Friday, April 20, 2007

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans was great. Still very fucked-up, mind you. But a wonderful city. Good biking. Great food. An easy city to strike up a conversation with strangers. I was charmed. Too bad the city was destroyed and nobody seems to care. It’s two years later, for Christ’s sake, and it looks like the storm hit last month. What kind of country do we live in? For more on my trip, see Roving Gastronome. For more on the city, read Dan Baum’s great blog in the New Yorker. He and his wife were nice enough to show us around (on bikes), and give us the insiders’ perspective only an outsider can provide.

The first thing I did was take a cab to the French Quarter and rent bikes at Michael’s on Frenchmen Street. They were good bikes. With locks. Two bikes for four days was $150. Plus they put a mirror on for Zora for free, which was nice. There were far more handlebar streamers in this store than at any bike store in NYC.
We went for my friends’ wedding. I became a online reverend for $15 and married him and his wife in the wax museum.
We were warned about the horrible roads. But coming from New York, they weren’t that bad. On average they were bad. But a bad road there was no worse than a bad road here. And the lack of traffic, though spooky at times, was great for biking.

These were our bikes. The first time I ever really rode a bike with suspension (AKA shock absorbers). It made biking on these roads a lot better. I still think it makes biking worse. But I was happy to have it.
Shrimp po-boys rock.
Armored national guard units on patrol in the Bywater.
New Orleans is bit larger geographically than I was expected. We never did make it across the river, but we covered a pretty good distance from the Lower Ninth, to City Park, to Jefferson. And it was windy as hell.
Just a nice bike on the street. New Orleans is actually a very good biking city and there are a fair number of bikes. But of course there's something strange about biking around city that is in large part a disaster area, knowing the police department is barely functional. They're still operating out of trailers. Something like 4 percent of murders last year ended up in conviction. And everybody talks about crime. It's like real estate in NYC, except deadly. There is something Mad Max about it all. There are a lot of desperate people, and you just hope that nobody jumps you or pulls a gun.

Food from the back of trucks is great. Especially if it’s a full-on smoker. Though they were just grilling, I got a pork chop.
The Single Ladies Social Club on Parade in and around mid-city, in the ghetto.

It turns out that no "second line" is complete with a few guys pulling coolers of iced beer on carts. A whole informal economy springs up as it all passes. It’s actually not easy to sell beer and make change and pull a cart at the same time. If you slow down or stop, the four police horses pulling up the rear will run you over. Imported beer was $3 a bottle.

This was the bridge I had bike over to get to the Lower Ninth. I wasn’t looking forward to it. And though there was a great view on top, it really wasn’t safe to stop on the top and take pictures. I’m happy this wasn’t the last picture I ever took.
There are about 1 or 2 inhabited houses per block in the Lower Ninth. 80% of the city flooded, mind you. But the Lower Ninth got flooded with force. Housing were ripped off their foundations. The rubble from the very worst part has been cleaned up. So now just north of the bridge is a big empty lot. Just south of the bridge the houses are still on their foundation, ruined from 10 feet of water.

Back in the Bywater.

On closer inspection, the search and rescue mark is cast iron, placed over the original. Most houses in the city have the mark. The bottom quadrant is dead people found. Most are zeros, but not all.

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