you in the face. So, ignore it if you are driving.  (Okay…well…I did not)

A few weeks later, I asked a local passenger about this.  Apparently, it came out of the HUGE pipe storage yard at Texas Pipe and Supply, which stretched back forever toward the West behind this Park.  I reckon there is a lot of scrap available and a lot of art-minded welders around.  Further investigation is in order.

If you really want to see this place – which I find is called “Electric Menagerie Park” – take the Holmes road exit and continue south past West Belfort to the entrance ramp to 288 and then pull off on the diagonally painted zone – and maybe farther to the shoulder of same – before you get out to look around.

Figure 1: Center: The Volkswagen “Bug” – Yeah, we get it! 😉 Left: Armadillo – have to expect that in Texas! Right: Cows on a ship propeller? – this one needs more investigation, perhaps.
Figure 2: There is nothing to give scale in this photo, but I reckon that bird’s head feathers are well above 20 feet off the ground. The bird’s red color seems to be the rust on its unpainted steel.

There is far more to be seen, but a ride came in shortly after I snapped a few photos.

Figure 3: A satellite photo of the area involved. I would say this is the bird’s eye view, but you saw that bird. He won’t be up here, anytime soon.

There is a lot more to see, but this is Uber Alley – after all – where random sights just appear out of nowhere, from time to time.  Then a ride comes in.

Hasta Luego, Steve  

Uber Alley – Camouflage

Foreword:  I am fully aware of the stereotypical reputation of posts about cats.  So, I promise not to post anything like this again for at least a year. 😉 Posted: 6/27/2020

Some pet owners attribute human-like characteristics to their animal friends. But, some alleged domesticated cats have unique dog-like traits and other qualities that defy description.  Locally, there is this dingy-gray cat named Pepper (but referred to as the Princess, for her attitude) who is the same color as some spots on the concrete driveway.  She frequently likes to play “chicken” with the multi-ton Ford Explorer I am backing out of the garage (as I set off to drive for Uber – that’s the connection, you see).  In the pre-dawn darkness, as imaged by the back-up camera, she appears as just another spot (albeit a moving one) on the driveway.  I take great care to not let her become a literal spot on the driveway.  This is the same cat who will jump into open cabinets despite the dishes there found and climb into empty boxes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pepper in a box

Unlike most sane cats, she loves to get in the car and we have to tell contractors and movers in the area to double check their trucks before they leave.  She would sit outside the neighbor’s window and torture the poor dogs in the house.  She hopped in the Ford while I was unloading from a One, Two, Three, Etc. road trip and I found her as I took the car to turn it around.  So I drove her around the block instead.  Far from cowering on the floorboards, this one. See figure 2 below  

Figure 2: Not cowering on the floor

This feline is watched over by a woman who calls the cat “Princess” while referring to herself as “Abuelita” (Grandmother).  Abuelita makes every effort to comfort the Princess – even to the point of providing her with a special chair, covered with the cat’s own blanket and a pillow included.  Please see figure 3, below.

Figure 3: Luxurious repose prepared for Pepper

The Princess, however, rejects the throne and prefers to spend her time in a more rustic location.  Please see figure 4, below.

Figure 4: This is where she really wants to be.

So, this is the lunacy that (to some degree) makes the rest of life bearable.  😉

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Uber Alley – Idle Airliners

06/20/2020

IAH is the code for Houston Intercontinental Airport.  They tried to get the coveted HIC code (for Irony’s sake), but it was already taken by Iscor Heliport in Pretoria, South Africa.  Likewise, HIA was already taken by Lianshui Airport in Huai’an China.

During the Great Communist Chinese Virus Panic of 2020,  IAH was reduced from five operating terminals to two and a unique situation took place.  Since air traffic was cut to the bone – and some sawing of the bones was underway – there was a ridiculous excess of airplanes.  And, just what does one do with such an excess?  The first thing you might think of is to put them in hangers.  However, it should occur to alert readers (all y’all) that because an airline only makes money when they keep their planes busy, there is a ridiculous shortage of hangers in the current rigamarole.

Well, airplanes (especially the busy ones) are outside probably 98% of the time and they are designed to do just that – through rain or sleet or gloom of night.  So, what you do is park your airplanes where there is secure outdoor space.  Conveniently, airports are some of the most secure outdoor spaces around and what you can do is park those idle airplanes along the aprons that line the runways.

In my Transportation Business I have occasion to visit airports – in the current narrative, IAH.  What I noticed, repeatedly – as I drove the approach to the terminals – was a long chain of airplanes along a runway apron.  I estimated their number at about thirty – because counting airplane tails while driving a passenger to his flight is considered unprofessional.

But that does not mean that I cannot deliver the passenger to his terminal and then drive out to where I can find a fence along that particular stretch. Thinking of security, I decided not to tell where this is.  Anyway, I was able to count 26 parked planes and capture some photos of same.  The view is obstructed by the fence (Figure 1), but I managed to sneak a glimpse of a few planes through the spaces in the chain-link hurricane fence (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Airplanes with not much to do
Figure 2: A view through a space in the fence grid.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Uber Alley – Introduction

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a sea-change is a change brought about by sea: Full fathom five thy father lies … / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change. This meaning is the original one, but it’s now archaic. Long after sea change had gained its figurative meaning, however, writers continued to allude to Shakespeare’s literal one; Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, and P.G. Wodehouse all used the term as an object of the verb suffer.

Merriam Webster

Having discovered that six decades of life “unqualifies” me – despite over four decades of experience – my life suffered a “sea change”.

 After Going Walkabout for about five years now, it becomes obvious that I need to be my own boss.  Mostly this is because I can count on me to give me a fair break.  I won’t reject me for being old.  I won’t coerce me to violate DOT guidelines.  I won’t resent me for having more technical knowledge than me or for speaking my own language better than I do.  I won’t assign myself menial tasks (which I would cheerfully carry out, anyway) in a forlorn attempt to convince me to quit and I won’t set myself up to fail.  Yup, that’s what I learned.

My Walkabout was the result of an early – and involuntary – retirement.  It was complicated by winding up as the sole survivor among my parents, dementia suffering stepmother and cardiac-failed 59-year old sister.  

That is what happens when you continue to survive because anybody can just up and die.  Life goes on and I hope that my wife and children will live long and prosper.  Make no mistake – I fully intend to do so myself for about five more decades.  I decided at age 15 to live 100 years more.  As I am now 65 and work about 35 hours a week, swim an average of a half-mile per day, have lost about 80 pounds and I still mow my own yard – I do not think that goal to be unreasonable.    

But the post is called Uber Alley for a reason.  I am now a humble Personal Transportation Contractor and I find that every day is a unique adventure.  In that sense, it is somewhat like over-the-road (OTR) trucking. I start out at five or six in the morning from the house or the gym.  I have wound up in places like Prairie View, Pasadena, The Woodlands, Rosenburg, Needville, Texas City, Seabrook and Galveston.  While I have had some repeat passengers, I can count them on two hands – out of 1348 trips in nine months.

There is enough to write about and it promises to be just as interesting as the Going Walkabout series that started this whole imbroglio.  I stumble across things that should serve to illustrate the stories with photos and I’ll include some here, just to get started.  I won’t be posting pictures of the passengers – for obvious reasons. 

Below is the Main Street Wharf, in downtown Houston.  I was just about to go see it up   close, when another ride came in and I had to leave.  That is a lot like OTR, as well.

Figure 1:  Just pulling into a parking spot to stop and sanitize the seatbelts, I found this.
Figure 2: About the closest I got to the Wharf before another trip called.

Hasta Luego,

Steve