Archive for November, 2021

This trip would be a one nighter. I drove our Ford Escape Hybrid an hour and a half east of Chapel Hill. Tarboro is one of the prettiest small towns in North Carolina. I drove around Tarboro looking for a safe neighborhood where I could park. There were no “No Parking” signs anywhere, no signs about parking at all, really. Would anyone care if I left our car parked here for thirty something hours? I guessed I would find out.

parked on the street, Tarboro NC

I did not have room on the back of my bicycle for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich so I strapped it in its foil wrapping onto the top of my trunk bag.

I cycled through the town of Tarboro (population 11,000)

residential street in the wealthier part of Tarboro.

Tarboro has a “Common,” a downtown park that the locals will tell you that is the only Common in the USA other than Boston. Veterans Day was just around the corner and there was an American flag thing going. Tarboro is likely a very conservative place, so I guess when one is anti-Trump one needs to shout it out.

This house is in a prime location, facing the Common, with liberal banners
Tarboro Common flag celebration

I cycled through Tarboro’s downtown and onward east towards Williamston. Here is the loop I rode over two days.

Tarboro sits across the Tar River from Princeville, which states it is the oldest (1885) town founded by Blacks in the United States. I cycled northeast from Princeville. Eastern North Carolina is almost completely flat.

Note to Harvey: there are usually no shoulders on highways in North Carolina

Tarboro is very Southern feeling. (Its newspaper from about 1850 to when it closed in 2014 was The Daily Southerner)

I guess it was appropriate that for much of the day I bicycled through cotton fields. The plants were fluffy and white, ready to be harvested.

Out in the middle of nowhere on the flat landscape was this new looking giant house. Who lives here? Why?

After an hour or two out cycling through flat open fields I stopped for lunch at the first town I came to, Oak City, population 317. The air was clear and the day was silent. Oak City has a small park across the street from the fire station. I sat at the one picnic table and read The New Yorker on my Kindle while eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. About a hundred yards away the two fire/rescue people stood there, watching me pretty much the whole time. I guess this town does not get many visitors.

After lunch I biked over to the fire station to wave hello to the two first responders, then rode around town before heading east.

downtown Oak City NC
Mid century modernist post office, Oak City NC
Oak City NC
Outside of Oak City NC

It was fifteen or twenty miles further to Williamston NC. Most of the cycling was through open fields in a flat landscape with the occasional gentle slope.

buzzards feasting on an opossum

On this trip I passed several pre-WWII gas stations, most likely 1920’s.

I bicycled into Williamston NC (population 5,200). Williamston is on the Roanoke River and was a port town. It is a hundred miles from any ocean beach. By East Coast standards an isolated place, “out there,” a hundred miles to either Raleigh or Norfolk/Virginia Beach, a hundred-fifty miles to Wilmington NC. It sits at the crossroads of east-west US64 and north-south US17. The town has lost population since 1960.

Commercial activity is almost entirely on the big four lane highways. The older downtown is fairly empty.

downtown Williamston NC

An exception to the emptiness downtown was a brewery and an arts center. Locally owned breweries and coffee houses are sprouting everywhere in America. Williamston has a coffee place out on the highway, and for a thirsty bicyclist at cocktail hour, their own brewery, downtown, opposite the arts center. Unfortunately it was a Tuesday and the brewery is only open Thursday – Saturday.

I cycled around the older part of town.

oldest house in Williamston, from 1833

North Carolina builds highways! They promote sprawl. There are three tiers of auto highways in Williamston; the original US17 that runs down the town’s main street; the four to six lane bypass that was built in the 1960’s, and now a freeway passing two miles out of town. The newest and nicest Williamston hotels are out by the freeway. I booked a room at the Quality Inn, an older motel not downtown but on the wide but lightly used Business Route 17.

Almost adjacent to the Quality Inn is the Sunny Side Oyster House, built in 1935 when this location was likely a lonely shack out on the highway.

Later on I returned to the Sunny Side for dinner.

It seemed very old school. There are two rooms. You have a drink at the bar while you wait for a seat in the the inner room. Once seated you watch your oysters being shucked.

bar room
View from where I had dinner, sitting around watching oyster shuckers

Oyster styles are regional. The most popular oyster here was “steamed,” similar to what in Virginia Beach we called “roasted.” I have lived in and visited New Orleans on and off for years and in New Orleans I have never heard of roasting or steaming in-shell oysters. Here in Williamston the unshelled oysters are put in a large steaming device and when you order they ask how much you want them cooked. I chose lightly steamed. They were opened hot by the shucker as he stood in front of me, putting each oyster in the same small dish as I ate them.

The flavor is less intense than the raw oysters I am more used to. I dipped them in either butter or pre-mixed tomato/horseradish sauce. Raw oysters are also available here, as are Alaska crab legs, shrimp, and scallops. For a second item, taking the recommendation of the server I had initially ordered scallops. They returned a few minutes later and said they had just run out. I got shrimp instead. They were delicious.

The scene was quite social, I enjoyed talking to the older couple who sat next to me. They live five miles outside of Williamston where they run a campground.

I am, correctly I believe, quite COVID cautious. Even though I am fully vaccinated I normally never go into a crowded indoor space like this but the Sunny Side Oyster House was too unique for me not to experience. No one, worker or patron in this establishment was masked. Everyone acted as if it was not a problem. It has been nine days now and I haven’t gotten sick, thankfully.

The free breakfast the next morning at the Quality Inn was so bad that I had to look elsewhere. They did not even have Raisin Bran, just English muffins with no butter or jelly. They had space age pre-made microwavable egg burritos and sausage biscuits. Gross.

Only a couple hundred yards from my motel was the Shamrock Restaurant. Getting that short distance without a car involved walking/running across a six to eight lane highway, then another six to eight lane highway.

Donald Trump sticker on the door of the Shamrock Restaurant, Williamston NC
posted at the Shamrock. Local theater seems to thrive in outlying communities like this. A great thing.

After my COVID chance-taking the night before I had no interest in crowding into the mask-less dining room. I got my breakfast to-go and ran back across both highways to my motel room.

breakfast tasted freshly made and delicious

It was thirty-five miles back to my car in Tarboro NC. There had been quite a lot of local truck traffic the day before. I chose more remote roads going back and I was rewarded with mostly quiet and peaceful country roads.

All day was bright and sunny with temperatures in the fifties and sixties. It has been about five years on this blog since I last repeated a V.S. Naipaul quote about Eastern North Carolina, from his book A Turn in the South.

It was a landscape of small ruins. Houses and farmhouses and tobacco barns had been simply abandoned. The decay of each was individual, and they were all beautiful in the afternoon light.

Cycling back onto the picturesque streets of Tarboro NC my car was still there. I packed up the bicycle in the back and to drive home. On the way out I stopped a few blocks away at the locally owned Tarboro Coffee House for something to drink in the car on the drive home; oat milk latte, one pack of sugar.

I was home by 5:00 PM.

Tootie and I drove down to our New Orleans second home on about October first and we stayed the whole month. It has been wonderful walking around every morning in our Lower Garden District neighborhood, all these amazing buildings within a hundred yards of our front door. To me it is paradise.

pristine 1850’s restorations one block from our condo
A couple blocks away, an artfully decrepit scene that could be from A Streetcar Named Desire

We rarely used our car. Both of us bicycled to and from the grocery store. Several times we bicycled to restaurants at night.

Tootie on her 1970’s Schwinn Collegiate

I felt a compulsion to bike ride more, to see the whole city! Just about every day that we were in New Orleans I bicycled for two to four hours. On the final day I brought my camera along. Almost all these rides were on the Surly Long Haul Trucker that I now keep in New Orleans. I still don’t really like the heavy feel of that bicycle but I use what I have. This bicycle does feel stable on these terribly bumpy and decrepit streets. This day I left our condo on St Mary Street at about eight in the morning, snapping pictures as I rode.

Directions in the older parts of New Orleans make little sense speaking north or south. They are better described as upriver (uptown) or downriver (downtown). Cross streets go towards the river or away from the river. The three or four hour bike ride I took shown below covered a large portion of New Orleans but by chance mostly excluded Uptown. Other than the French Quarter, Uptown is the area most visitors think of when visiting New Orleans. It is the area in the bottom left on the map below, between Saint Mary Street and Audubon Park. Tulane University is next to Audubon Park. I cycle through Uptown frequently, just did not on this particular day.

The twenty-five mile bike ride I took on the morning of October 27

I left our condo building.

Our building, 1325A St Mary Street

St Mary Street is a one way street going away from the river. I biked a block and a half towards Prytania Street.

looking up St Mary Street

The 1400 block of St Mary Street is by New Orleans standards a somewhat typical block but there is still lots to look at.

1400 block St Mary Street
1400 block St Mary Street
1400 block St Mary Street

I crossed Prytania Street, it was one block further to St. Charles Avenue

1500 block St Mary Street

I had only bicycled two and a half blocks; I crossed over St. Charles Avenue with its famous streetcar on the neutral ground. The tracks are a popular place for jogging.

It was only one block further past St. Charles Avenue where St Mary Street dead ends at a church on Carondelet Street.

corner, Carondelet and Saint Mary St.

I turned right on Carondelet Street. It may change names but Carondelet Street continues about five miles from here all the way downtown through the Central Business District, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, and Bywater. Traditionally this side of St. Charles it is a rougher and poorer neighborhood. It has been gentrifying.

on the left just after I turned onto Carondelet Street.

Cycling two blocks further downtown on Carondelet Street a former milk processing factory was just torn down and trucks were clearing the site for redevelopment.

with the milk facility torn down you can see the high rises of downtown. The French Quarter is just downriver, beyond those tall buildings.

Six or eight blocks further Carondelet Street passes under a freeway. Dozens of homeless people have moved underneath the overpass.

homeless encampment

Now cycling in the Central Business District I could look again at the forty-five story skyscraper formerly known as Plaza Tower. It must have seemed like a good idea when it was built in 1968 but it has been abandoned since 2002. It is in a difficult location and rehab efforts have failed. I still like its style. Its top floors are currently wrapped, presumably to keep debris from falling.

City bicycling in New Orleans is wonderful but one does need to keep one’s eyes affixed to the road. Potholes are everywhere.

barely marked crater in the road, O’Keefe Avenue

I passed by the entrance to the swanky Roosevelt Hotel.

I bicycled across Canal Street, formerly the main downtown shopping street. Its retail is struggling.

this famous Walgreens sign is from the 1930’s

Downriver across Canal Street is the French Quarter. Burgundy Street through the French Quarter is an excellent street to bicycle on. There are almost no bumps or stop signs.

Burgundy Street
Burgundy Street
Burgundy Street, lower French Quarter

The French Quarter gets less touristy the further downriver one goes from Canal Street. During this month of October I had been bicycling to coffee houses all over New Orleans searching for the perfect croissant. Disappointingly, nowhere in New Orleans had a croissant as crispy as those at Foster Street Coffee in Durham NC. The Croissant D’or on Ursulines Avenue in the lower French Quarter came close, and it was nice to sit in its courtyard eating my croissant with an almond milk latte, one pack sugar.

Croissant d’or
breakfast in the courtyard

I got back on the bicycle and headed out.

Looking back uptown in the direction I had come from

I cycled about three miles further downtown, out of the French Quarter, through Faubourg Marigny and then into Bywater, also known as the Ninth Ward.

cycling downtown on North Peters Street
Bywater cottages

I turned around at Poland Avenue where Bywater ends at the Industrial Canal.

Bywater has become trendy. At the turn onto Poland Avenue this building is now an upscale wine bar called Bacchanal.
Poland Avenue
Jack Dempsey’s, old school restaurant on Poland Avenue, famous not for the quality of its food but for the size of its portions!
bar on Poland Avenue

I bicycled back uptown in the direction I had come from but now three blocks over, on Burgundy Street, back through Bywater and Faubourg Marigny. There seemed to be a lot of dog walkers.

early 1920’s monument in Bywater listing names of veterans of World War One, but only veterans from the Ninth Ward, “White” on one side, “Colored” on the other.
house decorated for Halloween

I crossed St. Claude Avenue and headed out St. Bernard Avenue, through an area tourists rarely visit; the Seventh Ward.

Seventh Ward

Heading out St. Bernard Avenue I soon crossed South Claiborne Avenue, a street famous among American urbanists as one of many places where the 1960’s exuberance to build the Interstate Highway System lost its moorings. South Claiborne was and is a center of African-American commercial life in New Orleans. I-10 replaced South Claiborne Avenue’s oak trees with a freeway. The pre-1960 supermarket is still here.

Underneath I-10, the formerly oak tree lined neutral ground of South Claiborne Avenue.
South Claiborne Avenue in the 1950’s (photo from Smithsonian Magazine)

There are current serious proposals to tear down this section of I-10, but as with most such things, it is complicated. Meanwhile, I cycled under the freeway and resumed cycling on St. Bernard Avenue, which is wide and relatively safe for bicycling. St. Bernard Avenue continues for five miles, all the way out to the Lake Ponchartrain lakefront. The further from downtown one gets the newer the buildings become.

back to the present day, my view cycling down St. Bernard Avenue
seafood market, St, Bernard Avenue
early 1900’s houses, St. Bernard Avenue
much newer housing as I neared the Lakefront

New Orleans has its own beachfront, albeit on a concrete beach that almost no one swims from. (Lake Ponchartrain is brackish and extremely shallow; difficult to keep clean.) It does make for a pleasant bike ride.

UNO is on the lakefront with its Modernist style campus. I needed a bathroom so I impersonated a student by walking into one of the classroom buildings.

Looks like a motel! That is not necessarily a bad thing; Liberal Arts Building, University of New Orleans

I bicycled along the lakefront over to West End where hundreds of pleasure boats are moored.

Facing the West End yacht harbor are lines of “boat houses”, a fancy spot to hang out in while you stare at a vessel moored in your living room.

boat houses, West End

I assume this is a working shrimp boat; the twenty-four mile long Lake Ponchartrain Causeway in the background

I started cycling back home, this time through City Park; an enormous piece of land stretching southward from near the Lakefront, originally with four golf courses and two stadiums, including the one where the Beatles played in 1964. City Park was almost all inundated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but has been slowly rebuilt and re-defined. Its current sculpture garden is one of the best anywhere. Along Marconi Drive on the west side of the park there is a newish bike path, one of many bayous on my left.

The Marconi bike path runs right by the tennis complex, impressively busy on a weekday morning

As the path through City Park ends I was directed to a bike lane on Marconi Drive as it passes under railroad tracks
I then cycled on Orleans Avenue through the neighborhood called City Park

I was by now very close to one end of the Lafitte Greenway, which stretches almost three miles from near a corner of City Park to the French Quarter. Those who lived and bicycled around New Orleans with me back in the 1980’s would not believe the dramatic change the Greenway has brought to cycling in New Orleans. The Greenway crosses an area of town that none of us ever thought about, or if we thought about it, we thought it as dangerous slums we could never visit.

Lafitte Greenway as it crosses Carrollton Avenue
a coffee house and new apartments lining the Greenway
Lafitte Greenway
Lafitte Greenway
Greenway approaches the CBD and the French Quarter

The Greenway ends at Armstrong Park. I cycled across Basin Street and Rampart Street, then into the French Quarter.

Basin Street, as in “Basin Street Blues”
Second line band warming up for some kind of event, French Quarter

It was less than two miles through the city back to my condo building on St Mary Street.

Cycling up Dauphine Street, French Quarter
Cycling Baronne Street, CBD
Baronne Street passing back underwear the freeway and beside the homeless encampments

On Baronne Street in an even now sketchy area I passed by the building of the late great Uglesich’s oyster bar, open for eighty-one years until 2005.

I took a left off Baronne Street onto St. Andrew Street, my home on St. Mary Street was only three or four blocks away.