Archive for December, 2018

Savannah GA is supposed to be a nice place.   I wanted to visit there by bicycle, but I made the mistake of trying to bicycle into it from thirty miles out.    I discovered how difficult and dangerous it is to bicycle into Savannah from outside the city.   Like a lot of port cities on the East Coast, Savannah is surrounded on several sides by water and swamps.   To bicycle to Savannah one has to either cross bridges that prohibit bicycles, or thread through narrow and dangerous busy highways.

This bike ride was so dangerous I have promised myself I will never do this kind of ride again.   We’ll see if that promise holds.

Savannah did end up being a fascinating cultural experience.  More on that later.

I had studied Google Maps and picked a spot to start riding.   I drove six hours south from Chapel Hill mostly on I-95, and parked the Prius on the street in the tiny town of Springfield, Georgia; thirty miles from downtown Savannah.  I pulled the bicycle out of the back.

I bicycled east on a two lane highway with no shoulder.   It was Sunday afternoon and traffic was light.

Unfortunately that road ended after about seven miles, and the only way towards Savannah was on Georgia Route 21, a four lane highway with rumble strips down the side.  If a large pack of cars approached, I jumped off the highway and stood in the grass while I let them pass.   This continued for about five unpleasant miles.

A little over halfway to downtown I was able to find relief by turning left into the Savannah port complex.   The roar of the traffic ceased immediately.  On this Sunday afternoon it was peaceful.  The road was empty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After passing alongside the port complex I realized this narrow road must have once been the main route into Savannah in the 1950’s.  Stuckey’s, right?

 

I consider the Alamo Plaza Motel a real find as there are hardly any motels like this left in the whole country.   I am not the only fan of this stuff, somebody wrote a whole Wikipedia page about the Alamo brand!

 

The Talmadge bridge rose in the distance, with a giant auto-carrying ship parked underneath.

 

I biked across a much smaller bridge and I suddenly was in Savannah!   The first neighborhood I saw was a 1940’s public housing complex.

Soon after, on Bay Street, I stopped to regroup in a crowded Starbucks.  Savannah has changed a lot during the past twenty years due to the growth of Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD.    This young woman waiting in line in Starbucks must have been a SCAD student, she was obliviously taking candid pictures of everyone with an expensive looking camera.   I returned the favor.

 

The previous day I had booked an Airbnb somewhere in central Savannah.   After drinking coffee and reading a while in Starbucks I biked off to look for my lodging.   Savannah is really beautiful but I find the fake trolly buses tacky.   People wandered around, or drove their Austin-Healy 3000’s.

 

 

 

 

This Kroger in Savannah is an example of how to build an urban supermarket with style.  The building comes right to the street.   There is a full parking lot across the street, fenced, and surrounded by shrubbery.  It was the one place I saw in Savannah that seemed to be patronized by all classes of people.

 

My Airbnb was the second bedroom of this two bedroom apartment, occupied by a former SCAD student.    It is just over the edge from the “historic district” and into the apparently gentrifying African-American neighborhood.   The building containing the Airbnb apartment is not very old, inside it seemed cheaply-built 1980’s.

The lodging was more than adequate and a good deal at $ 77.00 including tax.   The sad truth:  cheap hotels can feel gross but I have never felt that way in an Airbnb.   Sure, Airbnb’s are all over the map, sometimes they are small or dark or have lumpy beds or almost zero privacy, but none have felt dirty or sleazy or unsafe.   I theorize that the credit card and personal profile requirements for Airbnb filter out the poor and the needy and the unstable.  Another way to divide America, I guess.

My meal that evening at an Italian restaurant called Cuoco Pazzo.  It was also quite good, except my dinner cost about the same as my “hotel” room!

At Cuoco Pazzo I ate at a three seat bar in the same room as a quite capable jazz duo; bass and guitar, playing instrumentals of Christmas music.

 

The other patrons were mostly grey haired and well dressed.    The $ 19.50 lasagna was indeed delicious but it did not even fill me up.   So I got bean soup that was also very good, at $ 10.00 a bowl.   Wine was $11.00 a glass.

I cannot help but compare it to more or less the same meal I got four months ago on another bike trip; Scaffidi’s in a Steubenville OH strip mall, where the lasagna was just as delicious, but it had cost $9.50 INCLUDING A SOUP FIRST COURSE.    And wine there was $5.50 a glass, exactly half the price here.

As I was leaving Cuoco Pazzo the base player and guitarist were sitting at the bar, I guess they get free drinks.   I wanted to ask them if they got paid for this gig, but I demurred.

On the way walking back “home” I passed this store clearly not intended for the people eating at Cuoco Pazzo.   As in many cities it seemed like central Savannah was just for the rich and the poor and not a lot in between.

 

The Victorian era houses in this part of Savannah were lovely at night.

 

The next morning, just a few blocks from my “hotel” I found this place called Mate´ Factor.  They operate as a regular coffeehouse but also specialize in yerba mate´, a tea-ish drink popular in South America.

I got one of their custom lattes, a mix of yerba mate´, coffee, hot milk, and spices.    Paired with a home made almond scone it was my kind of breakfast.

I biked through town again.   I thought a lot about another city, Norfolk VA, my father’s hometown and right next to my hometown of Virginia Beach.   Norfolk and Savannah were about the same size in 1900.   Norfolk had been there since before 1700.   If Norfolk had not been so aggressive with federal government funded “redevelopment” (i.e., tearing down huge sections of “slums” in the fifties and sixties) could it have ended up like this?    Or did Norfolk never have the city pride and joie de vivre that allowed Savannah to blossom?   Savannah was indeed lovely on this Monday morning.

 

 

I still had about thirty miles to bike back to my car.     I took a different route from the way I came but it was not much better.   Traffic from the port of Savannah dominated.

I know from my work life that ocean container trucking has the worst paid drivers in trucking, using the worst trucks.   This is a national disgrace yet to become a scandal, but I thought about it a lot as these beat up trucks zoomed by me.

 

I promised myself I would never put myself in such a position again; I should have just stopped and taken an Uber.

I did sometimes get to jump off the main road and ride on residential streets.

I see these Share The Road notices all over America.   The state highway departments assuage their tiny degree of guilt by putting up these ridiculous signs.

The last half of the ride was on gentler country roads.  When I left the main highways it was like hitting a switch, all of a sudden all the truck noise stopped.   This donkey walked up to greet me at a fence.

I had one close call with a truck on a two lane road, but I did get back to my car in Springfield GA.    I drove home to Chapel Hill in time for dinner.

This is a story of a bicycle (Schwinn Typhoon) and a neighborhood (New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.).

I have been taking longer distance bike rides for over fifty years, starting when I was about twelve years old.   These first trips were on the bicycle I then owned, a Schwinn Typhoon. My friends and I rode to places all over Virginia Beach, especially daylong trips to rural areas like Pungo and Princess Anne Courthouse.  We called them Bike Hikes.  They always involved Twinkies from the Seven Eleven, or buying hamburgers somewhere.   Our biggest obstacle was our parents, who constantly tried to stop us from riding on two lane country roads, saying that it was toooo dangerous.

My final Bike Hike on the Schwinn Typhoon was with the late Steve “Slice” Johnson. At fourteen we both wanted a job and we both could not find one.    We had seen an ad in the newspaper for a cafeteria opening up at Military Circle Mall, just over the line into Norfolk,  fifteen miles away.   I guess we had no idea what we would do if we actually got a job there.   Anyway, the two of us biked out there fifteen miles in the July heat and interviewed for a job we did not get.   In those days we did not know anything about bike locks.    We walked outside the mall after the “interview” and the Schwinn Typhoon was gone.   Stolen.   His red Peugeot bicycle for some reason was still there.

We had to call his parents to come get us, and that was the end of my story with the Schwinn Typhoon.   The bicycle I got to replace it was my first ten speed, a much much better bicycle for my Bike Hikes.

Let’s fast forward about forty-nine years.   Tootie and I love to visit New Orleans, and we keep two bicycles in the crawl space underneath our friend’s house in Uptown.   Tootie’s bike there is an updated 1970’s Schwinn that is perfect for city cycling.  The streets of New Orleans have huge potholes and are consistently patched and bumpy.  Our other bicycle there has been an old ten speed that has always felt a little unstable in these conditions.  Several friends my age have hurt themselves recently on bicycles, and every one of these accidents involved falling after hitting obstructions in the road, like potholes or speed bumps.  I decided that at my age I needed a more stable bicycle to use on the unstable streets of New Orleans.

Miracles do happen; on Craigslist, only one block from our friend’s house, for $150.00, was a Schwinn Typhoon!   And it is in perfect shape, hardly a scratch even though it is no newer than the mid 1970’s.    This is an original Schwinn made in Chicago.   Anything made after 1982 is not an original Schwinn, it is just a brand name.   Tires were fully pumped up, it was ready to ride.   The drink coozie on the handlebars came as part of the deal.    By modern standards it is astonishingly heavy.   But that is less important because New Orleans, like Virginia Beach, has no hills!

 

The second part of my story involves the Ninth Ward, the trendier part of which is now often called Bywater.     In a recent wire story in our North Carolina newspaper I was shocked at its inclusion as one of the Best Places in America.   The Bywater, really?

 

 

When Tootie and I lived in New Orleans 1981-88 the Ninth Ward, parts of which are also called Bywater, was a source of local jokes, a working class community that was stuck in time.   Nothing more symbolized this than the weekly cartoons Vic & Nat’ly that came out Sundays in the Times-Picayune  during the 1980’s.   We still have a book of these cartoons by local artist Bunny Matthews.  The cartoons centered on an elderly couple that spoke in the neighborhood’s unique patois.  These New Orleans accents sound more Brooklyn than Southern.

Bunny’s book even has a map.  The Uptown short term rental we have currently been staying in is just above the letter E in “RIVER” in his drawing below.   The French Quarter is just to the right of the letter S in the world “NEW ORLEANS.”

 

 

On this recent early December day Tootie and I biked from our apartment to see Bywater again, and how much it had changed.    It is about five miles through solid city.    We biked through Uptown, then the Warehouse District.

At the end of Canal Street we parked the bikes in front of Harrah’s casino, to see if they had any $10.00 craps tables.

Tootie likes to play craps if the stakes are low enough.  I do not gamble.  Unfortunately the tables were $ 25.00 minimum, so we got back on the bikes and headed through the French Quarter.    As always, it is lovely.

 

 

 

We turned down Esplanade Avenue,

Then went left on Burgundy Street, taking us through Faubourg Marigny.

 

Faubourg Marigny eventually transitions into Bywater.  The Upper Ninth Ward.   There are miles of double row houses like these.

Part of the reason that the National Media might have chosen Bywater to be The Next Great Place is that young people (artists!) from all over the country have been moving here, so much so that real estate prices have zoomed up.    I theorize the real artists are already moving to the next gentrifying area of New Orleans, wherever that is.  New Orleans is big enough that for now there is always going to be a next-area-to-gentrify.    For example, are these real artists or just young people or does it matter?  What about the locals who are being priced out of their own neighborhood?  There are a lot of out-of-state license plates along these streets.

 

 

We reached the end of the line at Poland Avenue.    One cannot bike further without crossing the Industrial Canal Bridge.    The other side of that bridge is the now-famous Lower Ninth Ward, which flooded severely after Hurricane Katrina.    Tootie and I turned the bikes around and headed back towards the French Quarter.   We first looked back down Poland Avenue as it meets the Mississippi River.    Bywater is separated from the river by railroad tracks and a levee.   One forgets how close this river really is.    The Cape Kennedy shown in this photograph is a ship sitting in the river!

It was about cocktail hour and we headed towards one of our favorite bars in New Orleans, Bar Tonique on Rampart Street, on the edge of the French Quarter.   They make their own tonic for the gin and tonic.  They have an enormous selection of drinks at low prices, and a cat that sits on the bar.

 

Tootie and I have developed a rule: only drink one cocktail.    The second is never as good as the first.   We climbed back on our bicycles in the now darkness and biked back the several miles to our rental apartment.   One the way we stopped to pick up groceries at Rouse’s on Howard Avenue.

 

Yes, we made it back safely.   New Orleans has become a much more bicycle friendly place.