Monday morning found me right outside Mobile, AL. The day before was my birthday, an unforgettable day of exploring-inner and outer realms.The traveling was also perfect that day, no wrong turns really, steady speeds, time to stop and write. Perhaps Mondays are just wretched travel days, or perhaps I didn’t rest well, but the days events were challenging, life threatening, and overall crappy. My mindset was somewhat anxious, I will admit, and I could have been projecting. I tried to settle into the ride with the mentality that any obstacles I experienced were nothing in comparison to the suffering experienced in this region, from Katrina’s demolition. At the end of the day, that only translated into a night of sleep-without resignation- knowing I was alive and a bit closer to New Orleans.
Traveling into this territory is wild-rules don’t apply.
The heavy media coverage of Katrina did not really extend to the travesty the Gulf Coast suffered. My first instinct when plotting the route from Selma to New Orleans was to circumvent the Gulf Coast all together and head west over to Hattiesburg, MS, then South. My uncle lives in Mobile and I have fond memories of visiting the Gulf Coast as a kid-its white beaches and warm water are lovely. It turned out that my uncle lived about an hour east off of my course-the first monkey wrench in my planning. The second was discovering that bridges are still out along 90W. There are only two ways into New Orleans-90W and Interstate Route 10- which means a frightful amount of zooming tractor trailers and cars. Curious to document Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, I delved into the confusing detours, with a massive storm following me the whole way. I suited up into rain gear and scooted on, stopping for a little break when the lightening was really intense. I must have looked like a space smurf, in blue gear and silver helmet, when I pulled into the local Waffle House for lunch. The lack of healthy greens in the deep South has been frustrating, but the priceless down and out banter to be overheard in these little joints nourishes and entertains me.
I was driving along 90W, which once was a straight shot into New Orleans from Mobile, but two major bridges, one at Biloxi and the other at Pass Christian were still out two years later. Actually, thats what I was told, but Pass Christians had just opened, two weeks before I came through-no map search engine is up to date on this stuff. The detours weren’t marked at all when PJ went through last year, and this year they were only slightly better. The detours only re-route you onto the Interstate and out of hot, frustrated delirium I decided to give I-10 a gander. I was cruising along the little detour bridge towards the I-10, psyching myself up for the highway, when I see a large portion of steel grate in front of me. Now, in a four wheel vehicle you can feel your tires pull on steel grates-imagine taking them on just two bitsy wheels-with a lot of gear packed on the bike. I am sure many scooters get used to it-I just hadn’t faced this yet-Charlottesville doesn’t have any. My brain was swimming with adrenaline from that encounter when I jumped onto I-10. I stayed in the right lane and just tried to brace myself, but the conditions were way to ridiculous to consider staying on for any amount of time. At that point I was going to try and stay on 45 minutes to get around the Pass Christian detour. But I had almost NO control over Audrey, the wind was very gusty from the storms, the roads were wet, and at one point there were three tractor trailers around me. I could actually feel the wind tunnel lock the bike in and I pondered my mental condition-what the hell was I doing? Then I saw a bridge loom up in front of me and had a hunch there were steel grates on it too-something I was not prepared to do again at rush hour traffic in the high wind and rain. All of the days events were making me wish I hadn’t had any coffee earlier in the day-as my natural stimulants were now fully kicked in. Earlier, a jerk had pulled right in front of me, while I was cruising at 50 mph on a wet road with a truck beside me-only to stop dead on when I began blaring the horn. Basically, at this point when I jumped off I-10 before the bridge, I was ready to punch the timecard and call it a day. For some reason, detours, backtracking or quitting after 70 miles really bothers me.
So, I stopped to figure out the backroads approach and met a gentlemen by the name of Lloyd. I know this man has an interesting past, you can see it in his eyes. He wasn’t too sure of the roads, but offered his friends help throwing my scooter into his truck and carrying me across the bridge. That was a nice gesture, and I do believe in accepting the kindness of strangers-but I’m not out here trying to scoot America only to give up over 20 feet of steel. We spent an good hour talking-Lloyd revealed a lot to me-and it was nice to have him test me a bit on the politics of human nature. The conversation branched out in too many topics-his past, his future, his kids serving in the war, his divorce, Native Americans, Aztecs, Democrats, Republicans, Harley’s, scooters, Osama Bin Laden, American foreign policy and the CIA. I interviewed him on his definition of peace and then he offered me some cash he had made playing poker. That was nice and when I turned the ignition key over, I felt much more centered. I made it over to Gulfport, with no rain falling but the clouds heavy and grey still. After my first steel grate episode I called PJ and inquired if all the bridges on 90W were like that. We spent about ten minutes discussing the complications of this route-which I kinda wish I had known before hand. PJ had a crazy, dangerous run of 90W last year, a lot of it at night, and he said he wouldn’t wish that on me, suggesting I stop for the night. There are literally no hotels, other than a few casinos, past Gulfport, they were all wiped out. Since I only had an hour of good daylight left and didn’t want to bang around on my bike at night in the deserted swamp lands, I picked a crappy low budget motel. They presented me the hairdryer, microwave and refrigerator as a great deal-but I don’t need any of those things and was irked with the price. The area seemed a bit desperate so I rolled Audrey into the hotel with me, happy I wouldn’t have to pack her up in the morning. So at 8 am we were rolling out the door, with quite some looks from the construction workers who all relocated to the Gulf Coast.
Thankfully, after seeing my post on urban scootin, a lady in New Orleans had contacted me about a place to stay. I gave myself plenty of time to snap pictures the remaining 100 miles down the coast and planned to meet her at 2:30. With all the detours, the Gulf had previously been out of my view so the morning breeze and blinding white sand was a welcome sight. However, it was both beautiful and haunting. Every dock had been viciously snapped but pieces still stood in the water, resembling broken spines. Most businesses were completely destroyed along the waterfront, but some skeleton signs remained, not that I was unhappy about one less McDonalds in the world. I believe that the Gulf area in Mississippi was quite a hot spot before Katrina. There were many affluent houses along the way and I rode up to check out their damage. Some looked fine, but their neighbors were totally destroyed. The road in front of their houses was completely ripped up with big piles of asphalt littered about. I couldn’t believe the amount of destruction that I witnessed, mile after mile. The whole drive was peppered with closed businesses, FEMA trailers and bad signage. A lot of construction was happening though, which was promising to see, but there were still meteor sized chunks of debris left everywhere. Absolutely everything has changed life in these towns. There was no protection between them and the water. Even when the road took me far inland I glimpsed destroyed buildings and trees. My guess (hope) is that a lot of road signs where also lost in the storm and that isn’t a priority to fix right now. I wound up at the NASA space station unexpectedly. 90W just dead ends at its gates unannounced. The security guard and I surveyed each other awkwardly, and then he nicely pointed me towards the road that would lead me to “old 90W”-as long “as I didn’t blink an eye, I would see it.” Thank God I wasn’t driving around there late at night in the dark, or locating said route would have been near impossible-much less surviving the drive on it. All of the local construction has made traversing dangerous-with gravel, debris and lots of mud on the roads. I was somewhat dubious the road was doing to 90W, it was totally unmarked, but after a long, creepy 8 miles it dumped me out onto “old 90W.” Here the road opened up with the swamplands all around it and made for beautiful pictures. The landscape was full of stunning contrasts-white sand, blue water and green marsh grasses against heavy industrial equipment.
I crossed many bridges, happy that none had steel grates! The heat was really kicking in and I was thankful to have been gifted a CamelBak, which helps with hydration and cools me off under the jacket. I was nearing the Crescent City and feeling the anticipation of my arrival. The road had been very odd and lonely, but coming around the bend into a more populated area of New Orleans was still eerie. I saw massive apartment complexes boarded up and felt a general emptiness to the area-even with people around-I could sense this used to be very populated. I think this was one of the sections hit the hardest, but I am working on getting all my facts straight. I have tons of stuff to post about my experiences here so far and tomorrow plan to go out towards the Ninth Ward and levees, since my attempt yesterday was intercepted my thunderstorms. Late afternoon thunderstorms are classic here and I am visiting in the “wet season.” The thunder and lightning seem so much closer than I am used to-not sure why.
Yesterday we braved a lot of the storm on scooters. Jodi and Treesa met me at a coffeeshop and took me for a great city ride, stopping to get me some fried okra for lunch first. Treesa contacted me a long time ago, when the website was bare bones and the dream was taking shape, as did Jodi. The scoot community is very supportive and better networked than I realized. It was so great to have wonderful, cheerful people to meet up with, as I had been alone since Saturday in Montgomery. After the ride we scooted over to Treesas to dry off and meet her neighbors-all very interesting. They have a shared courtyard area with a pool and everyone stops by to chat. A kind lady, Suzy, offered to put me on the guest list at Snug Harbor, a premier Jazz Club in town. With the rain letting up, Jody and I headed out to her house right before dark, a good thirty minutes west of town. Street conditions here are miserable, and have always been. The daytime is bad enough, just plant the feet firmly and stay braced and perched-but there are potholes you could go fishing in. At night, with wet streets and low visibility, I was having a hard time keeping up. Jodi, my DOT certified fairy, offered me some safety advice-it turns out you just can’t see my headlight well with all the gear on the front. She also pointed out that the lower turn signals are just dummy lights, so I need to have that wire spliced next time I get serviced. As we pulled into her neighborhood, the night sky was deep purple and I could tell we were near the swamp from the night air and cacophony of bugs and frogs. Her husband and two curious, loveable dogs greeted us. I threw my pants in the dryer and ate some pizza with them. I was quite delirious and don’t know if I made a lot of great conversation, but I really appreciated the hospitality. I was too tired to even label pictures and the big decadent bed beckoned to me. I climbed in and slumbered 10 delicious hours- waking up feeling a bit rude-but reborn and thankful to have completed one side of the peace sign. And to be so nicely welcomed into New Orleans! We talked briefly before I headed off to the city-and to meet Rebecca, who I am staying with for a couple of days. I pulled up for coffee at Mocachinos and the manager sitting outside struck up a conversation immediately. She was really interested in P.E.A.C.E SCOOTER-and very talkative. I love people without filters! In three minutes of me pulling up she knew my story and offered me coffee and a meal. The baristas there were exceptionally cool and I did some interviews with them. I am very fortunate to have these intimate discussions with locals, and am coming to understand how every level of life has been affected by Katrina. I have much more to say about this so stay tuned…