Mopac’s Seamy Underbelly

I was trying to think up a kick-ass ending for a novel, and decided that I needed an exploratory bike trek to clear my mind. After ten years of living in my neighborhood, I just discovered there was a system of hike/bike trails that weaved through a nearby tangle of freeways and arterial streets. In my defense, I thought I had once ridden my bike through this no-man’s land, but I must have had it confused with another unsavory urban transit corridor.

I am amazed at the short distance between Austin’s beloved Lady Bird Lake and the start of my newly-discovered, nasty trail heading north along the Mopac freeway. Look one way and see joggers, kayakers, and stand-up paddle-boarders. Look the other way and see slabs of concrete laid unevenly, curving into weedy obscurity. I felt compelled to enter.

I started the short climb on my bike and then swept downward into the weeds along a mostly dry, rocky creek bed spotted with pools of stagnant water. Empty plastic bottles and shredded grocery bags on the rocks attested to how fast this creek could flash flood in a heavy rain. Tires whined and clacked as unseen cars, their drivers oblivious to the lone figure on the bike beneath them, flew over me on layers of stacked, curving bridges. The trail hugged the side of the creek embankment, and I moved to the inside. If I went over the edge I might not be found anytime soon. Broken bottles and filthy, crumpled blankets were evidence that the less fortunate sometimes slept here.

This place repulsed, yet I was fascinated. That a world so foreign to my everyday experience existed not more than a mile from my quiet home propelled my imagination. God only knew what happened down here in the wee hours!

Side trails split off from the creek and worked their way outward like veins in a decomposing body. I booked on ahead, through a couple of dark, urine-smelling, concrete culverts and then popped out of the trees into a grassy median between an access road and the freeway. Even though the sun was low, it still had to be close to a hundred degrees, and I wilted from the temperature change.

Abruptly, the trail dumped me into a quaint little park across the street from some high-dollar homes. How fast things change! I rested under a tree in the park and watched some pretty good b-ball players go four-on-four on a court that actually had straight rims. When the arriving Amtrak rumbled by, I waved at a kid in a window.

Mopac Freeway Complex

On the way back through the netherworld, I took every side trail out of the creek bed. I crossed footbridges with peeling paint and splintered deck planks as each trail ended at a different cross street, above. I guess that’s what exploration is all about. But I still haven’t thought of an ending for the novel.



Book Review–Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

This book is the last (6th?) of a very good series with private eyes, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. All the books in the series are page-turners. I’m glad Lehane wrapped this up so I can move on to other books by him. (I did already manage to slip in the great Shutter Island, though.)

I can’t think of any other author who draws characters as vividly as Lehane does with such efficiency. Depending of the character’s importance, the author can sear an impression into the reader’s mind in a few paragraphs or draw out a description for several pages or even a full chapter if necessary. Of course, the main characters of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are continually developed throughout the series. To my delight, my favorite character, Bubba Rogowski, makes an appearance. Bubba is a criminal, but he’s good-guy muscle without a conscience when the heroes need it.

My biggest complaint with Moonlight Mile is that Kenzie, Gennaro, and their 4 year old daughter continually fall into mooshy, familial affection fests. Enough is enough. There is also a lot of class resentment by the main characters, who struggle with bills that can’t ever seem to be paid from their meager P.I. incomes. But that’s who they are, and Lehane does a good job of consistently working that monkey-on-their-backs into the plot. Actually, it propels the plot at times.

Some of the similes and metaphors are over the top, but the book is written in first person, and hard boiled noir prose seems to bubble up that writing style. All in all, it’s another entertaining read by Lehane.