My Commute to Work

I wake up to the sound of my phone’s alarm clock and throw the covers off my body. I swing my legs over the side of my bed and try to use the momentum to carry the rest of my body into a sitting position. It didn’t work this time and I’m forced to push and pull myself up the rest of the way. The alarm is still chiming, so I reach for my phone on the side-table to tap the “Dismiss” button. My hand moves to the remote control for the ceiling fan right next to it, and I push the button to turn on the light. Before reaching my arm back, I grab my phone and learn how to walk again as I hobble to the kitchen for a glass of water.

I’m still carrying the phone when I walk to the bathroom. I set it down next to my smart speaker and bark my usual order at the speaker, “Alexa, play my news brief.”

Reuters begins playing an annoying commercial which is obscenely too loud compared to the rest of the newscast. Why can’t we regulate the volume of ads on our podcasts or smart devices, similar to TV[1]. I listen to my news brief from my 5 preprogramed sources and do my normal 3-S’s grooming routine: shit, shower, and maybe shave.

My news brief is on the 4th news source when I turn the volume up to counteract the usual mumbling from the British[2] as I check to see if I need to shave today. I don’t think a shave is necessary today, maybe tomorrow. I grab my phone and leave the room, leaving Mr. Mumbles behind. I think about how nice it is to have a slow-growing (yet full and not patchy) beard. I set the phone on the dining table next to my gym bag and other daily items, thankful that I only need to shave twice a week.

I walk into my closet and pick out which shirt and slacks I want to wear today. I only have a few pairs of pants that fit now that I’m obese from being Covid-ly sedentary for pretty much a year. Working out these past few months has improved my waste, but isn’t making the dang pant legs fit better. I’ve always had muscular legs, and pant or slack manufacturers seem to think that everyone must be the ideal skinny white guy with chicken legs. I decide on a purple shirt and grey slacks, and grab them as I walk to the bedroom to get dressed.

I half-hear my last source of news declare: “This is a Bloomberg Money Minute.”

I throw on a white undershirt to absorb the inevitable sweat I’ll exude several times throughout the day. I slip on the purple shirt and button it as I lament the high cost of having my clothes dry-cleaned just to satisfy an outdated social imperative that requires office workers to play dress up. I look at myself in the bedroom mirror and jokingly think to myself: Okay boomers, we’ll play it your way for now. You won’t be working much longer anyways.

I walk back to the closet and frown at my uncomfortable shoes I wasted $500 on, but haven’t worn in years because they’re too uncomfortable. Hardly anyone makes dress or work shoes for people with wide feet. I still remember the sales person said I simply need to break them in and they’ll feel better than going barefoot. My hand glides past the shoes and I think of how I wore those damn shoes for nearly a year and they never got any more comfortable. Instead, my hand grabs the much more comfortable, $30 pair of grey “leather” shoes I bought on Amazon.

I grab the shoe horn from the front door and take the shoes to the couch. As I slip my oversized feet into the shoes, I think about how someone told me that people pay attention to the shoes you wear. What kind of weirdo with a foot fetish pays that much attention to people’s shoes? The only time I purposefully look at someone’s shoes is to check if there’s anyone in the stall at the work restroom. I’m not like that one attorney who bursts into the room, like the T-rex from the original Jurassic Park movie, and scares the occupant shitless by yanking at the stall door without checking.

I get up from the couch and walk to the refrigerator. I grab the leftover shrimp fried rice I put in the water-tight container last night, and rush over to the dining table to shove it in my gym bag. I throw the gym bag over my shoulders and drape my Bluetooth headset over my neck and balance the earbuds over my upper chest. Before heading to the door, I quickly stuff my phone, keys, and wallet into their respective pockets.

I hang the shoehorn back at the door before opening it.

I feel a refreshing wave of cool air as I step into my floor’s main corridor and lock the door to my home. I enjoy the crisp and cool air as I walk to the elevator and press the button to call it. I turn on my headset while squeezing the earbuds into my ears. Only when I’m satisfied the earbuds have a perfect seal, do I push a button to continue my Audiobook. I’m rereading Dune: House Atreides for the 4th time as my ritual preparation for the new Dune movie that’s coming out in October[3]. I have just enough time to tap House Harkonnen in my library, starting the download process, before the elevator doors open.

I hide my displeasure at seeing “Nagatha” in the elevator, and quickly pause the book just in case she said something during the ride down to the first floor. I left the elevator as soon as the doors opened again to escape the awkwardly silent ride. I walked to the table in the lobby and collected my daily newspaper.

I set Nagatha’s paper aside along with one belonging to the nice lady on the 11th floor. I turn when I hear the garage door slam shut and wonder if she’s in a hurry. Since I’m safe from socialization, I push the button to continue my audiobook.

Paper in hand, I open the front door and step out to Houston’s sweltering heat and near 100% humidity. I barely walk a block before noticing the first trickles of sweat form on my face. There’s only a block and a half more to go before I reach the nearest tunnel entrance. Can I hold it together until then?

I dodge a zombie-like homeless person before reaching the next intersection, having already decided not to wait on the light to change before crossing. I remind myself that I’m not brainless, and should at least check to make sure there’s no oncoming cars. Thankfully, there aren’t any, and I keep walking. The sweat is getting worse now, so I grab a rag I stashed in my bag for situations like this.

Just 50 more feet!

Yes! I’m in. It’s not cool in here, but at least the air’s dry.

I walk to the elevator and push the call button. I need to recover from the short trek through the steam room most people confuse as a city, and start fanning my face with the newspaper. The elevator arrives and I’m thankful to have this elevator to myself. I continue the fanning while riding down to the tunnels.

The elevator doors open and I immediately walk to the air conditioner unit in the wall next to a parking validation machine with an out of order sign taped to it. I set my newspaper on top of the machine and take a moment to soak in the gentle cool breeze coming from the A/C unit. I know more people are going to come out of the elevators soon, so I fumble for my facemask as I steal more time under this bastion of cool air. As predicted, three people spill out of the elevator and each one of them looks at me. One man isn’t wearing a mask, and he averts his gaze as he walks by. The other two people look at me with approval because I’m doing the responsible thing by stopping to put on my facemask before continuing into the tunnels.

I smile and silently chuckle to myself content with the knowledge that my act fooled all of them. Right now, I care more about this air conditioning than Covid-19 safety precautions.

With my facemask on, and with paper in hand (again), I start my trek through the vast network of underground tunnels. I fear working up a sweat again despite the tunnels being air-conditioned, so I slowly plod past the floodgate which kind of looks like a blast door from the Cold War era. As I walk up the stairs immediately beyond the door, I recall seeing the real blast doors in the tunnels linking the courthouses a quarter mile away. And when I reach the top of the stairs, I think of how a lot of sections in the Downtown Tunnel system aren’t very accessible to handicapped people. I walk down the narrow tunnel and try to remember all those places where I have to climb stairs and think about how embarrassing it may be for someone in a wheelchair to have to take an alternate route when having lunch with coworkers and friends.

I’m halfway through the first tunnel before becoming aware that another wave of people entered the tunnels behind me. I glance back and make a quick navigational calculation. I figure they’re far enough behind that I don’t need to increase my pace. They can’t overtake me before I reach the next building, unless they start running.

I continue at my slow pace as I enter the JP Morgan Chase Tower wondering what might make the people behind me start running.

Rabid dogs? No, how’d they get down here.

Free coffee at Starbucks! Yes. That’ll definitely do it.

I see my reflection in the polished chrome elevator doors, but don’t really look at it because my attention is drawn to a trio of sexy businessmen who walk past the building’s ground-to-tunnel escalator. I try picking up my pace toward them and am forced to look at my gross midsection while walking past the mirror-like panels covering the escalator.

I notice the gaggle of sexy men had queued into line at the Starbucks as I walk on by.

I leave the building’s tunnel and enter the next building. Upon entering, I walk past a dry cleaning drop off unit and wonder if that company is cheaper than my current one. The container says they deliver to your office, and one of the benefits to living in Downtown is that our lofts are close enough to the rest of the offices to be included with that delivery promise. I commit to check them out when I get to work.

That commitment is immediately forgotten when I see another gaggle of hot men standing in line at another café. I notice how they playfully banter with each other like they’re from the same fraternity. These face masks really are great because nobody can see my smirk as I think of frats and hazing…

I reach the end of this food hall, and restrain myself from touching the chain-rope curtains and satisfying a lingering curiosity of how cold those chains must be.

I know I’m about halfway through my journey when I reach the Esperson building. The building blasts 50s and 60s music through their part of the tunnel system. The music is so loud I can hear it over my audiobook, despite the noise-cancelling function. I like this era’s music, but I push the volume up two levels to compensate anyways. I still hear “incense and peppermints” in the background a couple times[4] as I walk through this section of the network.

I’m passing the threshold between the Esperson and the 919 Milam building, when I notice a piece of lint on the ground. From my perspective, it looks remarkably like the “Playboy Rabbit Mascot”[5]. I don’t slow down to ponder this coincidental find any further.

I fully enter the most boring section of the Downtown Tunnels and pass several vacant retail units. Some of these units were vacant for at least a year prior to Covid-19. I can’t imagine how horrible business must be for landlords and property managers in Downtown nowadays.

I pass what used to be a Subway restaurant and began to reminisce about how I used to get $5 footlong “Veggie Delights”, but dreaded smelling like the store afterward. That stench permeated my clothes after a mere 5 minutes of being inside the store. I remember being hard-pressed to wait through the line, order, and then pay as quickly as possible to save myself from smelling foul. I make a sharp right turn around a corner where the former Subway restaurant was and half-smell that iconic aroma, but know it was just my memory playing tricks on my senses.

I veer off to the left and head toward the tunnel leading to the Commerce Towers. As I enter the tunnel, I’m reminded as to why I don’t wear my facemask outside. This section isn’t air conditioned very well and my breath begins to make my face feel warmer than it should. I pick up my pace because I only need to get past the convenience store and turn the corner to enter the McKinney building, and cooler air.

A man half-limped into sight from the corner I need to turn at. I instantly know he doesn’t belong. He has a look of amazed wonder, like he discovered a magical cave. Another office worker notices the outsider and looks at him with disgust before passing around him. I’m almost at the corner and start hoping and wishing this guy doesn’t ask me for money, or worse, directions.

The outsider looks at me and, thankfully, doesn’t say a word. He seems too amazed at his new discovery. I imagine he’s mentally rubbing his hands with delight as Aladdin must have when he entered the Cave of Riches. So many business people to solicit money from! Mwah hahaha!

I scold myself for thinking such an ugly thought when I make my turn.

I pass a raggedy accordion-style gate and notice a hall where restrooms are supposed to be located, but always seem to be locked. There’s some sort of berry-colored fluid trailing from that hall and appears to be leading me past a hair solon. There’s a smoothie store just beyond the salon and I guess that someone’s smoothie must have leaked and the owner must have ran to the restroom to rinse the cup off.

I wonder how the person got into the restroom?

I follow the trail to the smoothie store and smile at the lady working there. As I walk past, I realize she can’t see my mouth smile, but comfort myself with the possibility that my eyes probably did the smiling for me.

Now, I have something new to smile about. I finally made it to the garage elevator where my car is parked. I reach to call the elevator, but one of the doors are already opening. An unmasked lady smiles at me while she exits. I enter and see someone turning the corner heading to the elevators, but the doors close so fast I can’t reach the “Door Open” button in time.

The elevator is hot and I fan myself with the newspaper as I ride the sauna up to the level where I parked my car. I rush out of the elevator and walk half a block to my car. I can already feel sweat forming on my face and am already unlocking the doors as I approach my car. I open the back door to throw my bag inside and close the door so fast, I can’t believe I didn’t slam the door on my hand. I open the driver’s door and throw my body into the seat and turn on the car. I toss the paper into the front passenger seat and notice the air conditioner is pushing air out too slowly and impatiently increase the fan speed.

I’m in no hurry. I have about an hour before I need to be at the office, so I just sit there for a couple minutes, basking in the refreshing coolness of blessed air conditioning. I notice that in my haste I forgot to pull my phone out of my pocket. While listening to Pardot Kynes rant about terraforming Arrakis, and telling his would-be assassin to “Remove yourself,” I lean back in the tight quarters and pulled my phone out of my front pocket. The assassin fell upon his knife by the time I was able to fish it out and place the phone in the holder clamped to the A/C vent closest to me[6].

I decide I’m cool enough to travel and drive the car out of my usual spot. I must be the only person who leaves the garage in the mornings, because the attendant always steps away from her desk to help me. I quickly scan my keycard and “roll” the window back up when I see the gate arm rise. She stops halfway between her desk and the office’s door when she sees the same arm lift. I’ve been using this garage for a month now and the attendants may not be used to me leaving, while everyone else is entering.

I follow the winding driveway down the ramp to exit the garage. There’s an angry-looking old man with an orange flag who waves me by. Despite his implied clearance, I don’t take his word for the path being clear of pedestrians and slowly roll out of the garage.

I continue listening to my audiobook through the rest of my work commute from Downtown to Houston’s Upper Kirby District. Once I park the car at my job’s parking lot, I pause the audiobook so I can focus on reading the newspaper I carried all this way. I have to read it now, because I have to be ready to handle anything and everything the instant I walk through the door of my office building.


[1] The CALM Act is a law regulating commercial volume and requires commercials to have the same average volume as the programs they accompany. It became effective December 13, 2012.

Federal Communications Commission. (2015, December 11). Loud Commercials. Retrieved from Federal Communications Commission: https://www.fcc.gov/media/policy/loud-commercials

[2] BBC really needs to increase the gain on their microphones.

[3] Dune’s release date is: October 22, 2021.

[4] Incense and Peppermints, by Strawberry Alarm Clock. (1967).

[5] The Playboy Rabbit Mascot should not be confused with Playboy Bunnies, who are cocktail servers and hostesses.

[6] If you are familiar with the book, please note that I listen to audiobooks at 3.15 times the normal playback speed, which means that it didn’t take me very long to fish out my phone.

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