Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Best Time of Year in the Rio Grande Valley

We are in the best time of year for the Rio Grande Valley in terms of temperature. Mornings are cool, days are warm and evenings are pleasant. This is the sort of weather that inspires one to go out for a walk to enjoy the glory of the outdoors, whether it is rural or in town.

Obviously, not all is perfect with this time of year. Allergies run rampant for those who suffer them. On my part, I get leaky eyes; whereas, others in my family get the whole stuffy face and headache with their allergies.

We have discovered that air purifiers are a tremendous help. Not only do the  allergy sufferers in my home sleep better, they wake up in a better mood.

Coming back to the weather this time of year, I love it because the heat is not oppressive during the day like it is in summer. Summer days start off sweaty. I would say humid and hot; but, that's not how it feels. As soon as you step outside into the day, you start to sweat like a cheese with your patina of moisture, even in the morning. As the day heats up to triple digits, it can feel slightly suffocating.

In that kind of weather, going out for a walk, even in the mornings, is unpleasant. Forget walking in broad daylight.

Winter is no better. No. Winter is not too bad when the air is simply cold without wind or rain. I think what makes winter in the RGV unpleasant is the rain and wind. This is probably the same the world over, mind you. The best winter days are those in which the air is still. There is a crispness to the the outdoors on still winter days where everything seems more real. Perhaps it is the overcast soft lighting in which you don't have to squint.

Our version of spring time and after the summer heats are the best times because we have the crisp mornings and evenings, with the comfort of warm days.

This time of year in the Rio Grande Valley is the best for barbecues and spending time outside with friends and family. Entertaining guests, even in modest homes, is possible, because the outdoors is your entertaining room.

I'm going to miss this weather when the summer arrives. For now, I'll just pop some allergy pills and go to to enjoy our little corner of creation.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Orange Blossoms

Spring is almost in the air.  We are seeing blooms around the RGV.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

RGV Commute Is Great For Learning

You could learn a great deal if you have to travel between South Padre Island and Roma. I don't imagine many of us make the full drive; but many of us drive somewhere in between. Recently my work requires driving from McAllen to Rio Grande City or McAllen to Raymondville. These aren't the longest drives in the world. However, if you fire up audio books or podcasts, you can learn some things.

There have been plenty of people to recommend Automobile University over the years. The idea started back in the day when you could buy a book on cassette. That later evolved to books on CD. Today's technology allows you to purchase and download an audio book in seconds. Thus, you can learn all manner of things if you put the effort into it.

Personally, I use Audible for my audio books because of its tie-in with Amazon. But, there are plenty of other places where you can download some books, such as, Google Play, iTunes, and Librivox among others.

If you are not into books, preferring radio show-like productions, then you can download podcasts and play them on the go.

There are plenty of places in the RGV where there is slow traffic that give you 10 to 20 minutes of listening time. A little here and a little there adds up.

Some of my favorite drives are the open areas between La Joya and Rio Grande City, or between Harlingen and Brownsville. Of course, there is the open country on the way to South Padre Island. But, even a boring commute to the office is 20 minutes of listening you can put in.

Some time ago, I did the opposite, calling in a Blog Talk Radio show for 30 minutes during my commute to work. We have the time to do things, is my point, if we use some of that wasted time in our lives.

Fortunately, the RGV being the land of tomorrow can result in tons of wasted time, which you can use for self-improvement.

If everybody in the Valley takes heed of my words, we could become some of the best educated people in the state.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Signs of Spring 2015 in the RGV

Signs of Spring in the RGV
We have had some warm days in the 2014-2015 winter. Here we are mid-February. It is likely Spring will roll in, except for Spring Break. For some reason the weather likes to hit us with a cold front for Spring Break.
Peach blossoms

Blooming Aloe

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It Feels Like Fall 2014 Is Finally Here

I woke up this morning and felt the morning air much cooler than during our summers. It seems that Fall has finally come around to the Rio Grande Valley.

I remember days when we still had 100 degree weather in October. I'm not longing for those days to come back, mind you. I am perfectly happy having Fall weather in the Fall than later in December.

Of course, this makes me wonder, with Fall coming so early to the Rio Grande Valley this year, if Winter will be colder than usual. Hopefully the weather remains temperate in its chill as it was in its heat this year.

I think that cooler weather gives us opportunity to wear more interesting clothes that we do not have opportunity to use the rest of the year, such as jackets, sweaters, scarves, and hats. I do see people walking around with beanies in the summer heat. Fools.

Cooler weather also makes it pleasant to be outdoors during the daytime rather than having to wait until the evening. I think I will enjoy the Winter of 2014.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Rain Backlog of 2014

It seems like it has been raining for weeks in the Rio Grande Valley. The weather forecasts have almost exclusively hovered around something like: Chance of Showers. High 90. Low 75.  There have been a few days here and there where temperatures have climbed up to 100 degrees, but they have been very few compared to other years when it has been 100 F through October.

It's as if all the rain that we have not had these many years has suddenly decided to pay back its debt.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the Falcon Reservoir level, which is often used as an indicator of drought conditions. Despite all the rain we have been receiving, the Falcon Lake level is still about 30 ft below capacity. In fact, we are below 2010 and 2011 levels at the same time of year. But, we are above 2012 and 2013 levels by a few feet. We seem to be somewhat following seasonal variability, in terms of lake level. In short, not quite drought, but not quite in breathe easy territory.

So, what has been the result of so much rain in the Rio Grande Valley?

Certainly, everything has greened up rather nicely with so much rain. We have grown accustomed to yellow landscapes after so many years of little precipitation. It is a nice change to see the local flora thriving and flourishing.

Of course, the rains are also responsible for bringing something that we certainly have not missed, mosquitoes and flies. Certainly, we had flies during the dry times; but, not to the same extent. The same goes for mosquitoes, there may have been the occasional mosquito; but not the roving squadrons we see today.

To be sure, local health officials have been dispatching trucks to spray for mosquitoes once it became evident that it would rain for more than two days in a row. Municipalities like McAllen have also been enforcing weedy lot ordinances to ensure that citizens mow down their jungles to help control mosquitoes.

Speaking of growing populations, have you seen all the potholes that have proliferated around town? It seems as though there were benefits to the drought.

My only other pondering on the rains is what effect this will all have on the cracked foundations that have proliferated from our shifting clay soil? It has been sad to drive around town and see huge cracks making their ways up the walls of people's homes. Even the place I'm renting has had some issues with the shifting soil. The house is wood frame, which surprisingly doesn't help. Some of the doors get stuck, sheet rock has cracked here and there, and joints between the concrete and house have separated.

It looks like we will have more rain in the foreseeable future. With any luck, we'll skip the 100 degree weather for the rest of the year, which is my real interest.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Riding the Bus to McAllen

This morning, my oldest and I took the Valley Metro bus from Mission to McAllen. I was headed to 10th and Trenton; she was headed to +The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). I thought I had blogged about riding the bus before; but, I don't see any evidence. It must have been put on +Google+ or on Facebook somewhere. This must have been about 2 or 3 years back when I worked in Edinburg.

The result of the previous bus riding was that I couldn't do it long-term. I was spending way too much time doing nothing during the ride, and it takes 2 hours to get from Mission to Edinburg without changing buses. The Valley Metro bus meanders through Mission, goes to the McAllen bus depot, then meanders through Pharr before ending up in Edinburg. The return trip involves equal meandering.

I tried using that time to do work, read, or whatever; but, batteries only get you so far. My batteries would be drained by the time I got to work. In addition, it was eating up my data plan.

This time around, I found that my experience getting to work in north McAllen still took me about 2 hours; but, it wasn't spent on one bus. There is a bus transfer involved, getting off the Valley Metro #20 and hopping on the McAllen Metro #2 or #3. They both take roughly the same route, but will deposit you on opposite sides of the street.

The advantage this time around is that there is Wi-Fi at the McAllen bus terminal and some spots along the route. Also, while waiting for my bus transfer, I could eat breakfast at the +SUBWAY Restaurants franchise at the depot.

My daughter was fortunate that there is now a bus, the Metro Connect Green Line, that eliminates the Pharr meandering. It takes her straight to the University, or straight-ish rather. There is an unpredictable stop at the McAllen Library. She was supposed to take the bus to the library after school, where her mother could pick her up after work; but, the bus didn't stop there as it did on the way to school. So, we had to pick her up at the bus depot in the afternoon.

The bus ride itself is not unpleasant. Most of the passengers aren't a gloomy lot. They will spark up a conversation to make the time pass on their journey. I think the biggest problem is that a 15 minute drive takes 2 hours.

McAllen does a great job of running buses every hour on the hour. The predictability makes it so that you can work something out. The only time it becomes an all-or-nothing event is if your stop is at the far end of the loop where the bus turns around. If you miss the bus, you can't cross the street and grab the next one. But, you can avoid that by being on time.

I don't want to be harsh on Valley Metro because they are doing rather well considering that they are serving most of the communities in the RGV. In addition, they are rather predictable even though they offer the additional service of detouring from their main routes for certain situations. However, the problem today is the same problem I had a couple years ago when I tried taking the bus to work in Edinburg. That problem is that it's asking too much from one route.

I get on the bus at 6:30. If I were to miss it, I could walk a couple blocks and catch it, the same bus, at around 6:45. Or, my wife could drop me off a little before 7 as she drops off my daughter at school at another stop to catch the same bus less than a mile away. Valley Metro is making one bus do the job of several. That bus has to meander through town to provide service to the entire community before moving on to the next.

Again, one can't be harsh on Valley Metro because the bus does get full and there is indeed a need they meet. But, if you miss the bus at any of its meanderings, you're going to wait 2 hours for the next one.

While we're on the subject of two hours, referring to the 2 hour commute, it doesn't matter how I jigger the schedule, somehow it always ends up taking me 2 hours to get from Mission to my ultimate destination in McAllen, or the reverse. If you add it up, that's four hours of commute per day. That's half a work day every day. That's twenty hours per week, a part-time job.

So, why bother riding the bus?

I think this is a personal question in some regards. It will vary from person to person. For some people, the bus is their only reliable option in which they aren't imposing on the kindness of others. For some people, . . ., well, they're damned hipsters. They want to save the planet and live simply. In short, your mileage may vary from mine.

In my case, my family is a one-vehicle family. There are certain challenges that result from two people juggling the need for one vehicle. Having two vehicles creates a cash outflow we would rather avoid, that is to say fuel, insurance, taxes, maintenance, and other expenses.

A bus option facilitates the morning commute and custody of the vehicle. In addition, I am almost too happy to give up having to drive. I now have a Kindle that affords me plenty of reading and battery life so that I can spend time reading improving books and other materials when I would have otherwise been driving.

In the afternoon, it is easier for Mrs. Mata to pick me up at work and then go pick up our children. But, even if she or I had some other after work commitment, having a bus option to go home would be helpful for the rare occasion.

And, I think that is what describes our situation. Riding the bus is an option that helps us out of scheduling dilemmas. I'll write about personal multimodal transport later, as I'm considering other options that do not involve buying another car; but, let's stick to bus riding today.

I have lived in Austin, Texas a few times in my life. I had a vehicle most of those times, which I hardly used because their bus system is well developed. I really enjoyed the freedom of hopping on and off a transport without regard to parking, gas, traffic, or other matters that a driver endures.

I find myself wanting the bus system in the Rio Grande Valley to resemble that +Capital Metro experience. We aren't there yet. Our bus systems need more riders to grow to that level. Yet, the time commitment is a detractor from the casual rider like myself who enjoys the practice of good public transport.

Ideally, I would like buses every half hour. But, I realize that it means a big capital investment and tons of politics given that our communities are a collection of fragmented fiefdoms. I think McAllen will most likely grow their public transport on their own. I think Valley Metro needs the most help through increased ridership. Valley Metro is in that chicken and egg situation where they need more riders to justify greater investment; but, they need more investment to attract more riders. The two hour thing is just murder when it comes to using their buses. That really is the biggest detractor. I think, at the very least, they could have hourly buses for communities surrounding McAllen, specifically Mission, Edinburg, and Pharr, so that the schedules mesh better.

I will continue to ride the bus in the mornings despite the two hour commitment, thanks to McAllen's Public WiFi service.
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