After all that gun play, I needed a snack and the Pint Size Bakery had good reviews on the internets so I headed over. This is where I met Naomi who was working the counter and an absolute ray of sunshine. Originally from Vermont, she described herself as a 'traveller' and was actually getting ready to head to New Orleans in a few weeks with her boyfriend. Turns out, she'd been all over North America, more places than me in fact, and it's just a shame that the cafe was busy and I didn't have more time to hear her story but it goes to show that you never where someone else has been, or what their backstory is until you ask them.
St. Louis and especially it's northern suburbs and neighbouring East St. Louis is one of the most violent areas of the United States. Given the nature of my trip, I thought that it only made sense that I experience this part of the culture and went to a gun range for the first time. Although I seem to have a degree of aptitude in shooting things, I failed to see the attraction of putting holes in a piece of paper and still do not understand how easy access to firearms makes us safer.
Eventually at the baseball game, I decided to sit in my actual seat which being the cheapest ticket I could buy was in the nosebleeds. Despite the game not being competitive, a lot of the fans in my section stayed until the very end, and they all seemed to know the usher Richard, giving him hugs and high-fives on the way out. When I talked to him at the end of the game, he told me 'we're like a family every summer, and I look forward to every game'. He seemed like a genuinely sweet dude.
Arrived in St. Louis just in time to catch a Cardinals game. Unlike Toronto, most American ballparks will have designated 'concourse' or 'standing room' only area's that have incredible views of the field, and even the cheapest ticket has access to these areas. That's where I met William, a lifelong Cards fan, devout Christian and absolute music nerd. We talked about our mutual love of southern gospel influenced soul music, as well as semi-obscure Texas singer songwriters and the Drive By Truckers. I joked that i wouldn't ask him about politics, but he didn't hesitate to let me know that as a Christian, Trump was doing the opposite of what he believed in. You know what, I really liked William, I never felt a sense that he believed his views were superior to anyone else's, and I appreciated and noticed that he seemed to genuinely want to hear my perspective as a commie heathen Canadian biker. We both agreed that universal health care rocked.
Almost like the once ubiquitous Chinese-Canadian family restaurants that seemed to be a staple of small town Ontario, it seemed the one constant I could count on, was being able to find an independent latino family owned and operated Tex-Mex restaurant within a reasonable drive of wherever I was. This spot wasn't anything out of the ordinary, which means that it was still pretty damn delicious. The places always seemed busy, and the clientele was almost always racially mixed. The duality and dissonance between the reality I'd see in these places each day, and the narrative on the news (often playing above the bar) was never lost on me.
After a pretty long ride straight through Arkansas, I wanted to hopefully pick up a few twisty backroads so I hung a right and ended up in Kimmswick. As I was rolling through, I saw the old truck in the background as well as a sign for a bike shop and figured I'd pull in. Unfortunately, the shop was closed, and just as I was about to pull away, Brian pulled in with a bike in his trailer that he needed safetied. He was surprised that I wasn't "packing" despite my plans to visit St. Louis, and when I asked him if he was, his response was "more than one." I told him that I couldn't imagine a life where I always felt I had to carry a gun with me, and he told me he couldn't imagine living in a place where that wasn't allowed.
I barely made it to the gas station, running hard on empty. Just as I pulled in, Devo pulled up beside me with her kids to also get some gas. We said 'hi' and she asked where I was from, when I told her that I was from Canada she seemed surprised that I'd ridden my bike all the way from there as the furthest she'd been north was Memphis. I told her that she might have some trouble crossing the border with her ride, and she told me not to worry as it was too cold in Canada anyways.
When I left New Orleans, my goal was to make it to the famed crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Purportedly this was where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for otherworldly guitar skills, and is considered to be the birthplace of blues music. While I'm not sure about all that, it was pretty neat to pull into the crossroads on an almost bone-dry tank in the nick of time as the sun went down.
"Standin' at the crossroad, baby, risin' sun goin' down" - Robert Johnson
Back in NOLA, an old biker named "Pops" couldn't believe that I didn't know about 'the trace', and insisted that I ride it for a bit. I'm glad I took his advice as it was absolute heaven to ride on a beautiful early summer day. Thanks Pops!
Was feeling hungry and love Mexican food (not to mention that it's usually South Americans who own and work in these spots in the US, and I want to support them as well), so when I saw El Sombrero I knew I had to pull in. The place was full, and it seemed that everyone knew everyone else. I asked for Horchata and the staff was surprised that a white dude knew what it was and asked for it. When I told them I was from Canada, the first thing they said was 'Trudeau!', and we both laughed after they said it. What struck me most was how diverse the patrons were, and how it seemed each time someone came in they had to say hello to pretty much everyone. Diaz, who became a citizen a few years ago; "this is my country, this is my family." The food was pretty damn good too.
I pulled into this gas station to fill up and met the Williamses, who were fuelling up their ATV's. They explained that it was too expensive for them to insure and register regular car's, and an ATV could be ridden on public roads without a plate or tags so long as you had a license. Although they all voted for Trump, they seemed disillusioned that things were getting better for them "it's the same old shit, no one's looking out for us and they are all liars". I wished them a good day, and they gave me a "God Bless You" - I told them that I wished prayers could pay the bills and we all had a chuckle.
It was time to leave New Orleans, so I took the longest continuous over water bridge across Lake Pontchartrain towards Mississippi. It was a beautiful day, and there was something undeniably cool about twisting the throttle, surrounded by water staring at a massive horizon with nothing but a sliver of concrete to prevent catastrophe.
Sometimes you have to book a hotel room at 11 pm on a Saturday night in New Orleans, in the French Quarter during Cinco de Mayo. Love makes you do crazy things I guess. If you are in this situation, Kourtney is definitely the person that you want to see on the other side of the counter. "The things I've seen and stories I could tell you working this job, man I could write a book." I'm going to go ahead and believe her.
As my trip was about rekindling my love of pinball and music after a pretty tough year, it made sense to build my trip around this show. Not only has Ryan Adam's music been a constant through my adult life, but he is a fellow pinhead to boot. Backed by a ridiculously loaded band featuring the creme de la creme of New Orlean's musicians, Adam's covered the Rolling Stone's Exile on Main St. from cover to cover at a one-off show in a historic New Orlean's theatre. While the show started poorly due to the poor sound quality in the cheap seats, I snuck down to the front of the stage half-way through the show and had an incredible experience.
My wife and her two friends just happened to be in New Orleans at the same time, so we grabbed dinner at Red's Chinese. An Asian/Southern fusion restaurant. The food was great, but the company was better and I'm somewhat envious of the close supportive circle of friends that my partner runs with. It was great to see the three of them, and really helped with the occasional bout of homesickness that I was feeling.
Almost 13 years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans still bears the scars of that event. You see it in the still abandoned homes nestled beside refurbished ones, the water lines permanently seared into the sides of buildings and the FEMA X's that will still show up from time to time as a silent witness to the horrors discovered inside the structure when rescuers finally showed up. From the top moving clockwise is the date that the home was searched, any dangers that may have lay inside, the number of bodies found and finally the code for the rescue crew. This particular X was directly across the street from where I was staying.
Walking through the neighbourhood I was staying at, I was pretty impressed by the bling on this dude's sweet whip.
This is America.
Being in NOLA, you're supposed to go to the French Quarter, and I did. Well I walked through it mid-day on Cinco De Mayo, and that was an adequate experience for me. The placed smelled like baked in vomit and booze, and other than the folks working jobs and the panhandlers, I'm not sure that there were that many folks I'd actually want to hang out with. A fever dream of the worst excesses from the end of the American empire, populated by those entitled enough to believe that they had earned their debauchery. I did manage this photo of a 2nd line parade walking through the rain.
Walking through downtown New Orleans, I walked past this tap dancer doing his thing well before lunch. I let him know that I dug his custom AF-1 tap shoes, threw a fiver in his bucket and got his ok to take a photo. I like how it turned out, but there isn't much more to the story than that.