Archive for March, 2019

$148.00 round trip nonstop (including luggage) from Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale on a decent airline (Southwest) was too good a deal to pass up.   It had been cold and rainy in North Carolina.   I could have two full days of bike riding down there with only one night in a hotel, because the departure flight was early in the morning and the returning flight was not until the evening.   I find South Florida fascinating but I prefer it in very small doses!

Also, I love trains.  I wanted to go to South Florida to check out Brightline.   No one but me seems excited about Brightline, which is in the process of changing its name to Virgin Trains.   While I am a big supporter of Amtrak, riding Amtrak is depressing.   Maybe because conservatives have been trying to kill Amtrak for forty-five years, workers and management seem exhausted.   With constant budget fights long range Amtrak financial planning is almost impossible.  When riding Amtrak the whole system seems befuddled.

Brightline is trying something else; an intercity passenger rail line done completely as a private business.    Their plan is to make this train financially viable the way railroads did in the nineteenth century, with side deals in real estate.    Because of this I question whether Brightline’s model will be duplicated elsewhere.  Brightline is a spinoff of Jacksonville based Florida East Coast Railway.  FEC owns and operates high quality tracks from Miami north to Jacksonville.  A hundred years ago the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach were essentially built around these tracks, and FEC apparently still owns a lot of prime real estate.    Because those three downtowns are currently in a building boom, Brightline is using its inner city location as selling point.   Live in downtown Fort Lauderdale without a car!   The plan is to operate trains all the way north to Orlando, which would require building a small section of new track.  The first portion, on existing track, has been operating ten trains a day Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach for about one year.   The FEC/Brightline tracks are parallel but better located than the tracks used for the existing Tri-Rail commuter trains that I have taken in the past.

I hatched a plan to fly into the Fort Lauderdale airport and upon arrival bicycle south twenty-five miles to Miami.   I would then take the Brightline that same afternoon from Miami north past Fort Lauderdale all the way to West Palm Beach.   I would spend the night around West Palm, then bicycle the next day the fifty miles south to Fort Lauderdale, and then fly home that same evening, without the opportunity to take a shower.   Press the plus sign to zero in on more detail.

 

The plane from Raleigh/Durham was scheduled takeoff at 6:50 AM.    I left mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill apartment about 5:00 AM with the Bike Friday in a suitcase for the half hour drive to the airport.

 

I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

The plane arrived on time but it sat on the ground for a while, waiting for a gate to open up.   The luggage also took longer than necessary to show up.   I then walked with the suitcase down to the Delta terminal where there is a luggage storage business.   I spread my stuff around and put the bicycle together before checking the empty suitcase.   It was about 11:00 AM when I was able to bicycle away from the airport.  The weather was perfect, it felt great to be alive and outdoors.

 

I bicycled through the north Broward County towns of Dana and Hollywood, riding on residential streets as much as possible.  I passed by these interesting buildings.

 

 

 

 

I bicycled east across a causeway to the skinny north/south barrier island that comprises not only Miami Beach but a bunch of other “towns” with names like Sunny Isles Beach, Bar Harbour, and Surfside.

I followed Route A1A / Collins Avenue along the beach.  Sunny Isles Beach appeared mostly void of human life, even in the high season of early March.   There were very few stores or restaurants.  Does anyone live in these places?

 

 

 

I followed the Bicycle Route signs and decided to cross back across the bay towards downtown Miami.   The “bike route” includes the shoulder along I-195; a two mile Interstate highway across Biscayne Bay.    It was not really dangerous, but loud and very uncool.   I-195 dumps a bicyclist into the former slum that is now designated as “Miami Design District” just north of downtown Miami.    The pitch seems to be working and I give the powers that be credit for chutzpah, if nothing else.   There really are now all sorts of expensive looking designer storefronts.

A little further south must have been designated as a hipster district.  It all seems contrived but by Miami standards this building actually seems old.

 

I was still a mile or two from the Brightline rail station on the west side of downtown Miami, but I managed to see a Brightline train heading north as it passed through this grade crossing at an angle.

 

Brightline currently only stops at three places, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.   All three stations are brand new and use the same style of architecture, emphasizing these V shaped patterns.   I assume the railroad has a commercial stake in these tall buildings rising above the Miami station.

 

My journey to West Palm Beach would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  I could wheel the bicycle with me right onto the train.  I had bought a normal ticket for $ 25.00, but they offered me an upgrade to their business class for only $5.00 additional, and this included an alcoholic beverage and a snack.  Unlike Amtrak, you get an assigned seat.  The staff was helpful.  What’s not to like?

 

 

The first part of the journey ran through the same inner city neighborhoods that I had just bicycled through.   I am reminded of the difficulties high-speed rail faces in America.   The tracks had constant grade crossings (street crossings with gates).   The tracks are not fenced off at all.   I could see people standing along the tracks waiting for the train to go by so they could then run across them.   Walking on the tracks has already caused several people to be killed by Brightline.

These Miami neighborhoods were a mix of rich and poor.

 

Once out of the central city the train moved faster.   A fellow passenger determined from an I-Phone app that we went as fast as 80 miles an hour.

 

I had no complaints when the train pulled into West Palm Beach.  Brightline is a well run operation and a pleasant experience.   I have not taken a train in America so clean and futuristic looking.   I still had a three mile bike ride to my Airbnb but had to hurry as it was getting dark.

 

The only drawback to this trip was that lodging in West Palm Beach was expensive.  I did find an Airbnb for $ 88.00 with tax.   It had good recommendations on the website but clearly was not in the toniest neighborhood.

As I biked away from downtown some kind of event letting out.   I liked these people’s Palm Beach sense of style.

After cycling for a while through poorer areas I pulled up in front of the house that matched the address from Airbnb.  I saw only a front porch stacked with junk.

 

I called the guy and he said that I need to walk to the building around back.   There were dead Ford pickups parked in one corner.

 

 

Inside the back gate was a small terrace.

The owner had left a key on the table by the lamp.   Once inside it was quite nice, like a renovated tool shed with the interior ambiance of a 1950’s mobile home. (Dave and Gail: it was like the inside of your trailer!)  Everything was very tidy.  Really.  He had left the air conditioner going.   I turned it off and opened the window.    The breezes were pleasant and I did not hear a sound outside all night long.

With only a bicycle I was somewhat remote from restaurants.   I have a new lighting system and was comfortable biking a short distance in the dark.    About a mile or two away over residential streets were a few restaurants, including the Rhythm Cafe.  Built out of an old drugstore almost thirty years ago it seems to be a place where the upper crust of Palm Beach can go slumming.    With $ 25.00 entrees it certainly was not cheap.   My very helpful and friendly bartender (an ex-lawyer now working mostly on LGBQT issues) told me that people have to get reservations there weeks in advance during prime March dates.  I luckily got a seat at the bar.   In contrast to Miami where things look multicultural to the extreme, here it looked like a Midwest well to do country club or retirement home.   The guy to the left in the picture below asked for a glass of milk halfway through his meal.

 

 

The dinner was delicious, butternut squash soup followed by some Florida fish covered with roasted onions, accompanied by New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning as I started off early this was the view across the street from my Airbnb.

 

I bicycled south along the western shore of the bay, across the water from Palm Beach proper.  Even on this side of the bay the scene was ritzy, including having this Ferrari parked outside someone’s house.

At Lake Worth, just a few miles south of where I had stayed the previous night,  I turned east and crossed a causeway over to the barrier island that is Palm Beach.    This thin island stretches all the way south more than forty miles to Fort Lauderdale Beach, passing through Boca Raton along the way.

I keep coming down to South Florida because this is such a super bike ride.  Highway A1A has mostly slow moving traffic and a shoulder.   If you do this ride, I recommend planning carefully so that you take the Brightline against the the wind and only bicycle with the wind at your back!

Occasionally the highway goes along the oceanfront.

This ride is a guilty pleasure, looking at rich people’s gross excesses all along the way.

In one “town” there were these signs posted about every 100 yards.  Someone was freaking out that someone might raise someone’s taxes.    There clearly is not money enough in this town.

 

I pointed the bicycle back across the bay towards the mainland for a late breakfast but the drawbridge was open.  I stood around and watched the boats go by.

 

At 9:45 AM I had quiche and grits at the East Ocean Cafe in Boynton Beach.

 

The rest of the ride south to Fort Lauderdale was a mix of residential streets and high rises along A1A.

A year ago I had had a memorable alternative take on salade Nicoise at a restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale called Foxy Brown.   I excitedly got there this day about 2:30 PM but the server said that they had taken that item off the menu just last week!   Still, a poke bowl with raw salmon, avocado, pickled onions, garbanzos over faro was quite good.

 

There is a lot of building going on in downtown Fort Lauderdale.   After lunch I biked over a few blocks to a coffee house.   I could read and stare at the frenzied construction across the street.

The Fort Lauderdale airport is actually quite easy to reach by bicycle.   You can bike there from downtown in about half an hour.   At the airport I retrieved my suitcase, disassembled the bicycle, and made my flight with no problems.

Tootie and I have been staying more and more frequently at our friend Kirk’s place in New Orleans.   It is relaxing just to hang out there.   This time we stayed in the upstairs unit.    It looks out over the street.

Kirk allows us to store bicycles in the crawl space under her house.   We took them out on our arrival and kept them in her side yard.   We rode frequently around the city.    In addition to Tootie’s blue Schwinn, I have two bicycles there now, my Schwinn Typhoon for city use, and an older ten speed for longer trips

Kirk’s house and and its adjoining units are most impressive looking from the front.

 

Early one Sunday morning I took a day long bike ride on my Lambert framed ten-speed.   I bought this bicycle used in Virginia Beach in the fall of 1974 but have replaced every part of it except the frame, which itself has been repainted more than once.   I would hate to throw the bicycle away so it stays stuffed underneath this house in New Orleans.

 

 

I was headed out to “the bayou.”    I chose as a destination an end-of-the-earth place east of New Orleans that had been named in a Bob Dylan song back in the seventies.  Yes, there is all sorts of amazing New Orleans music but this Dylan song has stuck in my head.   If you are in a hurry push forward to the 1:37 – 1:45 point in the video.

It has taken me thirty years to realize that Louisiana mostly does not have a defined coastline.    Rather than a beach that defines the end of land and the start of the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana the marsh gradually devolves into open water.   The amount of land lost to water over the past hundred years has been significant and it continues to erode.

My bike ride would take me downriver first through downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter, then Bywater and the lower Ninth Ward, then the suburbs of Arabi and Chalmette.   Beyond that it was a series of two lane roads that peter out into the marshes.   Press the minus sign on the map below and scan outward to look at the big picture, how the coast is disappearing.

 

New Orleans has so many historic areas that it makes my head spin.   On this trip I chose to take the less scenic but more direct route following the Mississippi along the docks on Tchoupitoulas Street.  The cranes on the right side of the picture are on ocean-going ships in the river.

 

An ignored piece of modernism is the Jackson Avenue Ferry terminal, built sometime in the sixties or seventies and abandoned when the ferry to Gretna was discontinued.    I like its style.

 

It was the beginning of Mardi Gras season.   Along Tchoupitoulas Street floats were being prepped for parades later the same day.

 

Five years ago in my blog I said that Bywater in New Orleans was the coolest place to live in America, for those to whom coolness is a factor.   It remains a nice place but soaring real estate prices have made it less accessible for struggling artists.    I still like its style.

 

 

I stopped for breakfast at this place on the Arabi / Chalmette line, near the border between New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.    This is where the suburbs begin.

I spent some time chatting over bacon and eggs with an older guy with a distinctive accent.   He had lots of complaints about the V.A. health care system.   The New Orleans Times Picayune recently ran an article bemoaning the slow death of the New Orleans “yat” accent.   A New Orleans accent is certainly not Southern, it sounds more like Brooklyn than anything else.    As a parallel, because of its physical isolation, Long Island is culturally an intensification of working class New York City culture.  In the same way Chalmette is a prime stronghold of the “yat” accent.   Until about twenty years ago the only way in and out of Chalmette was to drive back through the New Orleans Ninth Ward.    Chalmette, like going to the swamps of Delacroix that lay past Chalmette, felt like biking to the end of the earth.

I biked through Chalmette neighborhoods with their razor straight streets.

 

New Orleans had a big influx of Italian immigrants in the first part of the twentieth century.   Rocky and Carlo’s (“Ladies Invited”)  was closed when I passed it at 9:30 AM.  New Orleans proper used to be full of reasonably priced Italian-American-Creole restaurants, where one could get an oyster poor boy but also spaghetti and meatballs.  These places are now mostly in the suburbs.   At Rocky and Carlo’s their speciality is macaroni and cheese.

Beyond Chalmette I passed the Meraux refinery.

 

Eventually things opened up as I headed east out into the bayou country.

In a few remote places of the bayou country of Louisiana there supposedly are people still speaking French.  On the other hand, in this far eastern part of Louisiana, in St. Bernard Parish,  Canary Islands Spanish of the 1700’s was spoken here until quite recently by people called Isleños.   The road passed by their graveyard that had Spanish names like Acosta, Deogracias, Gallardo, and Nunez, some with nonstandard spellings, like the name Goutierrez.

 

Past the town of Poydras there is a newer highway.   The old road, running parallel about a quarter mile south of the new highway, is refreshingly free of traffic and perfect for bicycling.     The Parish used a blunt instrument in keeping cars from using the old road as a throughway.   I easily walked the bicycle around the barriers.

 

 

Even this far south, the winter is still, well, the winter.   The temperatures were in the mid to low sixties.   This did not seem to stop these kids from swimming in the bayou.

While the map labeled certain areas as “towns,” human settlement pretty much just lined the two lane road, which followed along a bayou.   Counterintuitively, the highest ground here is along the bayous, next to the water.   This sign below was encouraging, even though I had not yet arrived at the area that the map called Delacroix.

 

The road passed by the Kenilworth plantation house, from as early as 1759.

 

Just before the area called Reggio, I passed through this huge floodgate.   Beyond I imagine there is no stopping the water in any shape or form.

 

Beyond that gate the road continued, but the water seemed even closer, the land more precarious.

Many buildings were vaulted into the sky.   I imagine Hurricane Katrina wiped out about everything else.

 

Just past Reggio I decided to turn around.

 

The road continues about eight miles further to a dead end that the map labels as Delacroix.   Years ago I went there in a car and the houses and the terrain look about the same as they do in Reggio.   I wanted to return to New Orleans at a reasonable hour.   I got back to Kirk’s in Uptown in time for the late afternoon Mardi Gras parade.

Just to see something new, I put the bicycle in the car and drove the Toyota Prius about eighty miles from my home in Chapel Hill to Centerville NC.  It is sixty miles northeast of Raleigh NC, or twelve miles northeast of Louisburg NC.

The population of Centerville NC is listed as eighty-nine, but they do have a Dollar General.  I parked the car and pulled my bicycle out.   There was only one other car in the Dollar General parking lot.  The area immediately felt very country.

How country was it?

Country enough that someone had just driven a four wheeler to the Dollar General!

 

Bicycling was relaxing along country roads with almost no cars.  I fashioned a big loop to bicycle around the area, including going through the seemingly under visited Medoc Mountain State Park.    This area is generally flat so the “mountain” is really just a hill.

 

 

Wood NC is really really small.   It evidently used to have a gas station and a store.

 

Hollister NC, population 674, has a modernist post office and an actual restaurant, Lynch’s Bar-B-Q and Grill.

For those of you not from around here, eastern North Carolina barbecue consists mostly of just one thing, chopped pork in vinegar sauce.    It is usually served on a bun, with a dollop of coleslaw.   Lynch’s has no inside seating, just an outdoor counter to order from.   There is not even a picnic table.   Everyone just eats in their car.   I try to do my meals “properly” so I took my sandwich and bicycled three miles back to a shelter at the state park, where I could read my Kindle while eating.   It was all very peaceful.