Today I went for a long bike ride, stopping along the way to get some reading done. It was hot and I was in the mood for an afternoon beer, but on my way to Mimi’s in the Marigny, I ran into the new and much hyped bike lane on St. Claude. Nothing to do but follow it to the end, I say. I have ridden a lot of miles around this town, and what hurts isn’t the riding–my legs could pedal forever, I think–but the roads. The potholes and bumps left by the Pothole Killer do a real number on my knees, back, and neck. As a result, I’ve taken to riding down major streets that in any other town I might avoid for safety reasons: St. Charles, Napolean, Louisiana, Claiborne, Magazine, and today, St. Claude. And the bike lane just makes this route all the more inviting.
The lane begins at Elysian Fields and St. Claude and continues for three miles through the Marigny, Bywater, and across the Industrial Canal through the Ninth Ward to the St. Bernard parish line. The cheerful bike lane, and cheerful me tooling along it, belies the still-devastated nature of the neighborhoods through which we pass. Stores are still boarded up, lots are overgrown, spray paint still marks the buildings. If you stay Uptown and you are new to town since the storm, you can imagine that maybe Katrina never came and the levees never broke. But this bike lane will show you that vast neighborhoods are still devastated. I wonder who owned these small business, worked at these gas stations, ate at these Kentucky Fried Chickens and po’ boy shops. Who occupied the many buildings now marked with the yellow sign and red X of involuntary demolition? Where did all those people go? Will they be back, looking for their homes? Some people are back, sitting on their porches, hanging around their corner stores, waiting for buses, just as in other neighborhoods. These are some hardy souls, I tell you. Because the emptiness, the brokenness, is palatable all around. I turned around and rode back, passing this scene at Jackson Barracks on my way home.
Jackson Barracks is the home of the Louisiana National Guard and the Louisiana Military Museum. It is being rebuilt, but slowly. These military vehicles remain on display, rusting away, perhaps recalling for some the military takeover of this city. It is an eerie graveyard. I pedaled home quickly, grateful for the bike lane that led me out here where I am certain I have nothing new to say, nothing insightful to add, no story to tell that shouldn’t be told instead by the people whose lives were and, for many, remain devastated by the broken levees. But I just want you all to know that it still isn’t over.