Thanksgiving. Buccaneer State Park to New Orleans.
When traveling, it’s amazing how fast your surroundings can change. Even on a blue bicycle.
So far on my bike trip I had been too busy to really miss my family and friends. At times, I wished I had someone to talk to, and I thought about my friends a lot. But I was always so busy with packing, unpacking, pedaling and exploring that I didn’t have time to think about home.
I couldn’t help thinking about what my family was doing on Thanksgiving. I knew that my cousins and family were all together celebrating and playing the traditional games of four square. I was by myself in a campground in Mississippi.
The only solution was to push on to New Orleans, where I assumed I would find a hostel full of familyless fellow travelers.
I rode hard all morning, hoping to get to New Orleans in time to find some Thanksgiving food. Or at least an oyster po’ boy. By noon, after riding through rural coastline and bayous all morning, I was finally getting close to the city. I road across Lake Ponchatrain on highway 90 and stopped for lunch at a taco truck. A few miles west I stopped at a gas station to buy a map. There were 20 people standing outside the gas station dancing to hip hop. Some of them were shining their rims. The inside of the store was tiny. Most of what they sold was behind the counter, which was separated from the store by steel bars that ran from the floor to the ceiling, expect for little a window by the cash register.
I asked the surly clerk if they had maps and he replied “$5.99.” I told him I wanted to see it first and he handed over a map of the city. I bought it and rode off. I wasn’t on the map yet, but shortly after I started passing roads that were on the far east side of the map.
While riding through the rural south, I could always find somewhere to pee. I drank water all day and it was nice to take a short break from sitting on my bike seat, so I peed a lot. Now that I was on the edge of New Orleans and already surrounded by people and pavement, I realized I had trained myself to pee when at the first inkling of irritation in my bladder.
A few years ago I almost pissed myself in San Francisco. I was wandering the mission district when the urge struck. There were signs everywhere that said “restrooms for customers only.” When I couldn’t wait any longer I went into a shop with one of those signs. I smiled at the cashier, but I didn’t bother to ask if I could use the restroom. It was too late for that – I was going to use it either way. From the beer aisle of the store I could see back into the storage room. In one corner of the room there was a door standing partway open, revealing some shiny porcelain. I went straight for it, locked the door behind me and began relieving myself.
Before I finished, the cashier was yelling and pounding on the door. I did my best to ignore him. When I finished peeing, I went out and apologized. He yelled a little and tried to explain why he didn’t let people into his bathroom. I think the answer had something to do with his close proximity to Mission Dolores Park, but it didn’t make sense to me. I apologized again and bought a cup of coffee as a peace offering.
I knew it would take some creativity to keep this from happening in New Orleans. I was already nearing an emergency and I had just gotten into the city. It took some discrete maneuvering, but I managed to relieve myself while still straddling my bicycle and pretending to read a map. If you’re interested in this topic, watch this video.
There were tourists everywhere as I pedaled through the French Quarter of New Orleans. I wanted to unload my bags for some unencumbered exploring. I pedaled up and down Bourbon Street, dodging horse-drawn carriages on my loaded steed. Then I went down Royal Street and St. Charles Avenue towards a hostel. I got to the hostel at 3 p.m. A sign on the door said the office was closed until 5, so I went back out with my bike.
I spent the next couple hours exploring the touristy French Quarter, hanging out by the Mississippi River, and reading in a park. I loved New Orleans so far. It had almost everything that I missed in the rural South – Musicians and artists performing on the street, young and attractive people, flowers hanging from balconies, black cats roaming the street and voodoo.
I came back to the Hostel at 5 p.m. Two other guys were already waiting outside the door – an Australian guy and a Japanese guy. After a few minutes, two really drunk middle-aged guys appeared. I gave them $20 and they gave me a key and the more able of the drunk guys showed me where I was staying. They kept apologizing for being so drunk. They blamed their drunkenness on Thanksgiving and said us foreigners don’t respect their holidays. I suspected they were actually just alcoholics.
There were piles of Thanksgiving leftovers in the kitchen, so I gorged myself on turkey, sweet potatoes and green beans. After thoroughly stuffing myself, I went back out to explore New Orleans.