Right Round Like a Record, Baby

All I know is that to me
You look like you’re having fun
Open up your lovin’ arms
Watch out here I come
You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby
Right round round round
—-Dead or Alive, You Spin Me Round

Carnival, Tulane Campus, New Orleans

Oblique Strategy: What wouldn’t you do?

I remember getting sick at a carnival. The rides can’t be designed to do anything but make you sick, really. The fear doesn’t come, like it does in a huge roller coaster at a big theme park, from the stretching of the bounds of physics. The fear comes from the rickety old equipment, dripping grease, and the dirty meth addict running the ride. You assume he put the thing together, did the safety checks.

The smell of a small carnival – popcorn, rancid grease, and ozone. The sound of the rides, the screaming of kids, the pops of the rifles shooting at paper targets.

It is all a relic of a bygone age. A carnival – I think it’s a predecessor to the video game, without the score. The lights, the sounds, the movement… everything just slightly surreal. I’m surprised that there are any left.

I think I need to try and track one down.

Bike Riding in the Big Easy

My Xootr Swift folding bike on the bike route over Interstate 10 in New Orleans. Downtown and the Superdome are in the background.

My Xootr Swift folding bike on the bike route over Interstate 10 in New Orleans. Downtown and the Superdome are in the background.

We had a trip to New Orleans planned for Tulane Graduation. Lee actually graduated in December, and didn’t plan on walking, but we wanted to go anyway… sort of a closure.

This was the first out of town trip that we had taken since I had bought my folding Xootr Swift bike. One of the reasons I wanted the folder was to be able to take it along, collapsed in the trunk, and pull it out for a ride whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Lee’s friends had arranged a party for the graduates and parents at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. A few years ago I had seen a television show that claimed Parkway had the best Shrimp Po’ Boy sandwiches in New Orleans. That’s a pretty salty claim – but I have eaten there before and can’t really argue (though Domilise’s is close). No way am I going to miss a meal at Parkway, and I wanted to ride my bike. As early as I could rustle my rusty bones out of our guesthouse in the Garden District I walked to the car, unfolded my Xootr from the trunk, and set out across the city.

I had no real idea of a where I was going, but used my phone and the Bicycle Route little green lines on Google Maps and was able to find my way. One good thing is the way the Crescent City is laid out, as confusing as it can be, all the roads seem to run to Parkway’s ‘hood.

I have been going to New Orleans for decades, and I think this was the first day of really, really nice weather I’ve ever seen. I had ridden my commuter bike around Tulane in December, but the wind was howling cold spitting rain.

New Orleans has been working hard on making its streets more bike friendly and they have succeeded. There are bike lanes and recommended streets. There aren’t a lot of dedicated trails, except in a few key choke points – like crossing Interstate 10.

There is no comparison to Dallas (which is well known as the worst city for cycling). First, let’s face it, the city of New Orleans itself isn’t really very big – it’s only four miles or so from the river to Lake Pontchartrain – as opposed to the hundred miles from Mesquite to Benbrook.

New Orleans is hell to drive in – which, ironically, makes it easy to ride a bike in. The streets are narrow and choked which slows and “calms” the traffic. I could ride across town as fast as I can drive. In Dallas it’s not unusual to come across cars going a mile a minute – which is rolling death if you aren’t wrapped in a steel carapace.

The one downside to riding there are the cracked pavement and the potholes. I had to keep my eyes open and those tiny wheels on the folder transmit every shock right to my spine. I learned quickly to stay off the side streets and use the lanes on the larger thoroughfares – the pavement had been better repaired.

But, other than that – it was a blast.

I became lost less often than I had predicted (only once) and arrived at Parkway an hour early. That gave me time for a quick ride around City Park and along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. City Park is beautiful and huge (though people tell me it is a shadow of its pre-Katrina glory) and Pontchartrain feels like an ocean shore.

My Xootr Swift along the shore Lake Pontchartrain, New Orlean, Louisiana. You can see the Pontchartrain causeway on the horizon.

My Xootr Swift along the shore Lake Pontchartrain, New Orlean, Louisiana. You can see the Pontchartrain causeway on the horizon.

I didn’t have time to waste so I kept pedaling and still made it to Parkway before the festivities. I locked the bike out front until Candy and Lee arrived in the car – then all I had to do was fold it back up into the trunk.

Another advantage of the ride – that Shrimp Po’-Boy sure tasted extra good.

Bikes locked up in front of Parkway, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bikes locked up in front of Parkway, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bead Tree

“To encapsulate the notion of Mardi Gras as nothing more than a big drunk is to take the simple and stupid way out, and I, for one, am getting tired of staying stuck on simple and stupid.

Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is bars and restaurants changing out all the CD’s in their jukeboxes to Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, and it is annual front-porch crawfish boils hours before the parades so your stomach and attitude reach a state of grace, and it is returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year–people whose names you may or may not even know but you’ve watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they’re not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Now that part, more than ever.

It’s mad piano professors converging on our city from all over the world and banging the 88’s until dawn and laughing at the hairy-shouldered men in dresses too tight and stalking the Indians under Claiborne overpass and thrilling the years you find them and lamenting the years you don’t and promising yourself you will next year.

It’s wearing frightful color combination in public and rolling your eyes at the guy in your office who–like clockwork, year after year–denies that he got the baby in the king cake and now someone else has to pony up the ten bucks for the next one.

Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.”
― Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

Bead Tree, Gibson Quad, Tulane, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bead Tree, Gibson Quad, Tulane, New Orleans, Louisiana

“I dust a bit…in addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.
~Ignatius J. Reilly
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

Bead Tree, Gibson Quad, Tulane, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bead Tree, Gibson Quad, Tulane, New Orleans, Louisiana

“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

Baritone

Used to tell Ma sometimes
When I see them riding blinds
Gonna make me a home out in the wind
In the wind, Lord in the wind
Make me a home out in the wind

I don’t like it in the wind
Wanna go back home again
But I can’t go home thisaway
Thisaway, Lord Lord Lord
And I can’t go home thisaway

I was young when I left home
And I been out rambling ‘round
And I never wrote a letter to my home
To my home, Lord Lord Lord
And I never wrote a letter to my home
—-Bob Dylan, I Was Young When I Left Home

My little bike ride through the Tulane campus was bittersweet. It was fun but I was filled with a melancholy nostalgia. Lee has graduated – this might be my last visit… or at least it will be the last visit with any connection or significance. I remembered visiting five years ago for parent’s weekend, walking the sidewalks on the guided tour, imagining what it would be like to study at such a beautiful place in such an amazing city.

This last visit – I almost felt more connection than with my own campus… that was long ago and I was just a kid, anyway. Nobody knows the terrible lucidity of nostalgia at a young age – it only comes with the onslaught of incipient dotage.

Baritone
Mia Westerlund Roosen
Tulane Campus
New Orleans, Louisiana

Baritone Mia Westerlund Roosen Tulane Campus, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

Baritone
Mia Westerlund Roosen
Tulane Campus, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

Timber

There are a handful of modern sculptures scattered across the various quads on the Tulane campus in New Orleans. One I noticed the first time, more than four years ago, that we took Lee there for a visit was a construction of wood and a stack of handmade multi-colored glass blocks that stands in front of the Architecture building.

I always like to take a look at it when I visit.

Timber
Glass, Steel, and Wood, 1982
by
Gene Koss, American

Timber, by Gene Koss, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana (click to enlarge)

Timber, by Gene Koss, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

Timber, by Gene Koss, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana (click to enlarge)

Timber, by Gene Koss, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

Timber, by Gene Koss, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana (click to enlarge)

Timber, by Gene Koss, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

Bike Ride in New Orleans

My Commuter Bike in Audubon Park, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

My Commuter Bike in Audubon Park, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

I drove to the Big Easy over the weekend to pick up my son Lee (who just graduated from Tulane) and bring him back to Dallas for the holidays. Since I had plenty of room in the car I removed the wheels from my commuter bike and packed it in.

I have always wanted to ride a bicycle in New Orleans and never have. The French Quarter especially is full of folks on bikes (both natives for transportation and tourist rentals for entertainment) and I have always enjoyed hanging outside and watching folks ride by.

Photos I’ve taken of bikes in the city:

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

Bicycle, French Quarter, New Orleans

Bicycle, French Quarter, New Orleans

My son lives out by the university and I thought I might ride through the Garden District down to the quarter and back – it would make for a nice long day with plenty of cool places to stop along the way. He was working Sunday and I would have time to myself.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. When I arrived the city was unbearably hot and humid and on the day I had planned on riding a cold front blew in and brought a powerful set of thunderstorms with it.

My commuter bike is set up with fenders and I have rain gear – but this was too much. A good rule of thumb is that when the lightning is so violent the thunder is setting off all the car alarms in the neighborhood every few seconds – it’s storming too much to go out.

This went on all day. When it would lighten up a bit I would think about venturing out – but another band would blow onshore and the skies would open up with a drenching downpour and howling winds. I ended up staying inside all day.

We were going to drive back to Dallas the next day, but he had some things he had to do in the morning so we couldn’t leave early. That gave me time to get in a quick little ride before we left. It was still very cold (for New Orleans), wet, and windy – but bearable, so I headed out.

I rode through the Tulane campus, now empty for the holidays, and up St. Charles for a bit (they have a bike lane along some of the street). St. Charles in New Orleans is the most beautiful street in the world (in my opinion) though the traffic is pretty nasty for a bicycle.

The city has sharrows painted on Nashville so I chose that route down to Magazine Street and rode there for a bit looking at the shops and restaurants before heading over to Audubon Park and circled the zoo down to the Mississippi.

My Bike along the Mississippi, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

My Bike along the Mississippi, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

I rode back through the park and the Tulane campus then took a side trip down Freret to cruise through a nice up-and-coming area of shops and restaurants.

That’s about it. It was fun, glad to get it in. Lee warned me the streets were rough and he was right. I’m glad I have a front shock on my commuter bike – the ride was through a constant series of cracks and potholes. As I rode toward the river I thought to myself that it would be uphill coming back – in Dallas the streets slope surprisingly steeply down to the Trinity River – but in New Orleans it isn’t true, of course. That city is about as flat a cycling route you will ever see.

The traffic there is nasty, of course. I’m sure you could get used to it – but it’s pretty tough, even compared to Dallas, which is well known as the least cycle-friendly city. The key is to learn your town, your neighborhood, and your routes – which can’t be done in one cold and blustery morning.

Now I need to go back when the weather is better and do a bit more exploring.

Candy Land

Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.
—-Victor Hugo

New Orleans, Tulane Homecoming
.
candyland
.
candyland1

The thing about a carnival at night, well, it’s the smell. The smell of popping corn, of hot grease, the sweet smell of a cotton candy machine, the sour of the overexcited crowd … but over all of it the burning of ozone – thrown from the high voltage sparks of the hurling metal motors, copper coils and sparking brush gaps, overseen by the barkers and attendants and maintenance men – addict thin and covered with bad tattoos.

The yelling, the tinkling music – short old familiar tunes played over and over – the clanking machines, the screams of the children.

It’s like walking into another world, you stumble gap-mouthed, clutching your little string of cardboard tickets. Memories of carnivals past – of young couples, and getting sick on the tilt-a-whirl – because the carnival is timeless. That’s the point, isn’t it? – a cheap alternate universe. Step right up, step right up, we will sell you, if not something better, at least something a little different.

Sometimes you see one moving down the highway. The rides folded into compact nests of metal, all peeling paint and bright signs. The little buildings collapsed onto themselves, the same workers now driving the trucks – headed for the next dying mall parking lot, or vacant field on the edge of some sad town, or like this one, a special day at a university – the kids enjoying something different on the same grass they walk across every day.

A hot dog, please, and a funnel cake, and a coke and a beer, and a big cone full of cotton candy please, please please – I’ll throw the ball at the milk bottles and win a stuffed bear, or sit in the seat and get thrown in the air.

Hope all those bolts are tight.