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.





This eleven second video taken on Frenchmen Street pretty much sums it up.