Monday, May 15, 2017

Wilbo Gardens on Mothers Day and Turns Up Earthworms and Memory as He Cultivates a Woman's Garden in Evanston, Illinois.

Sunday afternoon, I gardened on Mother's Day. My sister is the mother now in my family now, a mother of three sons now in their twenties. I wasn't gardening for her. She celebrated with her children five hours drive away. 

That's what is a plus or minus about gardening. It requires a definate plot of Earth. One can't send best wishes or good vibrations to a garden and expect flowers. One must put ones hand in the earth at a specific place on earth. I could fill her planters with blooms the next time I visit. Sister might like a pot or two of impatiens.

Aino and Stella, my grandmothers, gardened for pleasure and for the table. I would love to garden for Aino or Stella, and I can only now cultivate flowers for each woman on the small rectangle of ground where lives my memories of them. I remember their gardens. I remember my grandmothers and their gardens.

 Stella loved to make hedges of the Rose of Sharon and took her morning coffee on her patio, surrounded by the blossoming tree in spring. Aino filled her front beds with tulips and daffodils. After her passing, I searched her garden loam for bulbs and reanimated all the bulbs I failed to find. For that spring, her work bore flowers before her doorstep a final time. We sold the house that summer and I put the bulbs into the dirt outside my patio and thought of her as the daffodils arose.

This Mothers Day, I had no good idea whose earth I was cultivating. I was hired by a woman online. She gave instructions quickly before returning to her family table where her guests were eating. Pull the weeds. Set the ferns from the nursery in deep holes, making an oval of ferns. Transplant the little hostas among the existing ferns, a surprise that had cropped up this spring. Plant the two flats of hostas along the border with the grass, adding the twelve new hostas to the six already well established. 

She moved her son's bike away, a good  bike for a young man in high school. I set to work.

Lifting a cold, I broke a spade with a tiny blade. It's handle broke off at the metal collar, and I saw the dry rot in the collar. I could explain that easily. The spade was bound to break and I could easily bolt on a fresh handle if asked. I had to make do with a short handled flat head shovel, better for shoveling coal than breaking earth. I cursed a moment.

Little difference seems to exist between a pogo stick and a shovel. One has to leap into a pogo stick or a shovel with two feet, an act of faith and balance. Luckily, the dark soil gave easily and digging ditches allowed me to get the rootballs deeply enough in the ground. I was surprised how quickly the work advanced. I turned up antique glass, old nails and worms. Robins started to patrol my turf, flying off to nest with a Mother's Day worm. 

Most of the weeds were eradicated, pulled up by the roots, as I extracted the tiny hostas from the fern section, making one bit of digging do twice the good. The tiny hostas defied my effort to keep soil around the fine roots. I put them in the ground near the maple tree, hoping they could compete with the roots for water and nutrients. My employer's mother and father took their leave, stopping to marvel at my work halfway done from the stoop. "You'll be back", said the grandmother. "Thank you", I said. I went back to work.

A flat of those funny annuals with the extravagant tiny blooms remained. She asked for a ring of those around the oval of ferns. I popped those in with a trowel. I remembered watching a man put in annuals in a bed on the main street in Roosevelt Park near an old fashioned gas station transformed into a pub for burgers and hot wings. I chatted with him and he joked he wanted to hold up the bank near the pub, the Chase bank next door to the Station Pub. "But I won't. I'm on work release from jail, and I've planted flowers for Old Ole's Nursery for ten springs now". I imitated his easy hand with the trowel. Just open up the earth a few inches wide, pop in the root ball and let the ground spring back. Scrape in soil if any space remained. I felt disappointment when I ran out of annuals.

I called my employer, and she was agape as she looked over the thirty two or so newly planted perennials and annuals. I counted. I looked at the time on my cellphone. "How about two hours"? "Deal", she said. I could bill later through the application. "Wait a minute", she said and went back inside. Did she want more work I wondered? Or was she going inside for a tip? I was hoping for the Chicago handshake, a twenty dollar bill. I hadn't had my dinner yet that Mothers Day and I was thinking baked ham and scalloped potatoes.

She came back to the door. "I was going to send you over to a friend's house, but it's too late. Thanks for making my garden beautiful".

"You are welcome. Thank you for such a pleasant task". And I set out by foot for the Purple Line five minutes away on the far side of the aqueduct.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hannah's Flat is a Little Zen Wonder





I really regretted leaving Hannah's flat in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Bridgeport has much to love as a neighborhood. Hannah's flat stands close to all the wonders of 31st Street. I plugged into the community at Bridgeport Coffee in the morning and met many interesting people, including a woman making a final edit to her first novel due at her agent's that day. Across the street at Maria's Basement, a tap room and liquor store, I couldn't buy my own beer. I met the brewmaster of Haymarket Brewing doing a tap takeover and we talked and drank. I also met a guy my age that took up painting last year and now has an agent selling his canvases and galleries lining up shows for his wonderful work. Hannah's flat awaits stumbling distance from all this fun.




Yet, 31st Street has a profound touch because a Buddhist Temple stands next to a hundred year old cathedral that hosts the Monastery of the Holy Cross. On Palm Sunday, I heard Brother Ezekiel sing the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ in a Gregorian style. The Gospel and everything is sung at the Monastery where eleven brothers begin the day at 3:30 AM with Vigils. Next, in the Buddhist temple, Zen nuns in saffron played ting bells, dragon head drums and singing bowls and led the congregation chanting one tantric sutra after another.




A nun reached out to me and insisted I join the congregation for a Sunday lunch in the basement below. Lunch delighted me with many succulent dishes, many vegetarian. I watched the karate class spar as I tucked into this deliciousness. I lit a bundle of incense as I left, and planted the sticks into the bronze serpent statue on the porch where a thousand burnt sticks poked out of the sand. Daniel Burnham the great Chicago architect, designed the building now used by the Buddhist community. I think the exterior made use of red sandstone from the Keweenaw Peninsula.




Hannah's flat offered a Zen like quality where I often enjoyed solitude and quiet, especially at night. When the hosts were at home, I could eavesdrop on their conversations in their Chinese dialect. I felt connected to mainland China as Skype made the home a family gathering during mealtimes. I did not understand the language but I feel I have been imprinted with the language.




The clean, fresh simplicity of the household gives clues to the wonders of the Oriental aesthetic. Read all lovely, cute wall paintings, including a reminder to brush ones teeth. I found my hosts charming and hardly overwhelming and I appreciated gallant gestures, like help with my bags.




I liked wandering into the kitchen to see mysterious ingredients soaking for the next day's menu. I suggested to my hosts that an experience package be added to Airbnb so guests who want to learn the cuisine by shopping, cooking and dining could do so during the stay.




All in all, Hannah's flat is a little Zen wonder. I made memories in Bridgeport thanks to this stay.




Picture borrowed from Wyatt Brothers, the Coffee Tyrant




http://thecoffeetyrant.blogspot.com/2010/11/bridgeport-coffee-company.html

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Conversation With A Man Who Walks Five Miles Daily for Tacos





I was enjoying a simple dinner at Taco Bell before my plans for the evening began. Once again, a man older than I drew me into a conversation. He graduated from Orchard View in 1964, one of the first graduating classes of that school district. He learned to love mathematics although he made his living without much math. He asked me, "How many grains of sand could fit in the orb of the Earth"? I had to have an answer, so I said, "One trillion grains of sand can fit in the orb of the earth"? "One trillion is too small. I forget his answer, which is sad. Sad. Donald Trump sad. All I could find on Google is the following statistic. Seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains are estimated to exist on all the world's beaches, though. He then asked me, "How many atoms of matter, oxygen or carbon or whatever, can fit in the orb of the Earth"? "Much more than the count of the grains of sand? The count of grains of sand times one trillion"? "Nice try, young man. Nice try. The number Googol closely represents the number of atoms that fit in the orb of the earth. Ten to the Hundredth Power is a Googol. We've known that number since the Twenties. Isn't that impressive"? I wanted to ask him, "So, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin", but I didn't want to ask a question to which I didn't have an answer. It just wasn't respectful to ask him a question if I didn't have an answer.
He had just turned 71 years of age. He has walked to the Taco Bell five miles every day for tacos ten days in a row. His mother passed at 99 years of age. I said, "I'm sorry". He said, "What's sad to me is she almost made a three-digit age. I'm not giving up until I have a three-digit age. I promised her on her death bed".


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Men Who Look for Conversation at the Corner Shell





Men Look for Conversation at the Corner Shell


I am trying to explain to myself why a man older than I am is sitting on a bucket in the corner of the Shell Station at Third and Muskegon Streets, Downtown Muskegon. His beard cascades from his chin to his knees, bent up because he is sitting on a bucket turned upside down. Is this how a man of his age should be expected to get through the night?


The Shell stays open around the clock and is the only place to buy eggs, bacon, cheese and milk in the wee hours of Sunday.


I decided to talk to him. I had noticed he wore no socks and his Sperry topsiders had the shine of leather shoes treated with waterproofing.


So I opened awkwardly, "Does the Shell stay open all night"?


He answered, a bit stunned to be addressed by me, "Yes, it stays open around the clock".


"That's good to know. It's the only place for something like groceries in downtown. Might I ask you an awkward question"?


"Ok, shoot".


"Do you have a home to go to tonight"?


"Oh, sh*&^t. I just like to talk to Bob the clerk between customers. I like to talk to Mike, too".


"Oh, sorry. It's just like hanging out at the country store. I get it".


"Yep, I don't sleep well".


"Have a good night. Hope you get some rest".


I might have guessed. I had noticed him talking to a pair of passengers in the back seat of a sedan while the driver was inside buying smokes. This wasn't the first time I had noticed a man older than me hanging out at a Shell station for a slice of conversation between customers.


Almost four years ago, Bernie, a neighbor, I spotted time and time again, leaning on the red Formica counter of the Shell on Old Grand Haven Road, next door to Goober Doughnuts. Bernie hung out there when he wasn't giving friends rides or serving as the chaplain for more than one local post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. He served his country in the Air Force. Last time I saw Bernie, he spun a story of the day the VFW in North Muskegon discovered a potentially unstable grenade from World War II on a shelf of artifacts. The county sheriff dispatched the bomb squad to handle that mess.


I wonder when I'll hang out late hours at a gas station, looking for conversation? Maybe I must move to a town with at least one twenty-four hour diner now.

The Alchemists of the Farmers Market





THE ALCHEMISTS OF THE FARMERS MARKET


I feel like an alchemist when I visit the Farmer’s Market. Alchemy is an old word for the pursuit of purity in all matters. I am sure the old alchemists hoped to find perfect health, happiness and wisdom by their efforts. Saturday, I visited the market for the first time since January, and I believe all of the vendors brave enough to set up in the barn for a winter market were purveying essentials.


I saw my friend the winemaker inside The Barn at the Farmers Market. She probably had bottled new vintages since I had talked to her personally. She so often has assistants selling at her tasting room now.


I noticed she had a short bottle about half the size of a bottle of wine. I was very enthusiastic because that's the size of a bottle of ice wine, an intensely sweet wine made by squeezing frozen grapes.


“Have you made ice wine”? I asked her.


“Oh no”, she answered. “This is Sherry. It has aged 10 years in the cask”.


“That's a pretty good record because how old is your vineyard? I mean, how many years has it been since you took it over from the Tartan Hill people?”


“Well that was 12 years ago”, she said.


“I’m grateful for a chance to taste the grapes of 2007. Wow”, I said.


She gave me a small pour, and I deeply sniffed the amber liquid. “I probably should say a little prayer before I knock this back”.


“Why,” she asked.


“Because you named your decade old sherry with the word, Amadeus. Ama means love and Deus means god. You have named your sherry ‘Love of God’”.


She is a very devout woman. I follow her on Facebook and so keep up on all the messages from Francis, the Catholic Pope. So she was very excited about this happy accident because she had been thinking of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when she named her sherry. I didn't wait to say a prayer. I knocked it back and washed around my mouth briefly. I felt deep regret when I swallowed because good sherry should not be quickly swallowed.


I like to buy her wine but today I could only afford to sample her wine on Saturday. Hopefully, I have bought enough bottles in the past that it doesn't seem as if I'm freeloading to her. Any day where a man or woman tastes ten year old sherry has to be counted a good day on the Earth. I didn’t need to taste another sip more as the sherry warmed my cockles and drove away that March morning chill.


I said goodbye and went to the next stall to find a baker of bread who bakes his loaves in a wood-fired oven. He allows natural yeasts to leaven his bread, much like how Belgian monks ferment their lambics with yeast of the fields. He had almost sold out of every load and scone he had brought. He had a number of slices of bread on a tray, and he asked me, “Do you like olives”?


“Of course I love olives”!


He sliced a thick slice off a loaf of bread baked with olives inside and held it out to me and said, “Enjoy! Try our freshly churned butter if you'd like to butter it up”. And I buttered up the slice and tasted and Bob was my uncle.


Another customer came up the counter, and he excused himself. “Sorry, have a good day”. I'll see him now and then at Fetch Brewing up in Whitehall, treating his sales team to a round from the taps, gathered at a table of bread, cheeses and charcuterie to enjoy with the beer. By June, he will set up a makeshift kitchen where his cooks will make paninis, including a breakfast sandwich with egg I like very much.


When I walked up, the beekeeper from Shadowlands Honey was offering a woman a small spoon of raw honey. She smiled and said, “No I'm good”. She left his stall. Since he had the small spoon of honey still extended in his right hand, I asked, “May I try”?


“You bet”, he said.


I savored that dollop of creaminess as he shilled. One customer cured her stomach problems by ingesting raw honey daily.  A woman had relief of her arthritis, thanks to honey straight from the hives in White Cloud. A man had experienced reduction in his flu symptoms within hours. He pressed upon me a sheet of medical claims, nothing a food vendor should let the Food and Drug Administration see. I go in for the natural cure every now and then, the tumeric for the arthritis, the garlic for the blood pressure, the cherry concentrate for the gout and the probiotics in kefir for the irregularity.


His enthusiasm made me believe his honey could be my next wonder cure. I could afford only his smallest bottle. I praised him because he had nucs to sell, small honey bee colonies spun off his hives. It takes quite a beekeeper to have nucs to sell when most beekeepers are fighting to keep their business alive, replacing hives that fail in the winter or queens that give up the fight.


Across the aisle from the beekeeper, the man who runs the sugar bush in Shelby was offering invitations. The sap had begun to rise thanks to the longer days of March. He passed me one. “Is it okay to call ahead and visit the sugar bush during the season”.


“Oh, it’s okay. We sell from the house all year round. Next weekend is the only time we offer refreshments and pony rides, so bring the kids”.


“Sounds like a nice time. Maybe we’ll have some fresh snow”.


“Yeah, pour the fresh syrup right on the snow. Nothing better. We’ve been lucky before at our open house”.


I read the brochure, and it had scores of sugar bushes listed, from the Indiana border all the way up to the Upper Peninsula. And I noticed Southern Michigan went first, Northern Lower Michigan went second and the Upper Peninsula went third, with the day going off the first weekend in April. I put the brochure with the handout on raw honey benefits.


A woman I had met at a dinner party last Sunday stood behind a table with two deep bowls, chilled by a trough of ice. At the dinner party, a local chef had made a spread of Mardi Gras dishes, including Jambalaya, and the guests had brought rather impressive bottles of red wine to share. “Did you make up all these delights in the kitchen of the farmer’s market”?


“Yes, I started early this morning with free range eggs I picked up from a farm in Ravenna. So that egg salad couldn’t be more nutritious for you”. She set a few gluten free crackers on a plate and added a generous dollop of the bright yellow salad. “And this is chicken salad made with Amish chicken, so there’s nothing fake in this dish”. And she set three more gluten free crackers on a second plate, added a dollop of the chicken salad, and smiled. I had a little lunch of tapas on gluten free crackers, fancy that. She gave me recipes and the addresses of her farmers and we chatted as she served up little tapas plates for all her visitors. I asked for seconds and thirds because she had plenty of crackers, egg salad and chicken salad, but I stopped at asking if I could take the leftovers home.


As I turned to leave the market, my friend the winemaker waved me over to her stall. She said, “Did you know that Mozart called himself Wolfgang Amadeus Gottlieb Theophilus Mozart”?


“Well, sort of”.


“And, Theophilus means ‘Love of God’”.


“Yep”, I answered.


“And Gottlieb means ‘Love of God’, too”?


“Correctomundo. Well, God Love to be more precise”.


“That is so cool”.


“That’s why we talk. To share cool information”, I said.


“You know what”? She asked.


“You are going to call a wine Theophilus”?


“Two minds, one thought”, and she laughed.


“Rock me, Amadeus”, I said in farewell.
“Rocked me, Amadeus”, she chimed in reply.


The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone, by Joseph Wright, 1771

Saturday, February 18, 2017

This is How The Season Ends at the Farmers Market.





On the Last Day of the Outdoor Farmer's Market in Muskegon, Farmers Had to Dig Their Produce out of the Snow to Show it Off to Customers.


Written November 20, 2016
The power went out this morning. I was pondering this news when I stared out my kitchen window at our walled garden. Our walled garden had turned white overnight. My smartphone had turned off, needing a charge, and I had no idea of time. I worried about my bacon and cheese stored in my fridge. Beyond that, I was enjoying the double whammy. I made my way to the farmer's market, biking up hill against gusts. I wasn't ready to put the bike up for the winter when the road had enough warmth to melt the snow.
I had made a note to visit the market today. Today was the last Saturday market before Thanksgiving. It was the last outdoor market. Next Saturday, the farmers who can fit will crowd into the barn, all the stalwarts who get us through to April. A few farmers had made a case to sell inside due to the cold and gusty day. Now indoors, Laughing Tree had added fresh apple and pumpkin pies, twenty dollars a pie, to their shelves of breads baked in a wood fired oven. The man from Just Klassics had his mobile kitchen read to serve, selling soups, short order sandwiches and hot beverages. He promised to make the indoor market through out the winter.
My favorite baker of apple pie had skipped the market. The farmers from Rickertville had stayed home, and I missed selecting bulbs of garlic from their selection of twenty different kinds. I bought a coffee from Just Klassics instead of Aldea, wondering where the pour over coffee vendor had gone for the day. Aldea made all the cold days last Winter. Larry and his sister had stayed home today too, and I missed shucking and jiving with Larry, who always had an item from his collection on the metal post between his stalls. Thursday morning, he posted a signed photograph of Verne Troyer, the original Mini-Me, from Austin Powers. Troyer had dedicated the picture with the words, "No,you grow up".
Chef Char and Renae Hesselink fussed around the market kitchen, teaching pie makers, around twenty men and women focusing on baking pumpkin cheesecake pies. A few students considered my offer to buy one of their pies when it came out of the oven. Chef Char looked dashing, dressed in her signature pink tunic.
I had to look more closely at people because knit caps and parka hoods had transformed appearances. I recognized right away the woman scoring a Laughing Tree pumpkin pie. She had plans to serve with the Peace Corp in Ethiopia. Now, she would have to make do with an assignment to Jamaica. Next to her, it took me a few seconds to distinguish the lead singer of a favorite local folk band, her distinctive glasses concealing her friendly eyes. I didn't recognize anyone else, the Saturday crowds of summer now dwindled to a handful of dedicated farm-to-table shoppers.
When I went outside, I counted four farmers who hadn't made the jump inside. Amish Bob took a stall near the barn and left most of his staff of women at home. His assistant was happy to see me, declaring, "Buy these two pecks of freshly picked strawberries and we can go home". He offered me one, sweetened with flakes of snow. I chewed on the sour berry as he shilled, "Isn't that a sweet berry for November"? I had a peck of strawberries in my fridge that I was putting on my hazmat suit later today to remove. So I couldn't help out Amish Bob and his assistant. The two still had Swiss Chard and Kale to sell, which grows fairly well outside if covered under a tube of fabric that allows light to pass. "This might be the last time you see me until spring", exclaimed Amish Bob. "Let me wish you a Happy Thanksgiving then", I said in farewell.
I was surprised to see Barbara Bull selling her baked goods filled with her fresh cherry sauces. She had two inches of snow on her table, and she had to pull a cherry pie out of the blanket of white to show it off for sale. She's a cheerful woman who writes a book every year, published with illustrations she commissions from an artist in Illinois. Today, I could sense she was feeling the cold, shivering in the blasts of wind, but determined to sell all of her baking.
When I sat down to enjoy my coffee and two scones from Laughing Tree, Renae Hessenlink visited with me. I had to ask. Why were four farmers still outside when it was so much more cozy inside the barn? Renae had showed up early this morning to prepare the kitchen for Chef Char's class, and the snow hadn't arrived when the farmers picked their stalls. We were seeing the farmers to stubborn to give up and leave or retreat inside, no matter how much snow filled their tables.
This is how the outdoor season ends.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Waiting for My Sadako





February 16, 2015



My daughter grew to love Sushi. So two years ago, on a day cold enough to be annoying, I treated her to Sadako, a sushi restaurant in Ann Arbor.



Sadako honors a young woman of Japan who suffered radiation sickness after surviving the atomic blast at Hiroshima. Her name was Sadako. She folded 1300 origami paper cranes before succumbing to leukemia. She believed in a Japanese myth that she would be granted power to change the world. She is honored by a statue in Hiroshima; daily, hundreds of paper cranes are offered at the base. That said, I read Friday that a great flock of Sandhill Cranes had been reported resting on its northern migration near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. I hope this sucker punch of a late winter polar surge doesn't cause illness and weakness to lessen the flock. My thoughts are migratory from Japan to Kentucky and to Ann Arbor as I await my Sadako. She has added five minutes onto my wait and yet I await her as expectantly as I await the arrival of Sandhills to Jackson County, Michigan and Jasper County, Indiana.



— at Sadako.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Escape Gentrification New Orleans By Thinking Outside the Box





Dorise's place near Franklin and Claremont gives you the real New Orleans experience. So it's just outside the gentrification along St Claude. So what is gentrification good for but lightening your pocketbook? Walk along a boulevard of old Live Oaks less than a half mile and arrive at St Claude near St. Coffee. Near St Coffee, a really intimate wine bar and bottle shop awaits with fresh baked bread, Louisiana cheeses and wine by the glass for five or six dollars each. Mix and match and have fun. We're not talking some yuppie cheese sampler to loot your wallet but purchase by the pound and slice the bread and cheese yourself. Trader Joe prices keep the soirée going. Enjoy better prices than the lovely St. Roch Market, which is seven-tenths of a mile from Dorise's. But St. Roch Market is so vibrant and so in the key of NOLA's transformation, so go.

From Dorise's, you could throw a rock into the walled St Roch Campo Santo. But don't. You could put up three couples in comfort for the cost of a single in Marigny. If you like to cook late at night, Quicky's gas station has a butcher counter open twenty-four seven selling chicken, pork and Cajun Creole sausages for prices that will make people blink. I think beer is ready to go around the clock too.

The house itself started life as a pure shotgun shack in 1936 and Dorise and her team totally upgraded it. One has to dwell in a shotgun for a few nights just to appreciate the physics of this vernacular architecture. Shotguns keep cooler inside than outside by some magic and have powerful circulation. Dorise's renovation kept all of the pluses and removed many minuses of the form. The house feels solid and secure. Passcode entry on the main entrance and the bedrooms add to the feeling. The heart of pine flooring present could not be harvested from American forests now without great cost. The concrete porch has a feng shui all its own, perfect for porching.

The kitchen has all that's needed to make good use of the soul food butcher at Quicky's. Some of the furnishings have a history but history gives things soul. The tub has cigarette burns on the edges yet the narrow and long tub might make one wish to burn one during a good hot soak. Use a vape because Ms Dorise doesn't allow smoking on her premises.

Dorise communicates well and her team responds to issues rapidly. Draw her into conversation because she's worked real estate magic in New Orleans since Katrina passed through. She knows how it's done.

It is bittersweet to praise this property so highly because I'll never see that introductory deal again.

Cycling the Dreamlike Streets of the French Quarter





Biking is a way of life in New Orleans. The streets were made for coach and horses. And a surprising number of carriages travel the streets of the French Quarter. Cars lose their usefulness on streets that flock with people, even off Bourbon Street the streets flock with people. Royal Street is a street and sidewalk. Decatur is a street and sidewalk. A car is a boat anchor on a street that is both street and sidewalk. A bicycle can slide through the gaps left on a narrow street by a set of four friends walking side by side easily. A bike can slow down until balance is almost impossible and let pedestrians pass. A bike can be walked or tied up where a car cannot park. The only vehicle that has an advantage is the police car. An officer sounded his klaxon at a group of pedestrians and the sea of pedestrians divided like the Red Sea.


A bike has huge weaknesses though. Last night, I was horrified to see a bike locked up near the Cathedral, fair and square. Ordinary really but someone had popped up the bike seat and made off with it. The rider would have to ride home standing up on the pedals. Not impossible but quite uncomfortable even for a strong cyclist. Finding a bike seat to replace it might be a costly quest.


I've taken to passing my cable through a loop in my bike seat and then through the frame. I've added a second lock to secure tires and frame to the rack. I am even sporting around on a cheap bike. It won't cost me too much to replace it. Far less than the going street rate of two fifty American for a refurb with parts guaranteed to be legit.


I had a talk with Alex, who has helped recover hundreds of stolen bicycles. He's famous for teaming up with bike shops and police to use social media to create a dragnet. The only place to sell a hot bike for good money is inside the community that Alex has connected.


He rents and sells bikes out of a shop by the Friendly Bar on Marigny Street. He had two refurbs to sell, a class above a mere used bike for sale. He totally rebuilds his refurbs, even repacking the hubs. He uses only parts from suppliers he can trust. That's why only two at two fifty each awaited my shopping three days ago. In my hometown of Muskegon, I bought a new bike that I still miss for sixty five dollars.


I contemplated loading up  a Uhaul full of Muskegon bikes and driving for NOLA. Alex asked. "Can you prove your sources to be legit"? I am pretty sure I can. Bike theft doesn't occur often in Muskegon. It's just not worth it. My guy with a barn full of bikes has been selling openly for years. He goes to police auctions, which clear up a bike's title. Or so I have supposed . He handed me his card. "Let me know if you go home and can fill a truckload". I began to calculate a breakeven point with a U-Haul rental. It probably only looks easy.


Some men have bikes and no home. A man approached me at Royal and Peters street, mounted on a bike. His bike would fetch four hundred on the second hand market. He hit me up for money. I give alms to street people but only when I am flush and a bit of good luck calls for paying it forward. I had been panhandled relentlessly that day. "I'm sorry, I cannot help you". That phrase ends most panhandling conversations. He persisted. "I'm a veteran. Give me some change". He seemed indignant.


I support Veteran's charities. I remember once buying a round of drinks for a woodwind quintet in Air Force uniform on the pleasure boat called the Port City Princess. But this man was shaking me down. There's a fine line between a panhandling and a stick-up. He had crossed it. I didn't say, "Did you fail survival training during boot camp"? I said, "Please move along". He charged me on his bike and I got out of his way. I saw him get right into the face of a street musician named Samantha Pearl, who had to stop playing to listen to his hard sell. She frowned. She had dressed in a tweedy jacket and skirt outfit, touched up her makeup. And an aggressive man panhandling on a bike was hijacking her show.


I pointed this out to a security guard assigned to keep the peace outside Rouse's Market. He walked over to the scene and yelled at the man, "Hey. cut that out". The man pedaled away on that old but nice bicycle and yelled at me, glaring. I couldn't make out what he was saying. I pedaled over to Frenchman Street, just to be safe.


When I returned an hour later, she was packing up. Slow night, but she had made her plan of twenty dollars an hour. She had an album project to fund and a tour beginning in Europe to fund. She was her own label and backer. She had to make a thousand dollar rent bill and save for her plans. "Slow night. But the French Quarter is my home.


The French Quarter might not be my home and yet it is the most dreamlike place for cycling.


I came out of Rouse's later that night after a bit of shopping. Chained up, my bike had toppled to the ground. It's those falls that knock a new bike out of tune.

My Writing is My Begging Bowl







On the Steps of Harrah's Casino near the Mississippi River, Wilbo Contemplates Socrates, Buddhist Monks and the Pure Conversation.




Airbnb has offered to waive fees to people displaced by the New Orleans tornadoes. Which is interesting because most people who use the service are savvy travelers with credit cards. People knocked out of a "family property" handed down over generations might not work that way. I see an adequate instant booking room near my current situation for twenty a night. Instant booking means that the host has said yes in advance. Now if I were tossed out by the storm, I would have jumped on that by now.


I encountered a woman last night on the steps of the casino, panhandling. She had yet to have the marks of the outdoor all the time life bite into her youth. Six slender bags scuffed with grime hung from straps around her shoulders.


She said to three of us in conversation, "We can get a room in a hostel for twenty-two dollars". I answered, "I'm working and I never give alms while I am working". I was waiting for a page to a restaurant ready to send a meal to a customer. A man next to me said, "We have no cash. We use cards for everything".


She walked away in a huff and waved the fingers of her right hand in a salute that wasn't the middle finger but clearly wasn't a gesture from the American south. I was reminded of Italy.


"I've never been panhandled so much in my life", said the man. He had traveled to New Orleans from Virginia Beach for a conference on disaster preparedness. He fixed me with the eyes of a Ranger or a Seal when he talked to me. His girlfriend, his girlfriend since last April, chimed in with questions about my purpose in New Orleans. "I'm writing and working, trying to keep occupied until my teaching job starts in June", I answered.


I told them all about my series of plays honoring my father, whose nickname in high school was Jughead. I call them the Jughead plays. The first sent to a playhouse in Lowell, Michigan failed to be accepted for performance. "Congratulations, you were so brave to send up this play, and yet, we'll not move forward with it". Playwrighting is a tough row to hoe. (Yes, I am still besot with the Lowell Playhouse).


After fifteen minutes of shooting me question after question, the two felt the call of their nice hotel room at Harrah's Casino and shook my hand and wished me well. He had skill in asking questions that showed when he deflected all of mine.


Another brief conversation struck up on the streets of New Orleans ended with a small transaction of information. This is the currency of this old city that requires no begging. How to use that currency as if it were bitcoin has eluded this writer up to today.


It's nuts to think, but it might be true. I practice the street art of pure conversation as if I were Socrates or a Buddhist Monk.


It's different. Socrates had disciples who memorized his every word and eventually had to drink hemlock as his poison. His students brought him roast lamb from their leftovers. Buddhist Monks are taught to beg for food as novices and followers flock to the streets near the temple to fill up begging bowls held by the young monks in their saffron robes.


My writing is my begging bowl.