Mack Brown vs. Iraq & John Lomax vs. a Metro bus

Highlights from the Blog at HOUSTONPRESS.COM

Sports

Mack Brown, Grumpy Old Man
He travels to Iraq and complains and complains

by Richard Connelly

Mack Brown, along with a handful of other NCAA coaches, is making a goodwill visit to the troops in Germany, Iraq and Kuwait. (He's following in the footsteps of a coach at an actual good football school, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, who visited the Middle East earlier this year.)

Brown is to be commended for going, of course, even though he's obviously trying to draft off the heat of Weis. He's also writing a diary of events on his Web site and — well, does the dude always complain this much?

We mean about things other than UT's standing in the polls. We know he always complains about that.

But check out some diary highlights:

May 29 — The upper part of the plane is very hot, while the lower part around your feet (and of course your feet and head if you lay down) could get to 10 degrees or lower. Needless to say sleeping was tough. There's no time to complain or be tired, we've landed and are hitting the ground running...It is now 2:45 p.m. Germany time (and 7:43 Austin), the jet lag is already tough to deal with...We just got through signing autographs for about three hours...Long day!

Still May 29 — After a hard-working day again today...You learn around these folks fighting for our freedom that at war, you can't sleep in on Saturday because you are tired and sore. No weekends off and I'll have to catch up on my rest when I get back from the tour.

May 30 — [The base] probably would look great flying in, but there are no windows in the cargo plane!...it is very hard to keep the time zones and days of the week straight, but it's even harder to keep up with the events in the States, especially sporting events. They have a military television station, but night TV games are on live at 3 or 4 a.m. It's tough to watch the game and go to work early the next morning...I'm worn out and headed to bed.

May 31 — The aircraft also takes a controlled crash type landing. It will ­really test my stomach since I'm not a great flyer anyway...The terrain in Iraq is pure desert, with some breeze, and very thin sand that really burns your eyes. The sun is so hot and so bright the glare makes it hard to be outside without sunglasses...

June 1 — The plane is slow, very loud and hot. You can't hear anything. You must either put ear plugs in or use your iPod...We are tired...Some people have questioned whether I should come on this trip and or why I would...The conditions are very tough. It is very hot and dusty. You feel dirty all the time, and the sand constantly blows in your nose, mouth and eyes. Your eyes start to burn, it is very hard to breathe, and you get a sore throat...We didn't eat at dinnertime because we had a 30-minute practice for the troops...

June 2 — We got up this a.m. about 5:00. I'm not sure why, but some of the coaches were saying it was because there was too much snoring in the room from the seven coaches...On to Africa. I can't wait to see it. I've wondered what Africa is like my entire life even though I hope the malaria pills kick in. At least we are leaving the dust in Baghdad...I don't know what to expect at our next stop but I am happy to be leaving the constant 100-plus degree sandstorms in Iraq...Kuwait was even hotter than Baghdad. It is further south, and the sandstorm had cleared so the sun had a direct hit...We just got off the plane and it is obviously more humid here.

Dude, we get it. Grumpy old man goes overseas.

At least he didn't bitch about OU.
_____________________

Tales from Transit

The Most Dangerous Game
Man vs. Machine on Metro's new Bellaire line

by Mike Giglio

It was to be the ultimate contest between man and machine.

Hair Balls announced in earnest at the weekly staff meeting its plans to sample the new 402 Quickline Bellaire, which was unveiled by Metro recently. The so-called "signature" bus — the first of its kind in Houston — runs along the standard Number 2 Bellaire route during rush hour, making far fewer stops in order to travel at a heretofore unimaginable pace.

At this, staff writer John Nova Lomax produced an audible scoff.

"I could beat that on my bike," Lomax said.

And so Hair Balls loaded Lomax's 18-year-old bicycle into the bed of its pick-up and headed for the TMC Transit Center, where the Quickline's westbound service begins. Lomax smoked a cigarette as he waited at the station for the race to begin.

It was here Hair Balls learned that Lomax's confidence was drawn less from his prowess on the pedals than the fact that the road between the station and his house, about one and a half miles away along the route, is plagued by construction. Lomax used to be able to beat the traffic on foot, he claimed. It has since alleviated some, but he predicted a handy victory all the same.

The contest would begin when the bus opened its doors, allowing Lomax a slight head start as passengers boarded. Hair Balls expected to blow past Lomax on the first leg, possibly taunting him through the window. The suspense would come once the construction hit, as Hair Balls anxiously awaited Lomax's approach.

The bus arrived, the doors opened and off went Lomax in a puff of cigarette smoke. But then the doors closed, because the bus was five minutes early. This generous cushion was doubled when the driver refused to accept a set of Houston Press media credentials as fare, leading to the following exchange:

Hair Balls: Can you cut us a break? We're actually racing a guy on a bike.

Bus Driver: No.

Hair Balls: Why not?

Bus Driver: I just spent five days in ICU.

Hair Balls: What?

Bus Driver: Intensive care.

Hair Balls: ...

Bus Driver: I'm not taking any chances.

Fellow passenger Barry Bullard (one of only four) eventually stepped in and paid the $1.25. But by the time Hair Balls made it to the construction, which did provide a bit of a delay, Lomax was nowhere to be found.

Even with the sporting aspect effectively ruined, Bullard enjoyed the ride. An employee at Ben Taub, he has been making the trip from TMC to a stop beyond Ranchester station, where the Quickline ends, for five years. Usually the Quickline's nine-mile stretch takes about an hour. At least 20 minutes have been knocked off, Bullard guessed.

John Evans, who also works at Ben Taub and lives near the Bellaire Transit Center, said his evening commute time had been cut in half. He thought it a shame that the line opened with the construction still underway.

"If the roads were fixed, you would really be able to tell," he said.

Both Bullard and Evans were dismayed only that they couldn't take the Quickline in the morning as well; they need to be at work too early. Service runs every 15 minutes from 6 to 9 a.m. (5:45 to 9 a.m. heading eastbound) and 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Hair Balls disembarked at the Sharps­town Center, where it knew there would be ample opportunity to find change for a $20 bill. The trip took about 30 minutes, because that was only stop four.

In fact, when waiting at a red light near a typical No. 2 stop along the way, a confused would-be passenger began knocking on the window. The unbending driver refused to open the door.

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