Archive for February, 2017

Back in the day we used to mock the area across the Mississippi River from New Orleans by wryly calling it The Best Bank.  Over The River on The West Bank usually meant working class suburbia, shipyards, and industrial areas.  Even though Tootie and I lived in New Orleans for nearly seven years in the 1980’s we rarely went across that bridge.   In Bunny Matthew’s 1980’s cartoon Vic and Nat’ly,  over the river from their Ninth Ward home (a distance of about two miles) meant really going someplace.




The Crescent City Connection bridge now has about eight lanes.   The Canal Street Ferry, almost underneath the bridge,  still continues in 2017.   You can bike from our short-term rental apartment Uptown down to the foot of Canal Street, and the ferry is essentially sitting there waiting for you; toll for passenger and bicycle two dollars, and the ferry takes about ten minutes.

The ferry gives the passenger a wonderful view of central New Orleans.



In about 1850 arriving New Orleans by boat was pretty much the only mean of transport and it must have looked similar to this.    The St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere and Cabildo flanking it,  and the dark brick Pontalba Buildings flanking on both sides would have all been there at that point.


The Canal Street Ferry docks in Algiers Point,  a nineteenth century New Orleans neighborhood directly across the river from the French Quarter and the CBD.   There is a peacefulness here;  almost no car traffic and people walk to the ferry.

This lady on the ferry displays the tribal pride of those in Algiers.








There is a delightful new paved bike path that runs on top of the levee along the river the several miles upriver to Gretna.  You almost immediately go underneath the bridge.  On this day there were two cruise ships parked on the wharfs on the other side.







Gretna must have developed because it is the landing spot of another ferry, the former Jackson Avenue ferry.   The older part of Gretna looks on a Sunday morning like the set of a movie for a mythical small town.


To go further upriver the bike path ended in Gretna and you have to ride through the streets.   I thought it would look newer, more suburban, but if you stay close to the river the towns of Gretna, Harvey, Marrero, and Westwego all are older neighborhoods that run into each other, interspersed with refineries, ship canals, and dead factories.


The last town I visited was Westwego, supposedly named for the phrase “west we go.”    There were lots of election signs around for local races, including this candidate for mayor borrowing Trump’s phrasing.




I was looping around New Orleans by bicycle last week.  Tootie and I were staying there for a few days.

Broadmoor is an area of New Orleans developed in the early part of the 20th century, after a swampy area was drained.  For at least the first twenty years of the neighborhood houses built high off the ground out of fear of flooding.    From the mistaken belief that flooding could never happen the lower areas that are called “basements” were gradually filled in, often as rental apartments.   This area did more or less completely flood because of the levee failure of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but it appears fully rebuilt now.  The streets are bumpy and full of potholes, probably because of being built on a such a soft surface.

I love the look of these places.   There are probably thousands of houses like this New Orleans.





























One more thing:  In another part of town there was a renovated shotgun double house for sale at 2032 Second Street, five blocks in what has always been considered the wrong direction from St. Charles Avenue.   $ 295,000.00.   This area called Central City used to be completely off base and now is billed as being up and coming, sort of.

This is the first time I had ever had the guts to go to this area by bicycle or car.   The house for sale looked fine but this one around the corner still needed work.


Most people I know would love to ride Amtrak but there are only a few destinations from the Raleigh/Durham area where Amtrak service makes sense.   One is Jacksonville, Florida, if you had some reason to go there.    The train leaves Cary NC (ten miles west of Raleigh) at 9:25 PM and if you can sleep on the train you wake up at 6:30 A.M. in Jacksonville.  Amtrak accepts the folding bicycle with no fuss.  I made plans to go down to Jacksonville to meet my friend Lyman,  who would be coming in by airplane from Austin, Texas with his folding bicycle.   We were going to ride along the beach for three days.

To make it more interesting I decided to bicycle the twenty-five miles from our home in Chapel Hill to the Cary Amtrak station.   I did not want to bicycle in the dark so I left home at 4:00 PM.   I could kill time by having dinner in Cary.   I keep my bicycles in the level P1 parking of our building Greenbridge.   I strapped my small trunk bag on the back.


We live on the seventh floor.



I rode the bike through the streets of Chapel Hill, down the big hill from the university.


I biked over to near Southpoint Mall and then south on the American Tobacco Trail.



Near downtown Cary I stopped at a Starbucks to read The New Yorker on my Kindle.



I still had time to kill, and I eventually ended up around the corner from the Amtrak station at the Crosstown Pub.   This friendly place had a different atmosphere than what you would find in Chapel Hill, with police badges behind the bar.



Dinner of tuna, rice, and green beans was all delicious.


I hung around until just before nine when I went over to the train station.  The train departed on time.   I mostly slept the next nine hours.  It was just getting light when I pulled the bike off the train in Jacksonville, Florida.




Lyman had flown in the previous evening and I was going to bike the ten miles from the Amtrak station to his motel near the Jacksonville airport.   Both the Amtrak station and the airport are on the north side of downtown, which is known as the poorer side of Jacksonville.   Friends in Jacksonville were surprised I would do this; they said the north side was unsafe.   I had read something that described the north side of Jacksonville as “urban.”   There was nothing urban about it unless one takes that as codeword for “African-American.”   There was even a bike lane, at least for a while.


I bicycled through neighborhood after neighborhood.  It was all very suburban looking.  I assume these neighborhoods were all black.





Maybe it is obvious to other people but I had never thought of this before.  I had heard that the average net worth of an African American family in the United States is about one-tenth of a white family.   It struck me that part of this is due to what I will call unintentional group racism.   The gain in net worth for many American families comes from buying a home and the appreciation of its value.   Yet if a neighborhood is mostly African-American, the home values go up hardly at all.   Most white Americans, probably including myself, would hardly consider buying a house in an African American neighborhood.    This aversion leads to lower housing appreciation and is probably is a huge part of this wealth gap in America.

And businesses such as grocery stores are quite scarce in these neighborhoods.  There was this fascinating 1960’s looking liquor store/strip club.


I eventually found my way to Lyman’s motel near the airport.   He had rented a one-way car to drive our us and our two folding bicycles the thirty-five miles to Fernandina Beach, near the Georgia border.   From there we would bicycle south along the beach 120 miles to Daytona Beach over the next three days before driving another rental car back to Jacksonville.


That first day we stopped for lunch south of Fernandina.



Ocean front lots are expensive real estate, and over the next three days I saw many interesting houses filling those lots, some attractive, some gaudy and ostentatious.



















We crossed the Timucuan Ecological Preserve.




We spent that first night at the Seahorse Motel just north of Jacksonville Beach.    The motel looked worn out from the street but had a pleasant view from the balcony.



My old friends Tom Whiting and his wife Kim live near here and drove over to have dinner with us.



The next day we biked through the fancy neighborhoods of Ponte Vedra Beach and then the highway opened up as it headed south along the ocean.


Our second night was in St. Augustine, billed as the oldest city in America.


We stayed in a cheap motel that was a short bike ride in the dark from town.   We drank beer and watched the sunset from our balcony which not only had a lovely water view but also overlooked the main line of the Florida East Coast Railway, which I found even more delightful.




St Augustine is part historic town with buildings from the eighteenth century, part tourist trap, and part cool place, such as The Ice Plant where we went for its delicious designer cocktails.


At our motel was an impromptu convention of Santa Clauses, men of a certain age and physique that let them be Santa without any makeup.   Even though it was February most of them wore Christmasy clothing.



When we got up the next morning for our free breakfast the Santas were still around.


It was about sixty miles the next day south to the Daytona Beach airport where we would get  a rental car to drive back to Jacksonville.   The state of Florida has done a super job accommodating bicycles on Highway A1A along the coast; there is a bike path or bike lane along almost all of it the five hundred miles from Fernandina Beach to Key West.   In some places it even veers off-road.



Daytona Beach is known for its motorcycle culture.   South of St. Augustine Beach we stopped at a mini-mart for a bottle water  and paused to chat with this guy.  He said his 2001 Yamaha was just a better motorcycle than a Harley.



Daytona Beach is a depressed looking city but seems proud of its motorcycles and it stock car races.



The Daytona International Speedway overlooks the Daytona Beach airport where I biked up to to get the rental car to take us to my friend Tom Constantine’s house in Jacksonville.   After his delicious dinner Tom drove me later that evening to the Amtrak station.   I got off the train in Cary NC at 8:30 AM the next day.



On this Sunday morning I was home in Chapel Hill by noon.

The wind was blowing hard and predicted to be from the southwest, with gusts up to thirty miles an hour.   Tootie suggested she drive me and my bicycle thirty-five miles southwest of Chapel Hill so that I could bike with the wind.    I got out of the car in the parking of lot of Loves Creek Baptist Church on the north side of Siler City (population 8,000);  pulled the bike out of the trunk and headed off towards downtown.

I did not eat at this place but it looks memorable.


Siler City is Norma Rae country.  Or, it was formerly Norma Rae country before almost all the textile mills closed in the past twenty years.   I passed one closed mill after another.  Chicken processing plants have opened more recently.   I do not think Siler City was ever a pretty town.

I have met several people who live in the Siler City area;  the liberal diaspora of Chapel Hill spreads out to near here.   I rode into the older downtown.


There was modernist architecture.


Before heading north back towards Chapel Hill I decided to bike an hour long loop though the countryside south of Siler City, maybe looking for the American Dream.


I might have found that dream on the way back into Siler City from the south, when I cruised through the quite nice neighborhood around the Siler City Country Club golf course.  I wonder if this house shocked the neighbors when it was built.



Siler City made national news back in the year 2000 when former Klan leader David Duke held a rally downtown.  The rally was more a less a failure in that locals seemed turned off by his message.    The inspiration for the rally was the influx of Hispanics who mostly came to work in the chicken processing plants.   The percentage of the population in Siler City who is Hispanic went from basically zero to about forty-five percent in ten years.

This seemed a good day to look for a Mexican restaurant.  I would never have found this place without Yelp.    It starts with a Mexican grocery store downtown that has no sign.



You walk in through the store past the impressive meat department to a small restaurant in the back.


The menu is on the wall.  Women were preparing fresh tortillas in the kitchen.


Accompanied a guava soda and green hot sauce, I got four tacos, two asada (grilled beef) and two lengua (beef tongue).


After lunch there was no alternative other than to bike northeast towards Chapel Hill through farmland pretty much the whole way.


In the liberal la-la land that is Chapel Hill, we miss entire movements.    Maybe twenty-five percent of ALL the houses displayed this specific sign, not only in Siler City but all along the roads through the countryside back to Chapel Hill.


These signs are the inspiration of a sixteen year old from nearby Asheboro.    He has encouraged thousands to buy them.

About halfway back, predictably on a creek for originally for water power (Cane Creek), I passed Lindley Mills.   On their website they say they are 10th generation owners and they now produce high quality organic flour.