Biking and Busing to Drive
"Nothing is ordinary if you know how to use it." ---William Wolcott
"In life, it's not what you have that makes a difference. It's what you do with what you have." ---John C. Maxwell
For so many days, months, and years, my physical mobility and movements were severely restricted by the 3 brick walls and metal bars of a tiny 6' by 11' Texas prison cell and by the many locked metal doors, security gates and maximum security double-set of barbed-and-razor-wire fences that kept me trapped inside of a Human Zoo (you may refer to it as a prison). Now that I'm a free man, do you actually think I'm going to let not having a vehicle stop me from accomplishing the necessary tasks related to me reintegrating back into society, building my new life one decision, action, and day at a time, and exploring the adventurous places and sceneries of the free society that I was deprived from living in for so long. Hell to-the NO. (Smile).
In my mind, I'm just a bike ride or Metro ride (light rail and bus) away from going anywhere that I need or want to go. Most of the time, I prefer riding my bike, anyway. Even when I do ride the rail or bus, I always take my bike with me. That's one of the many cool things about living life in a more efficient, technology-driven 21st-Century---there's a compartment to carry my bike on the bus. Just like a jacket at this time of year in crazy-unpredictable-weather Houston: better to have my bike on me and not need it than to need it and not have it. I usually need it (smile). My theory is, in the 30 or so minutes it may take me to wait idly at a bus stop, I could easily be at least half-way to my destination while actively enjoying 30 minutes of new, uncharted freedom (to me anyway).
Distance, or the time it takes me to reach a given destination, is not even a factor. Weather isn't even a factor (I rode my bike in the recent ice storm to a job interview and in the rain several times). The only factors are DESIRE, DECISION, and DETERMINATION. It's up to me. Do I want to go somewhere, and if I do, am I willing to ride my bike and/or use public transportation to get there? An emphatic YES! YES! YES! There are no more bars, walls, guards, or fences stopping me, so why wouldn't I?
If I need or want to go somewhere, then I simply open my front door, hop on my bike and start riding. Ride with a big Kool-Aid smile on my face and sometimes with tears in my eyes. Ride with the thought of, "Damn, I can't believe I'm free." Ride with goosebumps and a rush of positive energy and emotions surging inside of me because it feels GREAT to be free, to go where I want and do what I want. Ride to the inspiring music that plays on my Pandora Motivation Radio station through my bluetooth headphones while my girl Siri's sweet voice interrupts periodically to give me directions. "Turn left in 700 feet." Yes baby, I sure will.
Downtown Houston, Parole Office, my mandatory Substance Abuse classes 3 times a week, the Harris Health Eligibility Center, Church, Bank of America, movie theater, job interview, DPS, Galleria, Food bank, HEB grocery store, Walmart--- trust me, I'll get there (tapping my muscular legs). It may take me a while, I may arrive sweaty and breathing hard and will down a bottle of water, but I'll reach my destination and have loads of fun on my way. From my own personal encounters and experience with freedom so far over the past 57 days, the journey has always been more interesting and exciting than the destination itself. Like the time my girl Siri---when we were first getting acquainted---guided me onto to the freeway and a cop pulled me over. I still blame her, but she says I clicked the drive option instead of the bike option on Google maps. Whatever (rolling eyes).
Majority of the time--unless I have a time deadline to be somewhere or my curfew is about to expire---the greater the distance it takes me to get somewhere, the more sites I get to see and freedom I get to absorb and the more I get to learn about living life in the free society. That's how I look at it. Even when I get fatigued or my legs are sore, I just tell myself, "At least I'm not in a prison cell," and I keep on peddling at a steady, leisure pace, and with a renewed motivation and strength, to my destination.
I love riding my bike. Its just me---solo, all by myself--- and all 5 of my senses having a personal, intimate interaction with freedom. There is something so liberating about feeling the wind of freedom blowing on my face while I ride my bike to the music. There are no more prison fences to stop me. No more correctional officers to tell me where I can and can't go. No tiny prison cell to confine me in a tight space with another man. No more locked inside of a crowded, standing-room-only dayroom that is over capacity. No more having to walk within the painted yellow lines in a straight line behind other inmates like a trail of obedient ants. None of that. It's just me on my bike, riding and navigating through the city of Houston, a new-and-improved, cleaner, artistry, downtown-centric 21st-Century city of Houston, I must say. And I'm not riding my bike aimlessly just for the sake of fun and adventure; no, I'm simultaneously, and strategically, getting things done and accomplishing my reintegration goals. I always feel a sense of accomplishment, victory, and growth after each bike ride.
For example, on Thursday, 1/18---here's a good, multi-day story---I rode my bike 8.7 miles from downtown Houston to the DPS office on 4545 Dacoma. My mission was to start the process of obtaining my Drivers License. Riding my bike is fun and all, and it's a great form of exercise (helps to offset all of the good-eating I've been doing---smile), but it's more out of necessity than anything else. I have to ride my bike because I don't have a car. I'm not going to use not having a car as an excuse not to get things done, which requires going places, and some of the places I have to go are mandatory (Parole office and the multiple classes they have me going to). While I'm riding (using) my bike as my primary means of transportation, I'm going to make the most of it and have fun. However, I know I will eventually get a car, and when I do get a car, I will need a Driver License to drive it. I thought it would be wise to obtain my license right now, so I'll be ready to go when I do get a car. Makes sense, right?
Upon my release, I was re-united, via Facebook messenger, with one of my previous cellies, who is also now a free man. During our first messenger text-conversation, we did some catching up and traded advice on transitioning into society. He---to maintain his anonymity, let's call him Adam (I have learned that some people are funny about having their name or picture posted online)---was released only a couple of weeks before me. Adam gave me specific instructions, a 4-step process, on how to obtain my driving license within 24-hours if I wanted to, as he did:
1) Watch the Driver Impact Distracted Driver Impact video online and print out the certificate.
2) Go to the DPS office with proof of identity and address, take the written test (pass the test) and pay $25 for the Learners Permit.
3) Find a certified Third Party Driving School (the same day if you want) and pay them a fee to take the driving test.
4) Return to the DPS with the sealed envelope containing the driving test results, the Impact Video certificate, and Learners Permit, and pay an additional $11 to get a Driver License. Easy steps to follow but not easy in practice.
Well, just as Rome wasn't built in a day so wasn't getting my license. I learned that the hard way on my bike (smile). I failed miserably on my first attempt to go to the DPS to begin step 2 of the process. (I did step 1 online.) So before I tell you about my Thursday DPS bike adventure, lets rewind to Wednesday, the day before. It's a helluva story, so I hope you're ready to laugh.
On Wednesday, 1/17 I rode the metro rail downtown, and from downtown, I road my bike 9.3 miles---yes, you read right, 9.3 miles---to the DPS office on East Freeway. Why didn't I ride the bus? I wanted to. The problem was that Metro bus services were suspended indefinitely to later in the warmer part of the day due to some of the roads still being icy from the ice-storm we had in Houston the day before. (I sat at bus stop in the freezing cold for 15 minutes before my dumbass figured out---by not seeing any buses and checking on the metro website---that no buses were running.) But I didn't let that stop me. In hindsight, I should have, but I didn't. My stubborn, determined ass hopped on my bike and started peddling in the direction of East Freeway DPS office. Real-man-of-Genius.
Why even attempt to go to the DPS office on a cold, icy-road day? Because I'm a man of action, and I like to get things done in spite of the obstacles and challenges that are in front of me. The ice storm had already passed the night before, and though there were some icy roads left behind, the temperatures were slowly warming up. The metro rail was still running, so that was a good sign. According to the news, many businesses would open after noon. I called myself smart by hoping I was one of the few crazy-ass people to go to the DPS on a cold, icy-road day when most people would stay inside. I figured I would find the DPS waiting room near empty and that I would be in and out in no time. Boy, was I wrong.
To be safe, I tried calling the DPS hotline. The DPS hotline and it's operators are located in Austin. Austin was hit harder by the ice storm, so everything up there was closed down, including the DPS hotline. The computer-voice operators had no useful information to relay about the Houston DPS offices. So I set out for the DPS without knowing for sure if the Houston DPS locales would be open after noon or not.
So on icy-road, no-buses-for-most-of-the-day Wed., I rode my bike 9.3 miles from downtown Houston to the DPS office on East Freeway only to discover---what do you think happened? (laughing to myself)---that not only wasn't it not open, it wasn't even there. That's right, Siri had led me astray. There was a huge sign that stated that the DPS on East Freeway had closed down and relocated to a new, bigger office on Veterans Memorial Drive (17 miles away). Awww-no, can't be. It was, and I was sick. And not with a cold, but I was sick with disappointment.
So what did I do? Did I give up and head back home? No. The day was still young. I was either going to find a DPS open or see a lot more freedom while riding my bike to a closed DPS. After my disappointment melted away and my resolve returned, I Googled the next closest DPS office, which was 13 miles away. That would be the Pasadena DPS office on Red Bluff Road.
I hopped on my bike and started peddling that way while Siri guided me. I feel exhausted just thinking about that bike ride (smile). I arrived in Pasadena in about an hour, but there was a major, unexpected obstacle in my way. A car-only tunnel. The tunnel attendant wouldn't let me ride my bike through the tunnel. Obviously, or I wouldn't be alive to be telling this story. Ha-ha. I'm adventurous, but not crazy or stupid. I threw my bike in the back of a total stranger's truck and hitch-hiked across the Pasadena tunnel (maybe I am stupid).
I made it safely across the tunnel and rode my bike the rest of the way to the Pasadena DPS office. When I arrived there---and yes, this time it was there---it wasn't open. (Frown). It was closed due to the icy roads. (Though I didn't see one icy road on my way there.) No surprise. I knew when I set out on my DPS journey that morning that arriving to a closed DPS office was a strong possibility. It made me feel better to see several dumbass people like me showing up in droves to the closed DPS office. Apparently, none of us got the memo and had the same bright idea.
You would think I would of been mad about the wasted trip(s), but I wasn't. Extremely fatigued, but not mad. I was laughing at myself. It was an exhilarating, high-endurance ride. I saw some beautiful sceneries and felt alive. My ride wasn't even over at that point. If you think about it, I still had to ride 13 more miles home. (If you do the math, I rode my bike 35.3 miles that Wednesday and was no closer to obtaining my license than when I woke up that morning.) The funny thing is, I knew, as a free man, I could wake up the very next morning and try all over again.
That's exactly what I did. The next day, on a sunny-breezy, no-more-ice Thursday, 1/18, I took the metro rail downtown to attend my 1pm Anger Management class, and then afterwards, I rode my bike 8.7 miles to the DPS office on Dacoma. I could of rode the bus, but Siri said I would make it there faster on my bike, and plus, it was a beautiful day outside. I would of went to the DPS office early in the morning, but I didn't want to risk being late for my class if I got held up in a long DPS line and packed waiting room.
A long line, that was stretched outside and wrapped around the building Black-Friday style, was what I saw when I arrived at the Dacoma DPS at around 3:00 pm. Are they selling a new iphone model or giving out free money? Damn, that line is long, I thought. No sweat. If I can ride my bike to Bum-F-Egypt and back, I can wait behind what looked like 100 people (and another 100 people in the waiting area that I couldn't see). "At least I'm not in a prison cell."
At around 4:30 pm, I made it inside, took my ticket number and waited in the super packed waiting area. I had to be at another mandatory class at 6 pm. The DPS closes at 5 pm, but because of the ice storm backing them up for a couple of days, they were staying over and servicing everyone that was in the waiting area at 5:00. Best-case scenario I would get out at 5 pm, but whether I rode the bus or my bike, according to Google maps, I wouldn't make it to my 6 pm class on time. While I was outside standing in line, I had the mental forethought to call my bestfriend Fernando at work, as I knew he was getting off, and I asked him to meet me in the DPS parking lot so that he could drive me to class. He wasn't feeling up to it and he was in the wrong car (small sedan's aren't good for packing bikes), but he said he would do it.
At 5:15 pm, I still had 12 ticket numbers in front of me. I had to do something. I had a couple of good converations with one of the DPS ladies, so I went back to her. Most people enjoy talking to me because I'm always smiling and I act like a happy/curious tourist (if they only knew). I struck up another engaging conversation with her then I segued into my special-situation problem. I lifted my pants leg up, showed her my ankle monitor, explained that I was on parole and that I had to be at a mandatory parole class at 6 pm and if she could please help me get serviced more quickly.
Do you know what she did? She asked her co-worker friend to open up a new station, and she put me at the front of the line. I couldn't believe it. It worked Adam (wink). I wanted to give her a hug. Her friend processed me. I gave her proof of my identity and address, did my finger prints, picture, eye test, and pre-paid the $25 for Learners Permit. She said the written test stopped at 4:15 pm, but she instructed me to come back the next day so that I could take the written test and get my Learners Permit.
After I exited DPS backdoor, I was on a new mission to get to my class. It was 5:30pm and only a car would get me there in 30 minutes. I unlocked my faithful bike and started searching the DPS parking lot for Fernando. I wasn't even sure if he made it. I called him on my phone. "Fernando. Bro., where are you at? I don't see you. I need to get to my class." "I'm at home bro," Fernando dropped the bomb on me. "You're at home. What?!? C'mon bro. You told me-----". Then he cut me off, "I'm just joking bro. Turn around. I'm pulling up right behind you." Sure enough, there he was, my boy, loyal as ever. Ha-ha-ha, damn, he got me good. We squeezed my bike into his backseat and made it to my class on time.
The next day, Friday, 1/19, I took the bus to the same DPS office on Dacoma. When I arrived there at around 9:30 am, the line was even longer than the day before. Are you kidding me? (This was the picture of the DPS line that I posted on Facebook.) A DPS guy came outside and gave us all a speech. He said the Dacoma DPS office only can hold 150 people, they were well over the capacity and that it would be a 2-3 hour wait. Futhermore, he said there was a new and bigger DPS office on Veterans Memorial Drive (go figure) that held 350 people and the wait was only 45 minutes at that location. He proceeded to hand out fliers with the address and contact info to Veterans Memorial DPS. He didn't have to tell me twice. I hopped on my bike, put some jams on and started heading that way.
I rode my bike 7.2 miles to the DPS office on Veterans Memorial. On the way there, the crank that's attached to my peddle came loose. I carry an entire bike fix-it kit in my backpack, so I was ready. I tightened the crank with a socket-wrench and continued on my mission. There wasn't a line outside of the Veterans Memorial DPS office. That was a good sign. I'm glad I listened to the DPS guy at the beyond-capacity Dacoma office. I was in and out at the Veteran's Memorial office in less than 25 minutes. I took my written test (on the computer), passed it, showed the DPS clerk my receipt from the night before, and she printed me out my Learner's Permit. It took me three days, but step 2 was completed.
I tried to contact a Third Party Driving School to get the driving test over with, but each one I contacted had a reason why they couldn't do it. Either they were closed or weren't yet certified to do the test (Third Party Driving Schools for adults is a new, less-than-a- year state approved industry in Texas) or they were booked for the day. A couple of the schools offered to do my driving test that night, but my curfew is at 5 pm on Friday, so I couldn't swing it.
I ran into the same set of problems on Monday. They wanted to do my driving test at night, but Monday is my other day that my curfew is at 5 pm. There were also a few driving schools that were trying to hustle me. Wanted me to watch a 6 hour driving video for $100. You can't hustle a hustler (I grew up in the hood, streets, and in the pen.) That wasn't one of Adam's 4 steps, so I didn't buy into it. I contacted APEX driving school---the same one Adam used---and we set up a driving test appointment for 10:30 am Tuesday morning.
On Tues. 1/23, my mission was to get my Driver License. I took two buses to the APEX driving school on Bissonnet. I handed the driver instructor my Driving Impact Video certificate and my Learner's Permit, along with $69 (it's worth it because, had I did my driver test through DPS, I would have waited until mid-February for an appointment). I did my 20 minute driving test, passed it, and my instructor gave me my results and all of the above mentioned paperwork in a special-red-tape sealed envelope.
I took two more buses way to the DPS office waaay-the-hell on Veterans Memorial. The Dacoma office was closer, but the Veterans Memorial location made a believer out of me the previous time ( a bigger facility with a shorter waiting time). The wait was longer the second time---about an 1 hour and 30 minutes---but it went by fast, and before I knew it, my ticket number was being called. I was about to get my license. I've never had a license before. I WAS EXCITED!!! (smile)
I handed the DPS clerk the sealed envelope that the driving instructor gave me, and she processed me in the same way that the other clerk did when I paid for my Learner's Permit. She took my picture, thumb prints, eye test, and I had to pay the $11 driving license fee. After 4 days, over 50 miles of bike riding, 6 bus rides, and $105 ($112 if you count the bus fees), I earned my Driving License. I used my DESIRE, DECISION, and DETERMINATION to get on my bike and ride the bus to allow me to drive legally with a license. Now I just need a car, and I think I already have one coming (wink).