Monday, February 13, 2017

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.

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