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

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

How country was it?

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

I picked a spot at the edge of a parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport and put the folding Bike Friday together, under the watchful eye of a cab driver.

Because I was already out west on a three day vacation to Las Vegas, I had taken a few more days to bicycle in Southern California.   The weather back home in North Carolina was terrible.

Bought in advance, a one way ticket from Las Vegas to LAX on Southwest was only  $44.00.  I had arrived early on a Saturday afternoon and had taken the ten minute hotel shuttle from the airport.   I had a reservation at that hotel the last night of this trip, five days hence, and they had agreed to watch the bicycle suitcase for me.

Contrary to popular perception, Southern California is not as hostile to bicycles as many areas, certainly not as hostile as my recent trip to the hinterlands around Savannah Georgia.

This was the first trip with my new set of expensive front and rear rechargeable bicycle lights that I keep turned on all the time, as a safety factor.

At 3:00 PM I bicycled off into Los Angeles, heading first towards the beach, then along the coast to San Diego, 140 miles to the south.  This first afternoon I hoped to get to Redondo Beach, maybe even Long Beach, by dark.

 

 

Looping around LAX airport and heading towards the beach, there were bike lanes and traffic was not heavy.

 

Parallel to the beach, Pershing Drive goes right by the end of the runways with airplanes from all over the world landing just above my head.

 

 

Soon I was able to take a right and bicycle right down to the Pacific Ocean.

To bike along the beaches of Southern California is some of the most scenic urban bike riding in America.  There are gaps, sure, and that is part of the problem and part of the adventure.   Arriving at the beach here about three miles from the airport hotel, it felt like paradise.

 

The bike path is right on the beach, this continues for miles and miles, all the way to Redondo Beach and a few miles beyond.   Surfin” USA by The Beach Boys lists these towns one by one, and I would be biking through almost all of them during the next three days.

 

It was about to get dark and there were only a few lodging options.  I found this motel in Redondo Beach on Pacific Coast Highway, about six blocks from the beach; low cost, no frills, but certainly adequate, not at all sleazy.

 

I had eggplant parmesan that night at Mama D’s, seemingly the best option that was within walking distance to the motel.  It was a little too family friendly, tons of kids running around as I joined all these people waiting in line for a table.  The management was very welcoming.  It was a Saturday night; what would you expect?   Despite the insane housing prices here, and L.A.’s reputation as being a multicultural stew, some of the beach areas seem almost 1950’s in their outward show of wholesomeness.

 

The next morning I biked past more evidence of this 1950’s vibe.

 

Biking south from Redondo Beach there is no beach bike path for about eighteen miles in and around Long Beach CA.    One just has to meander through residential streets, trying to stay off Pacific Coast Highway as much as possible.   South of Long Beach the delightful beach bike path would resume.

 

Inland from the beach the neighborhoods become more diverse.  It is insane that little houses cost about a million dollars.

 

But Just Say No to condos and apartment complexes!

 

My bike ride this day went right through Torrance CA, the childhood home of Jan & Dean.   This is just a few miles south of Hawthorne CA, childhood home of The Beach Boys.   I passed by an early sixties surfer van!  On second look, maybe this was not so romantic, was somebody living in this van, is that why the windows are blocked out?   I would see more egregious examples of this later in the trip.

 

It was Sunday and commercial truck traffic around the ports was negligible.    On a weekday I imagine bicycling this stretch would have been terrifying.

 

On this bright clear day with a temperature in the sixties, snow covered mountains rose in the distance.

 

On a side street near one of the ports I passed this place at 10:30 AM.    Despite my rule about always stopping for great food, I just was not hungry and I kept biking.   I’ll bet this is some of the best Mexican food in L.A.

While even older areas around Los Angeles still seem suburban, Long Beach feels urban, like a small city plunked down in the L.A. megalopolis.

The older neighborhoods of Long Beach have attractive hundred year old houses.

 

 

The Queen Mary has been parked in Long Beach since 1967.   I wished I had been able to bike this far the previous day, so that I could have stayed on the ship as a hotel.

Long Beach does have a beach, and a lovely bike path that extends south, with a couple brief interruptions, for a total of twenty miles,  through Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, and Huntington Beach almost all the way to Newport Beach.

I grew up in Virginia Beach and was a decent surfer for a while, although I was so uncool I never hung with the surfing crowd and I mostly surfed alone.   Huntington Beach is the home of the International Surfing Museum, which I did NOT visit.  I had lunch at a stylish place near the Huntington Beach pier; a California-ish healthy sandwich served by a young guy that looked like a caricature of a bleached blond surfer dude, except that he spoke with an English accent!

 

Back on the bike I passed through Huntington State Beach where the beach was enormous.   On this Sunday afternoon it was all staked out for organized athletic events, especially Ultimate Frisbee and Beach Volleyball.   Weren’t these sports invented around here?

 

 

The beach narrows down and the mountains come down to the sea just before Newport Beach, one of the wealthiest communities in America.   The bike path on the beach stopped.  For a while I cycled along the backside of oceanfront homes, and then through the streets of Newport Beach.

 

 

 

It is eleven miles of mountainous coast south from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach.   Part of the way I had to bicycle on Pacific Coast Highway, which at least had a bike lane shoulder.    I later passed through Crystal Cove State Park, which has an off road paved trail.

 

Back home in Chapel Hill I have a good friend, songwriting partner, and blogging coach named Dan.   He grew up in Laguna Beach.  His son Peter, who grew up in Chapel Hill and was on the same high school cross-country team as my son Jack, is now in Laguna Beach, living in part of an uncle’s house.   Peter works at a high-end oceanfront hotel called the Inn at Laguna Beach.  He very thoughtfully got me a super discount on a room.    I insisted on a selfie with him.

Yes, Dan says some of the rhythm of Laguna Beach has been lost since his childhood, since the odd wayfaring surfer can no longer afford to live there, or even eat or sleep there.  Still, I like Peter’s description of “shockingly beautiful.”   My description is “terrifyingly nice.”

I walked around just as the sun was going doing down, which it does in an artful way every afternoon over the Pacific.    Crowds stand around Heisler Park, just to soak in the feeling.  Sure, there were foreign tourists brandishing selfie sticks, but aren’t I a tourist also?

 

 

 

That evening I ate and watched the Chiefs / Patriots game at one of the few semi-affordable places to eat in Laguna Beach, surprisingly good shepherd’s pie at Hennessey’s Tavern.

 

The next morning I biked around Dan’s old neighborhood, which rises up from the ocean on a hillside on the south side of town.   Everything looked relaxed and low key.  Spoiler alert: these houses are all now worth millions of dollars.

 

 

 

People seem to want reminders of the Beach Boys glory days, like an early sixties van.

 

 

Next to someone’s restored Mercedes convertible, a Woodie.

 

I turned from this Laguna Beach neighborhood and stated biking south on Pacific Coast Highway.    It was still more than a day’s ride to San Diego.

 

Ten or fifteen miles south of Laguna Beach is the small community of Dana Point.  The Boujour Cafe seemed a nice local spot to snag breakfast.   Wrong.  Way overpriced and pretentious.

 

Satiated by my $ 28.00 breakfast I continued down Pacific Coast Highway through San Clemente.  There was a bike path pretty much the whole way.

 

 

Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine base, covers about eighteen miles of coastline, separating the southernmost part of the Los Angeles metro area with the northernmost points in the San Diego area.   On a bicycle coming from the north, there is no real fence where the military base starts.   The bike path along the coastline transitions into a pedestrian and bicycle path on a semi-abandoned highway between Interstate 5 and the beach.

 

This was too good to be true, an empty highway on a beautiful coastline with no cars, perfect weather and wind at my back.    Ten miles into this bicycle perfection the path abruptly ended at a parking lot, right at an exit for I-5.   Just beyond, in a third direction, was a military checkpoint.   No, the soldier at the gate would not let me bicycle further south without some kind of permit that takes more than a day to obtain.  The only way south was on I-5. There had been no sign warning me of this.   Twenty years ago Alex and I had bicycled this stretch without obstruction.

I was stuck.  I was not going to bicycle on I-5 unless absolutely necessary.  I called an Uber, who showed up right away and cheerfully took me and the folding bicycle the remaining eight miles.   He dropped me off in the streets of the beach town of Oceanside.

It was one or two in the afternoon, I had not had lunch yet, and it was still forty miles to San Diego.    I decided to stop for the night at one of the beach towns along the way south.   The lucky town turned out to be Encinitas.   Along the way, biking was on the main highway or on parallel residential streets.   Most of the way it was quite safe but a few stretches were dicey.

 

 

Encinitas, while not downscale, seemed not as deliberately upscale and self-important as some other beach towns along this strip.  I want to give a big shout-out to the EconoLodge in Encinitas.   A room there cost way less than a hundred dollars and was immaculately clean.   There was even a decent free breakfast.  The hotel was run by members of a southeast Asian ethnic group I could not distinguish.

The Italian restaurant a few doors down was not as affordable and the food not all that great.  The conversation at the bar, however, was lively.

 

The next morning it was only about thirty miles to downtown San Diego but there were several large hills and complicated neighborhoods to navigate in between.

 

I did cycled up a very large hill / small coastal mountain, the top of which was covered by groves of what I assume are torrey pines.

 

The famous golf course Torrey Pines, owned by the city of San Diego, is right near the highway.

I headed to the right off the main highway and descended a long hill into the wealthy beach town of La Jolla.   I imagine somewhere in here is Mitt Romney’s house with the car elevator leading to a four car garage.

 

 

 

Pacific Beach seemed much more democratic, as in democratic with a small d.

San Diego is unique in that its airport with only one runway sits right near its central city and on the waterfront.  I biked along San Diego Bay by the airport, heading towards downtown.

 

 

The downtown Amtrak station was built for the Santa Fe railway in 1914.    It is like going to church to take the train.

 

 

 

I had managed to get here in time to make the 1:35 PM departure, three hours to downtown Los Angeles.    I could wheel the bicycle right onto the lower level of the train car.

My bicycle suitcase was stored at an airport hotel near LAX, about twenty miles from downtown L.A.

I arrived by Amtrak to the downtown Los Angeles Union Station at 4:30 PM, coming up from San Diego with the bicycle.  Union Station opened in 1939 and exhibits Art Deco calligraphy.  It provides an interesting architectural contrast to the San Diego station built twenty something years earlier.

 

 

 

It was getting dark but I had only a short distance to bike through a surprisingly hilly downtown Los Angeles to a nearby Airbnb.

I passed near the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

To get to my side of town I needed to bike through quarter mile long tunnel!

My Airbnb was on the apparently still gentrifying side of I-110 in a newer large apartment complex.    I had one bedroom of a very neat and clean two bedroom apartment occupied by a twenty something guy.   This ended up being totally acceptable to me and cost less than a hundred dollars including taxes.  He gave me instructions to tell security at the front desk that I was a “friend” of the guy in 415.  There was a nice view out of the bedroom window.

 

Street life is at a minimum in this area on the edge of downtown L.A.  There were hardly any restaurants near my place.   At dinner hour I walked a few blocks down a hill towards Wilshire Boulevard for a purported “gastro-pub.”

 

I easily found the Plan Check Kitchen + Bar.  It was an interesting scene on this slow Tuesday night.

I arrived about the same time as two extremely tall and well dressed twenty or thirty something women.   One looked African-American, one white.  I was intrigued, who were these two tall and tastefully dressed women?   They both looked super fit, buff.   Was this just because we were is Los Angeles?   Were they WNBA stars?   Was this just my prejudice coming forward?  Where they just two normal people out for dinner together?  I felt like these were not the kind of people who I would meet back in Chapel Hill.  I sat at the bar and they took the remaining two seats.  They did small talk with the bartender and the three of them all seemed to be in the know about Show Business.  How L.A.!    There were a few other people at the bar as well.

 

 

I got the Aji Tuna BLT (how California! Seafood and bacon!) and a beer.  It was all very good.

 

The next morning I sat at a Starbucks across the street from the restaurant where I had been at the night before.   I plotted a route to bicycle back to my airport hotel and maybe see something of Los Angeles in the process.    I guiltily dismissed riding the most direct route because I felt uncomfortable riding through miles and miles of majority African-American neighborhoods like Crenshaw, South Los Angeles, and Inglewood.   I would ride instead a slightly longer route through Koreatown, Beverlywood, and Culver City.

I headed out on Seventh Street, going northwest.

 

 

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark / all the sweat green icing flowing down / someone left the cake out in the rain / I don’t think that I can take it / ’cause it took so long to bake it / and I’ll never have that recipe again!

 

 

Homeless people were all over the place.   Southern California seems like a perfect storm for homelessness; agreeable weather year-round and out of control housing costs.

 

Mostly later in the day I was repeatedly confronted with a trend I had not previously been aware of but was confirmed by a quick Google search:  housing is so expensive that people live in RV’s parked on the streets of Los Angeles.  I guess they move them around when hassled.

 

 

I continued on through the area known as Koreatown.  It has been listed as a prime up and coming area, hipsterish even.   It seemed to be full of all kinds of ethnicities, not just Korean.

I was surprised that most housing this close to downtown was still single family houses.   I am generally a big fan of historic preservation, but with the cost of housing here,something has to give.  I am not sure where this is headed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was not yet lunch time but I was ready for lunch.    Myoung Dong Kyo Ja was already half full at 10:55 AM.   At $ 11.95 this was one of the cheaper entrees of this whole trip and probably the best meal.    Their English translation menu listed this as “Korean chicken noodle soup.”  It was a big bowl of flavorful broth and big slurpy noodles, dressed with several dumpling-like things and bunches of crunchy vegetables and kimchee.

While there were patrons of all ages, all Korean looking.  I noted several groups of middle aged women who seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.

 

Moving further west the neighborhoods became more pristine, certainly more expensive and less diverse.    I bicycled many miles through prosperous neighborhoods.   I stopped for a coffee in this place just south of Beverlywood.

 

The further I travelled from downtown the more the street grid consisted of dead ends and cul de sacs.   It became more and more difficult to bicycle on residential streets as opposed to major four lane thoroughfares.    I was lucky to find the Ballona Creek Bike Path, which extends several miles towards the ocean and took me very close to the airport.

 

In the late afternoon I did indeed bicycle right up to the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport.   My suitcase was still there.   After checking in I took it and the bicycle up to my room and put it all together, for my homebound flight at 7:00 AM the next morning.

We did not come to Las Vegas to bicycle around.   I came with Tootie and her sister Kathryn for a three day vacation.   Still, I brought the Bike Friday in a suitcase so I could maybe noodle around Vegas.  (Southwest Airlines does not charge for luggage!)  Later I would I use this opportunity while out West to bicycle five days in southern California.   More about California in the next post.

The Strip is a conglomeration of high rise buildings several miles south of the original Las Vegas downtown.   We stayed in The Bellagio, a high rise with Italian themes, across the street from Paris, a hotel/casino with a French theme. This was the view from our Bellagio hotel room window. It is all so over-the-top; the Eiffel Tower sexually mounting some chateau, with a Haussmann styled high-rise behind it.

 

The same view at night.

 

This was the view out the same window thirty degrees to the left.    At the bottom of the photo are Roman columns in the outbuildings Caesar’s Palace, with an ad for the Donny and Marie show on the side of the The Flamingo, Ferris wheel in the back yard.

One afternoon I decided to bicycle around Las Vegas.    First, I had to somehow get to the street.    Las Vegas hotels are set up so one as to walk through the casino to enter or leave.    I had put the folding bicycle together in the hotel room and then walk the bicycle right through the casino.

 

The craps tables were in full swing.

 

Walking with the the bicycle, the casino transitions into a small shopping mall lined with pretentious stores like Prada and Gucci.    If someone makes substantial money at gambling the casinos entice their customers to blow their winnings on a multi-thousand dollar woman’s handbag.   The mall ends at a pedestrian bridge that crosses the 8-10 lanes of  Flamingo Road.  On the other side, near the back door of Caesar’s Palace, there is an escalator that descends to street level.   From there I could put the bicycle on the highway and ride off without having to make a left turn.

When staying on the Las Vegas Strip and planning to bicycle, (if anyone ever does this again!) the first three blocks are the worst.   I mostly biked on the sidewalk for about a quarter mile down Flamingo Road as it passed over Interstate 15 and mainline railroad tracks.    Once I could take a right turn onto a “normal” street, everything calmed down with a wide two lane street with a shoulder.   It was suddenly quite pleasant.

Las Vegas is mostly flat and built with a street grid.   I rode all over the west side of Las Vegas for about two hours.  Somehow I had expected the residential areas of Las Vegas to look exotic.  Not.    It is still America.

 

 

After biking around west side neighborhoods for quite a while I headed east towards the older downtown.   There was a bike lane!

 

I have heard that Las Vegas has put serious effort into drawing people to its downtown, maybe even regular people, not just tourists.   I stumbled onto this Cleveland Clinic research building built in 2010.  I guessed but could not believe it was Frank Gehry.  Later I checked and found that it really was designed by Gehry, about the most famous architect in America.

Fremont Street has been the main drag of downtown Las Vegas for a hundred years or more.  The street is closed to vehicular traffic and is now covered with a mesh rooftop.  The whole street feels like a room, even though it is still outdoors.  Compared to the huge hotels out on The Strip, downtown is much more democratic feeling.  Aberrant behavior is permitted.  The casinos have much lower betting minimums.  This is my kind of Las Vegas.

 

 

 

 

There are “outdoor” bars along the street.  I walked around with my bicycle.

 

 

I biked the three or four miles back south our hotel,  The Bellagio out on The Strip.    Closer to our hotel, this tower sat by itself, one of many, clearly not one of the big draws.   Only in Las Vegas could such a huge building seem insignificant.

 

I did make it back to the hotel safely, but I did not venture out on the bicycle again.

 

Raleigh is at least thirty-five miles by bicycle from my home on the Chapel Hill / Carrboro line.   Sure, I have completed that 70+ mile roundtrip once or twice during the past thirty years,  but such a ride is a stretch, especially on a route that involves lots of stops and starts and turns.   Why not bicycle to Raleigh, take the Amtrak from Raleigh to Durham, and then bicycle the fifteen miles home from downtown Durham?

It was almost 11:00 AM before I left Chapel Hill on a Monday morning.   The wind was at my back.

It has taken me years to work out a somewhat safe bicycle route from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, a route that lets one bicycle mostly on residential streets or bike paths.   It shows the ineffectiveness of our state government that we have to figure this out on our own, or that this is the “safe” route.    Those uninterested in these weeds can skip to below the map.

From Franklin Street, go through the UNC Campus down the hill on Laurel Hill Road.   Cross over Bypass at the light and continue by Finley Golf Course.   Take a right on the bike path along highway 54, then take a right on Barbee Chapel Road, then Stagecoach Road, then left on highway 751 for about 200 yards before right on Massey Chapel Road to get on the American Tobacco Trail.   Take that paved trail about five miles to O’Kelly Chapel Road, where you go left.  In about a quarter mile, take a right on Del Webb Avenue through the Amberly real estate development.  Continue straight and the road changes name to McCrimmon Parkway .  This ends at the four lane highway 55.     Go right and bike about 100 yards, then jump the median to Good Hope Church Road.   Take that to the end (about a quarter mile) then left on Morrisville Carpenter Road.

Morrisville Carpenter Road is mostly safe and wide for the several miles to downtown Morrisville and Highway 54.   Go right on 54 for about a quarter mile, then left on the residential street Keybridge Drive.   Immediate right on Kalvesta Drive, then left on Glenspring Way, then right on Weston Estates Way.  After this crosses Weston Parkway it changes name to Sheldon Drive and ends at Cary Parkway.   Go left for only about a quarter mile on that busy road, then right on Winfair Drive.   Take this a few blocks to Evans Road, go right for about a quarter mile, then left on Dynasty Drive.   Dynasty Drive changes name to Elektra Drive, but this residential street continues for several miles up and down hills through quiet neighborhoods, all the way to the intersection of Trinity Road.

Left on Trinity Road and you are almost at the Raleigh city limits.  Trinity Road goes by the State Fairgrounds and Carter-Finley Stadium.  Right on Blue Ridge Road, go down the hill and across Highway 54, immediate left on Beryl Road.

By now you are in Raleigh at Hillsborough Street near NC State.   There are several ways to downtown from here, take your choice.

 

 

 

 

The train was scheduled to leave at 3:00 PM; I had arrived downtown Raleigh with time for lunch.    Sosta is a really nice sandwich shop and coffee house I discovered by pedaling around downtown.    A tuna sandwich with sides of couscous and tabouli had real spark.   An interesting looking group of likely Red Hat employees sat at the other occupied table.   A little search on the internet shows that the owner is from Avignon, in southwestern France.

I must have been the city of Raleigh that decided to invest in a new train station.   I am sure Amtrak did not have enough money to pay for all this.   It opened less than a year ago.   It is really a lovely facility, right in the center of the warehouse district, just a few blocks from the main downtown drag Fayetteville Street.

 

To get to the tracks one walks down this modernist ramp.

There are four Amtrak trains a day from Raleigh to Durham.  Sure, the trains are old school, not glitzy like the Raleigh station.   But the train ride is very clean and peaceful in the half hour journey, stopping on the way in downtown Cary.   All these trains continue on to Greensboro, High Point, and Charlotte.    You can load your bicycle directly onto the baggage car, zero hassle.  Amtrak in other parts of America does NOT always treat bicycles so well.

The train put me in downtown Durham on time at 3:30 PM.    I still had an hour and a half of daylight left to bike the fifteen miles home.   The NCDOT is widening Chapel Hill Road in Durham county, it is getting safer to bicycle.  (Chapel Hill Road, to University Drive, to Old Chapel Hill Road to Pope Road to Ephesus Church Road)

I was home in Chapel Hill before five o’clock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

We turned down Esplanade Avenue,

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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