Whatever I was going to find on this bike ride, one thing was almost certain:  the temperatures would be cooler than North Carolina.   It seemed like a no-brainer.

My idea for this trip would be to bicycle from Chicago to Cleveland, a distance of about 400 miles.    My good friends Jan and Gordon live near Cleveland.  It would take me about a week.

 

As some of my readers know,  my folding bicycle broke in half back in April, with me on it.   I have needed since then to recover from my injuries.  Yes, yes, I will be buying a new bicycle, probably a folding one.   But I could not seem to make a decision.  There are so many choices…

Meanwhile, I had also managed to drop my six year-old camera just enough times to make it unusable.   For some reason I felt more excited about spending money on a camera than a bicycle.  I put off a new bicycle for a while and spent $950.00 on this Sony RX-100V.   It is small, has a very good German lens, has lots of up to date electronics, and I can pull it from my handlebar bag, turn it on,  and take a picture all with one hand.  I would no longer have to use two hands to take off a lens cap or log into a cell phone while on a moving bicycle.    The salesman in the DC camera store said he uses this same camera to take pictures while motorcycling full speed!

 

For this trip I would use my existing backup bicycle, the Surly Long Haul Trucker.   It is sturdy and stable but really heavy.  I had no alternative so it would have to do.  My friend Tom was driving from Florida to Wisconsin and he graciously agreed to transport me and the bicycle from North Carolina to Chicago.   Just before leaving I loaded it up and checked it out in the stairwell of the seventh floor of Greenbridge,  Chapel Hill NC.

 

I saved Tom some mileage by riding Amtrak from Durham to Charlotte.   Tootie offered to drive me the twelve miles to the Durham Amtrak station,  but I insisted on bicycling there.  North Carolina intra-state Amtrak uses its own refurbished 1940’s rail cars that are nicer than the normal Amtrak.   Even at twenty-five years on their second life, they do not seem old.

 

 

North Carolina Amtrak also has a nice no-extra charge bicycle carrying service, you just hand your bicycle to the guy in the baggage car.   At destination, in Charlotte, I walked up and he just handed it down to me.   The rest of Amtrak does NOT operate as easily as this.

I bicycled a mile or two over to I-77 in Charlotte, where Tom pulled his car over at a downtown exit.    Driving up to Chicago we stopped for a delightful two day visit with our friends Dave and Gail in the cool Virginia mountains near Blacksburg.     We eventually arrived the Chicago area in late afternoon rush hour traffic.  To minimize the traffic and help Tom get moving to Wisconsin, he dropped me off in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst IL, about twelve miles from the Chicago Loop.   He and his dog Frida posed for pictures with my bicycle.

 

 

And he took a picture of me.

 

He drove off.    I bicycled about a mile to the Elmhurst Metra station, of the Chicago-area commuter rail system.  I could wheel my bicycle onto the lower level of the double decker cars.  It took about half an hour to go downtown to Union Station.

 

On arrival I walked the bicycle through a glittery Union Station and out to the street.

I do not know a huge amount about Chicago.   I had bicycled through the more prosperous north side on previous trips.   My cycle route this time headed south.  During the car ride I had found on my phone an Airbnb for less than a hundred dollars total, on the north side of the south side, near what they called Little Italy.

It would be about a five mile late afternoon bike ride from Union Station to the Airbnb.   Starting out there was a bike path along Clinton Street going south.

Chicago has lovely buildings.

 

Eventually the neighborhoods got more residential and lower rise, and more Hispanic.   I bicycled under an elevated rail line.

 

My Airbnb was to be in a couple’s two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of this house.

 

At first I was taken aback by the messiness and lack of privacy, but it was fine, sort of like being the young couple’s actual guest.   The woman worked in academia, there were leftist and environmentalist posters on the walls.   My bearded host cordially offered me breakfast the next day (“You want some cereal?  We have blueberries in the fridge.”).

Despite the current Hispanic vibe of the neighborhood, the one-block Little Italy really was just around the corner, where I went looking for dinner on this Monday night.    There were three Italian restaurants all in the same block.

 

I chose Bruna’s, at the end of the block.   The interior was dark, really old school.   There were just three or so other tables with people eating.

I got a radicchio salad followed by delicious lobster ravioli.

 

For dessert I got a Sambuca.

I left the restaurant about 9:00 PM as it was starting to get dark.

I walked around the neighborhood.

 

 

Back in my bedroom I turned off the noisy air conditioner and opened the window.  The next morning I enjoyed my bowl of cereal with blueberries.   I bid farewell to my host couple and bicycled off into the huge area which comprises Chicago.    It would be about three miles east to the bike path along the lakefront.  I gently weaved through residential streets.   I saw a fair number of other bicyclists.

 

 

Just before the lakefront I could see the tall buildings of the Loop, as seen from the south.

 

 

I biked under a couple pedestrian underpasses, and I arrived at the bike trail that goes north-south along the lake.   This is looking left, looking north, although I was turning right.

This is the view looking back north, after I had biked a mile or two.

I had worried about bicycling south from downtown Chicago, as the South Side is currently, in parts, the Murder Capital of America.   Taking cues from the book  ‘Round Lake Michigan, a Bicyclist’s Tour Guide by Harvey Botzman, I bicycled mostly along the lakefront bike trail, then along streets in the very southeast part of the city.   It was fine, I never felt out of place.  I did not even have to ride in especially heavy car traffic.

Some of the way the bike path was between a freeway and Lake Michigan.

 

After the lakefront trail ended I followed a series of streets and bike paths.   These houses built on narrow lots look uniquely Chicago.

 

There clearly used to be a lot of heavy industry along this lakefront.   Some of the land is completely cleared; there are miles of essentially vacant land, especially in the southeastern part of Chicago as it blends into Hammond and Gary, Indiana.   In parts there are bike paths heading north / south.

I crossed the Illinois / Indiana state line near Hammond.   Hammond did have some modernist touches here and there.

 

But downtown Hammond looked pretty rough.   I looked like one of those cities such as Trenton NJ or Bridgeport CT, where the middle class has completely fled and there are huge vacant areas.

 

I hadn’t decided whether to continue ten miles east to even poorer Gary, Indiana.    My decision was made when I saw how nice the Erie Lackawanna trail was.  The trail heads off from downtown Hammond going southeast and skirts south of Gary.   I would have to skip the birthplace of Michael Jackson and the subject of that catchy song in The Music Man.   I guess I had already seen enough poverty.

 

As the suburbs got more prosperous the trail became better maintained.

Right on this rail trail was the story of American slash and burn urbanism.  It says something about race and class in this country.   Just a few miles south and east of the essentially abandoned cities of Hammond and Gary, new neighborhoods were being constructed in former cornfields.

 

I had bicycled thirty-something miles already and had not had lunch.  In what seemed the middle of nowhere, in a new-something looking strip mall, was The Toast and Jam.  At 12:30 on a Tuesday, you had to wait in line for a table.   There were religious signs on the walls.  The food was quite good, bacon and something on rye.

 

 

 

I still had about twenty miles to reach Valparaiso IN, which I knew had motels.   Part of the way I bicycled on this major highway.    Because the shoulder was so wide it was not particularly unsafe, but it certainly was not pleasant.

I found a quite nice chain motel in Valparaiso and later biked into town for dinner.   Stacks Bar and Grill was certainly the busiest spot on a Tuesday night in downtown Valparaiso.

There were people waiting for tables.    To get a seat at the bar I had to stand around for ten minutes waiting for a woman to finish eating.

Blackened salmon on risotto with asparagus, as $ 15.95 bar food in the out-of-the-way place of Valparaiso, Indiana in 2018, says a lot about how far American food has come in the past forty years.    “Blackening” was only invented in the 1980’s by one chef in Louisiana, and he certainly never “blackened” salmon, a fish native to nowhere near Louisiana.    Hardly anyone in America in the 1970’s had heard of risotto, which is an Italian dish.    Fresh asparagus in the 1980’s were only available a few weeks a year.   Who in even the 1990’s had heard of IPA, an obscure English style beer?    Today it all was really delicious here in Valparaiso Indiana at the Stacks Bar and Grill.   And all Americans should be thankful for that.

 

The next morning I biked back through downtown Valparaiso.

 

I was heading for my day’s destination:  South Bend, Indiana, about sixty miles to the east.     I would have to cross a lot of corn and soybean fields.

 

Restaurants are not always available in rural areas so in Laporte, IN,  Christo’s Family Dining (“Highest Quality / Great Value / Large Portions of Food / Since 1982”) was ideal for a late breakfast / early lunch.  Their special of the day was porch chop and eggs, $6.49.   There was Fox News playing on the TV.  I read The New Yorker on my kindle.

Laporte IN is a pretty town.  Very neat and clean.

 

 

For about eighty miles, really since Hammond IN I had seen no minorities.   And everything had been orderly and prosperous but somewhat bland.  The moment I passed into the city limits of South Bend (population 101,000) everything changed, almost immediately.   I saw black and brown faces and decrepit and abandoned buildings.

 

South Bend, with U of Notre Dame,  is clearly not as depressed as a place like Hammond.    There is stuff happening here.  It reminds me of Durham NC twenty years ago.

The Studebaker brothers made wagons in South Bend from about 1870 to 1910 and then started making cars.   The car factory and the company folded at last in 1966.   I biked up to the Studebaker museum and went inside.

 

I had booked an Airbnb in South Bend that morning before leaving Valparaiso.  It is the best Airbnb deal I have ever encountered; $ 26.30 including tax for a very clean and private room with cable TV, shared bath.   There was only one other room occupied.   It was in a nice neighborhood, walking distance to downtown.   The owner uses the whole house as an Airbnb, he manages it from afar by giving his customers codes to unlock the building and the individual rooms.

 

 

Later on I biked into downtown and then across the St. Joseph River to eat at the bar of an Italian restaurant.   Eggplant parmesan.

 

It is 160 miles from South Bend to Toledo, the next real city I would visit.   If I wanted to bike there in three days I would need to plan carefully, as there are not many motels out here in corn country.     Before leaving South Bend, I broke my own rules and actually planned, picking my stops for the next two nights.   The first night would be the small town of Lagrange IN,  the next night Bryan OH, just over the state line.

The metro area of South Bend stretch east for about thirty miles, through Mishawaka, Elkhart, and Bristol.

 

Leaving the built up area in Bristol IN, there is a rail trail for about ten miles before arriving in Shipshewana.     On this bike path I saw several Amish / Mennonites on bicycles, each time dressed in their distinctive old-time garb.   I forced myself to be polite and not take their picture!

Shipshewana IN is a weird place.      Population 650, it serves as a center for Amish / Mennonite tourism.   Apparently non-Amish / Mennonite people drive here to buy Amish / Mennonite gifts and take carriage rides in Amish / Mennonite wagons.  I got lunch.

 

 

 

 

Lunch finished, I headed out of town for the twenty something miles on country roads to LaGrange IN.      I did see several Amish / Mennonite carriages.

Amish also rode bicycles.

 

There is only one place to stay in LaGrange IN;  it was a dump, but at least at $ 45.00 + tax it was a low cost dump.  It was of course run by people of apparent South Asian descent, probably Indians named Patel.

The LaGrange post office has the Ten Commandments out front, and a POW/MIA flag.

The weather was turning against me, and I left the Dump Motel the next morning at 6:30 AM, trying to bicycle as far as possible before the expected thunderstorms began.

 

My weather luck ran out, and at 9:00 AM I was subjected to torrential rains in the middle of cornfield nowhere.

My strategy for rain while on bike trips is to not bicycle in it.   However, if I have nowhere to seek shelter and the temperature is above about sixty-five degrees I do not use a raincoat.   I choose to just get wet even if it means being totally soaked.  I do, however, make sure that my change of clothes and my camera, wallet, and cell phone are safely in the front or rear carriers, double protected by plastic bags.

I was able to bicycle the entire 58 miles to Bryan OH, arriving there mostly dried off at about noon. I shivered and recovered with a delicious latte and an omelet at a coffeehouse in downtown Bryan.    There were Christian posters on the walls.

 

I had to wait until about 2:30 PM before I could occupy my Airbnb, about two blocks away.

The Airbnb is part of a micro-brewery and restaurant called Father John’s Heavenly Devilish Brewing Company.    Its shtick is the complete opposite of the pious statements I had seen in the coffee shop.   In fact, I cannot remember a commercial establishment that so openly mocked religion.    It occupies a former church in downtown Bryan OH.

 

I had dinner that night sitting at the bar, which is in the former church basement.   The menu was full of snidely sacriligious jokes.

 

 

 

It rained heavily that night, and the next morning it was still threatening rain.    I got an early start so I could (hopefully) beat the rain in bicycling to the Big City of Toledo, about sixty miles away.

Rural bicycling in these northern regions of Indiana and Ohio is quite pleasant, although sometimes boring.   Absolutely straight farm roads lattice the landscape.   I would see a car only about every twenty minutes or so.

 

I have a Bluetooth speaker that I sometimes attach to my handlebars with a large rubber band.    This day I was listening to Elvis Costello’s second album on Amazon Music.

 

Google Maps is not always foolproof.   Their map shows the Wabash Cannonball Trail following a straight line for about twenty miles in the area southwest of Toledo.   What Google Maps does not show is that about the first five miles the trail is not really a trail, essentially unrideable on a conventional bicycle, looking something like this:

 

I cycled around instead on a longer route on conventional roads, where I crossed the Wabash rail-trail again.    Now the path was paved and therefore glorious, looking like this:

 

I had heard that Toledo has a problem with sinking housing prices, as its population continues to decrease and industry has closed.   Young people are moving to other states.    Fifteen miles outside of downtown, however, new housing is being built on what looks to be previously unbuilt land.

 

Toledo is built along the Maumee River, near where the river empties into Lake Erie.   First in the suburbs and then in Toledo itself, I biked parallel to the river towards downtown through leafy neighborhoods on the pleasant River Road.

 

Getting closer to downtown the neighborhoods declined.

 

This piece of modernism needs some love.

Downtown Toledo seems to be doing, uh, O.K., which is my opinion on how the entire city of Toledo seems to be doing.  Stuff is happening, things are getting redeveloped.  It is not Flint MI or Bridgeport CT but there are still a lot of empty buildings.

The downtown area around the stadium for the minor league Toledo Mud Hens was lively.  I had completed my sixty mile bike ride by about 1:00 PM.   It had been cloudy all day but had not rained.  I went directly to the crowded Ye Olde Durty Bird, for a delicious chicken wrap and beer.

 

I stayed around the corner at the high rise Park Inn.    My room had nice views, including the  former Holiday Inn next door that has been stripped to the bones

That skinny brown thirty story building to the left of the dead Holiday Inn has an interesting story.  It was built in 1969 as the headquarters for Owings Corning Fiberglass.   They moved out in 1996 and it been completely empty for the last twenty-two years.     Someone has recently purchased the building; condos and office space are now available.   We’ll see.

 

This is the view a little more to the west.   I really like the Art Deco PNC Bank building.

 

Much later in the afternoon I walked out to look for the evening meal.   I eventually settled on a seat at the bar of this Italian place.

 

 

After dinner, in the early evening twilight, buildings looked different.

The Mud Hens were playing and you could walk right up to the outfield fences.

 

The next morning I needed to bicycle east towards Cleveland.  But first I wanted to see an area of Toledo I had heard about:  Old West End.  It would require me to backtrack west for a few miles.

The neighborhood abuts the Toledo Museum of Art.    A quick check of Zillow shows these houses are insanely affordable by national standards.   A fixer upper is way less than $100,000;  a completely renovated designer showcase with 5,500 square feet is $ 290,000.  The neighborhood goes on and on.  Most of these houses were built between 1875 and 1915.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After checking out these neighborhoods, I bicycled back across midtown Toledo towards downtown, across the Maumee River, then on this Sunday morning across miles of depressed Toledo suburbs.     Eventually I found myself back on straight and traffic-free farm roads across the flat landscape.

 

I was heading just south of the Lake Erie shoreline.   After this I would only have two day’s ride to Cleveland.   This day’s destination was the “resort” town of Port Clinton OH.    Although somewhat faded as a resort, Port Clinton is the jumping off point for tourists going to the Lake Erie Islands.   Its motto is “Walleye Capital of the World.”

Because I had started so early from Toledo, hoping again to bicycle before expected afternoon thunderstorms, I had arrived Port Clinton in time for a nice late Sunday brunch at a restaurant downtown.   These guys across the bar seemed to be having a good time.

 

 

After lunch I biked around the town and the lakefront.

 

I stayed that night at a pleasant but cheap motel in Port Clinton.   I had two days left in my journey to Cleveland.    The Port Clinton area sits on a peninsula, and there is only one bridge, a limited access freeway that prohibits bicycles, from the end of that peninsula to the mainland.   I decided to bicycle the five miles east from Port Clinton to the beginning of the bridge, and then seek some alternate way across.    Online I looked for taxis, and I found this interesting guy with a limo to drive me and the bicycle the six miles across that bridge for twelve dollars.    We chatted and found common ground.   He told me his daughter is going to UNC law school!

I started bicycling again the other side of the bridge.    Marshes along Lake Erie can be quite wild and beautiful.

 

 

I biked through several Ohio towns along Lake Erie.

 

 

 

 

I turned slightly south of the Lake towards a town that seemed like it might be a nice place to spend my last night before arriving Cleveland.   Oberlin, Ohio’s principal industry is Oberlin College.   Both the town and the college have embraced progressive causes from way back.   Oberlin played a big part in the abolitionist movement.    Oberlin was the birthplace of the Anti-Saloon League, which successfully lobbied for Prohibition.   (Can you believe prohibition was once a progressive cause?).  Oberlin College has been in the news more recently, pushing stringent and specific rules about what “consent” means in sexual encounters between students.   (“Is it OK if I unclip your bra now?”) Oberlin College must be a very good college; I have two (smart!) friends that went there; my brother-in-law George and my good friend Gail from Blacksburg.

As a college town that seems mostly college,  Oberlin OH perhaps is what Chapel Hill NC was like fifty or sixty years ago, when pretty much everything revolved around the college.

I ate a baba ghannouj and hummus for a late lunch downtown at this excellent Middle Eastern restaurant.

 

I stayed at a crummy Airbnb on the outskirts of town, housed in this trashy building.

I waited for the rain to stop and biked back into downtown for dinner.    I had this place’s version of eggplant parmesan, eaten while talking to interesting people at the bar.

 

The next day I only had about thirty-five or forty miles left to get to my goal for this trip, the lovely city of Cleveland, Ohio.    Gordon and Jan live in Brecksville, Ohio, about fifteen miles southeast of downtown Cleveland.   Gordon works as a computer consultant for various locations of the Cleveland Clinic.   His current posting was at their largest location, located in mid-town Cleveland, about six miles east of downtown.   We agreed that I would bicycle to his work site and be there when he got off work at 3:00 PM.   From there we would put my bicycle in his car and drive back to his house.

Heading out of Oberlin, there is a nice rail trail for about ten miles in the direction of Elyria,  the North Coast Inland Trail.

 

Elyria has a civil war monument, just like the ones you see in almost every Southern town, but it was for the other side!

 

There was the interestingly modernist Elyria Baptist Church, right next door to the Elyria Historical Society building.

 

 

One of the slowdowns of bicycling through an urban area like the suburbs of Cleveland is that I normally have to stop and look at Google Maps every five or ten minutes, carefully looking for a route that stays off major roads.

I lucked out on this trip; Detroit Road was never particularly full of traffic and I bicycled it for over twenty miles, all the way from the outskirts of Elyria to the center of downtown Cleveland.

 

 

 

Yes!!!!

Cleveland is huge.  Even though I was now in the city limits, it was would be about six miles to downtown.   Later, after many miles through the city, I could finally see downtown off in the distance.  I was still on Detroit Road.

 

 

There is a nice bike path on the bridge across the Cuyahoga River.

Like Chicago, Cleveland has amazing buildings.

I had time to kill, so I stopped in a downtown coffee house, and spent almost an hour sipping a latte.     Things felt so much more cosmopolitan than they had just a couple of hours and five miles earlier.   “Elvis Costello” sat off in the corner.

 

 

There is a six mile gap between Downtown and the University Circle area, where Gordon’s job was located.    University Circle is home of not only Case Western Reserve University, but also the Cleveland Clinic, and Severance Hall;  home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

I had bicycled this six mile stretch back in about 2004.   Then it was almost all semi-abandoned heavy industry, sort of frightening, really.   Since then it has radically changed.  It is now either vacant land or Big Medical.    The Cleveland Clinic stretches for more than a mile.

Thanks to cell phones Gordon and I found each other easily.   We drove to his house in Brecksville and I spent two days hanging with him.   His wife Jan and son Thomas were out of town.  We looked at birds through his Leica binoculars.   On the second morning he dropped me off at a rental car agency near his house, from where I drove back to my home in North Carolina.   Gordon posed for a picture with my bicycle.

Many of you remember seeing pictures of me on the blue bicycle with small wheels. I bought this new in 2002 for about $1800.00, custom made by Peregrine Bicycle Works of Chico, California.

This bicycle was fun to ride.   It performed almost as well as many conventional “road” bikes; it only weighed 22 pounds; it felt stiff and fast.  I had ridden it for so long that I was used to its eccentricities.  I rode it even when I did not need its folding capabilities.

 

It would fit in a suitcase for air travel.

 

On Amtrak I could just fold it up and lug it onboard without a case.   Getting off the train, I could reassemble it in less than a minute and bike away from the platform.

I have been in quite a few foreign countries and many states of the USA with this bicycle during the past fifteen years.   While I own a couple of other bicycles, this one has always been my favorite.    I have had a lot of maintenance done to it over the years, but I never would have predicted what happened three weeks ago.

I was out for a fifteen mile spin on country roads near my home in Chapel Hill NC.     Three fourths of the way into the ride, the bicycle started feeling “funny.”   The frame felt slightly wobbly.    I stopped about three times, shaking the bicycle and looking for problems, but could not find any.

Going slowly because it was uphill,  on Dairyland Road coming back towards Chapel Hill, just before the turnoff to Union Grove Church Road, the bicycle suddenly snapped in half, dumping me on the road.    I may have passed out for a moment, I remember thinking that I was now on the road and my shoulder was messed up.

Luckily no car ran into me and a couple cars stopped to help out.   One turned out to be my friend Brian Stapleton, who scooped the bicycle and me up.   We called my wife Tootie on the phone and she met us at our apartment and we drove to the urgent orthopedic clinic.

I have a nicely broken clavicle (collar bone), broken ribs that have been extremely painful, and a substantially bruised hip, which has resulted in swelling called a hematoma.   The hip may take months to completely heal.   Three weeks later I am walking around but still in pain.

My bicycle guru Gordon Sumerel says that this kind of structural failure should not happen ever, anytime, on any bicycle.  It was not something that I should have anticipated.   Am I angry at the manufacturer?   I have trouble getting angry at people, so not especially.   This was a hand built machine by a small business that no longer makes this kind of bicycle.   I get the impression he is almost a one man shop.   I am a small business person myself so I can understand his situation.

 

I have not decided what type of bicycle I will get to replace this.   I want to think about it for a while.

For the moment I can reminisce about just some of the places this bicycle went with me.

With Henry in the Netherlands 2006

 

 

The Netherlands 2007 (photo by Henry)

 

Northern Italy 2014

 

Rioja Valley, Spain 2015

 

with bikers in rural Spain, 2016

 

rural Spain 2016

 

 

outside Nancy, France 2017

 

Indianapolis 2016

 

rural Indiana 2016

 

Maine 20152620 Trapp Avenue, home of Tootie and Paco 1983

Outside our 1980’s apartment in Miami FL 2014

 

 

Assembling the bicycle on the streets of Paris, France 2017

 

Rural Northeast Pennsylvania 2017

 

Along the Rhone River, France 2017

 

My sister Betsy in Grand Central Station, New York City, 2017

 

Detroit MI, 2017

 

With my friend Lyman and my son Jack outside a Walmart, just south of Miami FL 2014

 

Just north of Fort Lauderdale FL, 2018

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In front of Trump’s Mar a Lago, Palm Beach FL 2016

Among the bikers, near Daytona Beach FL 2012

 

 

 

I have family roots in Lubbock, Texas and  I went out there to explore them by bicycle.    My buddy Lyman graciously agreed to accompany me.  Lubbock (population 252,000) is at the center of a huge plain,  hundreds of miles wide through the northern panhandle of Texas, spilling over into New Mexico    I always thought this high plain was called the Caprock, but I learn now that the more correct term is Llano Estacado.   My readers will remember me last year going to the mountains of North Carolina and the town of Boone, which at 3200 feet has the highest elevation of any sizable city in the Eastern U.S.,  Lubbock on the Llano Estacado sits at more or the same elevation, 3200 feet.   But there are no mountains; it is a treeless flat landscape extending in all directions as far as the eye can see.

In a few places such as Ransom Canyon in the eastern suburbs of Lubbock there are essentially inverted hills,  deep crevices in the flatness.    In the last hundred years the Lubbock area has prospered partly because these plains take well to cotton farming, irrigated by unsustainably tapping subterranean aquifers.   And of course, Lubbock is the home of the huge Texas Tech University with its 37,000 students.  Unlike many other parts of Texas, the area around Lubbock is NOT  particularly rich in petroleum.  Lubbock is indeed isolated.   Except for Amarillo 120 miles to the north and Midland 120 miles to the south, the closest major city is Fort Worth, 300 miles away.

 

Despite its isolation, or maybe because of it, Lubbock has always thought of itself as a higher place, somewhere where education matters, a city that has always had its own symphony orchestra, somewhere the locals felt was superior to, say, Amarillo and Abilene.    There are a bunch of famous artists and musicians from Lubbock, and not just Buddy Holly.

My grandfather A.C. Jackson was born in 1894, by family lore in a sod house, near the town of Stratford, Texas, two hundred miles north of Lubbock but on similar flat plains.  After being raised as one of eight children by his widowed schoolteacher mother he worked as a cowboy for a while.  (As an old man he still had his spurs in a box in his basement.)  He was drafted into the army and went to France for World War One.   Lubbock was just becoming a city when he moved there in about 1923 to take a job at a bank.    With him was his new wife Mildred,  my grandmother, who had grown up in Kansas City.   A.C. Jackson went on to be the business manager for the Lubbock school district and to be an important enough citizen that they named an elementary school after him.   He had not been able to go to college but he made damn sure all three of his children did, mostly at Texas Tech, which was right down the street from their house.   My mother Eleanor Jackson (Marshall) was born in Lubbock in 1925, the second of three children.  She later went to graduate school at the University of Texas, where she met my father, and by 1957 they had permanently settled in his hometown of Norfolk/Virginia Beach.   Her brother Joe Terry moved to California, the San Francisco area, soon after coming home from World War II.   Their sister Barbara stayed in Lubbock, raised two wonderful daughters and was a schoolteacher.   On her retirement she moved to Florida, just after the two daughters graduated from college and moved away also.  By the early 1980’s no one from our family lived in Lubbock anymore.

I grew up in Virginia Beach, but almost every summer during the 1960’s my mother transported me and my three siblings over a thousand miles, usually by train, from the ocean beach to these high dusty plains, to visit our grandparents and cousins.

For this bicycle trip through Lubbock,  my friend Lyman and I got into his car in Austin, Texas on a recent Monday morning and pointed it northwest towards Lubbock.    We drove six hours and about four hundred miles, deciding to stop at the tiny settlement of New Home, Texas, about thirty miles south of Lubbock.    We found a parking lot of an elementary school where we felt safe leaving his Prius for a few days.    We pulled our bicycles out of the back and  started biking north in the direction of Lubbock at about four in the afternoon.   Lyman headed out first.  There is a lot of space out here and the roads pretty much all go in perfectly straight lines.

 

Very soon out of town we started to see evidence of Lubbock sprawl, new housing being built out here on the flat farmland, over twenty miles from downtown Lubbock, sprouting up like weeds.

 

 

 

Gradually we got more into the suburbia of Lubbock.

I remembered Lubbock as being a city with nice public services, like parks.  I experienced a flashback when we bicycled by Clapp Park, a huge public swimming pool that I remembered visiting with my family as a child.   Even within the city, roads are straight and flat.

 

Lubbock is of course laid out in a grid, with the streets numbered and the cross avenues going by letters of the alphabet.    Closer to downtown, fronting the major thoroughfare 19th Street this is not a church but Lubbock High School.   Famous graduates include Buddy Holly, Natalie Maines (lead singer of the Dixie Chicks), Mac Davis, and my mother, valedictorian of the class of 1942.

 

2113 – 16th Street, three bedrooms, one bath.   My mother grew up in this house.   My grandparents lived here from 1934 until they died in 1974, six months apart from each other.

My hunch is that the neighborhood had gone pretty far downhill but is on its way back up again.  There is new construction going on down the street.  With intact 1920’s bungalows and only a couple blocks from the University I am surprised that it is not currently more fashionable.    My relatives have commented from this picture that they are disappointed at the lack of shrubbery by the current owners.    Unlike Virginia, summer nights in Lubbock were somewhat refreshing; I remember sitting outside on that front porch with my grandparents, aunt, and cousins.

Lyman and I spent the night in the downtown La Quinta motel on Avenue Q.    Avenue Q apparently used to be a primary shopping street, but now had very little car traffic and a lot of empty storefronts.  There was this impressively intact modernist apartment building,  fronting a park.

 

Two guys were standing out front, smoking.

Later on, in the dark we biked from the motel about twenty blocks out Avenue Q to Orlando’s Italian Restaurant.

 

 

This is a good restaurant.  Eggplant parmesan had lots of cheese and tomato sauce, Chianti was only $ 18.50 a bottle.

 

Foreshadowing the much more overt religiosity that we were to see in the restaurants of small towns outside of Lubbock, near Orlando’s checkout counter was a small stand “New Testament, Take One”.

We had to decide where to bicycle the next day.  Wind is a big deal out here, especially in the spring and especially when one is riding a bicycle.    Clear skies and strong winds 25 – 40 mph were predicted from the southwest.   Clearly, we could bicycle only in one direction.    The wind was predicted to shift to the opposite direction the following day.   We made a plan to bicycle north fifty miles to Plainview and take measure of our situation after that.

First we had to see downtown Lubbock.    I found it disappointing as an urban space.   My theory is that since it was laid out mostly after the invention of the automobile, streets were made extra wide.   It lacks the intimacy of an older downtown.  Many buildings were empty or underutilized.   On a weekday morning there was not much traffic.

 

Mackenzie Park is Lubbock’s Central Park, although it is on the northeast side of town.    I was impressed that it included a city-owned amusement park.

Prairie Dog Town is a plot of land in the park for the endangered squirrel size animal that lives in holes in the prairie.

 

It was nice cycling through Mackenzie Park, and yes, that was the right direction but the town of Plainview was still almost fifty miles further.   To avoid bicycling on the main highway we would not pass through a town the entire way, just miles of arrow straight roads across the prairie.

 

 

 

 

 

For many years I have been a fan of James McMurtry’s song Levelland.   He says he wrote the song for the writer Max Crawford who was from the town of Floydada, thirty miles northeast of Lubbock.  McMurtry used instead the name of the town Levelland, thirty miles west of Lubbock, because Levelland sounded better.   Lyman and I played this song in the car on the way up here, and while cycling across the vast stretches I could not get the song out of my head.

(Music by James McMurtry, still pictures are by me, I took the moving pictures from open sources on the internet.)

 

 

 

 

 

We had run out of water, Lyman stopped and asked this woman to fill up our bottles.

 

 

A couple of times we just stopped in the middle of the road, just to take in the vastness of it all.

 

 

 

 

About ten miles south of Plainview Lyman decided he just had to have a rest.   Shade is a rare commodity out here and he took advantage of this one little tree.

 

We pulled into Plainview (population 22,000) after two in the afternoon.

It was just in time for the local cafe to have stopped serving lunch.   The single restaurant we could find open was the chain drive-in Sonic, which would have been fine except that the only place to eat was in your car, which we did not have, or a picnic table outside in the intense dry wind.   We got cheeseburgers and toughed it out.    Next door to the Sonic was this former gas station right out of The Jetsons.  It is now a check-cashing joint.

The Warrick Plaza Inn is actually in downtown Plainview, unlike the other motels in Plainview which are out by the Interstate and the Walmart.   It was run by an Indian-American family named Patel.   They rented us a room for fifty dollars plus tax.  While we had expected Western cowboy gear in Plainview, while we were checking in three of the family walked out to their car, dressed to the nines in Indian saris.

We chilled in the room for a few hours before going out to look for dinner and a beer.   We certainly had not ridden all this way to abstain from alcohol.   Looking at the usual restaurant websites we could only find one place in Plainview that seemed to serve beer.     It was a mile and a half from downtown.    We rode there on the bicycles through residential neighborhoods.   There must have been a time when Plainview was a prosperous place.

 

 

The Salt N Pepper sat in a dusty parking lot surrounded by pickup trucks, on a highway across from a factory.   At least in my part of the country, it looked like the kind of bar that you go into looking to get into a fight.

 

The door had all these threatening advisories.

 

But we had come all this way, so what the heck.   Once inside, it could not have been friendlier.

 

There were only about ten people in there, including one older couple that could have been part of mine and my wife’s circle of friends.    We had a nice chit-chat.    And the food was good!    I got their “healthy” option, chicken and vegetable stir-fry with Asian noodles.   The Latina-looking woman in the back doing the cooking turned out to be the owner.

The next morning we walked around the empty storefronts of downtown Plainview.

 

 

Of the very small number of businesses in downtown Plainview that appear to be operating successfully the most prominent is Broadway Brew Coffeehouse.  In the cultural environment here maybe a coffee house is a place everyone can agree on.

 

This space has been a restaurant or coffee house for a long time.    In the back, near the rest rooms, they had pictures on the wall.   This same building, from the 1940’s; the woman in the middle has an amazing expression.

We walked back to our motel room and packed up.    The wind had indeed changed directions.    With a 25 -40 mph wind from the north we now had no choice other than bicycle fifty miles back to Lubbock!    We wheeled out of Plainview.

Before long we were back on a highway cutting through the almost vacant plains.   On reading blogs from from the Lubbock cycling community there was a lot of praise for cycling on the Interstate access roads.    That sounds unattractive to an outsider but is actually quite nice, at least in this part of Texas.    On the access road of I-27 we had the road to ourselves;  sometimes we would cycle for half an hour without a car passing us.   We just had to look over at the Interstate highway traffic a few hundred yards away.   The wind was delightful, we barely had to pedal it was blowing so hard to our backs.

Unlike the day before this route did pass through several small towns.    In the dusty settlement of Hale Center (population 2200) there was this nice modernist town hall.     From Wikipedia I learn that central Hale Center was totally destroyed by a tornado in 1965.   Maybe they put the insurance money to good use.

One town further south was Abernathy (population 2800).    We had lunch at Another Slice of Heaven Cafe.    There were almost all pickups in the parking lot.

Inside, colorful exhortations about Jesus were everywhere, I mean everywhere.

 

The service was friendly and efficient.   We split the Special of the Day; hamburger steak with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy with two sides and Texas Toast $ 8.99; it was perfect.

We met the owner in the parking lot after lunch,  a really nice guy.  On the south side of Abernathy we biked past this pleasantly -unaltered 1960’s bank building.

 

There was twenty miles further to cycle into Lubbock, where we had one more pilgrimage to make.    A.C. Jackson Elementary, named after my grandfather, sits on the north side of Lubbock in a working class neighborhood surrounded on three sides by freeways.   Built in 1949, it exudes proud Modernism and appeared very well maintained.

 

 

We still had time to bike over for a beer in the Depot District, former warehouses that have become restaurants and nightclubs.   The District includes the statue of Buddy Holly.

The next morning, pretty much against the wind, we had to bike back to the car in the tiny town of New Home.     As I walked out of our motel room, I felt like I had run into some Buddy Holly loading up his car.

 

Lubbock sprawls most significantly on the south side; they just keep adding street numbers.  There are houses as far out as about 140th street.   Somewhere in sixties I admired this piece of modernism.

 

There are indeed neighborhoods of tract mansions on the south side, this one was at about 110th street.

 

This was much further out, where the development starts to cut into the prairie.

Small Texas crossroads still have independent restaurants!    Before driving four hundred miles back to Austin, across from an abandoned gas station in New Home we had lunch at The Spot, named after the mascot for their high school football team.    Yes, there were religious statements all over the interior.

 

As most of my readers know, I do a lot of solo bicycling trips.   I have also done some with my friend Lyman.   This trip would be even more more social; it would give me the chance to hang out with some of my oldest and best friends.   Tom Constantine, Lyman Labry, Jorgen Jorgensen, and myself all knew each other and lived in New Orleans in the early 1980’s.   None of us live there anymore, although we all like to visit.

We met on a Thursday morning at Lyman and his partner Gillian’s Austin, Texas home.   Befitting a trip in Texas, Jorgen showed up from his home in the Houston Heights with a huge four-door pickup truck.   We could easily pile all four bicycles in the back.

In this Austin neighborhood, Beto signs were everywhere.

We drove southwest about eighty miles to a spot called Devil’s Backbone.  I do not know any parallel in the Eastern USA to the Texas and Western tradition of a bar sitting uniquely and somewhat forlornly by itself on a two lane highway, far from any town.  I guess you could call it a roadhouse.   This watering hole, named after the rock formation it sits on, has been here since the 1940’s and had a big Texas flag.

 

We had chosen this place to leave the truck to begin our bicycle trip.  The bar had several outbuildings and a big yard, and the nice young bartender insisted on giving us a tour.

 

She kindly agreed to keep an eye on Jorgen’s truck for a few days and snapped our photo before we set off.

 

 

Our destination for the day would be New Braunfels, thirty something miles to the southwest.   The first part of the ride was on a busy two lane highway, but at least in Texas there are big shoulders on many of the roads.

We got off the main highway on a smaller road that circled a dam of the Guadalupe River.

 

The fifteen miles of River Road north of New Braunfels is a beautiful bike ride, almost flat as it follows the Guadalupe River, with very little car traffic.

 

River Road is indeed full of tourist stuff, for the tubing business during the summer.

We stayed that night in Gruene (pronounced “green”, we learned),  a restored mill town on the outskirts of New Braunfels.  Previously abandoned to the point of being a ghost town, it now is quite touristy.

 

 

Image result for gruene texas

 

Negotiated on the spot, we got one of the better hotel room deals I have seen in a while, four rooms for about the price of two.   Surprised that we did not have to deal with roommates, we all slept soundly that night.

We again took off the next morning.

 

We rode back along the Guadalupe River, then turned northward on something called Purgatory Road.   Although it was mostly uphill, it made us feel like we were really in The West, with big sky vistas.

 

 

We had had some ideas about biking all the way to the town of Blanco, but decided instead to bike back to the truck and drive the fifteen miles to Blanco.    There were noises in our group about wanting barbecue for a late lunch.   Old 300 in Blanco filled the bill.

The arguments about North Carolina vs Texas barbecue are pointless because the barbecue in Texas is really a completely different dish.    Texas barbecue is very up-front in its embrace of large amounts of delicious fatty meat.   This $ 7.50 sandwich of barbecue beef brisket seems representative of that philosophy.

 

 

We spent the night at a motel in Blanco and had the opportunity to bike to a park in central Blanco and see some live music.  The jazz band was professional and tight, the Japanese drummer fetching.

 

The central part of Texas, the Hill Country, is clearly becoming a tourist destination.   I am reminded that the populations of  Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston have all exploded in the past decades.   All of these cities are within an easy drive to the Texas Hill Country.    As bicyclists we ran into other visitors almost everywhere we went.

Tossing aside whatever advance plans we had made, the next day we drove the truck and the bicycles to another country roadhouse called Harry’s, about twenty miles north of Fredericksburg.   From there we could do as a day trip the somewhat famous Texas bike ride called the Willow City Loop.

At eleven o’clock on a spring Saturday morning there was almost no one around Harry’s but the live music had already begun, playing to Harry’s empty picnic area.   The ATM on the far right is non-operational, shot full of bullet holes.

The guitar player told us that Harry’s expected “150 bikers” (i.e. motorcyclists) to converge here in the next few hours.   Jorgen parked his pickup in the yard and we unloaded the bicycles.

 

The bike ride was beautiful.   The first two-thirds is on a semi-private road, the only traffic obstacle was other bicyclists and the occasional car.

The final part of the bike ride was along a lightly traveled highway, mostly uphill, which seemed to be a struggle.

 

 

 

We got back to Harry’s about three hours after we had left it.   I doubt there were 150 motorcyclists, but a lot had gathered there.  The atmosphere seemed friendly and the new set of musicians were actually quite good, guitar and ukulele.   We stuck around for a beer.

 

 

That pretty much was the end of the bicycling on this trip.    That afternoon we piled the bicycles in the truck and drove about forty miles north, just to be able to eat at the fabled barbecue restaurant Cooper’s in the town of Llano.  Even though we arrived at what normally (to me) would be a “dead” hour, 4:00 PM, it was still packed on a Saturday afternoon.    The restaurant is on the main highway going out of town, the lot was jammed with mostly pickup trucks.   To be able to enter a patron first passes by a grill covered with several kinds of meat, where you can select your slab, paid for by the pound.    The tables inside had unlimited sides of Sunbeam style white bread and ranch beans.  It was all quite delicious, although I was not in much in the mood for meat for quite a few days after this.

 

 

Eating large amounts of meat is somehow patriotic.   Pictures of visits by governors George W.Bush and Ricky Perry were on the wall, as well as a positive review by the intensely conservative newspaper Washington Times.

 

I had been to Columbia,  the capital city of South Carolina on a couple of occasions, but I had never been all that impressed.  I figured I just had not looked at it hard enough.

My newlywed parents and infant older sister had lived for two years 1953-55 in Columbia, where my father had a job teaching Spanish at Columbia College.   I was born just a month after they left Columbia for him to go to graduate school in Colorado.  (He quit that after two years and we moved back to his hometown of Norfolk/Virginia Beach, where he got into the car business.)  Quite a few times during my upbringing Dad had told me about the social life in Columbia at that time, that “people at cocktail parties always ended up talking about The War.”   And The War he was referring to was not the recently ended World War Two, it was the Civil War.    My late father was from Virginia and my mother is from Texas, so they were both Southerners.   Still, I just recently asked Mom about Columbia and she said the same thing, that the young faculty at the college were mostly from somewhere else, and they were all surprised at the amount of conversation about General Sherman.

It seemed the southwest side of Columbia might be interesting.   I drove down there four hours from Chapel Hill and parked my car thirty something miles from downtown Columbia, in the twin town of Batesburg-Leesville.    There is a Walmart near its downtown where I felt safe leaving my car.   I took out the bicycle.

 

NORTH Carolina has lost a lot of the atmosphere in its small towns because the NCDOT has put four lane highways right through the middle of most of them.   South Carolina, on the other hand, has built roads with a more nuanced view.   Batesville-Leesburg is nine miles from I-20, but otherwise the town is accessed only by two lane roads.   It allows the town to feel more like a town and less like a strip mall. Even the Walmart fronts a two lane highway.

I had just started biking but it was already time for lunch.   I had actually been to Batesville-Leesburg on one previous occasion and had had great barbecue at Jackie Hite’s.      I was on my way to there when I passed the Inside Out Cafe .  It had lots of cars parked outside, always a good sign.   I really wanted something healthier than pork fat, so I thought I would give this a try.

The staff of the restaurant could not have been nicer and the chicken salad sandwich was delicious, enlivened with bits of fresh grapes.   It was the kind of place women of a certain age would go for lunch.    There was a pleasant outdoor patio on the back.    Christian images were all over the walls.

 

 

The bathroom wallpaper was New York City.   It took me a minute to get this, but this is about 9-11, right?

 

One young woman in particular seemed to be in charge.   I heard her say something about having gone to culinary school.   She had a T-shirt with this quote on the back.

 

The front of her shirt was more direct; three icons and the words:  PRO-GOD

PRO-LIFE

PRO-GUN

 

ok…

After lunch I had a nice time watching a freight train pass in front of the restaurant, then climbed back on the bicycle, heading out of town.   It would be nineteen miles down the original US-1 to the next, larger town of Lexington.

 

 

 

The bike ride to Lexington was fine, really.   I eventually managed to get onto some secondary roads.

 

Lexington has grown considerably in the past few years, new subdivisions in the growing sprawl around Columbia.   I really like a coffee with milk, a latte, in the late afternoon.   I found a coffee house just a couple of doors down from the courthouse in downtown Lexington.    The coffee was nice, the service professional.

Only after sitting here a while and reading my Kindle did I realize that this coffee house was owned by, or served as an extension of, a particular church.     Religious art was on the walls.  People at the next table were three women talking to a guy who I realized was a pastor.   He had ridden his motorcycle to the coffee house, which was full of people on a Friday afternoon.

 

 

It was a pleasant atmosphere, no one bothered me, and after reading for a while I got back on the bike and threaded through miles and miles of Columbia suburbs.     I had to go on major roads because all the residential streets were non-connecting.   The bicycling was not that pleasant and neither was the scenery, although I did stumble on one nice piece of googie architecture.

In an African-American part of West Columbia I rode by this place, the Best Hash & Rice in S.C.     Someone was smoking meat in the parking lot.   At four-thirty in the afternoon I just was not hungry.

 

There was a bike lane on a wide highway, which made it reasonably safe but not pleasant as I saw downtown Columbia in the distance.

 

I first rode into the Congaree Vista neighborhood, which is a group of recently renovated former warehouses.    Like many such areas that are quickly redeveloped all at once, there were a lot of chain restaurants.

 

Still, there was a brewpub that looked locally owned, and I stopped so I could figure out what to do next.    I sat around a bunch of preppy looking young people and enjoyed a pleasant beer.     I found a reasonably priced hotel room about a mile away, in the center of the original downtown.

The Sheraton Columbia is in a very narrow seventeen story former bank building from 1913.

 

 

The University of South Carolina is a pretty large school, and downtown Columbia now seems to be mostly a college town, with the benefits that brings.    One of the 1970’s office high rises has been converted into student housing.   Later on that evening I went out, determined to have a seat at a bar and a healthy meal but at a reasonable price.  I had felt that on these bike trips I had to quit having $70.00 dinners.   Just two blocks down the street, at Main Street Public House I had an $11.00 Margherita pizza and two $6.00 glasses of wine.   Everybody was watching college basketball on TV.

 

I could say that I spent the next day looking around the interesting parts of Columbia, maybe finding Columbia College or my parents old neighborhood, wherever that was.   Or maybe exploring early 20th century residential neighborhoods like Shandon.   But I did not.    Cloudy skies were predicted but the reality was a cold rain.    It rained quite hard that morning; when it stopped briefly I had no choice other than to get on the bike and start riding west back toward Batesburg-Leesville.    After about six miles the rain started up again and I ducked into a Krispy Kreme doughnut store.    I sat there quite a while, eating my doughnut and drinking my decaf coffee, watching the West Columbia world go by.

 

The rain finally stopped.   I headed out.   I passed this interesting building.

Yes, I eventually biked back to Batesburg-Leesville, and the Walmart parking lot, and our white Honda.   But something happened that bothered me.    I have been doing these kinds of bicycle rides since I was about twelve years old, fifty years ago.   I have often bicycled in a way that pissed off some motorist, and they would say something.  The anger was provoked.     But until three weeks ago, 140 miles from here on another ride in Dillon, South Carolina I had hardly ever remembered someone showing unprovoked visceral hatred towards me and my bicycle, whatever that represents.     In Dillon, a pickup truck honked at me and some angry words came out of the window, I cannot remember what they were.    But I clearly was not stopping traffic; there was no traffic around.

Fast forward three weeks and I was on US1, just a mile or two from Batesburg-Leesville, which had a wide shoulder and I was not slowing down traffic.   Two young men in one of those jacked up pickup trucks intentionally roared by me very closely.    The man on the passenger side give me a very vigorous and intense one finger salute.    I had done nothing to him.   Thirty minutes later the same truck roared by me once again, trying to come close and scare me with their loud non-mufflered engine.

As a past middle aged white man with decent social skills, I pretty much can go anywhere and do anything.   This gives me a tiny sliver of knowledge of what it is like to be hated for something one has no control over.   I feel for those less fortunate than me.   I hate to blame this on Trump, but has he somehow inspired people to act on those politically incorrect thoughts that they previously kept bottled up?

Robeson County NC does not get much good press.  It is one of the poorest counties in North Carolina.   Wikipedia describes its population as one third white, one third black, and one third Lumbee American Indian.    The state of North Carolina recognizes the Lumbees as an official Native American tribe, although the federal government offers only limited recognition.

I had remembered all the press coverage Robeson County got back in 1988, when two Lumbee Indians took over a newspaper office at gunpoint, to protest local corruption.  One was Eddie Hatcher.  After he was imprisoned many radicals considered him a political prisoner.  He had a very complex story, broke the law in other ways, and was in and out of jail.  He died in the state penitentiary in 2009.

I knew Robeson County has had economic setbacks.   Until 2001 most of the world’s supply of Chuck Taylor All-Star basketball shoes were made here.   I really did not know anything else about the place, except the land would be flat.

The county seat and largest town in Robeson County is Lumberton, population 22,000.   It is 125 miles south of my home in Chapel Hill, on I-95 near the South Carolina line.   I parked our car in the Walmart on the far north side of Lumberton at eleven on a Tuesday morning and pulled my Surley bicycle out of the trunk.

 

I hatched a plan in the car on the way down.   I decided to ride south towards Dillon, South Carolina, maybe seeing the tourist trap South of the Border.    Ultimately the route came out like this:

The north side of Lumberton was much more prosperous than I expected.  It was a beautiful day.

 

The American dream; perfect lawn,  a pickup truck, and a front porch with American flag pillows.

 

The older parts of Lumberton

 

Downtown Lumberton was pleasant, but the only building that seemed full of people was the courthouse.   While it looks brand new, I learn it is a 1975 renovation of an older building, with a new facade in 2005.   The building looks depressing,  like it is celebrating its power to imprison its citizens.

Other parts of downtown were attractive but mostly unoccupied.

There is this nice modernist building.   It used to be a bank but apparently is now empty.

After I bicycled across the Lumber River there were miles of poorer African-American neighborhoods.   After that, the landscape opened up.

Trailers across the landscape.

The office of a religious radio station was this nice piece of modernism, sitting alongside the highway.

 

The highway passed across the occasional swamp.

Twelve miles south of Lumberton is the town of Fairmont.   Over on I-95 (on another trip) I had seen a sign  “HISTORIC DOWNTOWN FAIRMONT, NEXT EXIT”

I wanted to see what the commotion was about.  Despite the sign, Fairmont, population 2600, did not look like anything special.

 

This semi-abandoned house must have been attractive in its day.

 

South Carolina was just a little further down the highway.

 

When you enter South Carolina annoying rumble strips appear on the side of the road.

 

I got to Dillon, South Carolina in time for a late lunch at a restaurant with an unusual name, especially for rural South Carolina.

 

 

My steak and cheese sandwich was quite good.   I asked my server about the restaurant’s name; she said the owner, who is from the country of Jordan, had first moved to Massachusetts, then to here.

After lunch I bicycled around Dillon, population 6,600.   One of Dillon’s claims to fame is that it is the hometown of former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.    He played in the Dillon High School band before becoming class valedictorian and going off to Harvard.    While at Harvard, he came home summers to work at South of the Border.

`

 

 

There was no decent place to stay right in town so I found a room at the Quality Inn out near the I-95 interchange.    I still wanted to bike a little more so I cruised around on the farm roads outside of town.

 

BC Steak & BBQ is one of those Southern places with a big buffet of greasy meat and vegetables.  I got mine To Go and ate in my motel room next door,  so I could have my dinner with the wine that I had bought at the Food Lion.

 

The next morning I woke up and watched Morning Joe, then packed up and pushed out.    I had always associated South of the Border with Dillon SC, but SOTB is not really in Dillon, it is six miles north of Dillon on the North Carolina border.

South Carolina has a libertarian streak that attracts North Carolinians:  motorcycle riders are not required to wear a helmet, it is faster to get married here, and most fireworks are legal.   I am not sure why someone built and then closed down all these tittie bars.  These places were north of Dillon and just south of South of the Border.

 

Topless Reflexxions Bar

 

 

 

 

I thought everybody knew about South of the Border, but my friend Lyman, who is from Louisiana and Texas, was clueless.    It is probably the East Coast’s most famous tourist trap, begun in 1950 as a place to buy fireworks and beer, when neither was available in adjoining Robeson County, North Carolina.  Its now politically incorrect signs of a “Mexican” named Pedro appear nearly every mile for over a hundred miles in either direction on I-95, preying on the New York-Florida car traffic.    For over sixty years it has included restaurants, motels, and an amusement park, among other stuff.    I think most of it now looks dated, built at a time when there was NOT a McDonald’s at every I-95 interchange.  Maybe today it can be considered folk art.   Approaching it by bicycle on two lane route US-301, one gets a different perspective from than from I-95.   The signs start many miles away.

 

 

 

 

 

Then I stumbled onto the real thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I only slowed down to take pictures and kept pedaling.   Continuing up US-301 just beyond SOTB there is the very small town of Rowland NC.   It reminded me of something my late father told me, that US-1 was the original north/south highway from the Northeast to Virginia to Florida, replaced later by US-301.   That was replaced by I-95.    Each highway has motels that reflect the era in which they were built.    Rowland NC, on US-301,  has several motels from the nineteen fifties.   I somehow doubt that now many long distance travelers stay in these places.

 

 

Did they put up this fence so the locals don’t know who is sleeping with whom?

 

Earlier in the day, just north of Dillon,  I had seen other motels.

 

 

 

 

North of Rowland NC I pedaled up US-301.    This road closely parallels I-95.    For a U.S. highway, there was hardly any traffic, a car every five minutes or so.

 

 

How many songs talk about a crossroads?   Robert Johnson channeled by Eric Clapton of Cream:   I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.  

For the last few miles into Lumberton, even though there still was no traffic on US301, the road closely followed I-95 and I could watch the truck traffic.  It was a gentle peaceful ride, in a noisy sort of way.

 

There is a levee that surrounds central Lumberton, so I could finish the ride into Lumberton on a bike path.

 

 

Mardi Gras translated from French means Fat Tuesday.  In New Orleans it is both a season and a day.   The celebration is a ramp-up; parades and parties start shortly after New Years Day and continues for over a month.  Activity increases in intensity until the culmination on the Tuesday before Lent.

Mardi Gras Day, that final Tuesday, is the biggest party day of all.  It is a daytime event that starts early and ends early.   Some locals pride themselves on starting the party at a very early hour, say 6:00 AM.    Most of the party is over by 5:00 PM.   Parades go on all day.

One of the most mysterious parts of Fat Tuesday is the Mardi Gras Indians, African-Americans who dress up like American-Indians.    Supposedly they do not actually “parade; ”  they just appear, usually in poor African-American neighborhoods, unannounced, to do symbolic battle against other “tribes” of “Indians.”  The Indians are men that have spent a year or more sewing their own costumes.

I had never seen a Mardi Gras Indian on Mardi Gras Day.   The only time I ever saw these MG Indians was at a funeral for one of them back in 2015, which we learned about from the local alternative newspaper.   I took this photo at that 2015 event.

 

 

The first parade of Mardi Gras Day is Zulu, run by the elite of the New Orleans African-American community.  Zulu starts at 8:00 AM in an African-American part of the city but soon joins the usual parade route through Uptown New Orleans.

I was in New Orleans with my wife Tootie and her sister Kathryn.    We of course wanted to see the Zulu parade, but also wanted to catch a glimpse of Mardi Gras Indians, if possible.   Maybe if we bicycled into that neighborhood we might see an Indian?   We would have to put on our costumes as well.   Mardi Gras is much more fun if one dresses up, “masks.”

Driving a car in the city on Fat Tuesday is pretty much impossible so a bicycle can be quite handy.    We were staying in our friend’s upstairs guest apartment near Louisiana Avenue and Magazine Street.    It was 6:15 AM as we put on the sheep outfits that Tootie had designed and constructed.

We had three bicycles, two of which our friend graciously allows us to store permanently in New Orleans under her house.   Mardi Gras beads were draped over her fence.

We decided to start in only partial costume, and add the fluffy sheep fur later in the day.

On our way bicycling to The Hood we passed through the much wealthier Garden District where at 6:45 AM we stumbled onto this impromptu appearance of the New Orleans Baby Doll Ladies; already dancing through the cool morning, accompanied by a loud and raucous brass band.

 

 

Led by this guy.

We crossed St. Charles Avenue and bicycled on into neighborhoods areas I have hardly ever visited.    I had felt scared to go in these African-American neighborhoods but it all seemed welcoming on Mardi Gras morning.   At 7:15 AM I followed Tootie and Kathryn up Jackson Avenue as people were staking out their spot to watch the Zulu parade.

 

 

All was great except we had two problems.    We did not see Mardi Gras Indians anywhere,  and both Tootie and Kathryn felt somehow incomplete without an entire Sheep costume.    We hurriedly biked back to the apartment to put on the full costume.

We were disappointed in not seeing any Indians, but the full Zulu parade awaited.   We biked back to a spot on the corner of Jackson Avenue and St. Charles.    The parade had about forty floats and lasted almost three hours.  The parade organization is over a hundred years old and continues to mock those who mock African-Americans, circa about 1910.   Black doctors and lawyers in blackface and wigs of fuzzy hair with jungle attire like grass skirts.    They toss coconuts from the floats.  Only in New Orleans.

 

 

The St. Augustine Marching 100 is the most famous high school band in New Orleans and is  from the city’s most prestigious historically black high school; Catholic and all boys.

The Zulu parade was immediately followed by the Rex parade, run by some of the city’s white social elite.    We were hungry and only stuck around for one or two floats.

There would be about four more hours of parades on St. Charles Avenue, but we wanted to skip that and bicycle the three miles past the downtown high rises to the French Quarter.

 

There is a restaurant we like at the far end of the French Quarter, near French Market and Esplanade Avenue.  It is called St. Cecilia and luckily it was open.  They had a limited menu for Mardi Gras Day;  Tootie got red beans & rice, Kathryn and I got quiche.   Everybody was in costume.

 

After lunch we locked the bicycles and walked over to nearby Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny, then back to the French Quarter.  There were no organized events,  just general crazyness.

 

 

Tootie

 

This eleven second video taken on Frenchmen Street pretty much sums it up.