Archive for February, 2018

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.

 

New Orleans East, Feb. 8, 2018

Posted: February 23, 2018 in Louisiana trips

I wanted to see what would happen if I just pointed the bicycle east from Uptown New Orleans and started pedaling.   I had heard of an abandoned amusement park on the eastern fringes of New Orleans, I picked that as a destination.

It was a beautiful day.    I left our guest apartment Uptown and bicycled downtown, through the Central Business District and into the French Quarter.  Bicycling on one-way streets like Burgundy is quite easy.

 

Down from the French Quarter is Faubourg Marigny.

 

I turned up Franklin Avenue, going away from the river.   This was a direction I had never bicycled before.   I knew things were quickly going to get less picturesque.

Franklin Avenue blends into Almonaster Avenue.

Almonaster Avenue peters out underneath the Interstate 10 high rise bridge over the Industrial Canal.   Google Maps showed another smaller bridge here.

But there were obstacles.

There was no one around, and it was easy to walk my bicycle across this bridge.

Almonaster Avenue continues for many miles the other side of the bridge, passing through partially filled-in swamps, separated from the rest of New Orleans East by railroad yards.    In The Godfather this would be a good place to dump a body.   It looks dangerous to bicycle but there is essentially no traffic on this four line divided highway.

I knew I was getting close to my destination, the amusement park, so I turned north across the railroad tracks, into residential neighborhoods of New Orleans East.    This area was first developed in the sixties and seventies and was mostly white.  Now it is where many wealthier African-Americans live.   According to Wikipedia, both Aaron Neville and Irma Thomas live out here somewhere.

Six Flags New Orleans opened in 2000 but was only open for five years.  They were not really making money, and then Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged it in 2005.     It never reopened.    It is surrounded by locked fences but I could see a rollercoaster off in the distance.

I turned to go back home, bicycling through miles of subdivisions.

Yes,  New Orleans East was heavily flooded during Katrina, but it appears dried out now.    I can only blame the collective racism of the real estate market that so little retail has returned.  There are very few restaurants and grocery stores out here.  This is where Lake Forest Plaza shopping mall used to reside.

I bicycled back across the Industrial Canal, this time on the Chef Menteur Highway bridge.

On the other side, in the Gentilly neighborhood there was this apparently African-American owned coffee shop.   I sat for quite a while, drinking a latte and reading The New Yorker on my Kindle.

This was still Carnival season.   In the Ninth Ward / Bywater some kind of brass band was assembling.

 

 

One more thing.   Did you know there is a First World War monument in a park in Bywater?   White soldiers and black soldiers are listed separately, white solders on the front, black soldiers on the back.   And those not killed in action, what did they die of?   Wounds?  The flu?

 

South Florida, Jan 22-25, 2018

Posted: February 2, 2018 in Florida trips

Despite the fact that I try to travel as much as possible, I actually hate to fly.   Turbulence weirds me out.   Nevertheless $ 127.00 round trip Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale was too good a deal to pass up.   And it was nonstop, only about two hours on Southwest Airlines.  My friend Lyman had a similar deal from Austin TX to Fort Lauderdale, also on Southwest.  Both of us could take our folding bicycles in a suitcase for no extra charge.

I had a seat on the airplane near the front.  Southwest is a great airline.

 

It was only eight-thirty in the morning when I got off the plane into the warm humid embrace of South Florida air.

I was prepared right away, in the airport, to photograph the multiculturalism that is the Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach area.   However these people really just look like America.

 

Fort Lauderdale is the rare airport that has luggage storage where Lyman and I could leave our empty bicycle suitcases for four days.  I picked a spot in the terminal and put the bicycle together.

 

I bicycled off from the airport to look around.

 

I took about a three hour bike ride, to kill time while I waited for Lyman’s flight to arrive.

 

 

Just south of the Fort Lauderdale airport were a series of neighborhoods exclusively of double and single wide trailers.   They were actually quite nice.   The most predominant license plate on cars parked there,  other than Florida, was Quebec.

A few of the “houses” were a little more colorful.

After leaving the neighborhoods of mobile homes, I bicycled straight west for over an hour, hoping to get as far as the Everglades but I had to turn around because of time.  I bicycled back towards the airport on a bike path that followed a freeway and a drainage canal.

Tootie and I lived in Miami for one year in 1983.  We never saw a wild iguana, not even once.    Now they are everywhere in the petri dish that is South Florida.  They have, as I understand, taken off in just the past ten years.    Along this canal they were more common than squirrels in North Carolina;  I saw an iguana every minute or so.    Most were about three feet long, if you include the long tail.

 

 

Yes, I have bicycled Los Angeles and I swear that South Florida has more freeways per square mile than even Southern California.   One normally takes these walking/bicycling “trails” for peace and quiet, but not in this instance.

 

Part of the “trail” actually went right along the freeway.

I did finally get back to the Fort Lauderdale airport.   Lyman had arrived and we were now ready to go.

The two of us had a pleasant bike ride the five miles into downtown Fort Lauderdale.    I had made a reservation with an Airbnb near downtown Fort Lauderdale in a 1920’s house;  a room with two single beds in a couple’s home.   There was a dead Volkswagen van in the back yard.  They offered us the van for free if we would just take it away!

This is a really nice neighborhood; the only real problem is these tiny houses are worth close to a million dollars and are surrounded by giant condo buildings.    We walked to the restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard for sushi that evening.

 

 

 

Our trip the next day would be to bicycle from the Airbnb on SE 1st Street, Fort Lauderdale to  South Miami Beach taking the inland route through Little Haiti.

 

 

 

We had only gone about three miles when, in a nondescript industrial neighborhood there was a small sign noting “auto museum.”    We would not have seen this except that we were on a bicycle, it was not on a main road.     Of course, we had to stop.    There was a unique doorbell, “please pull cord and wait.”

A woman about our age answered the door.  She was quite nice and said admission was ten dollars, cash please.   We stayed there over an hour and were the only visitors.   We had stumbled onto what has to be one of the largest collections of Packards in the world.  Packard was a luxury car maker from about 1905 until they went out of business in 1958.  There were also collections of anything Packard: miniature Packard cars, Packard child’s pedal cars, Packard hood ornaments, Packard engine parts, it went on and on.

 

Me and a 1938.

Lyman and a 1958, one of the last ones made.

Art Deco hood ornament.

 

Back on the bicycles, we cycled through miles and miles of middle and lower class neighborhoods.

 

I like the look of modernist tract housing.   But what does it look like fifty or even sixty years later?   I speculate these houses with the new wave front porch were built about 1960.  When they were new these houses looked exactly alike.  Not now.

 

 

 

 

 

This neighborhood has the uniquely American situation where even though a city has high housing prices there are some areas where apparently no one wants to live.    It probably has a lot to do with race.  This is a pretty house that needs a lot of love.

 

We stopped for lunch at a colorful Nicaraguan/Cuban place where we split a barely edible Cuban sandwich.

 

Little Haiti is not really much to look at, and we bicycled on through the “Miami Design District” and then downtown Miami.   Downtown Miami is NOT easy or gentle bicycle riding.   It is mostly huge wide roads with fast traffic, intersected by freeways.

On the other hand, the Venetian Causeway, one of several bridges across Biscayne Bay from downtown Miami to Miami Beach, IS gentle and inviting to a bicyclist.    Lyman stopped and helped a guy with a flat tire.  This view is looking back over the area just north of downtown Miami.

 

The causeway connects several residential islands and the roadway has a toll, which keeps car traffic to a minimum.

I really like the section of Miami Beach called South Beach.  It is a street grid, and one of the few places in South Florida that one can blissfully noodle around on a bicycle.   What confirms it is a safe bicycling space?  It is where you see women bicycling around without helmets.

 

The Art Deco architecture is lovely.

Lyman and I stopped at an Irish bar for a beer and pondered where we would stay that evening.   On Hotels.com we found a room with two double beds for just over a hundred dollars including tax.   The “hotel” was a little unusual, however.

 

The room was fine, just like any motel room.   You entered from an outdoor walkway.

 

Although thankfully it was quiet in the sleeping area of our room, right outside our bathroom window was the courtyard of the hotel.  It had Spanish language music blaring and partiers staying up until about five in the morning.   When we went down for the free outdoor breakfast the next morning, the music was still playing

 

 

The next day our plan was to bicycle back over Biscayne Bay,  then over to Calle Ocho/Little Havana, and then to the Hialeah Market Tri-Rail station.

 

 

From there we would take the Tri-Rail commuter train up to West Palm Beach.

Lyman commented that this older Cuban-American neighborhood near Calle Ocho really does look like current parts of Havana!

 

Back in 1983 when we lived in Miami,  Tootie and I used to get stoned before going out to eat at the big and flashy Cuban restaurant Versailles; we got off staring at the mirrors.

 

Versailles is still there.  Lyman chose Versailles as a place we could connect and have a late breakfast / early lunch with his old friend Jaime, who lives in Miami.

After a nice meal we had about another forty-five minutes bicycle ride up to the Tri-Rail station in Hialeah.  You can wheel the bicycle onto the train, and the ticket for the almost two hour ride to West Palm Beach only costs $ 6.90.   While the train itself is fine, the stations and other infrastructure looks beat up and done on the cheap, and the train goes nowhere near downtown Miami.

https://farm8.static.flickr.com/7327/16424029012_62430d6e8e_b.jpg

 

We got off the train in downtown West Palm Beach in early afternoon.    We now had a day and a half to bicycle the sixty miles down to the Fort Lauderdale airport, where we had flights leaving the following evening.   Along the beach on A1A the bicycle ride from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale is really one of my favorite bicycle rides in America.    You should plan it like we did here.  Check out the weather, then take the commuter train against the wind and bicycle with the wind at your back!

 

 

 

 

We noodled around Palm Beach on bicycles for a while, before turning south on highway A1A along the beach.   Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh live in Palm Beach.    There seems to be an appreciation for showy wealth.

 

 

The beach road passes between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean.   From the beach side you can see that Mar-a-Lago is really a huge house that was converted to a club.  Gross.

 

 

Once south of Palm Beach communities vary in their displays of wealth, and change from town to town.    The bicycle ride was really pleasant.

About five in the afternoon we crossed a small bridge from the barrier island to the mainland, and looked for a place to get a drink and find a place to spend the night.   This tropical looking restaurant in Boynton Beach overlooked the inland waterway.  We had a good time talking to this guy in the blue shirt.   He lives in the Philadelphia suburbs.   His late parents had bought a small condo years ago here in Boynton Beach and he and his adult siblings inherited it.    He was now trying to sell it because they do not use it enough.

Surprisingly there are not many hotels in this area.   It is all condos.   And the hotels we found on Hotels.com were really expensive, like  $250.00+    From Google Maps we learned of the Tiki Hut Motel, only about a mile from this bar.   Google reviews were positive.   The place did not appear to take reservations over the internet.   I called them on the phone, and while a woman said they had one available non-smoking room with two double beds, they did not take reservations over the telephone either!

Lyman and I quickly finished our drink and got back on the bicycles in the dying evening light.   The Tiki Hut is on the old highway just south of Boynton Beach.   A South Asian looking guy (we presume the owner, we presume that woman’s husband) was blatantly rude to Lyman as he registered and paid.   The price was good, $ 90.00 plus tax.

It is a weird motel.   The room was clean and quite nice.  The windows were openable.    The beds were pleasantly firm.  There was unusual art on the walls.

They had unique figurines around a courtyard.

Later on we walked down the highway (US1) about half a mile to an Italian restaurant.    The food was fine, but not memorable.

We ate at the bar, our server said it was fine if we took her picture.

On the walk home we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins for an ice cream.   South Florida is populated by people who came there from somewhere else.  People have to find community where they can.  Here at Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins at 9:00 PM these people were doing crossword puzzles.

The Tiki Hut Motel glowed in the dark.

 

The next day, Thursday, was a great day.   We had about forty miles left to the airport for our early evening return flights home.  We bicycled along the coast with a strong tailwind.

 

 

The best meal of this trip was a late lunch on Thursday in downtown Fort Lauderdale.  Just by looking at this place I conjectured from the people standing outside that there was serious eating going on.

Sitting outdoors on the patio, we both got their version of salade nicoise, which was delicious, even though the fresh tuna was totally and unapologetically raw and cold.   Deviled eggs.  Arugula. Deep fat fried green beans.

After lunch we biked the five miles to the airport and caught our flights, stopping on the way to look at the Brightline train station.

 

Postcript from a train nut:

After lunch we biked over to the Fort Lauderdale Brightline station.  Yes, we had taken the Tri-Rail commuter train the previous day.   Brightline is a new service, more or less parallel to the Tri-Rail but on different tracks.   These Florida East Coast Railway tracks go directly to the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.   It is the first significant privately run passenger rail service in the United States in fifty years.   They appeared to have made a major investment.   We bicycled by the station in Fort Lauderdale.   The service had just starting running two weeks ago, but for now only from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach, a train every hour.   The ultimate idea is to run from Miami to Orlando in three hours.   We had not taken this train because we did not know it was operating.   Amtrak always looks beat up and cheap.   This definitely does not look this way.  The station and the train are lovely.