Sunday, May 16, 2010

Parking on neutral ground

I've lived through a couple of New England hurricanes, the most recent was spent in Newport, RI in the eighties.  People boarded up or taped their windows, gathered in officially designated central locations, and the National Guard was called out.  When I looked out my window in New Orleans this morning it looked just like that hurricane.  A crack of thunder woke me up and the trees were blowing every which way with sheets of rain pouring down from a Heaven indifferent to creature comfort.

The thunderstorm, apparently nothing to speak of hereabouts, broke and threatened to resume, spattered a bit and poured a few more fits throughout the day.  During a lull, I took the motorcycle out and when I reached an intersection I saw cars parked up willy nilly on the median.  In New Orleans, they call a road's median the "neutral ground."  The neutral ground can be as thin as a sandwich or wider than all the opposing lanes put together.  Sometimes it is park land with sidewalks winding between palm trees or southern oaks.  Sometimes it's just a grassy expanse.  On some streets, it's where the streetcars run past joggers and bicyclists who clear the track at the sound of the wheels against the rails.

When I saw the cars parked up on the neutral ground, I thought there had been an accident but nobody was paying much attention.  It dawned on me.  I called out to a passing dog walker, "They put their cars here because of the rain, didn't they?"  She smiled.  "Yes," she said, "This street floods.  It was raining hard this morning."
I passed through some flooded streets.  At one point the water came over my feet on the Little Ninja's pegs and I cut through the water with a sluice that crested over the gas tank.  Being one of the smaller vehicles on the roadway is nice because on quiet side streets I just took to the sidewalk and avoided the whole mess.

The Little Ninja didn't like plowing through deep water.  It never stalled but it was hesitant to keep idling if I had to stop.  I kept goosing the throttle keeping the rpms around 2000.  At 1000 the engine turned sputtery and cranky like a faithful dog that's been sent into a cold pond to fetch a ball when it doesn't want to play.

The Little Ninja is becoming crankier the longer it spends on New Orleans' streets.  It is developing disturbing rattles and tics.  The low beam of the head light burned out today but that is probably due to age than the constant jostling over uneven pavement.  I have to admit that my joints are shaken to gel and I'm developing a bit of shock fatigue in my shoulders.  I've also developed a resigned air when I turn a corner to be greeted by a craggy expanse of pockmarked asphalt.  Again?  Oh well.  There's nowhere else to go but forward.

Is Magazine Street picturesque because of its many small shops or because of the state of it's pavement?  I admit the slow speed required to navigate this rough thoroughfare enhances enjoying the scenery.  It's not just Magazine Street, Prytania is the same as are just about any side street and many of the avenues (Tulane, Loyola, Carrolton...).

New Orleans is a beautiful city and a rough one.  It delivers shocks at every turn.  There is the shock of the new and the shock of the old.

2 comments:

Sean said...

to live in New Orleans is to live with a certain embrace of decay as a natural fact of life. Food, drink, and parades are the concern of the day. That tree growing through your roof or the potholes large enough to swallow entire vehicles...they'll be there tomorrow to tend to if not today. Somehow, this works, this makes sense when you're there; even if your natural disposition is such as mine, always thinking about how to improve things...

Sure one could improve a great deal of New Orleans, but you genuinely enjoy the state of disrepair there as its not quite the same as abandonment in NOLA...

Whalehead King said...

Well said.

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