As I turned into New Orleans City Park via Harrison Avenue last Sunday, I noticed some people setting up near one of the softball fields. They had a table overflowing with foil-covered containers of food. There were ice chests and grills; it looked like they were going to be there for a while.
It was 10:15 a.m., so this surprised me.
Since I returned to riding my bicycle in July after a hiatus of about five years, I try to get in at least 10 miles every time I go out. At my current pace, something I’m working to improve, I know about how long it will take me to log in at least that distance. So, I left my house early enough that morning to make sure I’d be home in time for the Saints’ noon kickoff.
I was surprised that the people getting ready for a long day at the park weren’t interested in getting home for the game as well. Remember, this was Sunday morning, a now seemingly faraway time when we still believed the Saints could turn their season around.
I heard one of the players in uniform shouting for a friend who had just pulled his pickup into the parking lot across from the ballfield. I detected a Latino accent, which would probably explain why he wasn’t much interested in the Saints.
Recent arrivals from countries where baseball is still hot and “football” refers to a different sport don’t quickly catch our infectious and often heartbreaking homegrown disease, Saints fever.
Back in the previous century, when Honda was known in America only for its motorcycles, it had a catchy advertising slogan: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” Reworking that, I’d say you see the most interesting things on a bicycle. Unless you’re pedaling at Tour de France speeds — not an issue for me — you have time to look at the things around you. Not enclosed inside your vehicle, you get a much better sensory feel for the world you’re passing through.
My cycling is confined to newer parts of the city. By newer, I mean areas that weren’t developed until after World War II. This puts me on broader, usually smoother, streets where there isn’t a lot of traffic, unlike the tighter confines of the streets Uptown or in the French Quarter. I know I miss a lot by not getting into the older parts of town, but there’s still much to see where I ride.
Just a few yards down Harrison from the softball diamonds are the soccer fields. These, too, were busy Sunday morning. I got only a quick glance at the players as I rode by, but they also appeared to be a testament to the multi-ethnic city New Orleans has once again become.
When you ride through City Park, you ride over bridges that were built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The park also abounds with sculptures by Enrique Alfèrez, a Mexico-born artist who had served under Pancho Villa and spent most of his life in New Orleans.
There’s Roosevelt Mall, named after President Franklin Roosevelt, whose administration created the WPA. It is lined with heavy concrete markers topped by eagles. Lots of New Orleans teenagers learned how to drive on that wide, quiet roadway.
On my way home I finally got to see the house where former Mayor Ray Nagin once lived near Bayou St. John. I had long heard about its unusual amber-ashtray exterior décor. It’s not Historic Register material, for sure, but just another interesting sight you can find if you take the time.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.