In New Orleans for Tulane’s graduation last week… when I rode past the terminus of Bayou Saint John on my way to City Park and the Parkway Tavern I saw a Xeroxed poster on a telephone pole. Bike Easy, an organization that promotes cycling in New Orleans, was having a bicycle second line on Sunday.
What a great idea.
For those of you not familiar with New Orleans’ traditions, a second line is a special type of parade, unique to the city. The origins of the term is that the main participants in a parade, followed by a brass band are the “main line” or “first line”. The informal group that forms, following the band, is the second line.
The second line parade has taken on a life of its own and has become a hallowed tradition of the city.
The comedian Hannibal Buress did this bit on Jimmy Fallon’s show that explains the second line and how it works.
So, when Sunday rolled around I begged out of my other obligations and set off on my bike across the city from the Garden District to Bayou Saint John. This was the third day I had ridden this way (after going to City Park and Parkway, then to the Bayou Boogaloo) and I finally had the route pretty well figured out.
I arrived early and hung around talking to a few folks as the crowd grew and grew. I was wondering how they would work the band (walking would be too slow… you can’t play a trombone and ride a bike) and that was answered by the arrival of a truck pulling a trailer.
Everything took longer than anticipated so the ride didn’t get started on time, but that didn’t matter. The crowd had swelled to around six hundred cyclists of all types and abilities. I talked to a few folks that had bought new bikes and were going on their first rides and, of course, there were plenty of strong cyclists too.
Compared to, say, a Critical Mass ride in Dallas there were a lot more cruiser/commuter/comfort bikes and a lot fewer road bikes and fixies. That’s not surprising considering the rough roads, shorter distances, and general relaxed attitude in the Big Easy compared to my city.
Everyone piled into the street and the parade was off.
I’m not actually sure of the entire route we rode – I think it was Desaix Avenue to St. Bernard and Rampart Street. There we took a break in Louis Armstrong Park for water and hot dogs before we rode down Esplanade to Decatur and through the French Quarter. We wound through the Central Business District and then out Canal back to the start. The route was an easy eleven miles or so, but caught some of the most interesting parts of the city.
Six hundred bicyclists of varying speeds and abilities can stretch out for a long way. The ride had a motorcycle police escort that would blare down the opposite side of the street – all sirens and lights – to get ahead of the parade and block the streets. It was a complex, rolling dance of motorcycle cops, helped by volunteers on bikes that would help block smaller residential streets.
It was an operation that could only be done in New Orleans. It was obvious that the police knew how to organize and escort a parade – that they had done this many times before. We shut down traffic on some large and vital arteries, but again, New Orleans is used to this and everyone smiled and waved.
I fought my way through the crowd to ride near the front. I wanted to hear the band. We would stop at strategic places to allow the straggling riders to catch up and that was a great time. People clapped and danced along to the music. The band was really good – and had the stamina to keep playing the whole time.
Going down Decatur through the French Quarter, I noticed a ride volunteer standing in the middle of the street. The flow of bicycles was splitting on either side of her. I wondered what she was doing there until I went by. She was standing astride the biggest pothole I had ever seen. A bike wheel would plunge down there and disappear forever. You have to think of everything with a ride like this. Another tricky obstacle was the streetcar tracks on and around Canal. These ran parallel to the ride – and would swallow an uncareful wheel.
As we headed out of the Cetnral Business District a guy riding next to me shouted out with glee and enthusiasm, “We’re shuttin’ down Canal!”
The ride ended back where it started with everyone dispersing, either to the Bayoo Boogaloo or off into the neighborhoods. I checked my phone and my folks were getting together at the Columns Hotel, so I borrowed a bike map and planned another route across the city.