Tandoming with Neil Young in NOLA
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
There she sat on the edge of her bike seat expecting to fly.
And I do. Fly. Sort of. Or the closest thing to it. On my blue eighty-dollar Craigslist one-speed, affectionately referred to as Magnolia, I cruise down the Jeff Davis overpass, swerving around the perpetual and brown puddle at the base, which will polka-dot my white tee with dirty water. After ascending the only incline to be encountered in New Orleans other than the levees, descending makes me want to spread my wings—er, arms—and soar, but I don’t for fear of wiping out.
In my metal black basket, my iPhone sits, tucked into a to-go paper, coffee cup, which acts as a speaker. It blooms Buffalo Springfield’s 1968 hit, Expecting to Fly and Neil Young's otherworldly voice:
There she stood on the edge of her feathers, expecting to fly.
A favorite tune on my 60’s-70’s playlist to play when I hit the bike path, the melody and poetry make me float. Consider ET. The bike path is really a sidewalk but it’s centered on the city-block-like wide neutral ground on S. Jeff Davis Parkway. On this half-a-mile stretch, my senses overload. I do not fear getting hit by a car, so I relax into the breeze if there is one. Today there is not. No matter. The smell of dirty puddles dotting the thick St. Augustine grass of the neutral ground brings to mind crawdads in ditches and childhood summers in the wetlands of Logtown, Mississippi. The more fetid, the better, I say. In my mind’s movie projector, I see black water, catching a catfish on a cane pole, putrid mud.
The sun hasn’t headed over to Metairie yet, which means the live oaks on the west side of the neutral ground cast no shadow over me. I am in an oven. I am bread rising. I don’t care. I realize that soon enough my sweat will cool me. Already my white tee is wet in the front and back is soaked. Ditto my black shorts.
Buffalo Springfield’s song ends in an organ-rendered, ethereal bliss, and tees up Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Carry On. On its harmonious meringue, my soul feasts. I cross Tulane Avenue, Banks Street, eventually Canal aiming Magnolia at Bayou St. John. On Orleans Avenue, I swing a right and make my way over to Moss which snakes along the bayou. Magnolia vibrates on the porous road as I try to avoid the city’s legendary potholes. With each divot, my teeth vibrate. I do not care.
We—CSN&Y, Magnolia and I—glide beside the dark snake, and before we reach Saint Cabrini’s sacred dome, we hang another right onto Grande Route St. John, my favorite cut-through over to Esplanade. Esplanade Avenue is the absolute heart of chill in New Orleans, which says something in a town called the Big Easy. Like an old broad at Mardi Gras, it sashays from City Park and the bayou all the way to the French Quarter. I turn right on Esplanade and pedal into the grooviness of Mid-City, past grand houses flying Buddha flags and chimed porches and pull over at CC’s on Esplanade.
I take off my clunky and neon-blue bike helmet and throw on my straw fedora, then lock-up Magnolia on the bike rack and enter the frigidly air-conditioned CC’s. After securing a strawberry iced tea, I grab an empty table at the far end next to the windows. This allows me to gaze at the oaks and the passersby and daydream, which is unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view of living and being) a constant state in my life. Then I start to write this, my first blog.
Will I continue to write about New Orleans? How can I not? Better yet, how can anyone not write about it? I believe that this swampy beauty could inspire an illiterate to put pen to paper. It is a full-out sensory assault. But, a welcomed one.
I finish my iced tea and remount Magnolia. Together we head toward what I believe is South on Esplanade toward the Quarter. The houses grow in grandeur after I cross North Rampart. Ghosts of the good ole’ days leap from the sidewalks invoking visions of hoop skirts and corsets, ugh. I am woke enough to know that those were in reality the bad ole days for a lot of good folks, though I will not go there right now.
At Buffa’s lounge, I swing left toward Faubourg Marigny. The Marigny is deliciously composed of brightly painted homes that almost give the impression of doll houses. It is a funkalicious neighborhood, home to artists and bohemians and a lot of tattooed people. Very few trees populate the Marigny, probably because the houses, mostly cottages, are close to the street and pinch the sidewalks.
If you forget that, the sun will happily remind you.
I huff and puff and sweat until I reach my destination, the Hotel Peter and Paul, a newer award-winning hotel in a former church and school. I will not enter in my drenched state but simply check it out as we will meet friends there later for happy hour. It is a rose in a bed of thorns, the beauty contrasting greatly with the broken sidewalks and treeless neighborhood.
Magnolia and I about-face down Burgundy until we reach Esplanade and bend west to head back home. The live oaks on the Avenue join branches overhead like kids playing London Bridge, hands clasped, and create a canopy. I am soddened in salt, but also in love. Love for this city. Love for the Universe. Love for nature. God. You name it. I am a love machine cruising down the street on a cheap beloved bike. I guess I’m pretty happy, in short.
As I approach the bayou, my playlist randomly selects Buffalo Springfield. Again. Expecting to Fly. Why, yes, I do. Expect to Fly. Saint Cabrini’s bells chime as if to boost me further. I finally ascend.
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