“The Man has a branch office in each of our brains, his corporate emblem is a white albatross, each local rep has a cover known as the Ego, and their mission in this world is Bad Shit.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
“Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”
“Yes, every once in a while.”
“Do you know that in about thirty- five more years we’ll be dead?”
“What the hell, Robert,” I said. “What the hell.”
“It’s one thing I don’t worry about,” I said.
“You ought to.”
“I’ve had plenty to worry about one time or other. I’m through worrying.”
“Well, I want to go to South America.”
“Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.”
“But you’ve never been to South America.”
“South America hell! If you went there the way you feel now it would be exactly the same. This is a good town. Why don’t you start living your life in Paris?”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
“The stretch of ground from the edge of the town to the bull-ring was muddy. There was a crowd all along the fence that led to the ring, and the outside balconies and the top of the bull-ring were solid with people. I heard the rocket and I knew I could not get into the ring in time to see the bulls come in, so I shoved through the crowd to the fence. I was pushed close against the planks of the fence. Between the two fences of the runway the police were clearing the crowd along. They walked or trotted on into the bull-ring. Then people commenced to come running. A drunk slipped and fell. Two policemen grabbed him and rushed him over to the fence. The crowd were running fast now. There was a great shout from the crowd, and putting my head through between the boards I saw the bulls just coming out of the street into the long running pen. They were going fast and gaining on the crowd. Just then another drunk started out from the fence with a blouse in his hands. He wanted to do capework with the bulls. The two policemen tore out, collared him, one hit him with a club, and they dragged him against the fence and stood flattened out against the fence as the last of the crowd and the bulls went by. There were so many people running ahead of the bulls that the mass thickened and slowed up going through the gate into the ring, and as the bulls passed, galloping together, heavy, muddy-sided, horns swinging, one shot ahead, caught a man in the running crowd in the back and lifted him in the air. Both the man’s arms were by his sides, his head went back as the horn went in, and the bull lifted him and then dropped him. The bull picked another man running in front, but the man disappeared into the crowd, and the crowd was through the gate and into the ring with the bulls behind them. The red door of the ring went shut, the crowd on the outside balconies of the bull-ring were pressing through to the inside, there was a shout, then another shout.
The man who had been gored lay face down in the trampled mud. People climbed over the fence, and I could not see the man because the crowd was so thick around him. From inside the ring came the shouts. Each shout meant a charge by some bull into the crowd. You could tell by the degree of intensity in the shout how bad a thing it was that was happening. Then the rocket went up that meant the steers had gotten the bulls out of the ring and into the corrals. I left the fence and started back toward the town.”
—-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Ever since reading The Sun Also Rises and The Drifters as a kid I have wanted to go to Pamplona and see the running of the bulls. Will probably never get to do that – I don’t feel the urge as much as I used to.
On my last trip to New Orleans, I was able to do the second best thing. For over a decade they have had a running of the bulls in the Big Easy. Instead of real bulls – the participants run from a horn wearing women’s roller derby team which chases and smacks the participants with plastic baseball bats.
A bit of fun and a great opportunity for photos.
“Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.”
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
“there was something about
that city, though
it didn’t let me feel guilty
that I had no feeling for the
things so many others
it let me alone.”
― Charles Bukowski
“Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light.”
― Dave Eggers, Zeitoun
“Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become a study for archaeologists…but it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.”
― Lafcadio Hearn, Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn
“Oh, I’m not a percussionist, I just like to hit things.”
― Tom Waits
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.
I was riding my bike around downtown, and ended up in Deep Ellum in time for the First Annual Deep Ellum Mardi Gras Parade. I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans a couple times as well as the Bishop Arts version the last couple years – and Deep Ellum has a way to go to meet those standards – but it was still a blast and a great start.
Everyone met up at The Free Man and set out down the sidewalk playing Louisiana music and having a lot of fun. The sun was setting and I had a long way to go to get home on my bike, so I wasn’t able to stay for all the festivities. I’ll plan better next time.
If you missed it, they aren’t waiting until next year. There’s already another parade scheduled on Fat Tuesday.
Laissez les bons temps rouler.