After a month of hearing the clanking sounds from under my Cherokee’s hood, I finally decide to take the darn thing in to get looked at. I mean, it was to the point where I couldn’t park on anyone’s driveway due to the massive amounts of oil the beast would leave behind. I decided to take the truck to a mechanic, Randy Heer, out in Kenner. Kenner to me is the extremities of what I still barely consider New Orleans – suburbs.
So I get out there and talk to Randy for a while, and we come to the conclusion that I’ll leave my truck there for the weekend. I shake his hand and head out to my truck. Earlier that morning I had loaded the truck with all the essentials for getting back home from Kenner: water, camera, notebook, wallet, knife, various pens, backpack, three hubig’s pies (a locally produced pastry), my little black book (in case of an emergency), and last but not least, the bike.
The bike isn’t even mine. It belongs to my former roommate, Jason. He was kind enough to let me borrow the bike all through our days together on the University of New Orleans. I’m not sure, but I don’t think he has ever ridden it. What started out as a routine mechanic visit, ended up a Tour of New Orleans. The tour’s only racers were the sun and myself. It wasn’t even close.
Hi, my name is Taylor Lasseigne. This is the story of a boy and his bike.
The race begins at Randy Heer’s “Rocket Man Motors” body shop out in Kenner, Louisiana. I’d say that the temperature was at about 91 degrees with the heat/humidity factor putting it well over 96. The sun scorched overhead, as if to say, “Bring it on punk.” Randy’s closing of the large shop double doors was the starter pistol, and we were off!
I get on Veterans Memorial Blvd. and head East like I never have before. I felt strong, almost like a god at this point because I realized what lied ahead, and I knew there was no turning back. I was on a bike, and I was going home. I turn off of Veterans onto the airport road. Two planes planted their landing gear as I made my way South across the long stretch of road. I remember thinking here, “Wow, this is a long road!” Later I would find out that it was probably the shortest route I would take all day. At the end of the airport road, I reached Airline Hwy. I jumped on it and headed east for about half a mile, at which point I turned and headed South on Williams Blvd. After about a half-mile headed South, I reached the river, the Mississippi.
I’d never seen the Mississippi here at Williams before. At this location, where Williams intersects Jefferson Hwy., there rests the most subtle of tourist attractions. It went by the name of Rivertown, and it consisted of children’s museums, the Saints Hall of Fame, and just a real humble atmosphere. It wasn’t bustling like the tourist attractions downtown. No, this place seemed to be quite the little secret. If you would keep driving South on Williams, you would run into a bronze statue of two fighters duking it out. This memorial was erected to honor the first heavyweight boxing match in America, which was apparently held somewhere near Rivertown. Just behind the memorial, the levee began, and there are American flags up to the top. On the other side of the levee is a wharf that jets out into the river. I was very surprised to see it open to the public. There is a barge tied up to the very end of the wharf, and it constantly creeks against the soft, wet wood.
There was a nice family at the end of the wharf. They had traveled all the way from Hattiesburg and were on their way to the airport. I asked them, “What made ya’ll come out here? How did you know this place was even here?” The father answered me by saying, “Well, we were delayed in the airport, a long delay, and I asked around if there was anything nearby. This young fellow told us to come look at the river from this wharf.”
As I headed back to the bike, near the intersection, I noticed an old man sitting under a covered area. I decided to pay him a visit. I said to him, “Hi. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about this area.” He was real reluctant at first, but once he saw that I wasn’t soliciting, he talked my darn ear off. “Well what do you wanna know?” he said. “Don’t let all this hoop-la fool ya. This place didn’t always look like this you know…” He pointed to the buildings across the street. They were built in a style similar to something you would come across in a Mark Twain story. “Those buildings over there are really new you know. They just built to look old.”
He went on to tell me about the barber shop that closed down and the pizza joint that went out of business, and then a bus stopped near our covered seating. The doors of the bus swung open, allowing the folks to climb on. A computerized voice came from within the bus to say something like, “Jefferson Highway transit…..blah blah.” Aaron, that was the old man’s name, Aaron King…..he looked back at the bus and said, “Sheesh…they not always right, those computers on the busses. One time, I got on that bus right there, and it said, ‘David Drive’ but that’s not where we was, you know?”
It was great talking to Mr. King. He helped me to get a real feel for where I was at that moment, in the city. His dialect and speech patterns were great. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to drop everything and do field work for the rest of your life.
So now I am on river road…actually, I am on the bike route along the levee. The levee, of course, follows the river, and so I am riding along the river. Whatever, anyway…there is so much to see from up there on the levee, and this isn’t even the most interresting part of river road. The best things to see are up near Baton Rouge, where river raod follows the paths of the plantation houses.
Here is another little nugget I found along river road, just a few blocks West of Causeway. Meet Penny. Penny is an aquestrian theropist. What does that mean? An aquestrian theropist is a horse that is trained to help autistic children and the like. By interacting with the animal, the children are supposed to stimulate parts of their minds that are otherwise unreachable. I didn’t even know this existed.
Every now and then, I would detour off of River Road. One of those detours landed me at the home of the Landrieu’s (parents of a friend). They were kind enough to fill my water bottle. Thanks ya’ll!
Being so close to Jefferson, I decided to see what was a little north of the river. What I found was St. Agnes church and a really cool wall.
You talk to people in this city, and they talk back. They talk back big time. I got off of River Rd. at St. Charles so that I could stop at the ATM and get a bite to eat at Camillia Grill. In front of Camillia, this guy was sweeping. He was sweeping and hummung a tune, so I asked him, “Hey sir, what’s that you’re humming?” He says to me, ” Awe hey…those Saints are playing today aren’t they? Yea…you know those songs you hear on the radio? You know, those funny songs about the Saints? I’ve got one of those. I made it up.” Before I know it, he’s singing it to me:
“I don’t know but I been told. Saints gunna win that Superbowl. Now you can fit and you can fat, but you know you can’t go denying that.”
J.J. White, that was his name. He wanted to make it big. Later on, when I was in Camillia having my cheeseburger and fries, J.J. was singing his song again. The guys working behind the counter were egging him on, and he was eating it up. Camillia has never let me down.
Ahh…Butler’s Black Pearl Lounge, know as Butler’s. This is my favorite bar in the city, hands down…no contest. The next closest in contention doesn’t even matter because Butler’s is just that cool. Let me give you an idea of what the inside is like. It’s dark, really dark. The only real lights are red, one of which highlights a beautiful print of Stevie Wonder. A couch, a bar, an Atairi, Shlitz flowing like the river…I mean really. River road more or less turns into Magazine St. here.
As I sped down Magazine St., through Audobon Park, I noticed a serious traffic flow problem. Then I saw the cause of the rubber-necking, a band of protesters. Now, I don’t have all the facts, but this was their case:They claimed that Mayor Morial was approaching the end of his term in office, and he was trying to pass a charter, which would keep him in office for another year.
The most remarkable person on my route to mid-city was definately Debbie. It was dusk, and I hadn’t seen anything really great for a while. I was riding on Magazine St., and since I am on Magazine St. as much as I am anywhere else, it was hard to differentiate what was exceptional from what was every-day….but when I passed the entrance to the Splish Splash Washateria, and I caught a glimpse of Debbie, I knew why I had taken this trip.
Debbie was sitting at the counter, waiting for her clothes to dry. To make more of this dead time, she watched the local news on a T.V. that seemed to hang from the ceiling. Debbie was a slender woman in her forties. She had thick glasses and the attention span of a two year-old. What really drew me into that washateria, from the street mind you, was one of the most curious smiles I had ever seen. She smiled as though she wanted to understand what was funny, and what is more, she smiles like she is really close to the answer. This little lady made my day.
I ran out of film here, about halfway up Magazine. From what I was told, the guy who made this car also makes Mardi Gras floats. The rest of the trip was kinda boring anyway. I went down Magazine until I got to the French Quater. I went through the French Quater and took Esplanade home – 5 hours!