I spent the end of last week in New Orleans, a short trip that was needed for a long time. I hadn’t been back in three years, previous visit attempts thwarted by cancer, the inability to make a travel plan because of cancer’s ptsd, and, of course, hurricane warnings this July. I made it, finally. I spent time with friends and their lovers, friends, children, and pets, and it was such a treat to peek in on so many lives and say hello! I’ve missed you! I’m still here too!
I fell in love with riding a bicycle when I lived in New Orleans. This city is completely flat, it’s compact, and you can bike anywhere in 30 minutes or less. More than that, though, it was the right place for me at the right time with the right bicycles, and four years of riding my way all over this place helped me feel at home in a way I had never felt before.
And I need to feel at home right now. We’re coming up on the anniversary of my father’s death, killed by a left turning driver who claimed he couldn’t see my dad in the crosswalk because his windshield was fogged by his morning tea. It has been a year of learning how to get done and undone by grief, and I’m tired. I miss him, and among many, many other things, I miss how happy it made him to watch me be so happy on my bike. I miss that we’ll never take that tour he was planning for us, that I’ll never get one of those texts from him asking if he can send me some gear, that I’ll never get to call him from somewhere beautiful I reached on the bicycle he bought for me in early 2009 just to say thank you, thank you for helping me figure out how to see this. Like this.
And so here I am, vacationing with the folding bike he found a little bit ridiculous in New Orleans, the place that helped me find this love, and with it the sense of curiosity and attention that sustains me.
My first ride was a short one around the neighborhood where my dear friend S. lives. She lived in Treme for years, and her new spot out near the Gentilly bike lane requires some reorientation. I headed out with vague directions to turn left and then left again, and followed streets with familiar names until I ended up in City Park, flush with memories. I had forgotten, though, how much time you have to spend looking down at pocked and seamed asphalt here–remember to look up and down, straight and over the shoulder. I replied around the new gold course, had some Feelings about that, and then headed back. I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that, but I figured I’d go on feel. That’s a strategy that doesn’t work all that often, but on this day it did.
The next day started with a ride in a bike lane toward the Quarter for beignets. Circle Foods is open now, and there’s a new streetcar line with tracks that can’t be trusted on a bike. The Quarter is filled with out of state license plates and people carrying cameras and maps, heading just where I was. The beignets are still sweet, the coffee too, and then it was uptown via Baronne, how-you-doin’s all the way.
I’ve made that ride hundreds of times, and it was the same, except for the partially protected bike lane. The house falling down just past MLK is still falling down, but the fork embedded in the intersection right there is gone–there’s a patch over that asphalt. The fancy new condos are still there, right next to old homes being eaten down by overgrowth. Just past Jackson is still off-roading. I zigged and zagged my around construction, walked up Magazine for awhile, ended up in a bike lane on Charles, and all the up to Carrollton for lunch and a haircut.
I took another way home–over to the bike path along Jefferson Davis (yep) and back to Bayou St. John. I stopped to snap this picture of the Lafitte Greenway. This was in the planning stages when I left, and now it’s here. And it is beautiful. I choked back tears–I am a crybaby–as I felt the anxiety of negotiating with cars lift. So many memories of riding this way, and here it is, I’m still riding this way.
And then I took a left on Broad, into another bike lane. I remember when New Orleans got its very first bike lane on St. Claude, in 2008, I think. Here we are, 8 years later, and bike lanes are everywhere. I know from following the news that the lanes don’t keep people safe, and that cars are still killing cyclists and pedestrians at devastating rates. My dad was killed in a crosswalk. No amount of striping will protect us from inattentive drivers, and paint can’t magically transform an unsafe street into a safe one.
But it’s not nothing. For the first couple of years after the out in the lane on St. Claude, cyclists were riding just to the left of it. Turns out people have to learn how to recognize and use new infrastructure. I hope everyone learned to use and respect the lanes here.
And then I was back, I folded up the bike, and felt grateful for the reminders that things change, but I still love riding a bicycle around New Orleans. Gratitude.
Monday was my last day in New Orleans, and I used it to bike as many places as possible. When I first moved to NOLA in 2007, there were no bike lanes. Then the St. Claude bike lane went in, and then there was one on Broad Street, and that tiny stretch of Magazine in front of the WWII Museum, and the protected bike lane out in Gentilly, and now they are all over the place, and I wanted to ride them all. I wanted to take that favorite ride out through City Park and to Lake Pontchartrain to see the bayou and look for pelicans. I wanted to get lost out in Gentilly and do laps around Audubon Park and ride the Mississippi River Trail out to the end to see what they’ve done to that riverfront park in Kenner and if that abandoned suitcase is still there. Continue reading
It was another gray day in Baltimore, and as soon as I got on the bike I felt raindrops. They weren’t the kind of raindrops that stayed–those would come later–and it felt good to just be flying down the hill in less than full summer heat. I rode down, took my left and my right, dodged some mail trucks, took another left and a right, and I was retracing familiar steps. I thought about why these familiar steps are never in the west–I blame MLK (the street, not the man)–and then I parked my bike and ate the kind of breakfast that you know you’re supposed to think is amazing, but really you shouldn’t have to ask that many times for a biscuit that’s more like a very, very plain crumbly muffin with jam that just doesn’t hold up. On my way I stopped to snap this picture of construction in Fells Point. It’s almost time to pour the cement, I think, the ground traced with steel bars. There are cranes in the sky down here. Every time I see cranes in the sky, I remember that’s what they said about New Orleans–there would be cranes in the sky, but that didn’t happen. Something else is happening there now. I walked down to the pier, sat and watched the water taxi come and go, and then it was back on the bike to the Inner Harbor and around to Locust Point for a couple of errands before a speedy trip home. Those last few miles were my favorite of the day, up and down, up and down, hitting my stride, waving my hellos.
I know, I know, I’m a broken record, but wow, what a beautiful day for a bike ride in New Orleans. Today’s my last day in the city before heading north to the frozen tundra that is Spring classes, and I spent most of it on N.’s bike. I first rode into the Marigny to meet R. and A. for brunch at the third outpost of that restaurant I think of as where I met D. and M. and S. for the first time~I knew from that first morning that they would all be bosom friends that morning, and I was right; today, same sort of friends, same sort of restaurant, and iit was just a perfect start to a day that then took my to Mid-City to see M.~an unannounced bike-by from the olden days. I pedaled back toward the Quarter along Orleans. I remember when they repaved that street, such a dream, and today it was a respite from the truly awful New Orleans infrastructure. My god, iron your streets! I snapped this picture of an empty building that looks like it used to be a theater. I think the sign is smaller now, but I will have to check the ol’ archive. So much has changed around here~new public housing, new asphalt, newness, but not at this spot and the others where there’s so much blight. It reminds me of Baltimore. A walk through the Quarter for a dog parade and more friends and then I was riding Uptown on the old route to see R. and then S. The fork is still embedded in the street at Baronne and Jackson, the cow’s still there, Muses looks lived-in, and we are still being exhorted to be the change we wish to see in the world. it was a lovely ride, lovely stops, and a perfect vacation. I’m not going to lie, though: I’m looking forward to going home in the morning, if only to get a break from my vacation schedule. Thank you, New Orleans, as always.
Well, I left those cool Maryland climes for a weekend in New Orleans. N. lent me her bike, and after tonight’s parade I rode up, trying to remember where to take a right, and then I was at the post off, almost there, LaSalle which is Simon Bolivar which is Loyola. Peanut Park is still there~is this how we’re getting parks from now on?~ and so’s the Chicken Mart and so’s the basketball court sponsored by the Hornets~going to have to change that now. It’s the same, but then there’s a bike lane on Loyola and a streetcar stop. There’s a *streetcar* there now? It’s a Super Bowl thing, I think, but it was nice to see that sort of change. The cool thing about leaving a place is you get to come back and visit.
And then I got on a bike, took a right then a quick right, a left then a right, and I was on Baronne, headed Uptown to meet C. and P. for parades filled with floats and bands and Metairie’s best dance troops. Oh, it’s good to be back home, or in this home, at any rate.