Four from the Quarter

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Sept. 12 | Day 6: We parked the motorcycles and spent four days in New Orleans, most of them prowling the French Quarter, which utterly fascinated me. I was seized by the energy and vibrancy of those streets, the architecture, the music on every corner, the people crowding the sidewalks. It awakened a long-dormant desire for street photography, to document every moment in Henri Cartier-Bresson style. These musicians were really good.

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Elaborate wrought-iron balconies and posts are everywhere. I liked the solitary figure of the postman against the dark door, the color of the walls, the overhead fans on the balcony.

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This couple was married in a public ceremony in Jackson Square and — in classic New Orleans tradition — celebrated all the way down Chartres Street to their reception, accompanied by the Jaywalkers, a second-line brass band.

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I was desperate to capture the intensity of the violinist’s face against the dark doorway behind her, but I didn’t get it. I distracted her, I think, violating the first rule of what not to do when photographing someone. I had only a wide-angle lens and was lying in the street, oblivious, shooting upward, searching for the best angle. Her nervous companion stood guard and prevented a delivery truck from running over me.

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We took a streetcar named St. Charles to the Garden District. The car itself was right out of the 1950s, with marvelous old woodwork and small brass eyelets for the cord you pulled to signal the driver to stop.

 

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A Date at the Loveless

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It took me a while to punch through work and the other obligations that kept crowding in, but we finally have a mission profile that will take us to New Orleans and back.

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This year’s ride won’t be on a par with Long Way Round but it will offer some high points:

We may see an old friend of mine from high school – 40 years ago! – if our schedules allow.

We’ll ride the Natchez Trace again. We rode the Trace exactly once 15 years ago and we’re looking forward to seeing it.

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We’ll get to ride along the Gulf Coast from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans and we’ll ride part of U.S. 61, immortalized by Bob Dylan in his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited.

We may get the chance to visit the African American Military History Museum, which has a special permanent exhibit for Jesse Leroy Brown, the U.S. Navy’s first black aviator.

And on the way home, we’ll do a one-day layover in Nashville and have dinner at the Loveless Café, one of our favorite places. We’ve been there before, but never on the motorcycles.

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Note from the mission historian: The Loveless Cafe has no relation to The Loveless movie, a 1981 film noir by Kathryn Bigelow starring Willem Dafoe.

The restaurant began in 1951 when Lon and Annie Loveless sold fried chicken and biscuits out of their home to travelers on Highway 100. The food proved popular, they converted the house to a restaurant and later built a motel.

The motel eventually closed – small shops occupy the rooms these days – but the restaurant’s Southern culinary fare has become part of American mythos. You may have seen the Loveless Café on TV, on shows that venture out of big cities in search of country fare.

So Linda and I have made a date at the café. Being there on the motorcycles at the end of a ride will make the Loveless Café part of our folklore, too.

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And We’re Off to the Races

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Finally got around to cracking open the Vespa’s headlight nacelle to install brackets for the scooter’s new windscreen. It’s another Italian engineering nightmare.

Linda accidentally dropped her bike and broke the Givi windscreen last year, just before we were due to leave for Thunder Bay.  I pulled the screen and she rode 3,300 miles without it, in sunshine and in rain.

For the upcoming New Orleans ride, I ordered her a new screen — a Genuine Vespa Part! — from ScooterWest in San Diego. Now all I have to do is install it.

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Things went south quickly when I saw the Givi and Vespa mounting brackets were different.

Both use expanding sleeves that slip inside metal tubes in the Vespa’s headset. Once installed, the Givi brackets can be unbolted from the front with no fuss.

Ah, but the Genuine Vespa Part requires the headlight nacelle be taken apart every time the brackets need to be removed. Another Rube Goldberg triumph.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Back on Track

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“Yeah, I’m hip about time. But I just gotta go.”

– Peter Fonda (as Wyatt), “Easy Rider”

After much procrastination, delay, and downright dithering, we’ve decided to forgo The Great River Road for now and head to New Orleans in September for this year’s motorcycle ride.

It’s never taken us this long to decide where the annual motorcycle ride will go and I can’t explain the delay. Time, age and work have been more of a distraction this year.

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We figure about 2,400 miles total, but we don’t have a real mission profile yet. There are some good possibilities, including Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway to Tennessee, then southwest to Mobile, Alabama, where we’ll pick up coastal roads to New Orleans.

Then maybe we’ll head northeast on the Natchez Trace, which we haven’t been on since 2002.

Linda’s been to New Orleans twice, the last time for an Investigative Reporters and Editors seminar last year, but I’ve never been there.

Closest I got was I-10 north of Lake Pontchartrain in 2000 in my uncle’s car during a madcap dash from San Diego to Flagler Beach, Florida, to my grandmother’s funeral. Not much joy then.

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But I’ve always wondered what it would be like to arrive in New Orleans aboard a motorcycle. Perhaps that comes from reading too many Tennessee Williams plays, or being swept away by the romantic history of the French Quarter, or simply watching Easy Rider too many times. But at last, I’ll be there.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t end like Easy Rider.

Mission Logistics Is On It

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I’ve taken to dragging along a fistful of maps wherever I go, including our once-a-week date-night dinner. We’re planning the next motorcycle ride.

Though the maps may puzzle a waitress – “Are you guys going somewhere?” – and look odd next to the bread and chianti, it’s a chance to mellow out and just think ahead to where Linda and I want to go and how we’ll get there.

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This year, we’re thinking about The Great River Road, a patchwork of scenic state roads that follow the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m a sucker for historic roads with names, but I hadn’t heard of this one until Ben Abramson, our Travel editor, mentioned it in a morning editorial meeting. Why am I not aware of this? I asked myself, and went to learn more.

It turns out The Great River Road is a 2,400-mile-long series of roads that runs through 10 states, from Minnesota to Louisiana. It’s been around since 1938. You can drive on either the western or eastern banks of the Mississippi.

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It looks fascinating and sounds perfect for us. The only problem is getting there.

Logically, we’d like to travel the road north to south. The problem is getting out there: Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where the road begins, is about 1,300 miles from us. New Orleans, close to where it ends, is 1,100 miles away.

That means we’re traveling 2,400 miles just to get to and from the road. Add in the road and it’s 4,800 miles, more than we’ve ever done on two separate bikes. The most we’ve ever done on our separate bikes is 3,300 miles in 19 days.

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We’re considering options:

  • Taking more time and doing the whole thing on two bikes;
  • Doing it two-up on one bike, probably Endurance, my BMW GS (which would also give us the opportunity to revisit the Natchez Trace on the way home);
  • Renting a U-Haul or somesuch and transporting the bikes to and from the start/endpoints ourselves.

Mission Logistics is working on it and will report back when they reach consensus. That’s us, of course. And a few waitresses, probably.

Another Damn Battery

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Pulling the BMW battery. Cody is always willing to help.

Took the Yamaha out for a fresh tank of gas, put Sta-Bil in, got on Endurance, the BMW, to do the same thing, turned the key and … nothing.

Even the dash clock was blank. “All right,” I think to myself, “I’ll charge up the battery.”

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Once connected, the clock numbers reappeared but the charger stayed red, even after an hour, then started to get warm. So I pulled the unit out of the bike and tried to charge it again on the workbench. Same thing.

The BMW needs a new battery.

It’s my own fault – I’m just not riding it enough. I’ve taken Terra Nova, the Yamaha, for our last four long-distance rides and occasionally to work. The BMW is just sitting there, waiting.

I replaced Endurance’s battery back in May, I think, with a low-end Yuasa from the local dealer and thought it would be sufficient. And now, through cold weather and prolonged inactivity, it’s expired.

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Like motorcycle tires, motorcycle batteries, the decent ones anyway, aren’t cheap. But you have to use them, otherwise the tires will crack and fail and the batteries will go dark.

So on our drive down to Myrtle Beach for comp-time vacation, we ended up stopping at Morton’s BMW in Fredericksburg where I bought an upper-range Odyssey. I’ll take it home and install it aboard the BMW with many apologies and a promise to take it out more this year.

First Ride of the Year

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It’s short, but this: I pulled the Dowco cover off Terra Nova this afternoon and took the bike out for the most mundane of reasons, a ride to the post office. But it was the first ride of the season, maybe 6-7 miles.

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Afterwards I filled the gas tank and added Sta-Bil. God knows what sort of weather is ahead.

Tomorrow I’ll do the same for Endurance and Linda’s scooters. I do miss riding.

Motorcycle travel