Sunday, March 21, 2010

Introspective, in handy bullet-point form

It's Sunday night and I start my new job tomorrow morning, so I'd better put whatever remaining punctuation down on the New Orleans "Spring Break" trip there is bouncing around my head.  Here goes, at random:
  • I didn't expect to make it all the way to Michigan on the bike.  I expected to stop somewhere in Tennessee and figure out a way to get it in the back of a u-haul.
  • Yes, I had been planning to go to New Orleans to buy the Triumph.  I had my heart set on this bike for a while and was scouting out places that had this model (1) in-stock to satisfy my silly need for instant gratification (2) on sale as leftover 2009 (3) in a climate where I could expect a March test-ride and (4) east of the rockies.  There were options in suburban Dallas, suburban Houston and suburban Tampa.  And down-freakin'-town New Orleans. Let's see... yep.  Easy choice.
  • Why a Triumph?  I don't know, maybe you can blame this guy.

  • I didn't buy this bike for long-distance touring.  It's pretty stupid for that.  The vast majority of my riding is within 1 hour of my home, and it should be just fine at that, thank you much.
  • That said, I really enjoy traveling on two wheels - you feel more like a traveler everywhere you go, even on the nights you're a shill using your fancy points at the corporate hotel chain.  I may even need to consider adding a more-fitting machine to pursue this beyond my weekend jaunts in the upper midwest on the Street Triple.  But that brings me to a key lesson-learned.  Things happen slower on a bike.  Back roads happen more than highways and anything but interstates.  Small towns and stretch-breaks happen more.  These are all good things.  But if I'm ever going to carve the canyons in California, I'm going to need six weeks off work.  At least.
  • I said this after my GM trip last summer across the western states ending in Seattle.  I need to get a better camera and learn how to use it.  The Canon Powershot is a fantastic tiny point-and-shoot.  It fits in my pocket and can power-on and take a decent blur-protected shot in 3 seconds.  But it just simply doesn't do the scenery justice.  A digital SLR and a good-enough lens kit are serious money, but I think it's gonna be worth it.
  • The next point, one any reader must be thinking, is that I'm going to have take someone along on my next trip so I have something else to take pictures of other than that stupid bike.  Sharp-looker though it may be... 
  • I still struggle with seizing the moment and forcing people into my pictures - even if I'm thinking it, I'm still usually too shy to impose.  Objects and scenery are easy to picture but sometimes a face or two makes a better memory.  Something to work on I guess, and as someone once reminded me, probably the reason there are professional photographers in the world.
  • After safely riding north out of all the "gunrack"-associated states and sitting home on my couch, I allowed myself to re-watch Easy Rider today.  Take it away, Jack...

  • I liked writing about traveling here.  I think I might even have a few followers, which is neat.  I'd probably have done this just for myself but all the better if I can communicate a bit more than I have in the past.  I'd like to continue the blog in some form.  But I'm not sure what it'll be like.  I might take some time to think about it.
  • The trip to New Orleans and the ride home had their minor breakthroughs, but I still struggle a bit with spontaneity and openness alone on the road.  I want to be a better traveler (not that I think I'm a *bad* traveler) but it's hard to do.  I think it has to start in the approach to day-to-day life, because at least on a two-week getaway, I can't just switch off my mood when I hit the road.  It stays with me for a while and maybe keeps me from being the adventurous-Andy or sociable-Andy that exists in my head.  And that's about all the introspective I care to be about that.
  • End on a happy note: Egrets! Gumbo! Schwinn! Croissants! Abita! Dogs! Motorcycle!

View Spring Break 2010 - Ride Home in a larger map

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Catching up - to the end

Friday was the last and warmest day in the midwest March warm-up week.  I did the ride home from Lake George in as straight a shot as I would do on a bike.  After 7+ days and 1850 miles in the saddle of a machine the manufacturer classifies as "urban sports", I'm ready for a break.  And, despite the warm sun, the west wind is really kicking today, steady over 25mph.  Also, as I roll US-12 through the Irish Hills, I'm watching a pile of sand roll by in the centerline of each lane.  I am in Michigan, after all, and it is still technically winter.  So it's an easy ride.  Tons of bikes were out on US-12.  Eventually the left-hand-salute that I always exchange with passing riders gets annoying , as just about every other bike out is a Harley and most (but definitely not all) of these guys see a non-Harley rider in proper protective gear and usually ignore them as if they were driving a Hyundai.  Anyway, home-again home-again, yippie.  Didn't honestly think I'd make it this far on the bike when I started out but it all worked out.  Lucky me because the weather Saturday turned to typical March gloom and chill.

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 14 in a larger map

Catching up - with family

Crossing Indiana on Wednesday and Thursday meant I could spend a couple nights with my family.  First stop was Wednesday outside Spencer at the Owen-Putnam State Forest where my Uncle Bill is the property manager.   It's several years too many since I've visited Bill and I got to catch up with his garage project.  He's been completely restoring rebuilding a '58 Corvette to authentic standards and is getting closer to the end.  It's a beautiful car and the effort he's put into the details (those window crank mechanisms got me) shows how this a long-term labor of love.  Or something like that - I'm sure he'd have a few other adjectives to describe the relationship...  Anyway, it's patience and persistence I've never had for mechanical work and I admire it.  The dashboard and windshield are set to go on, and with the window crank project, the doors will be ready too.  That pretty much makes it a car, and it will turn heads.

As a bonus, I also got to visit with my cousin Natalie there.  She's been staying at Bill's the last few months since moving jobs in December.  She left her communications position at Purdue's Engineering school to come over to IU into what is interesting new work for her in the newly-forming School of Public Health.  It's very exciting for her coming back to Bloomington and her alma mater, and, importantly, just as exciting for her husband Mike since they started out together there.  These days, however, are a bit tricky since she has to be away from Mike and the two boys back in Lafayette each week until they can make the move.  But if there's a better young family at dealing with this, I haven't met them.  Anyway, I got a chance to catch up on all the details of her move that I missed when I saw her back at Christmas.  Bill was a fantastic host, as always, grilling us some big pork chops and of course his signature roasted potato dish.

I intend to get back Bill's way this year so I can ride those southern Indiana roads again, and hopefully bring him and his Harley along.  From there it was the longest ride of the trip up to Grandma's house at Lake George.  Well worth it for the always-good home-cookin, which on Thursday was a roast along with mashed potatoes, asparagus, baked apples, and **Irish Soda Bread** (for St Patty's).   She also invited my Uncle Bob over, and I got to show the bike off to him and Laurie and her granddaughter, Tenacity.  Bob and Laurie have worked in Angola, IN for my new employer Tenneco for many years.  Their plant is under a different division, but still it's pretty neat that we'll be "coworkers" now.  It was a kick to talk about that and I think the little Triumph might have even impressed the ol' Harley guy!

Grandma and I went out for a nice breakfast on Friday morning before I hit the road.  She's eager for Spring, and we put out a few Easter decorations to help the season along.  She'll have some company from my Uncle Jim and Aunt Lorna to look forward to this weekend, and then I'll be back on Easter.  I probably won't be riding the bike that weekend, however.  I think Grandma liked it, even if it means one more boy to worry about!

Catching up - "Back home agaaaaiiinnnn..."

Wednesday AM is a bridge crossing at Owensboro into Indiana.  The Ohio is looking pretty angry right now.  Lots of logs and debris blasting by under the bridge, and some flooding on the uninhabited Indiana bank.  Also cool to ride over top of a tug pushing six barges of coal up-river against the muddy torrent.  Was very optimistic about the ride today, knowing that areas around the Ohio river provide superior road topography than most other locales in the Midwest.  Also, knowing that the ride would end with family and no hotel!  Set out for IN-66 east out of Tell City and into Hoosier National Forest.  This was the best road on the trip, as it had some serious combinations of elevation and directional change.  Pavement was in good enough shape and there didn't seem to be much sand.  Also, once in the forest the tree canopy was quite nice, and I can only imagine what it'd be like in the fall.  And there were no other vehicles!  Great!  What could be better?  Well, I soon found the reason I was the only one on IN-66 that morning when it returned to the bank of the river at Rome:

I suppose I probably should have made a better interpretation of this sign fifteen miles back:

Oh well, there were far worse things than running that stretch a second time in the opposite direction.  And it gave me a chance to experience IN-145 north from Tell City to Birdseye which was nearly as good a road.  It didn't quite have the dare-devil hills that the river road had but it did have fantastic pavement, no traffic and great 40-60mph twisties.  And no floods!  Followed that road north along to the resort town of French Lick.  I was hoping for some Larry Bird -commemorative stuff to photograph in French Lick, as that is what I always thought the appeal of this town was.  But it turns out it's a cute little resort town.  Whatever.  Sun is out beautifully now, so I can shed some layers and continue on toward Bloomington.  I try for some very minor roads out of French Lick which require me to slow way down in spots when gravel covers the road, and I did get a little lost, but the payoff is some nice southern Indiana scenery.

Anyway, I find highway 37 near Orleans and make tracks on the slab north since I'm running late.  I do make a quick stop in Bloomington to see the IU campus again on this beautiful day.  Couldn't take enough time to find a good photo spot of all the great limestone in the sun, so I had to settle for the law school right off the main gate and Kirkwood Ave.  It was Spring Break, btw.

Now just a quick ride to Bill's house in Spencer.  Thursday morning was another late start, as the clear night put a coat of frost on the bike in the morning!  But again the sun was out and things warmed up nice.  The ride on Thursday across Central and Northeast Indiana was not much to write about.  The whole way north on IN-13 was a battle with a steady 20mph crosswind.  I learned riding on the leeward side of the road that this is where semi-trucks have their most unsettling aerodynamic impact on the bike.  When they blast by the other way and cut the crosswind, it can be a little scary.  And if Indiana has a lot of something, it's wide-open corn fields and semi trucks.

Ended up the day riding through Amish country and Shipshewana, where I caught peak rush hour for the buggies.  East finally with the wind at my back on good old IN-120 to Lake George.  Here's the only ride picture from Thursday, the ubiquitous Indiana county-seat courthouse.  This one is in Wabash.

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 12 in a larger map

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 13 in a larger map

Catching up - riding to Kentucky

OK, well a few days behind as the trip winds to an end here.  One reason is I got away from the internet for a couple of days.  The other is blogger's block.  Good enough?  OK - so I left Jackson, TN Tuesday morning in the cool air and thick clouds that would hang all day.  This was the coldest day on the ride and it even scared me a bit in northern Tennessee (is there a "northern" part of this state?) when spits of rain went on and off.  The road never got wet, but I knew with temps just below 50, any water would put me out of the safe-riding wind chill range even with my gear.  I was layered up these days, with a t-shirt, a thermal, a long-sleeve shirt, then all three layers of the jacket (outer nylon, wind/water shell, quilty liner) - and similar layering on the pants.  I had a thin-but-helpful balaclava under the helmet mainly to keep the wind off the neck.  The rest of the head was OK under the helmet.  But still I had to tuck in most of the day to stay warm.  This would improve greatly when the sun arrived in Indiana.

A cold day at Tennessee River

I rode up the "trace" through the Land-Between-the-Lakes, which splits the dammed-up Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers from TN into KY.  I had the road all to myself and got some pleasant turns in the southern half of the park before it flattened out in Kentucky.  Grabbed some chili to warm up in Eddyville, KY and hit the back roads around and over to Owensboro.  Decent riding, but I'm sure Kentucky has much better to offer further east in the real hill country.

Owensboro was my last hotel night, and I decided to go with a points stay.  I booked it the night before real quick without checking that all they had left was a smoking room.  Ugh.  I kept it to save a hundred bucks cash, but man what a great use of all those miserable work nights earning points.  Owensboro, KY in a smoking room.  At least it was recently-remodeled and so there was only a couple months of cancer embedded in the mattress.  Also, dumpy hotel had no laundry which was my goal for the morning while I waited for the outside temps to warm up.  So I got to experience a coin-op laundry in Kentucky, with numerous pass-by visits from two large women walking a young boy... on a leash.

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 11 in a larger map

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off-topic, in a way

Before the trip, before quitting my job, I re-read The Great Gatsby.  Not expecting anything in particular but having almost completely forgotten the novel except for the fact I liked it when I was 15 or whenever.  Many powerful moments in this book, but one line sticks out.  I'm not sure how famous or cliche it is to the literary world, but I don't recall it being quoted too much:

"A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: 'There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.'"

Gatsby is a dangerous book to read when you're 30, unmarried, independent, isolated, etc.  It's forced on high-school kids out of necessity because it is such an important (and accessible for 10th-graders) American novel.  The emphasis seemed to always be on the symbolism of new vs. old in the Roaring 20's, west vs. east, etc. always in a historical context.  Which is right and great, but what floored me re-reading this book is how the personal story of Gatsby (and narrator Nick too) is such a timeless story of dealing with changes in periods of your life, dealing with lost relationships, and living in the moment.  Or at least, creating the elaborate facade of living in the moment.  So for me the quote above provokes some thought, and applies a bit of pressure...

Just putting thoughts down.  Cool cover art too.

Up from the Delta, in Tennessee

Combining a couple of uneventful days riding here... Left Natchez Sunday morning to try the "Natchez Trace" parkway at it's southern end.  This being the quasi-National Park 450-mile 2-lane highway from Natchez to Nashville following an important old Indian/settler trail.  Riding on it in complete isolation, literally not overtaking or being passed by another car for 65 miles, makes it seem like a good-ole congressional pork barrel boondoggle.  It's pretty, but there were probably more effective ways to commemorate the history of the trail than this highly impractical road.  Or maybe I'm just a bit miffed that the bucolic, traffic-free road had a 50mph speed limit and sweeping turns designed more for a Winnebago than a Street Triple R?  Perhaps thats it.

Anyway, off the Trace after an hour or so of cruising and over toward Vicksburg and north on Highway 61.  Now, the appeal of Highway 61 comes partly from the Dylan album and partly from the road's reputation as the cradle of the Delta blues.  But every moment I've spent riding this highway I've wished I were somewhere else.  It's flat, boring and windy.  Maybe if I rode it Muddy Waters-style in a big old Cadillac with some roots music on the HiFi and a narrated historical tour to read along it would be more memorable.  Heck, maybe if I were just a badass on a Harley - those guys can make any straight boring road look cool.

Typical Delta scenery, down at the Crossroads. Straight from "O Brother Where Art Thou".

A detour back to the river and Greenville - a core city for blues history - reveals what the Delta area is second-best known for: being one of the poorest areas in the United States.  Real poverty here, and along the way in the small towns I'd pass through the following day.

A night in Cleveland highlighted by some good BBQ next to my hotel of choice.  I was interested to learn that there is a sizeable Italian-American population in Cleveland, tracing its roots along with this restaurant to the years before the depression.  There was a family at my hotel and in the restaurant having a reunion there, in what would have seemed an unlikely location.

Next morning (Monday) begins with a sunny but still-windy ride north on highway 3.  Completely at random - I swear I just rolled into it - I happen to pass Parchman and this deja-vu moment.

Not a trip motif I'd like to build upon anymore.  Parchman is the Angola of Mississippi, not seen here are the stripey-clothed chain gangs working just down the road from the guardhouse.  No foolin.  Best lighting yet on the bike though...

By noon the clouds are in control and the temp is falling back toward 50 with the wind unrelenting, which is darn close to my survival line if I'm going to ride highway speeds.  Hands and feet are OK, my head and neck could use a bit more protection from breezes under the helmet - but what gets to me is my "core temp".  Even with the windbreak and the layers I start getting cold after about an hour or so in these temps.  That's why the pros wear heated vests.  And ride bikes with windscreens.

Bypass Memphis to hit the dealer in the east 'burbs for my 500 850-mile (oops) mandatory break-in service.  A very expensive oil change while I use the wifi.  The Memphis Triumph dealer is a sideshow at a shop across the street from a huge Harley dealership.  They specialize in Victory, a Harley knockoff owned by Polaris and Can-Am, a Bombardier creation that looks like this:

My thought being - car or motorcycle.  Please pick one or the other, as there are fantastically enjoyable variants of each.  3-wheels = kinda silly looking.  Staff here weren't too talkative.  Or busy.  I like the downtown New Orleans shop more.

Ride out of Memphis and find some good backroads going into Jackson.  Backroads are the saving grace from all the flat cruising so far.  The bike is so much fun, the motor just snarls so pretty.  Now I'm pretty much done with break-in so the 12,500 rpm's are mine if I can handle 'em.

Mason, Tennessee:

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 9 in a larger map

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 10 in a larger map

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Natchez, Mississippi

Rode out of Lafayette to the north, avoiding I-10 and taking a ferry crossing over the Mississippi at St Francisville.  State-operated ferry was neat - no toll eastbound, and only like a buck the other way - and for five minutes or so gave me a feeling for the power and scale of the river, which was very true to it's Big Muddy name.

From there a stop for a nice cafe lunch in St Francisville and a pleasant ride up to Angola.  After the prison visit, I headed off the beaten path north into Mississippi and found some great back roads - finally!  Some hills, some leaning, some shifting - goodbye Louisiana.  It was a really remote area and was testing my trust in the printed-out Google map sheets I was using to navigate by.  Eventually after scaring myself into thinking I was lost in an unhabited corner of Mississippi I found Highway 61.  I rode the last hour on this up to Natchez, and it wa sawful.  The highway was like an interstate and cut in a very wide clearing.  Wind was gusting over 20mph across the road and I had a handful.  Very glad to reach Natchez.  This town has a great view of the river, and appears to be a touristy spot for old people.  Oh well, slept a ton and am now pretty screwed up by the DST time change.  Fortunately I have a short ride today up the delta.

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 8 in a larger map

Going to prison, or at least next to a prison - a scary prison

The Louisiana State Penetentiary at Angola is the largest and most notorious prison in the US.  It was the setting for Dead Man Walking and has been featured in several other films and novels.  Since there is a museum there right outside the gate, it was worth a visit.  Angola began as a plantation and existed in the state's correctional system exactly as that well into the twentieth century.  Inmates - almost all black and almost all serving life sentences - were loaned out to neighboring plantations when they weren't busy working the sugar and cotton fields within the prison's 18,000 acres.  Today, there remains a not-entirely-metaphoric (or hyperbolic) argument that Angola is still a real-life functioning plantation on the Mississippi.  In the mid-twentieth century the state and national press began uncovering salacious horror stories of "life" inside this prison.  It was representative of the corrections approach in several deep-south states, where a system of "trustee" rule had taken hold where the staff selected inmates to administer work and discipline in the prison population.  Naturally, a great many of these "Trusty" bosses were violent offenders.  And thus a horrendous economy of torture and rape took hold and ruled the prison for decades and made national headlines.  Eventually a Supreme Court decision in 1971 forced an end to the state laws laying out the Trusty system in LA, MS, TX, and AR but the shadows of it continue on to this day.  In the early 1970's three inmates who had been active in the Black Panther movement within the prison attempting to combat the Trusty System were accused of killing a guard and placed in solitary confinement.  Two of the three remained in Solitary for 36 years until a visit two years ago from Detroit congressman John Conyers caused the state to move them out into the general population, while the third was paroled from solitary in 2001.  The Angola 3 are among the most well-known causes in prison reform activist circles today, along with Mumia Abul-Jamal.  There is heated rhetoric on both sides of these issues but at a place like Angola it is hard to imagine how these men stand rightly accused.

The prison today touts it's reforms in the last twenty years.  The museum is fairly open about the repuatation of the prison.  The warden, Burl Cain, is something of a celebrity - his name is all over everything and there are big photos of him in rescue gear helping out in Katrina.  They advertise their prison rodeo quite heavily and warden Cain is in a bunch of videos talking about a very spiritual approach to corrections.  That and work on the plantation - his theory is that if you work the convicts hard all day they'll be too tired to fight.

Prison is in every way one of my darkest fears.  I wonder where the line is that "normal" people fall across to end up there.  How many bad decisions or how much bad luck separate me from that existence?  Or is my skin color and income enough to protect me forever?  I don't know, there's probably some Freudian issues at work here, but it is an imposing thought.  It's important now and then to know that this world exists in America.

In Lafayette, Louisiana

Second day on the road in southern Louisiana was still pretty boring.  Traffic was down getting well away from New Orleans and I was able to loop through small towns on back roads and avoid the US-90 highway.  The road criss-crosses the Intracoastal Waterway a few times and each spot is a tall steel bridge like so:

This spot was at Amelie, and I just missed getting a tugboat passing in the background.  Here and especially the next town west - Morgan City - there were some serious marine industries.  Enormous salvage barges and cranes, lots of huge pieces of steel right along the road.  I remember some of the names, like Tidewater Co, as marine engine customers at Electro-Motive.  Neat.  Here's the crossing at Morgan City:

From there I detoured up through the Acadian (that is, Cajun) towns of New Iberia, St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge.  All of which were in full-crawfish mode on a lenten Friday.  I was going to make a detour to a famous bayou swamp, Lake Martin, near Breaux bridge but when I got to the lake the launch ramp was full of super-bubba types tossing six-packs around doing burnouts in their pickups and getting ready for a Friday night of god-knows-what on the lake.  I felt kinda out of place so I opted not to do the secluded dirt-road loop tour around the lake...  From there it was a roll into Lafayette, which had a big Crawfish festival going on at the Minor League ballpark downtown.  Music there was lousy but I'm sure there's much better in town.  After all, it's famous for being a hotspot. Oh well, I'm tired.

Oops!  How'd that get in there?  Hey, gotta give the love to all my two-wheeled friends.

View Spring Break 2010, Day 7 in a larger map

On Avery Island

Avery Island outside New Iberia, LA is best known as the home of the McIllhenys and their Tabasco factory, but a geek like me knows it as a semi-obscure indie rock album from the late 1990's.  It isn't an island exactly but rather a round dome of salt pushed up above the swamp.  Somehow on this salt dome, Mr. McIllheny was able to create his "Jungle Gardens" and bird sanctuary for us tourists to drive through, safari-style.  I'd say my two-day-old street bike is up for some safari!

I saw alligators, which seemed a bit kitschy and touristy, but hey how may times am I going to roll up next to one?  Still a bit uneasy to hop off the bike next to one with no one else around.

I took some pretty bike pictures among the amazing oak trees.

It definitely seemed more interesting doing the tour on the bike than in a car.  I think I saw more than I would have with the windows and roof and other obstructions in the car.  And near the end of the loop the road goes through a grove of rose bushes (trees?) that smelled amazing, causing me to literally stop and smell the roses.  But of all that the highlight of the visit was getting off and walking down to the bird sanctuary and the mighty colony of egrets.  Amazing stuff.  Thanks, Tabasco.  Sorry I skipped your museum...

Friday, March 12, 2010

In Houma, Louisiana

Last FedEx with the dealer accessories arrived after lunch, giving me the little flyscreen above the instrument panel and the Triumph-branded tankbag.  Threw my suitacse in a UPS box and crammed everything I think I need (and absolutely nothing else) in my new luggage.  Left downtown around 4:30.  Only way out of NO is by freeway so away we go on the big bridge over the river.  Very boring and trafficky ride to Houma, call it a day since its dark.  It will get better.  Bike is great, but now realize I am limited to 60mph with the 0-300mile break-in rev limit at 5000rpm.  Good - all the more reason to stay off the interstates.

Sent off from the crescent city by dogs...first by Magda and siblings at the Gentry House B&B:

And then by Fido at the dealership.

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 6 in a larger map

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Triumph owner

The bike's ready, the dry-pack set I ordered is here too.  All I need are the dealer accessories they promise tomorrow.  Now to bed thinking good thoughts for a safe ride out of the city on the freeway slabs.

Thinking about New Orleans

Tomorrow I leave the city, and I have mixed feelings.  I'm a little disappointed in myself for not doing more while I was here.  For instance, when I flew down here and looked at the time I would spend here I really did want to volunteer a day somewhere doing something related to rebuilding.  Well, in planning to orchestrate the bike purchase it fell through the cracks.  I'm not much of a volunteer at all to begin with so I guess it's a bit of a stretch to suddenly become a voluntourist.  And I just gave up when I got here on that idea.  But I guess the city surprised me in how interesting and vibrant the neighborhoods were rather than how destroyed and embattled they were.  Even where there was destruction, it wasn't asking for pity.  People live here and love life.

I could be disappointed that I didn't use every meal opportunity to try a different world-famous restaurant.  But then I was surprised how with Louisiana food I was as much interested in the history of the cooking and the mixing of cultures and people that went into it as the spicy dishes themselves.

I could be disappointed in myself that I wasn't out until 3AM every night sampling each jazz club and trying each local cocktail.  But the last couple rainy nights I've found the right vibe sitting with the doors open to the balcony reading my book.  In March at least, the humidity feels good.  And Abita makes some fantastic beer.

Basically, New Orleans is the city I know I will come back to.  It's a city I'd love to know better and better.  It's a city I'd love to be able to show off to someone else.  Because we all know I'm a tour guide-in-hiding.

Sidewalk steppin' - at least in my mind

I finally got to the cemeteries today - Lafayette 1 and St Louis 1, which I believe are the most famous in the city.  They were neat, but about as I expected.  Perhaps the guided tour talking about who all the ghosts were would have made it more amazing, I don't know.  And while I know there's been a bunch of movies shot in them, especially Lafayette, the only one that comes to my mind is Easy Rider.  I try not to think of that movie too much on this trip, seeing as how their motorcycle journey in the deep south ended up.  Not to mention their acid trip in St. Louis Cemetery #1...

The guidebooks all say to avoid going to St. Louis on your own, only go with a guide even during the daytime.  Criminals can lurk around the tombs and jump out and mug you.  Because, of course, it's next to a real-life...HOUSING PROJECT!  It doesn't matter that there's a dozen NOPD cars parked right across the street at first precinct headquarters - nope, there's low-income minorities living in publicly-owned brick buildings nearby.  I hate how they do that.  Same warning goes for the historic Treme neighborhood across the park from the cemetery and across Rampart St from my house.  On my first day in town after renting the bike I wound up in Treme by accident and then just ran into a really good five-piece brass band playing a private party at the small African-American Museum.  There were several people just chilling (drinks in hand) on the sidewalk listening in and dancing a bit looking through the fence.  Sound just filling the whole neighborhood, it was fun to soak it in like man, I'm really in New Orleans.  I tried recording it on my camera but got stuck with a huge video file I don't know what to do with and crappy audio.  But a great memory.  Riding back through the same block today was a bit quieter.

The Treme neighborhood, of course, is best-known for the Second Line - possibly the funkiest thing in the world.