As I write this, I am on my flight to New Orleans (I started writing this post on June 19th; it’s now halfway through July). This is an exciting trip for me for two reasons. First, I have been itching to ride a bike in New Orleans ever since El Cochinito and I spent a weekend in the Big Easy last September. I hadn’t been there since 2001 (post 9/11, pre-Katrina), and it was just enough fun to make me want more. I also saw lots of folks biking around town, which I hadn’t seen before, and many of them were women – in dresses no less! (All hail the skirt rider!) Second, I’m bringing my Bikie Girl Bloomers skirts, tops and shorts with me. I’m going to be one of the vendors in the Exhibit Hall at the Convention Center, where my fellow Unitarian Universalists (“UUs”) are holding their annual General Assembly. I know how much UUs care about taking care of the planet (see Principal 7 of their statement of values), and this is the ideal crowd for my mission to encourage more women to use bikes for transportation. If I can’t inspire UUs, who can I inspire?!
Here’s my plan for my free day before the event begins: first I will have a Lyft driver deliver me and my luggage full of Bikie Girl Bloomers merchandise to the Convention Center so I can set up my booth. Then I’ll walk a mile to the nearest bike shop, A Musing Bikes, where I have reserved a bike rental for the week. I can then have the rest of Tuesday to explore the city by bike, perhaps check out a shop I love to follow on Instagram: Dashing Bicycles, and then use the bike to commute between my hotel in the Marigny neighborhood and the Convention Center, which means riding through the French Quarter each day.
So that was the idea, until I realized that a tropical storm by the name of Cindy would be dumping rain on New Orleans all day. I decided to hunker down in my hotel room and wait for a break in the storm, and then give it a try in the afternoon. I was waiting for a large box of additional merchandise to arrive that day, so why not wait until it arrives, and then everything goes at once. Well, afternoon came, my package had arrived, and the originally anticipated break in the storm vanished from the hourly forecast on my weather app. I went ahead with my plan, got my inventory and display set up at the Convention Center, and started walking toward the bike shop. It was warm, so I wore my Crazy Daisy Bloomers with a blue tank top, and figured I’d be fine if I got a little wet on the walk. Just as the rain was starting to come down harder, I found myself walking past an intriguing food place: The Fatboy Pantry. I hadn’t had any lunch, so, heck, why not wait out the downpour in here and grab a bite?
I had the specialty of the house: a fried lobster po boy. They also had a delectable selection of coffee drinks, so I indulged in an affogato made with Cuban coffee and donut ice cream (hey, my server recommended it), topped off with some caramel syrup. It was divine. And the lobster po boy? Holy moly, it was delicious! I ate as much of it as I could.
Well, the rain was still pouring down, but I realized I had better get a move on, as the bike shop would be closing soon. Gustavo was there, and set me up with a cute orange cruiser bike. I could have opted for a hybrid, with gears and hand brakes, but I thought a cruiser might be fun, and it’s not as though New Orleans has hills to worry about.
When I ventured out on the bike, the rain didn’t seem too bad, so I thought I’d still route myself past Dashing Bicycles on my way to my hotel, and perhaps be on the lookout for a drug store where I might be able to purchase a rain poncho. First, I got a wee bit lost in the Garden District, but it’s so beautiful, it’s hard to object. By the time I was riding through the Central Business District, the rain was really coming down hard, and heavy winds were adding to the challenge. I had not found a poncho, and I was getting quite thoroughly soaked. I knew I needed to just go straight to my hotel, and that was more than enough. By the time I arrived, I was so wet I craved a hot bath. Unfortunately, my room had a shower stall only, no tub. I changed out of my wet clothes and found myself regretting the failure to pack socks for this trip.
The storm continued all night. I woke several times during the night, wondering if there was an earthquake (so L.A. of me), before realizing that it was the storm that was making the house shake. Wednesday morning, the weather forecast showed a respite from the heavy wind and rain, at least until about 10:00. I decided this would be my chance to ride out to Metarie Cemetery, a destination I had originally planned for my free day on Tuesday. I didn’t have to be at the Convention Center until about 11:00, so I got me an early start, with my first stop planned for a nearby Walgreen’s to purchase that poncho I knew I would be needing.
The ride was delightful. I enjoyed bike lanes much of the way, and stopped to snap photos and post on Instagram along my route. So many big, beautiful trees providing canopies over the streets, and the gorgeous artchitecture revealing the intriguing history and culture unique to New Orleans left me agog. Shortly before I got to Metarie Cemetary, I passed a few others, including a Masonic Cemetery and a Catholic one. Such a vast expanse of real estate devoted to the dead. I had a bit of trouble figuring out where exactly Google Maps was telling me I was supposed to ride when it came to the very last little stretch. As it turned out, I had to ride on a busy street that serves as an on-ramp to the freeway. It was a bit scary to ride a bike on Ponchartrain, as it seemed all the other vehicles were large pickup trucks travelling at rather high speeds.
But I made it to the cemetery intact, and began my quest. The last (and only other) time I was at Metarie Cemetery was when my late husband’s brother had passed away in November 2001. Bill and I had flown back to Bills’ home town of New Orleans from Los Angeles to attend to his brother’s final arrangements. His brother’s casket was entombed in a family crypt. Yes, one of those fascinating above-ground crypts. I kind of remembered the crypt being near a rotunda or circular something or other, and could visualize in my memory where that area was with respect to the building where we’d met with the mortician. The night before, I’d also done some looking online and noted the location of section 103 where the Tebault family crypt was located.
I toodled around the cemetery for awhile, snapped a few photos and posted them to Instagram, and then noticed I was in the familiar area near the Tebault crypt. I found the intersection of Avenues D and H, which should have put me right near Section 103, but I couldn’t find it.
I started doubting my internet info, and decided to ride to the building and then head from there to the area that I recalled from 15 years ago. I discovered some fascinating extended areas, and the more I explored them, the more certain I became that I was not getting any closer to my target. After wandering all over the cemetery, the magic hour of 10:00 arrived, and pretty soon, as forecast, the rain was becoming more than just a manageable drizzle. The thought of just leaving without finding the crypt bothered me, so I searched again using my phone, and decided that the intersection of Avenues D and H should have been right. I studied the map of the sections more carefully, and searched in earnest for Section 103. It didn’t help that the sections are not in numerical order. When I finally found Section 103, the rain was really coming down. I checked each and every crypt, and none said Tebault, even though I distinctly remember the crypt had been labeled with that family name. Finally, I parked the bike and carefully stepped between the forming rivers that separated each plot, and at last I found the Tebault site. No wonder I had not been able to spot it on my first several passes; it was no longer an above-ground crypt. Perhaps Katrina or another major storm had destroyed it. What remained was the stone outline and the tombstones engraved with the names of those who had been entombed there.
I spent a few minutes contemplating the end of the Tebault/Passera family line. Bill’s father had died when Bill was a baby, and his mother had died in 2000, followed by his brother, Phillip in 2001. When my Bill died in 2003, no one was left. No parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, as neither Bill nor his brother had had any children. And then a hurricane (presumably) came along and wiped away the family tomb. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.
Speaking of storms, the rain was really coming down hard, and I needed to move along. I rode over to the Funeral Home, where a covered driveway allowed me to take a break from the storm and refuel with a snack bar before biking on to the Convention Center. My hopes that the storm would give me a break for the six mile ride ahead of me were dashed, as the winds only got more intense. I couldn’t wait any longer, as I had to get to my booth in time to finish the set up before the Exhibit Hall opened at noon.
So, with my poncho over me, and a plastic bag over the tote bag in my bike basket, I headed out of the cemetery. My shoes and feet were already soaking wet from the puddles around the tombs, but I wasn’t really thinking about my wet feet once I started pedaling. It was one heck of an adventure biking in the storm. I felt like I was working so hard just to move forward. At times, the rain was coming down so hard, I could barely see out my glasses. I worried that I might not know the difference between an exciting adventure and taking stupid risks, especially when the winds were strong enough to blow both me and the bike around on the road!
I made it to the convention center, but it sure seemed like it took me a long time to ride those six miles. I arrived soaking wet, but so many others had been caught in the storm just walking in from their parked cars, I don’t think anyone thought much of my wet hair. I was so glad I didn’t wear my skirt for the morning ride – it was safely rolled up inside my tote bag, and had stayed dry. I just wished I had a dry pair of shoes. My feet sloshed with every step.
I ended up venturing out again that afternoon. An order had come in to the online store for something I had with me, and I thought it best if I just get it into the mail, and I wanted to get it to the post office by 5:00. The storm was still going, but it was much more mild at this point. It was a short ride, and I was happy to get back outside for a few minutes. Mostly, I just enjoyed experiencing a few new streets by bike.
Unfortunately, the errand wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped, mostly because the post office was inside a federal building, and it took quite awhile to get through the security screening before I could go inside and get in line to mail the package.
We vendors had to stay at the Exhibit Hall until 7:00 that evening. By the time I biked back over to my hotel in Marigny, I was thoroughly exhausted. I didn’t even have the energy to go out and get some dinner. I walked two blocks from my hotel to a funky food co-op and enjoyed browsing the aisles. I selected a few intriguing healthy snacks, plus some chocolate (so comforting!), and a ginger beer.
More orders came in to the store that evening, including a repeat customer ordering 3 pairs of Bloomers from our clearance special. Since I knew the clearance Bloomers would do well at the UU event, I had brought all of them with me. This meant I couldn’t arrange to have my assistant back in Los Angeles ship out the order for me, and I did not want my customer to have to wait until the next week before the order shipped. I was so glad I had brought a few mailers with me. I packed up the order and found another post office not far from the convention center that looked like it might have a self-service machine and perhaps not require a security screen to enter.
It was fun to commute through the French Quarter, and the weather was quite agreeable now that the storm had passed. Even then, as soon as I crossed Canal Street, I found myself struggling against tremendously forceful winds. I pedaled that cruiser bike as hard as I could, but I swear I wasn’t moving forward at all! It got a little scary at one point, as it was hard to maintain my position on the road, and a streetcar needed to pass me. I decided to pull over and wait a bit, although that only solved the streetcar passing problem, not the strong headwind challenge. It was such a relief when I got to the street where I needed to turn and head north to the post office, as I no longer had to fight the wind.
I made a little slide show of some of the interesting buildings I saw on today’s variant of my commute – this time heading a little into the Bywater area before turning toward the French Quarter:
By Friday, I was feeling like I had my routine down, and I was excited that we vendors were free to leave at 5:00, significantly earlier than the first two nights. This meant a little extra freedom to do what I wished with my evening, instead of just collapsing in exhaustion from a long day on my feet, and perhaps also from biking into gale force winds. My neighbor in the exhibit hall had asked if I’d like to go out and get a bite or a drink that evening. I told her I was planning to pay a quick visit to a bike shop, and then catch a jazz show. She wasn’t interested in seeing a show, but she had never explored New Orleans’ French Quarter and wanted to check it out. I couldn’t believe she had never visited the French Quarter on her past trips to New Orleans! We agreed to meet up after my bike shop visit and after she had tended to some business.
The ride from the Convention Center to Dashing Bicycles was pleasant, with a simple 3.4 mile route of bike-friendly streets getting there. I went inside to check out the shop, and visited a bit with the mechanic on duty. I told him I was visiting from L.A., and that I’m a fan who enjoys following their shop on Instagram. He said the owner wasn’t in, and shared a bit of the store’s history with me (has relocated from a small shop closer to the French Quarter to allow for more space). I told him how much I love the way they post a picture of a customer with their new bike in front of that gorgeous wall, and asked if I could take a picture of my rental bike there. I was so pleased with how well my orange cruiser paired with the bright colors of their wall. I also love their big sign at the roof line, and snapped a photo of that as well.
I started heading towards my hotel in Marigny (MARE-in-EE; just east of the French Quarter), thinking I’d have time to drop off my big tote bag and lighten my load for the evening. The route Google maps set me on seemed like a great one, until a few blocks into it, the street was closed off for police activity. That was a frustrating disappointment, as I had been on a street that cut across diagonally towards my destination, and there weren’t any similar alternatives. But I managed to get almost back to my hotel when Minda contacted me to make our plans.
We met at the entrance to Cafe du Monde, at which point I learned that Minda had never been there, nor had she heard of it. I couldn’t allow her status to stay that way, so we started our outing with beignets. We then used yelp to search for a place close by to grab a little dinner. She’d landed this great parking spot, and had limited mobility, so we decided on a place about a quarter of a mile away. We were a couple blocks from the destination, when she expressed dismay at the length of the walk, and just then, we happened on one of those pedicab drivers who offered to help. He pointed out the location of the restaurant we sought, but did not have a very enthusiastic recommendation for it. Of course, we was glad to recommend a place some distance away, but his sincerity (and the offer to pay what we like for the ride) won us over. We took the pedicab ride all the way back near the convention center (!) and had charbroiled oysters at Drago’s. They were quite good. The pedicab ride back over to Cafe du Monde was in the dark, which made it fun. From there, I decided it was a little too late to catch the jazz show I had in mind, but I was satisfied with my evening On the town.
Saturday morning, I had my act together such that I was able to leave early enough to stop for breakfast at one of the interesting coffee shops I pass in the neighborhood where I was staying. For my first “coffeeneuring” of the trip, I went to Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop. My first delight was the ginormous pile of bicycles locked up at the rather large bike rack out front. My second delight was the dozens (or perhaps hundreds?) of masks on display and covering all of the wall space that wasn’t already covered with paintings or architectural oddities. My third delight was the friendly guy at the counter and what appeared to be a parade of locals getting their morning fix.
Biking around the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods of New Orleans is interesting in that, on the one hand, it’s an easier way to get around those narrow, old streets than in a car, and there are plenty of bike-friendly routes.
On the other hand, many of those bike-friendly streets are in a sad state of disrepair, making it necessary for cyclists to be extra attentive to cracks, potholes, and other obstacles. Of course, that’s all part of the urban bike adventure!
Some of the houses there are so cute, I can’t help but stop and snap a photo. This one I had to snap quickly, as a van was backing into a parking spot that would have ruined my shot.
Saturday night, I took myself out to dinner. I had grabbed a late dinner on Thursday night at a fantastic restaurant, The Franklin, just a short block from my hotel, and it had reminded me how much it is possible to enjoy going out for a good dinner even when traveling alone. But for Saturday night, I didn’t have to start late, and it was my last chance of this trip to try out a place my friend who knows New Orleans quite well had recommended, Mariza. This meant biking over to the next neighborhood to the east, Bywater, and past more interesting architecture. On my way, I stopped to gawk at the Marigny Opera House, which appears to be quite old, and perhaps undergoing some needed restoration.
The dinner was one of those excellent experiences that can be had when you sit at the bar at the beginning of dinner time, before the crowds have arrived, and chat with the bartender. This bartender mixed me a great cocktail, made some excellent food recommendations, and told me a bit of the history of the neighborhood. The Bywater/Marigny has gone from a low-rent, rather run-down neighborhood, to a hip area of opportunity. Beautiful buildings are being fixed up, but long-time residents have had to move to the other side of the river to find affordable housing.
Sunday morning, I tackled my logistics quite well, if I may say so myself. I had left all of my luggage at the convention center (hiding under the table), and had kept only a backpack at my hotel. I packed all my clothes into the backpack, checked out, and was on my way, able to bike with all my things either on my back or in the front basket. I stopped for breakfast at EnVie Espresso Bar and Cafe in the French Quarter, passing more potholes on the way. I made it a hearty breakfast to last me until the event closing at 2:30 p.m. Note the interesting clientele at this establishment.
Going into the convention center for this last day was exciting. I had already sold enough to pay for my travel expenses and the booth rental, and this last day, although shorter, the event is open to the public, not just those attending the UU General Assembly. I had been running Facebook ads during the week, hoping to draw in some local women bicyclists. Alas, I did have one customer who had seen my ad and decided to come in, since it was close to where she’d been at the gym. She bought a pair of Bloomers (she went for the Leopard print), and that sale paid for the Facebook ad (!), but no others from the general public came by. I had a couple other sales, but it ended up being the lowest sales day of the week. Although that was disappointing, I was still thrilled to have come out just a nudge ahead of even!
After the show closed, I packed up my merchandise, took one bundle of product I just couldn’t fit into my luggage (still less than the large box I shipped to New Orleans in advance) to the FedEx Office store across the street, and hopped on my rental bike for my one final ride to return the rental bike to A Musing Bikes. Although I had enough time to walk the mile back to the Convention Center to collect my luggage, it was raining again, and I just didn’t have it in me to walk another mile in the rain. I gave my rain poncho to the folks at A Musing Bikes, in case they’d like to offer it to the next crazy person to rent a bike on a rainy day, and summoned a Lyft to get me back to the Convention Center and on to the airport. Still a very satisfying logistical accomplishment.
On reflection, I have to admit that it may not make much business sense to take a week off from work (I do have my patent clients to attend to, an important element of making my living) in order to spend 5 straight days selling clothing for bike commuting at a gathering of UUs. However, as an excuse to experience biking in New Orleans, it was absolutely worth it! And I loved visiting with the people who came to my booth. A couple of times, I even remembered to snap a photo of customers who bought bloomers:
And here is what I wore each day (not counting the first two days when I got drenched!). I have fun styling the Bike It Or Not Two Piece Dress in various ways. You can tell which is from the last day by the backpack on my back.
And last, but not least, here’s an example of what the UUs were up to all week. This is a mural that grew a bit each day, based on input from attendees, and reflecting the social justice goals of the organization.