Back in the pre-Katrina days, I was an avid biker. I rode my bicycle everywhere, at any time, for any reason. I wasn’t crazy-over-the-moon about my bike in the way that hipsters seem to be, but I loved it. It was a blue Raleigh mountain bike that I spent a pretty penny on in college, and got some good use out of around New Orleans until 2005. I used to ride through deserted patches of the Garden District and Uptown in the middle of the night, breathing in the heady scent of jasmine, listening to jazz on my CD player (I hadn’t caught up with the whole digital craze yet), dreaming all kinds of big dreams. Then one day someone stole my tire, and not too long after that, I evacuated the city with a cat, a laptop, my photo albums, and an extra t-shirt. Like every other thing I owned in the entire world, what was left of my bike was left behind.
My story is not even close to as sad as that of inhabitants of half of the city. I lived in a part of town that didn’t flood. Sure, they broke both my doors in anyway, in search of left-behind pets (none there), but other than that my things were safe. All was well. Except. I left town with $30 in my pocket, and didn’t get a FEMA check. I didn’t go home to rural NC for fear of getting stuck there forever, and instead went to Chicago and slept on a friend’s couch. It was a month and a half until I was able to secure a job, money, food, and other than some much-needed assistance from my sainted grandparents, I was in bad shape. In the end, I couldn’t afford to make it back to New Orleans in time to claim my belongings before my landlord threw them out. She was nice about it, don’t get me wrong, but my life from 1999 to 2005 was tossed out on the street, including my bike. An old friend managed to save a few pieces of original art, my jewelry, and a few other odds and ends, everything that would fit in a small box that he could cart back to his temporary residence in New Jersey. I met up with him that Thanksgiving in Long Branch to pick up this tiny box of belongings, and ended up giving half of my jewelry away to another Katrina evacuee I had known for a few years. She left town with a few changes of clothes, but no baubles for dressing up, and it seemed only right to share. There’s nothing like something sparkly to cheer a girl up, after all.
I eventually moved back to New Orleans in 2006, with barely enough belongings to fit into the back seat of a rental car. In the time between then and when I moved away again in 2008, I never scraped up the cash to buy a bike, instead borrowing friends’ on occasion. By the time I got to Chicago, land of ice, snow, and terrifyingly busy intersections, I had forgotten what it felt like to ride free in the moonlight.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when my boyfriend, The Man, gave me a beautiful little vintage bicycle, candy apple red, complete with a basket and working lights on the front, rear, and wheels. I’ve ridden it a few times back and forth to the gym, and last weekend all the way to the French Quarter. I was scared of the traffic, but it turns out that there are actually bike lanes in the CBD now, and a year of defensive driving in Chicago has endowed me with nerves of steel for New Orleans biking. Tonight I rode it again, to the Marigny and back (about 6 miles in all), the cool breeze on my neck, the moon beaming down as if to say it has missed me all these years. I felt good, strong, capable in a way I haven’t felt for some time.
It’s nice to be home.