The Big Easy–mardi gras, Jazz fest, Katrina. I’d been a couple times before—once just after I got home from Peace Corps in my 20s where we stayed with our friend Matt V., a fellow RPCV and slept on his floor and again in 2010 for our 5 year wedding anniversary. Now, I’m here some 10 years later for CR and arrived early to set up for a work event which left some time to pedal and explore New Orleans on two wheels—something I’d not done before.
My home base was the Hyatt Regency a modern mega-monolith next to the Super Dome, which sports rainbow colors at night. My now out-dated memories of the super dome are when it was a fixture in the nightly news during hurricane Katrina when it turned into a desperate refugee camp. The U2 – Green Day song is what I have on my mind when I look out over the space like dome.
I didn’t have much of a destination after I arrived other than, lunch. I googled and found a place that was 3 miles away, reasoning that I’d get a sense of what it was like to cycle here and work up even more of an appetite for lunch. While on my way to my intended destination, the modest crowd, charming name, and rumbles in my belly led me to stop at, Turkey and Wolf, which it turns out has amazing sandwiches. I got the collards, swiss cheese and cole slaw, on well buttered rye bread, and a glass of tea. Resisted the temptation to get a beer, as I had more miles I wanted to ride.
I headed down to the river, because that’s what’s pretty, right? You know what I got? A wall, designed to hold the water back thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers. Or as Matt V, used to say, chippy-pot-las. I took that down into the French Quarter. On the way, I passed a charming grandma on a chopper with a trailer, in which she pulled her poodle. I thought about engaging in some cyclist to cyclist bon homie, but pedaled on, but didn’t stop thinking about the missed conversation. “Cute dog”—I could have commented on the cute dog, “your dog is adorable.” Grandma’s whole setup was adorable but my next destination / not destination was Beignets. I’m in NOLA. There must be donuts but by the time I got to the French Quarter, near Cafe Du Monde, where I saw the line and then again decided that i wasn’t up for waiting so wound up in Andrew Jackson park. I was thinking, aren’t you the dude who’s supposed to go off the $20 to be replaced by Harriet Tubman? Why do you get a park? Well, I guess if you lead the army that takes Florida from Spain, that gets you a park.
I folded the bike and sat on a bench and chatted up a motorcyclist who lives somewhere on the gulf, who came “to look at the pretty girls,” which, according to him, are sparse on the gulf’s oil rigs. He left and a couple of other guys saw me unfolding—I was going to take off but wound up talking to Jay and G. for a while. It turns out that they are working but homeless. G. liked to do poetry slams. After one on how selling drugs leads to pain, he lifted his shirt to reveal deep scars, and a lump the size of a golf ball– gun shot wounds. I stayed for a while longer, Jay worked at Cafe Du Monde—would hang out in the milk fridge. “It’s deep!” he said. When I was leaving they asked for some cash. I gave the lone dollar I had but wish I had more to give in that moment.
Next I wanted to try something greener, so I found a bike/walking path. And then I spied a bike shop. Went into Bayou bikes and chatted with Bob, their lead fitter all about the Specialized Electrics. They sounded like the bomb. Bob did not offer a test ride. (They go up to 28 mph.) I did not ask. I’m sure I could have. I just have a sense of what they can do. I wound up getting some riding shorts, sunglasses and brake shoes, and advice on how to install them.
I set off toward the City Park—following the bayou as Bob had suggested. The humidity had gone out of the air and the sun was breaking through the clouds. I made it to the park and started riding around and was going to photograph some sculptures when I met a guy who was using collapsable fishing poles to blow ginormous bubbles.