Archive for the ‘Louisiana trips’ Category

This week I took a daylong bicycle ride with Lyman to the bayou country east of New Orleans.  I did not realize it would be my last ride on a bicycle I have owned since 1974, 46 years ago.

This is what the bicycle looked like during this February 2020 ride from New Orleans.

Background: I have recently come to the self realization that I have an issue with keeping things too long, if that indeed is an issue.  I just keep fixing things and rarely buy new stuff:  bicycles, guitars, automobiles, kitchen pots and pans.  Many of my readers remember the folding bicycle that I bought in 2002 and had ultimately break in half in 2018.    This Lambert bicycle story takes that to another level.

In the summer of 1974 I bicycled from San Francisco to Virginia Beach on a different bicycle, a $95.00 10 speed of the French brand Jeunet.  Accompanying me were the Consolvo brothers David and Bill.   I was young; I turned nineteen on the trip.  The Consolvos were even younger.  The whole seven weeks my French bicycle did just fine but I spent a lot of time envying Bill’s 15 speed Lambert.  His bicycle exuded coolness.  Just a month or two after finishing the cross-country trip, in the fall of 1974 in Virginia Beach I saw a used Lambert for sale and snapped it up.  I do not remember what I paid but it was likely less than $100.00.  I sold the other bicycle and the Lambert became my ride.

Lambert bicycles (whose name changed to Viscount before being bought out by Yamaha in 1978) were manufactured entirely in England,  perhaps along with the Triumph TR7 sports car a last gasp of British manufacturing and design.  Both the Lambert and the Triumph were flawed.  Lambert bicycle frames had Lambert’s own brand of components.  Their sales pitch was “space-age technology that gives the performance of an Italian racing bicycle for much lower cost.”  The straight-gauge chrome-moly steel frames only weighed 3.75 lbs; the complete bicycle about 20-21 lbs, which is light even by modern standards.   Most Lamberts had triple front cranks and sealed bearing hubs and bottom bracket.

 

Lambert bicycles were high performance and fun to ride but had faults, especially a front fork that could snap in half.  A “lucky” incident for me was that during my fourth year of ownership in 1978 I loaned the bicycle for one semester to my friend Kevin while he was attending the University of Arizona.   The front fork broke off on Kevin instead of me but he somehow escaped injury.  Kevin returned me the broken bicycle while I was in graduate school in nearby Glendale AZ and in 1979 I bought a new chrome steel fork to replace the broken aluminum one.

I continued to ride that bicycle extensively and exclusively for years and years.   I had taken it to Washington College with me for four years, the 1975 yearbook has this picture of me on it.

 

I spent almost two months in Europe with this bicycle on a cycle tour with my friend Vince in the summer of 1976.  Here I am with this bike in where I think is Paris.  It shows the leather Brooks Pro saddle that had just bought; I had that seat for over ten years before it finally fell apart.

 

I took this bicycle again to Europe for six weeks in 1981 with friends Tom and Steve.   Even after marrying Tootie in 1983 and living a much more stable life with a full time job the bicycle continued to be my ride.  I rode it 3-4 times per week all during the 1980’s.

By late eighties I had had the Lambert for close to fifteen years and the Lambert’s paint was scratched almost all the way off.  I had replaced the wheels several times.  The Lambert was wearing out.  Hanging around a bike shop on Freret Street in New Orleans in about 1987 a guy offered me a killer deal on an almost-new Italian CIOCC racing bike with double-butted Columbus tubing and Campagnolo components.  (Cinelli stem!)  I am always on the lookout for a deal.  At about $ 175.00 it was such a good price that I failed to notice that the frame was too small for me.

After a day or two I realized I could not ride a bicycle that did not fit me.   I convinced the bike shop guy to cut me another deal; I would take all the components off the CIOCC and sell the guy back the CIOCC frame for $80.00.  I would then install the wheels and components (crank, brakes, pedals, handlebars, etc.) on my Lambert frame.

With all the parts taken off I took the Lambert frame to an auto-body shop in New Orleans and had it painted a pale blue.   The new “Lambert” of 1988 had no more Lambert parts except the original frame.  It had the chrome replacement fork and a full set sexy 1980’s Campagnolo components.

In 1989 I took this bicycle on the 102 mile long Assault on Mount Mitchell.

I had a full time job and a wife and three children by 1992 but I continued to take rides on this bicycle several times per week.  The Lambert was always finicky, always a little unstable.

On an early morning ride in 1996 I left home in Carrboro NC for what was to be a normal fifteen mile loop through the countryside on Dairyland Road.   I somehow failed to properly secure the front wheel quick-release.  Near my house I hit the pavement very hard when the front wheel feel off.  I pulverized my elbow and sustained a concussion.  I managed to heal (I still have pins in my elbow!.)  From then on I took special care with that front quick-release!

In about 2002 I finally did buy a new replacement bicycle (custom-made folding PBW) but the Lambert framed bike stayed in my basement as a standby.   I loaned the Lambert to friends to ride with me on bicycle tours.  Tom rode it Buffalo NY – Toronto in about 2009.   Lyman rode it on the western half of the Erie Canal bike path in 2012.  The Lambert was funky to ride;  I remember warning my fifty-something year old friends “be careful, it is fast but a wild beast.”

Tootie and I have been visiting New Orleans for years since we moved to North Carolina in 1988.  Our friend Kirk very generously offered to let us store bicycles in the crawl space under her New Orleans house.  Since about 2017 the Lambert has been stuffed in that dirty area.  I have taken lots of rides around the New Orleans area with it since then.

The streets of New Orleans are filled with potholes.   The Lambert is not only a light fragile bicycle but it also an unbalanced bicycle.  It only seems safe on flat smooth highways.  If I hit a pothole on the Lambert I would go down.   I eventually felt so unsafe on the Lambert that I bought a fat-tire Schwinn for around town New Orleans riding.

I have also begun to realize that a fragile bicycle in a New Orleans crawl space deteriorates over time. If I wanted to keep the bicycle I have nowhere else to put it.   Back in North Carolina Tootie and I live in a wonderful condominium that has little storage space.   I have proudly de-cluttered my life.  In the back of my head I realized that I needed to stop riding the Lambert.

Early this recent Sunday morning in New Orleans I set out on the Lambert from our short-term Uptown apartment to meet Lyman at his brother’s condo in the French Quarter for our fifty mile ride.  We headed downriver through Faubourg Marigny.  I guess because it was Mardi Gras season Lyman chose to forego a helmet and instead cover his bald head with a beret!

Downriver through the Upper Ninth Ward (Bywater) we crossed the Industrial Canal bridge into the Lower Ninth Ward.   On St. Claude Avenue was this modernist building.

 

We stopped for breakfast at Gerald’s of Arabi LA, on the border between New Orleans and suburban St. Bernard Parish.  There was a line of pickup trucks outside.  We got seats at the counter.

 

At the counter Lyman complimented this guy on his hat.   The man said it was a welding hat; he said the hat reminded him that he was proudly a working man.

 

Lyman has a sense I style that I lack.   Lyman pressed the man about the hat because Lyman wanted one.   The man said he had gotten it at the chain store Tractor Supply in Chalmette, just a few miles downriver.   After breakfast we headed downriver towards Chalmette and the bayou countryside beyond.  We figured we could stop at Tractor Supply store on the way.

We pulled into Tractor Supply.  In addition to welding and farming equipment they had all sorts of farming related magazines.

We found the hats surrounded by welding equipment.  The hats are supposed to go under one’s welding helmet.

 

Suburban New Orleans including Chalmette streets should win some kind of award for the straightest flattest residential streets in America.

We bicycled far into the bayou country east of Chalmette until we felt like turning around.   On the way back we again passed the Meraux Refinery.

 

 

Just past the refinery was this pleasant modernist government building for St. Bernard Parish.

Just after entering New Orleans we biked through the area where actor Brad Pitt has funded rebuilding of an area of the Lower Ninth Ward that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.   He hired several world class architects for these small houses, each one different.  The area is colloquially known now as Brad Pitt Houses.

While biking home it all became clear to me.   I am sixty-four years old.  I was having a great time but it is irresponsible for me to be riding this unstable bicycle.  Lyman could help me get rid of it.   He had driven his pickup truck to New Orleans from his home in Austin TX.  He agreed to throw the bicycle in the back.   He would help me find a home for this bicycle by donating it to the Austin organization Yellow Bike Project.  It sounds similar to the organization in Chapel Hill called Recylery.   Volunteers would either fix up my bike for someone or use the parts on other bicycles.   My bicycle could help other bicycles live.

It was a melancholy feeling when I dropped the bicycle off the next day.   I examined it closely one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

It was time to say goodbye.

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.

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.

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?

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tootie and I were staying in uptown New Orleans over a long weekend.  I took the opportunity to take a day bike ride downriver.   While I almost never play golf, first in about 1987 and as recently as about 2003 I had played golf at one of the more unusual municipal golf courses in America, twenty miles south of New Orleans in the settlement of Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish, just over the line from St. Bernard Parish.  The place just seemed weird.  Among other things,  instead of a coke machine they had the only beer machine I have ever seen, $ 2.00 for a Bud Light.  Down a one-way road hugging the Mississippi it felt like the end of the world.

Why not bike down there and see if the golf course was still there?  It would give me the opportunity to visit Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish.  The area had had terrible destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.   The national media focused on the Lower Ninth Ward, but Chalmette, the newer suburb just a couple of miles further downriver from the Lower Ninth was in many ways as badly wiped out.    Chalmette is /was white and working class in 1960’s tract housing.

On the way it also would give me the opportunity to ride through a large swath of urban New Orleans.

Back in The Day, it was considered dangerous to go more than about 100 yards to the north side of St. Charles Avenue, in an area locally called Central City.   In about 1982 when we were riding bicycles in this area a cop actually pulled up alongside Tootie and me and told us in no uncertain terms that we needed to get out of this neighborhood.    As Central City becomes safer it is interesting to visit because it is a part of New Orleans I have never seen up close.

New Orleans is a city of distinct neighborhoods.   To bicycle downriver,  Carondelet Street/Bourbon Street/Dauphine Street is one continuous one-way street that crosses many of these neighborhoods in the seven miles to Poland Avenue on the Industrial Canal, where a bicyclist has to cross the bridge into the Lower Ninth.

CARONDELET STREET

This was Central City.   As I turned onto Carondelet just a block upriver from Louisiana Avenue, I saw this apartment building; Upstairs I think this was where our friends Dave and Gail lived in about 1980.

 

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I biked along the street, snapping pictures with one hand.

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There are beautiful homes along this street, many of which were near-abandoned for years, and are slowing coming back to life.

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I saw construction.

 

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Central City used to be the center of Jewish life in New Orleans.

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Heading out of Central City, Carondelet Street goes under the Ponchartrain Expressway.

 

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Carondelet Street continued towards Canal Street and the CBD (Central Business District).

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Carondelet Street crosses Canal Street,

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where it changes name from Carondelet Street to Bourbon Street, and enters the French Quarter.

BOURBON STREET

Most of Bourbon Street is a crowded sleazy tourist trap at night, but in the early morning it is open to car traffic and subdued, wet from being washed down by street sweepers.

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As the street progresses downriver it becomes less sleazy.  I passed Cafe Lafitte in Exile, from 1933, claiming to be the oldest gay bar in the United States, patronized by Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote.

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Lower Bourbon Street is residential and beautiful.   Until her recent death, Congresswoman Lindy Boggs lived on this stretch of Bourbon Street.

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Bourbon Street crosses tree lined Esplanade Avenue, which is the border between the French Quarter and Faubuorg Marigny.

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Just a block further and Bourbon Street dead ends.

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If you go left half a block and take a right, Dauphine Street continues one-way for several miles.

DAUPHINE STREET

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There was modernist architecture and sculptures as Dauphine crosses the wide Elysian Fields Avenue.

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Dauphine keeps on through the neighborhood of Faubuorg Marigny and then transitions into Bywater, which many people used to just call the Ninth Ward.

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Dauphine Street dead ends at Poland Avenue which parallels the Industrial Canal.    A bike rider has to go onto busy St. Claude Avenue for the drawbridge that crosses the canal.    Downriver from the canal is the Lower Ninth Ward; this portion is also called Holy Cross.   There is a bike path along the levee, where you can see one of the two famous “steamboat” houses, and you can look back over the Mississippi at the CBD.

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I am convinced Chalmette may be the most culturally distinct suburb in America.    It is an epicenter of New Orleans working class culture.   In addition,  St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish have a subculture of Islenos, descendants of immigrants from the Canary Islands way back in the 1780’s.    Until about thirty years ago many spoke eighteenth century Spanish.    There are a lot of Spanish surnames here.   I stopped for a doughnut and coffee; the New Orleans accents were memorable but I did not hear any Spanish.

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The main drag of Chalmette is Judge Perez Drive, originally named for political boss Leander Perez (1891-1969) who took corruption and racism to new heights, even by the standards of Louisiana.

The Parish felt bad about it, and in 1999 re-named the highway for a DIFFERENT Judge Perez.   Apparently there was more than one.

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I looped by bicycle through Chalmette neighborhoods.   Most appear reasonably re-developed, although the population of Chalmette is down by half since the 2005 hurricane.

 

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Chalmette neighborhoods end near the Meraux refinery.

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The development thins out and there is actual countryside.

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Because of the levee, one forgets that one is right alongside the Mississippi, until surplus U.S. Navy vessels docked in the river loom over the landscape.

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There was not much further to go to see if this golf course still existed.     At the St. Bernard/Plaquemines Parish line, this huge levee gate reminded us that in the event of The Big Storm we were on our own on the other side.

 

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The entrance to the municipal golf course was adjacent to a neighborhood of relatively large houses that look like they were built in the 1970’s.   Both the neighborhood and the golf course must have flooded during Katrina.    More than half of the houses looked abandoned and unoccupied and the golf course was just a field of waist-high weeds.

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But life goes on.   With multiple trucks and pieces of equipment, a movie crew was parked all over this neighborhood.  With empty houses and Spanish moss it would probably be a good set for a horror movie.

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I turned around and bicycled back to Chalmette to eat lunch at Rocky & Carlo’s,  a place I had visited in Chalmette way back in the 1980’s.

The gumbo was disappointing.  But the restaurant seems to be family run and it indeed does have personality.

 

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People in Chalmette must have a good time.   Note these guys sitting at the bar are in uniform but it is not the fire department; it is the Shriners (Jerusalem Temple) Dune Buggy Patrol.   Just another Saturday.

 

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On the way home, I broke new ground by riding through territory I had previously been terrified to tread; down Marais Street on the north side of St. Claude Avenue.   They seemed to have the Christmas spirit.

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I came back uptown and cleaned up.   Later that evening Tootie and I biked to a restaurant called Bistro Daisy and had an amazing meal.

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Biking back home that evening Christmas lights were ablaze.

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For years, smug liberals in New Orleans have been making fun of Metairie and Kenner, mostly built in the nineteen fifties and sixties;  the principal suburbs of New Orleans.  Just like all over America, starting after the Second World War, and accelerating in the sixties, middle class whites fled the city limits of New Orleans in droves.  But while the African-American community is the source much of the cultural gumbo that makes New Orleans so interesting, the cultural uniqueness of New Orleans middle class whites was also fetching.   Many are proud of their Irish and/or Italian ancestry.   So I biked out to the suburbs to see what was going on.   My hypothesis was that I was going to find fascinating cultural bits, in a metro area that is still very insular.   And in some places, I did.   I also predicted that the area would be more attractive with age, even though thirty years ago it was depressingly tacky.    I was more disappointed in this regard.

When we lived in New Orleans in the eighties I drove out to this area every day, because I worked in air cargo near the airport.  For several months in 1988 I even rode my bicycle the fifteen miles each way to my office in Kenner.   Still, I had never actually bicycled through the central parts of newer Metairie and Kenner.   So I left  Uptown New Orleans on a chilly Monday morning to see what I could find.

The urban area of New Orleans and its close-in suburbs is hemmed in by levied wetlands, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi River.    In the seventeen miles from our rental apartment in Uptown, crossing into the Jefferson Parish suburb of Metairie, to the lakefront in western Kenner, there is scarcely a vacant lot, much less open land.  It is all one continuous dense city, despite its political boundaries.

Bicycling through New Orleans before I crossed into Jefferson Parish, it is generally beautiful; nineteenth century wooden houses go on for miles.   I crossed the Parish line on the Mississippi levee bike path.   From the levee, you could look back over New Orleans and see what locals call the CBD (central business district) in the distance.

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There by the levee there are about ten houses built on the batture, the scraps of “land” on the river side, right across the street from a dense urban area.   Because of the recent floods upstream, the water level was very high this day.   These people are technically squatters, but many of these “camps” have been here for decades or more.

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I got off the levee and bicycled through residential streets of Jefferson Parish.    A cluster of railroad lines bisects the area.   Google Maps showed a short “trail” connecting across the tracks at the end of Shrewsbury Road.    However a stationary train sat blocking the path.

 

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While I was standing there pondering what to do, a girl and a boy of high school age scurried under the tank car, and acted as if that was something they did every day.   I was NOT going to do that, especially with a bicycle.     So I walked the bicycle around the end of the train.

 

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And I continued across several other tracks, then under an underpass, to a street on the other side.

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These suburbs are culturely still New Orleans even if they are not inside the city limits.   These beads littered this street:  a Mardi Gras parade had gone through this neighborhood the previous day.

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The newer parts of Metairie, and Kenner, were built and designed by New Orleanians, for New Orleanians.  This is 1960’s tract housing;  distinctive but unimaginative.   Tract houses with hip roofs go on for miles, bunched closely together.

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No cul-de-sacs here.   These streets, built across previous near-swampland are so razor straight that they disappear into the distance.

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Weaving through neighborhoods, I cycled as far as I could go.  The city limits of Kenner run into a corner of tall levees and floodwalls,  protecting the city from hurricane swells coming in either over the swamps of St. Charles Parish, or the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.

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Still within Metairie and Kenner, I cycled back towards the city limits along the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, sometimes on the levee bikepath.  There was more upscale housing, bunched close together, in New Orleans style.    I do not understand why people pay extra to live on the lakefront, since you cannot see the lake, owing to the tall levees.

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New Orleans used to be full of Sicilians.    In the early twentieth century the French Quarter was an Italian neighborhood.  Wikipedia claims there are now 250,000 persons of Italian ancestry in the New Orleans metro area.   Many live in Metairie and Kenner.

My best find of this trip was Mr. Ed’s in Metairie, the kind of place that used to be all over the city limits of New Orleans, places that had a combination of Sicilian Italian with New Orleans specialties like red beans and rice, and oyster poor boys.

 

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I sat at the bar, next to a friendly guy, with three policemen sitting behind me.

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After the obligatory salad, eggplant parmesan was delicious, although enough food to feed three people.  I ate it all.

 

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Dragging myself back to the bicycle, I headed further east down the shore of the lake, crossing back into Orleans Parish, passing the West End lakefront yacht harbor.   Further east is the neighborhood of Lake Vista, a development inspired by the Garden Cities movement, built on reclaimed swampland starting about 1939.    The street entrances to the houses are cramped, resembling alleys.  Instead, the houses front a pleasant common space that has been filled in with large trees.   This remains an affluent area.

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The original 1936 plan was to have the four principal streets meet at a hub with a school, churches, and a commercial building for a grocery store.    The school apparently never got built and the commercial building does not have many tenants.   But there are two churches, and the buildings are attractive in a 1940’s – 1950’s way.

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P1030738As much as I liked looking at Lake Vista,  I was still about eight miles from our temporary home.   I got back on the bicycle and headed towards City Park, which would head me towards Uptown.

Tootie and I just spent four nights in New Orleans.   We keep bicycles there at our friend’s house.

Much has been written about New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.    A lot has changed in the ten years since the devastating flood caused by the failure of the levies.   The population declined when over a hundred thousand people, mostly poor and African American,  failed to move back following their forced relocation because of the storm.  In recent years thousands of young people, mostly college educated and middle class, have relocated to the city from other parts of the country.  Working class Hispanics have also moved to a city that previously had very few.

In some ways, New Orleans is becoming more like America.   This is not completely a bad thing. Will New Orleans lose its soul in the process of solving some of its societal problems?  Only time will tell.

Crime is still a problem in New Orleans.   But in the same trend as other big cities, neighborhoods that previously were considered unsafe are now considered safe.   In New Orleans many federal housing projects were been closed after the storm. In some areas attractive new housing has been built by the housing authority, although local activists say it is not enough.    Because these former housing projects were seen as sources of crime, the neighborhoods surrounding them are now considered much safer.  This may be one of the reasons for an explosion of housing prices, particularly in certain areas of Uptown.

Tootie lived with Tom, Slice, and me at 913 Second Street in 1981-82, in the Irish Channel neighborhood of Uptown.   This is how it appears today; very similar to its appearance back in the day, the center house in the picture.

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Back in 1981, this was considered “the frontier.”   At my air freight job at the time, a macho truck driver who lived in the suburbs (and probably carried a gun) told me he did not want to go into my neighborhood even in the daytime.  When we lived there, we only walked in one direction, the block and a half towards Magazine Street.   Even though the neighborhood stretches seven blocks the other direction, towards the river,  in my young and foolish days we never ever went that direction, even in a car.

Now the entire area is gentrified, and houses five or six blocks towards the river from my old house are selling for many hundreds of thousands of dollars.   Young people in their twenties circle around on bicycles.   In the spaces where old houses had been torn down or had collapsed, there now is new construction, imitating the old style.  These houses are being built near Eighth and Chippewa.

houses under construction, Eighth Street & Chippewa

On this trip, Tootie and I biked to have a beer at Nola Brewing, the tap room of a local brewery in that formerly dangerous direction (corner Tchoupitoulas and Eighth)  where the room was filled with tatooed hipsters.

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Further uptown, again on the “wrong” side of Magazine, there is a similar trend.   Renovations and new building were everywhere.    Checking real estate listings, almost nowhere uptown is affordable any more, almost everything is more than three hundred thousand.  Even worse, very little seems for sale.

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Back in the day, after we lived on Second Street, we bought a house on Annunciation Street, which we sold for a loss in 1990 for $ 35,000.00. It had been on the market for two years, and no one would even look at it.

Now it must be worth way over $ 300,000.00.

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Parks all over New Orleans seemed spruced up, even in poor neighborhoods.   In the eighties, this park was a barren spot for the homeless and for drug deals.   Now at night it had a young adult’s kickball game.

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One day Tootie and I biked out of Uptown to the new Lafitte Greenway bike path, which goes from the French Quarter to City Park, crossing an area that even current locals might not trust as safe. It seemed fine to us. Later, I talked to one young man who worked in a wine shop back Uptown; he had just bought a house in that Lafitte area, because it was the only place he could find something affordable.  The storied local newspaper of the African American community is already questioning the bike path, implying that it is just going to promote gentrification and higher rents.

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In the four days there, Tootie and I biked all over the city.    We rode home one night from an expensive meal at the restaurant Herbsaint.

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The next day, we discovered a glorious sculpture garden next to the art museum in City Park.

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I also rode around by myself on Friday morning.    Some parts of the city that were flooded during Katrina have not been completely brought back to life.  These parts are both physically and psychologically distant from the glories of Uptown.

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Even here, around the corner from that abandoned house,  this former mayonnaise factory, which had sat empty for years, seems to be coming to life.

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I enjoyed looking around Mid-City.  It passed my litmus test of livability and bicycleability:  you see women feeling safe to ride bicycles, even with no helmets.

 

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I had never even been on Banks Street before, beautiful streets like this seem a dime a dozen.

 

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New Orleans does seem to be preserving some of its mid-century modernism.  Out on Canal Street, this building looked recently renovated.  I hope they find a tenant.

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Plaza Tower is a sadder story.   It was opened in 1969, and locked shut only thirty-three years later in 2002.   Several attempts to convert it to other uses have failed.   Even now, it is in a not-so-great location.  It sits abandoned, soaring forty-five stories into the sky.

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