SPONTANEOUS MINI-PARADES OF UNDETERMINED ROUTE
‘Social rides’ such as the bike parade I joined for my first Chewbacchus adventure are popular occurrences in New Orleans. A social ride is where group of people take to the streets with decked out bicycles, often in costume, for mini-parades of undetermined route, blocking traffic along the way. Why? In New Orleans, the answer is always Why not?
I had been aspiring for a while to join in on a ride, my appetite whetted by the Chewbacchus parade, when friend and long-time reader, Ann, sent me a link to the Crescent City Cruzers Facebook page. My initial attempts to meet them, though, though were thwarted for a month by rain and other plans, so when I drove back from Florida one Thursday in mid-October I told myself I had to suck it up and hit the pocked pavement after my nine-hour drive. During October CCC was meeting at Armstrong Park for the Jazz in the Park series, and I was looking forward to seeing Jon Cleary that night, but once I unpacked and hit the couch, my motivation dissolved. I’d gotten up early after getting to bed late, but it was a beautiful Autumn night so I told myself I’d be glad once I pushed through the exhaustion. I certainly, though, wasn’t going to bike all the way from my home about as far Uptown you can get with dry feet all they way to the French Quarter, so tossed my bike in my truck telling myself I could just drive back if I didn’t perk up by music’s end.
THE HUMILIATION OF NOT ACTING LIKE A CLOWN
I didn’t realize there was a weekly theme as I rolled up, but I assumed the group of people dressed like clowns with bikes strung with lights and gaudy, wonderful Halloween decorations had to be the Cruzers. As I made my way through the crowd introducing myself, I soon found organizers Ritchie & Mindy, who brought the concept with them from another city. They were welcoming, as was the rest of the group, though I had a mountain bike instead of decked out cruiser and wasn’t dressed like a clown. It was one of those odd moments where you feel self-conscious for not standing out and , well, acting like a clown.
THURSDAY: A GOOD (ENOUGH) REASON TO DRESS UP & CELEBRATE IN NOLA
As the music wound down, the group circled up and headed for a winding route through Marigny and Bywater, Ritchie with a small boom box strapped to his bike leading the way while someone at the back pulled a large, bass-thumping set of speakers on wheels. It was an easy pace, with lead riders stopping traffic at major intersections, as we wove through neighborhoods yelling “Happy Thursday!” That’s why I love New Orleans. Even Thursday is reason to celebrate, and most drivers were patient and unphased as a bunch of clowns on bikes passed.
The only hitch came when Mimi and Matt, the latter who actually teaches clowning skills to firemen for addressing fire safety to children, caught up with the group after being accidentally left behind attending to someone with a flat. Mimi is a spunky little clown and once she let her frustration be known, we proceeded to a park where several riders took side trip to Pizza Delicious (more for beer than pizza), and then we ended at R Bar where things unceremoniously petered out.
HOW TO GET YOUR NOT-REALLY RACIST ASS RUN OVER IN CENTRAL CITY
The next week was exactly one week before Halloween and this time, armed with knowledge, I was stoked about the ghost theme. For years I’d wanted to dress like Charlie Brown in the Great Pumpkin with a bag or rocks and sheet full of too many holes, but my friend Jen Dew, who’s party was the one annual socially acceptable occasion for dressing up in Jacksonville (as opposed to, say, Thursday in New Orleans), enforced an annual theme like the Great Pumpkin Soup Nazi and my idea never fit under her annual umbrella. With years of pent-up giddy immaturity, I raced to Wal-Mart where I spent an hour choosing the best bit of cloth I could find (they were sold out of white single sheets! Oh my NOLA!) and picked up a six pack of Rolling Rock. Racing back home, I gleefully cut holes in the sheet and filled a trick-or-treat bag with the beer—my bag full of ‘Rocks.’
It was already dark as I raced down St. Charles toward Downtown. My costume shopping caused me to miss the music, and I would be cutting it close just to make the ride. As I raced along, I was ignored by most—which is expected in this city where a ghost with a bike helmet strapped on is a minor oddity—but, surprisingly, found myself getting dirty looks, especially by African-American pedestrians. By the time I passed by Central City approaching Calliope and the 90 West overpass, the looks were getting discomforting. Suddenly a driver pulled up behind me honking his horn and flipping me off for several blocks until I feared he was going to run me down. Suddenly it occurred to me that driving past the roughest neighborhood in New Orleans with a sheet over my head wasn’t the wisest choice. Apparently they don’t watch Charlie Brown in ‘The Hood.’
DEFILED BY CHARLIE BROWN (OR CHRISTENED BY THE HOLY GHOST)
Fortunately I made it to Armstrong Park on time where suddenly I fit in and didn’t feel like a closet bigot. The objective of this ride was to check out decorations Uptown, and as I was well on the way to compiling my list of best decorated houses, I gave Ritchie some suggestions as we headed out. (Though this was the ride where he introduced me to the amazing projection house on Magazine.)
Traveling in a group made the ghost theme more obvious, and, though I got a few “Are you the Holy Ghost?”s, a few people even picked up on the Charlie Brown motif and were rewarded with a Rock. My nerves were still shaken, though, from being mistaken for a straggling David Duke supporter, so I hit my bag of Rocks a little too enthusiastically. By the time we neared the ‘Punnest House in New Orleans,’ nearly all the way back to Audubon Park, my bladder was about to explode.
Although public urination is a sure-fire way to get arrested in New Orleans, I figured on a deserted neighborhood street this far Uptown on a Thursday I was safe. Slowing down to let stragglers past, I waited until we were on a dark street—there were a surprising number of them—and stopped behind a parked truck. The street was deserted at a glance, but as I sighed in relief I heard voices, looking up to see a group of people hanging out on the porch on the corner. Our eyes met through my sheet and they went silent, sneering at Charlie Brown defiling their neighborhood. I was already committed, so just waved, suddenly glad to be wearing my sheet. As I hopped back on my bike and raced to catch up, they yelled at my receding white form.
BECOMING ONE WITH THE PARADE OF ECCENTRICITY
Of course the group waited until I fell back to change streets, but I found them with the help of a few friendly porch dwellers. (I guess it was kind of obvious with whom I belonged.) As we arrived at the ‘Bone House’ as it is popularly referred to, a group of tourist were gathered as the Cruzers socialized in front of the most popularly decorated house in the city. I soon said my goodbyes and headed home, not about to do another lap of Uptown, especially alone in my sheet.
But if you’re in town and looking for something fun, social, and different to do on a Thursday night, you can look up the Crescent City Cruzers on Facebook to find where they’re meeting for their weekly 8:00 ride. It warms the soul to ride around in costume yelling “Happy Thursday” to people on porches and sidewalks. Locals smile and tourists feel like they’ve witnessed something spontaneous and unique. (Little do they know!) Personally, I find it a rush to go from outside admirer of NOLA weirdness to being a part of the show.
And speaking of weirdness, the next ride would be Halloween night, and as you can expect, things took a strange and unexpected turn. In New Orleans, the only thing you can truly expect is the unexpected!