Not Dead Yet II: Still Not Dead!
September 1, 2000
After a futile attempt to pack the last of my belongings and still manage to leave at a reasonable time, I depart one day later than expected. The drive was uneventful. It was cool and damp, with spotty showers the entire day. Shortly outside Atlanta I put on my rain gear. I was quite pleased to find that I kept quite dry. I need to determine the source of an instability in the bike. It tends to weave at low speeds. I suspect that my gear and I weigh so much that my rear suspension is near bottoming out. I definately felt it bottom out on a few bumps.
My day ends in Montgomery, Alabama. I didn't have any trouble finding a cheap room here, even if it was the Labor Day weekend. Apparently Montgomery is the kind of town people leave on holiday weekends.
With not much else to relate, I thought I'd spend a moment explaining why I'm doing this again. At the end of my last trip I swore I'd never do this again. The raw spots on the back of my legs took two weeks to heal and it was painful to sit for three weeks after returning from my last trip. I had nightmares every night for over a week, where I was miles and miles from being home and I needed to get back. Sometimes I would wake up and not know where I was, what town, what motel room. So why would I want to do this again? It has to do with why I took the first trip. My marriage was in rough shape, and my wife needed some distance to sort things out. I spent much of the trip thinking about how to fix things and killing time until I said I would be back. Instead of focusing on what was around me, I was spending a lot of time inside of me. I didn't really enjoy the trip the way I should have. Now, my marriage over, my financial situation in decent shape, and my options completely open, I feel it appropriate to see if I can do it differently this time. I'll spend less time getting to my next destination and more time at that destination. I have no time schedule, only a general itinerary, and no issues weighing over me. I don't even have a place to live, so there's always the possibility I never reach my general intended destination, San Diego. So, relax, kick back, and enjoy my adventure onboard my iron horse.
September 2, 2000
The destination today is New Orleans. The Big Sleazy. I've got a pocketful of money and a itch for trouble. No real events on the way there, except the heat. Yesterday's clouds are long gone, replaced by fire in the sky. The air is thick and difficult to breathe. I carry a jug of water strapped to my canvas bag and it doesn't bring relief. The sealed container and road heat combine to make it warmer than the outside temperature. I make NO early afternoon and find the hostel I hope to stay at for the night. Between Labor Day and the sold out Saints home opener, I am concerned about having lodging. The heat is making it unsafe to attempt camping. I know from staying at the campground here before that in addition to the raw temperature the humidity is stifling. I need air conditioning. I am relieved to find that there is still room at the Marquette House, and I pay $20 for a bed. I'm one of four guys in the area, which is a small room that also serves as accessway for the rest of the building I am in. There are several buildings, of an unknown age. The facilities are adequate, and moderately clean. I unload and climb up into my bed, the top bunk. I nap briefly, woken fairly regularly by the sound of slamming doors. I know I'll need earplugs to get through the night. I shower and head out for a walk to the Walgreen's Pharmacy I saw on the way in, where I find earplugs and I go back. With that errand out of the way, I take the trolley into the French Quarter. I pass a temperature display - 98 at 6:30pm. The Quarter won't cool off much at that rate.
On the trolley ride, there is a stir on the other side. A few individuals start taking pictures out the window. I look out and on the second floor balcony of a building along the main road there are four or five guys in various levels of (un)dress. One middle aged male is prancing about in a G string bikini. He turns his back to the trolley and shakes his moon pies (they are way too big to call "bon-bons"). As he seems to be escalating his antics, I turn away to keep noting landmarks to find my way back at night on an unfamiliar route. A general chorus of gasps rises from the lookers and a couple of "I can't believe he did that" can be heard. The Big Sleazy. Come and be tittilated.
I debark from the trolley and head for the Quarter. I am hungry, and I figure a good meal of chicken and pasta will hit the spot. Dress seems particularly casual tonight, and I attribute the number of men walking around with no shirts on to the heat. Perhaps it is my lack of knowledge of the particular population percent with nipple rings, but it seems to me an unusually high number of men are sporting them. And many are in particularly good shape, with good stomach definition and large muscles. Not too many women, other than those traveling with a male companion. Almost no groups of females. Hmm. I notice a topless bar that was quite popular the last time I was here is closed. Odd. Nothing really appeals to me in the food department, so I grab a slice of pretty decent pizza. Water is free, which is amazing and a gift in the heat. The establishment across the way is displaying a "Welcome to the Southern Decadence Celebration" banner. A gay couple pass by, holding hands. I continue up Bourbon Street until I come to a large gathering of people, with some sort of small ruckus building. As is the custom in NO, there are a lot of people on balconies overlooking the gathering. Not one female among them. Too many guys to be a coincedence, and then I notice the composition of the crowd. All males, all in Daisy Duke shorts and shirtless. Ah. Well. Er. So "Southern Decadence" is a big gay get together, I gather. I thought that one group of women looked a little odd. Wow. What didn't I see, as far as dress goes? Thankfully, the one thing I didn't want to see, but other than that, everything went. There was the couple from the movie Road Warrior, you know, the pair where the one guy gets the metal boomerrang in the skull, with feathers and leather thongs. Rupaul imitators (and since he is a female impersonator, what does that make them?), Dolly Parton imitators, some guy dressed as Zorro (in full leather, remember the heat), some guy dressed as Satan, everybody from the Village People. Lots of nipple rings, lots of thongs, well, you get the picture.
I find a topless bar and wander in, hoping to offset some of the images. No one is in. One fully dressed girl is sitting at the bar yelling at the bouncer. I get a beer. I ask the bartender where the girls are. "On vacation. They don't make any money this weekend so they refuse to show up." No joke. I stuck my head in at least six bars and two had a few girls and the rest were deserted. Heh, heh, I guess I'll keep my money after all. I love irony.
I did go to a couple voodoo shops, looking for rings. I'm having no luck - apparently my fingers are thicker than the usual and so stuff most people would wear on ring fingers only fit my pinkies. I was going to get a palm reader from Madame Something, just to see if she knew I was coming, but a couple other people came in so I would ahve had to wait.
I wander down to the House of Blues and get a ticket to tonight's show. It's a couple of local bands with names so as to be clear as to the music. A couple is buying tickets ahead of me and there is a man and two women directly in front of me. The couple ask the three where a good place to sit is, and I politely say "Ma'am, this is a funk concert, we do not sit at a funk concert." That gets the three ahead of me laughing, and we exchange pleasantries. I go in and as there is a complete lack of people on the floor in front of the stage I go up to the stage and lean up against it. The three people I talked to earlier are several feet away but also at the stage. The first band up is the "The Soul Rebels", who are a brass hip-hop band extravaganza, as they describe themselves. Ought to be interesting, and I am not disappointed. An eight man band, complete with trombones, tuba, sax, and percussion, this is old school hip-hop, back when it was spelled "F-U-N-K," the mothership is landing, and they funked the house good. It was a little odd getting into music made by horns, but these guys knew their stuff and drew the audience in. Everybody was grooving.
At the break, I went to the restroom. When I came back, my place had been taken over by a young couple, so I retrieved my drink and moved toward the middle. The three people I talked to earlier struck up a conversation with me and introduced themselves as Carol, her husband Rick, and her best friend Ann. It wasn't long before Ann was practically shoved next to me. Carol said she knew I was a good person, so I guess she was trying to make sure Ann was with someone they could trust. It's a bit funny, that people will think someone with five earrings is a nice person. I decided not to mention the knife with a three inch blade that I carry with me. It must have been because I was drinking water that they assumed I was a nice guy. So I talked with Ann, or rather listened to her tell me she was a grandmother to a two month old baby three or four times, and and told her my name three or four times, each time she asked me. I think Ann subscribes to the "A perfect ten is a four and a six pack" theory and was making sure everyone she met was a ten or better. All the same, she did have a nice smile and was attractive (she was only around 40 or so, and I'm getting older each day). At one point she hugged me, which was nice, and then said something else unintelligible (it may have been the ringing in my ears from the first group). She dug through her purse and got out a box of Tictacs. She gave one to Carol, got one herself, and then gave one to me. She smiled at me and said I was really nice and hugged me again, then kissed me on the cheek, and then looked at me with really lazy eyes and kissed me on the lips. Well, that was a surprise, but hey, I'm out to have fun, and so what if I'm being picked up by someone's grandmother? My alternative is a dorm room with a bunch of guys.
The next band, "The Funky Meters", started almost immediately and they definately knew how to get down. A four man band, they came out loud and had the groove line going in no time. They clearly had a large following and it was a good crowd, with the exception of one individual who just had to be next to me. Tall and fat, the guy thought he had some connection to the band and kept trying to get their attention. The guitarist recognized him and acknowledged him. This encouraged him. He spent each song break yelling for a particular song and after an hour or so got his request. He was drinking liquor, but I began to suspect he was abusing something on the illegal side. A bit too irrational. As the concert went on he became more and more animated, and a bit beligerent toward the band. At one point he threw his cup of ice at the bassist. Interesting. I tried to keep my distance and dance some more with Ann. She indicated she had to go to the bathroom, and maybe I should have gone with her, but hey, I wanted to hear the band. Twenty minutes later she made it back, and ever notice how some people look after they've thrown up? They get all squinched up in the face and that's how Ann looked. Like I said, she had the "ten" part of the equation handled all by herself. She didn't acknowledge me, which I attributed to her having forgotten she had met me, and indicated to her friends that she didn't feel good. She leaned up against the stage and passed out, unable to fall either way because I was on her left and Carol was on her right. Carol pushed her over to Rick, who held her up from behind, with an unusual technique that required his hands to be above where one would apply the Heimlich maneuver. After a few minutes of discussing between themselves Carol and Rick said they would be back and managed to get Ann alert enough to walk out. I kept dancing. Rick and Carol did make it back, and told me Ann was sleeping it off. I bet she doesn't tell her grandchildren about that evening. The jerk who was rowdy slammed into Carol a couple times and Rick had to push him off a couple times. I guess it was a little after 1 am and I was noticing the band was getting louder, to the point of definately impacting my hearing. I stuck around until 1:30am, and said goodbye to Rick and Carol, who was starting to look like her friend Ann did after she came back from the bathroom. I went to the restroom before leaving and saw the two leaving as well. Neither looked like they were having any fun anymore. I felt pretty good. I must have had seven, maybe eight glasses of water, and was only slightly tired.
I went back up to where the trolley had let me off and wondered how long it would be before another one came along. I waited a bit, and then I decided to start walking back along the route. When I had gotten it earlier, the trolley was running about every five minutes. I waited longer than that and didn't see any on this route or the adjoining routes. I suspected that they stopped running after a certain time and I was on my own. I knew it wasn't that far, but I leery of walking in New Orleans at 1:30am. Oh well, I've got my knife and what's a trip without some fun? It was uneventful until I stopped into a convenience store and bought some milk for a late bowl of cereal. After that it looked like I was carrying a bag of something alcoholic, which got more attention from the individuals still out. Only one guy said anything to me and I was pretty firm that I didn't have anything to share and he stayed away. I guess it took me around 30 minutes to get back to the hostel. Between the walk and the cereal it was 2:15am before I got to bed, and while I was the last in my area to get to bed, I wasn't the last in the building to come in. After being woken up twice I put the earplugs in and slept soundly until 9am.
September 3, 2000
All I can say is that having danced for three hours sweating the whole time the night before and not leaving until 11am is not a good idea when traveling by motorcycle through an area that is breaking 100 degrees with ease. I didn't make it far, maybe 150 miles, before I called it a day. I am reminded of how the Eskimos have 27 different words for snow, and a tribe in the Sahara has 9 different names of winds. In the US, we should have 10 or 12 different words for the heat. Sometimes, in the South, it is just the mid 90's, and we can say something like "oh, it's a bit warm today." Throw in some humidity, and we say "it's a hot one." Then there is the heat in Central Valley, California, which is a desert but has massive irrigation so one gets 105 with high humidity. People call that "miserable." Don't forget Death Valley, where it feels like you're cooking as you stand somewhere in the shade. That's just called "deadly." But what do we call the thick unbreatheable air of the Bayou in Louisiana, or the blistering heat in Western Mississippi? The closest I can come is "Fuck, this is unbelievable." I've only worn my blue jean jacket during the summer heat on a trip two times before. Once was in the Panhandle of Florida, where it was 105 with a searing sun, and the other time was in Death Valley, when the faster I went the hotter I got and I needed the shield from the 125 degree inferno that left blisters on any skin I left exposed. I wore my jacket again, a concession to the searing sun that left me merely holding on to my handlebars instead of controlling it. All I could do was twist the throttle and cover some more miles, hoping for a town large enough to have a motel that I could stop and take shelter in.
I should note that I've left the interstates and I'm now traveling north along what is known as "The Great River Road," a network of two lane roads that parallel the Mississippi River. It is scenic, as there are antebellum houses with magnolia entrances, but the heat forces me to not stop. Towns are sparse along the road. It is tough out here. I can't see any industry, just living. Amazingly, and terrifyingly, I see houses with windows open. The road is blacktop, which absorbs the sun's rays, and there is a crosswind that would make Santa Ana winds seem like a cool breeze. Cars pass me and the heat off of them is painful. The heat is making it hard to think, and when I stop for gas my heart is pounding and I see spots. I get some cold water and rest for a moment. I exhibit inhuman patience when a guy somes up to me and says "You got quite a load there," and only say "Yep," instead of the more rude responses going through my head. I'm sure his skills in observation were quite handy, as I had clearly missed noticing the 70 pound bag on my gas tank and the 40 pounds of knapsack and gear on my back.
I make it to Natchez, Mississippi. I have redness on the inside of my shins, not from exposure to the sun but from the heat coming off the road. My feet are red in two places, where my sneakers have heated up. I find a cheap motel, unpack, shower, and go get lunch, at around 3pm, with a temp of 104. I get back to my room and fall asleep for four hours. I have a choice, either sleep or try to rehydrate. I'm not thirsty when I'm asleep, so sleep wins.
September 4, 2000
I'm in no shape to travel. My walking is more staggering than anything else. I check the weather and see that my path leads me into an area with 110 degree heat indices. The forecast is for the heat to break Wednesday. I elect to rest today, and drink as much water as I can stand to. I need to get some supplies, and do laundry (ok, I cheat here; the motel facility is broken so they do it for me for $3). I have one more day of hot weather travel and then I'll meet a cold front somewhere around Tennessee. The rest is doing me good, and my body will adjust to the rigors of travel.
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