Archive for March, 2014

The New York Times recently ran a Travel section article “36 Hours, Raleigh NC”.   It said how much has changed in the past few years, that Raleigh is coming into its own as an interesting city.     Living in Chapel Hill, I dismissed this as New York Times hype.    From this ride on on a sunny Saturday in March, I became more of a convert.

I parked the car at Whole Foods on the northwest side of Raleigh, just off Wade Avenue.     Much has been written about the trend to tear down existing houses within Inside the Beltline Raleigh, because the land has become so valuable.    They are replacing sixties brick one story ranches with gaudy two or three story palaces.   Still,  within the Ridgeway neighborhood behind Whole Foods there were several modernist houses, including this relatively new one.

2014-03-15 09.26.13



Downtown, the NC State Legislative Building (1960) by Edward Durell Stone was impressive.   It had more of an intimacy to the street than I remembered.     If only we could do something about the Republicans who dominate this place!


NC leg bldg

The southeast has always been the Poor Side of Town.    A positive note is that Garner Road is a quiet street for bicycling, leading directly through that poor side, first towards Garner, then all the way about twenty miles to Clayton.     Garner Road is freed of the heavy car traffic that surrounds all other sides of Raleigh.    I even passed a couple Modernist places down here.




I biked down to Clayton, turned around, and rode back to downtown Raleigh.   Lunch was at The Pit, in the warehouse district.   I cannot recall being in a North Carolina restaurant with a more diverse customer base.     Besides the weightlifting blue haired bartender,  at least thirty percent of the patrons were black, and the other seventy percent were divided among hipsters, motorcyclists in Harley gear, young Asian couples, professorial looking types.   Everyone seemed to be having a good time.    In Chapel Hill, for all our talk of diversity, pretty much everyone looks like they come from the same stratum.   The crowd for Saturday lunch at The Pit really did look like the future of America.










The hinterlands of South Carolina south of Lumberton NC and west of Myrtle Beach, are filled with miles of flat pine forest, crossed by razor straight narrow highways filled with screeching pickup trucks that scare a bicyclist.



The bicycling on this trip was mostly a downer.  Pickup trucks with knobby tires produce a fearsome roar as they rumble by.   In a trip of one night and two days, however, the three meals were definitely more interesting than the roadside scenery.


After and long and stressful bike ride from where I parked the Ford Focus in Centenary SC, lunch the first day at the J&J Cafeteria in Conway SC.  The meal was a “meat and three”  choice of meat plus three vegetables. $ 6.99.   One overweight woman across from me was chipping away at a bucket of oysters, shuck them yourself at the table.    It looked delicious, I have hardly ever seen oysters served that way at a restaurant.

Guns are quite welcome around here.    This was the men’s room at the J&J.



Forty miles further late that afternoon, I glided into Georgetown, just inland from the coast,.   It is an old town, with lots of structures built in the 1700’s;  a town with aristocratic Charlestonian pretentions, amplified by all the yachts that stop over there on the way north / south.    There is a local commercial fishing fleet as well.



I got a room by the water at the Hampton Inn.  Dinner was at the Rice Paddy Restaurant,  about a mile each way by bike in the dark.    It is a fine restaurant, by any standard.   The talk at the bar was about oysters, yachts,  trucks, and hunting dogs, in that order.    At one point a guy started a tirade on Obama’s position on welfare.    The rest of the crowd grunted, and he backed off.   I still am not sure if this grunt was in approval, or if it was to encourage him to back off politics and go back to having a good time.

The bartender was a short blond forty-something woman, and most people there seemed to know her.    One of a couple of preppily dressed but masculine women would bark at her every half hour:  “Pee Wee, can I have another drink here?”

One of the guys there was in town to promote his line of camouflage clothing, where the cammo is pictures of oyster shells.   Really.  I managed to snap a picture with my cell phone.

photo (8)

Dinner was so delicious I even got dessert.

Bicycling the next day was again stressful, as pickup trucks zoomed by on the narrow roads.    Three fourths of the way back to the car in Centenary, I stopped at Kenny’s in Hemingway SC.   Everybody in town seemed to be there for the after church lunch.   All you can eat,  fried chicken, barbecue,  green beans, etc.





I got up at five something on a Saturday morning, driving to Charlotte airport for the nonstop flight at nine something to New Orleans.  I had a free frequent flier ticket, and took the folding PBW bike in the suitcase.  Upon landing two hours later, I found great lunch advise from Yelp, to help with the two hour drive to Lafayette and the Cajun part of Louisiana.   Yelp advised of Harbour Seafood and Oyster Bar in a dingy strip shopping center in Kenner, right under the New Orleans airport runway.   It is an informal family seafood place with wood paneling, friendly bar, and all kinds of seafood.  It is the kind of place that is rare now in New Orleans proper.

At 11:25 AM, it was already pretty much filled with a lunch crowd.    An old man was eating raw oysters on the half shell.  The hefty young bartender in a Duck Dynasty sweatshirt was asked by someone when was the last time she went the fifteen miles into the New Orleans city limits.  She proudly proclaimed that she had not been “down there” in months, maybe years.   Too much crime.   I purchased a delicious oyster poor boy “to go”, and enjoyed it while while steering the rental car across the swamps on the I-10 causeway towards Baton Rouge,  ninety miles away.  Lafayette is another sixty miles past that.

Lyman was to drive from Austin TX to meet me near Lafayette.  He has discovered a key benefit to a Bike Friday folding bike, that it will fit in the front trunk of his Porsche Boxster.   He was not going to arrive until much later in the day.   

At 2:00 PM, I parked the car next to the Walmart in Breaux Bridge, twenty miles before Lafayette.  The bike got together in minutes,  and I bicycled off by myself towards New Iberia, thirty miles to the south.  Lyman met me that evening in another seafood restaurant in New Iberia.  

That night, we saw the first of three great live music acts which we would see on this trip.   Maybe it says something about the growing cosmopolitan nature of the area, but none of the bands were  Cajun or Zydeco music.   That did not stop them from putting on a good show.

For the next two days we enjoyed cycling around the very flat countryside of South Louisiana.    Along the way, we saw these people harvesting crawfish.    That was one of many colorful sights.

crawfish farm 2014

Louisiana 2014

Lousiana A 2014

Lousiana B 2014

tree lousiana 2014

In a good way, South Florida continues to be the freak show of America.   All kinds of people are here, except maybe people who seem to be like me, whatever that means.   In our five days of cycling from Palm Beach to Key West, we saw all types.

I arranged to meet my riding partner Lyman in Palm Beach;  we would meet up with my son Jack in Miami Beach two days later.  It took a lot of searching to find  “affordable” hotel room in Palm Beach, but in hindsight, it was worth the hassle.   Palm Beach is the home of Russian oligarchs, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Trump.  Dinner that first night was at the Palm Beach Grill.    “Everybody”  seemed to be eating there, if you define “everybody”  as people who are rich, or those who want to look like they are rich, even though the restaurant was “informal” and “affordable.”    Lots of sixty something guys in sportcoats, with thirty-forty something women on their arm;  everyone jammed  against the bar.    Even calling week in advance for a Wednesday night, we could only book a table for eight forty-five.    The table of women across from us giggled with each other over dinner and cocktails.

in the belly of the beast, Palm Beach Grill

in the belly of the beast, Palm Beach Grill

The next day, we had a pleasant cycle along the ocean the fifty miles from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale.    There were palatial ocean front spreads, plus condos and vacation homes for people of all types.  One wonders who these people are, and where they come from.   Displays of wealth were everywhere.  Having a Bentley around here really does not draw that much attention.

Bentley, in south Palm Beach

 And even when it rains a little, weather in South Florida in January is delightful.   Highs in the seventies, with a comforting high humidity that feels like a warm embrace.

Lyman has friends back in Austin who are aficionados of what they call Tiki Culture; the culture of 1950’s-60’s Polynesian themed restaurants.   These are places where you get rum drinks that have little umbrellas in them.    There was even a Mad Men episode in one of these places.  The friends insisted we visit the Mai Kai on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, a large restaurant complex that opened in 1956.    Décor is inspired by Captain Cook’s ship, and their version of Tahiti, if cocktails in the 1700’s had had ice cubes.   It has a Polynesian floor show every night.    We stopped by for a drink at five in the evening, before cycling on in the dark a few miles to our hotel downtown.

Mai Kai, Fort Lauderdale

Mai Kai, Fort Lauderdale

Bar at the Mai Kai

Lyman at the bar of the Mai Kai

Later that evening in downtown Fort Lauderdale,  we split an excellent orecchiette con cime di rapa at an informal Italian restaurant , with a fetching Bulgarian waitress.

Friday brought us further down the coast to South Beach, Miami Beach.    Along the way,  there were high rises Tower de Trump This, and Tower de Trump That,  plus some interesting older buildings.

condos in North Miami Beach

condos in North Miami Beach

We spent the night in South Beach.   The paseo along Lincoln Road is a great urban space, almost European feeling.   Walking through the warm night,   Spanish was much more common than English.   When Tootie and I lived in Miami in 1983,  this area had been a slum.

Lincoln Road, Miami Beach

Lincoln Road, Miami Beach

Jack had flown into Miami that evening, and Saturday we cycled through Miami Beach to downtown Miami, then Coconut Grove, all the way down to Florida City, at the southern end of the metro Miami area.

Collins Avenue

Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

South of downtown Miami, we stopped by the rental duplex in Coconut Grove where Tootie and I had lived in 1983.

2620 Trapp Avenue, home of Tootie and Paco 1983

2620 Trapp Avenue

Thirty miles past Coconut Grove, Homestead / Florida City is home to many agricultural workers, and appears almost Third World in its poverty.    Alongside a Walmart, we waited for a bus to take us the thirty-five miles across the Everglades to Key Largo.    Jack really wanted to cycle,  but we talked him out of it, as that stretch looks to be a very dangerous bike ride.

Jack Marshall, waiting for the bus

Jack Marshall, waiting for the bus

The state of Florida has done a great job of putting bike lanes, or a bike path, on virtually all the hundred miles of Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West.

Overseas Highway

Overseas Highway

We split the Keys ride into two days, staying in Marathon Key on Sunday night, at the superbly intact 1940’s Blue Waters Motel.

So few motels now have little carports like this.   Of course, we did not have a car!

blue waters motel

Key West, as always,  was beautiful.

the end of the road

the end of the road