The Algerian

ACROSS THE Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans is an area called Algiers, and I lived there for a while. Following is a true story that I published online years ago, but I like it still, so here it is again. I first wrote it in the third person, so I’ve left it that way, but the “he” is me.

* * * *

He downed four cold Dixies in the bar on Canal Street during his lunch break as the sun pounded the pavement outside. It was sticky summertime.

Fortified, he rode the black BSA back to the office and bid the boss goodbye. Four years at the desk were quite enough.

But he still had to eat. You can’t dodge that.

Yellow Cab hired him for the early shift, leaving him work-free by mid-afternoon. He always walked the heat-cracked sidewalk to a close-by tavern from his shotgun duplex on Verret Street. It was Algiers Point, a ferry ride across the murky Mississippi.

Every afternoon he sat in that bar inhaling cold Pearls and quail eggs, blowing the taxicab tips.  The air-conditioning was terrific.

The duplex was dusty, stuffy and sparsely furnished. A table and two chairs adorned the kitchen. A fridge chilled cold cuts and gin. The ceiling was old pressed tin, and the windows were very tall.

There were two rockers on the front porch for air and a mattress on the bedroom floor. That completed the Louisiana decór.

A wanderer girlfriend visited now and then. She was eye-bogglingly beautiful and sat cross-legged on the floor in the darkness combing her long blonde hair as Leonard Cohen sang Suzanne.

(He ran into her again a few years later at a news stand. She was Easyrider magazine’s cover girl. A photo spread inside showed her half naked dancing atop the bar in a tavern somewhere in the Gila Desert of southwestern Arizona.)

Two months later a call came from the Caribbean. A better job. And soon after, the BSA swayed in the hold of a Sealand freighter churning toward San Juan in the Antilles.

And he was flying high, skirting the Bermuda Triangle and sipping a cuba libre the silky stewardess had sold him.

A first step into America Latina.

The City of Angels adventure

(Note: It’s advisable to read the previous post, The New York City Adventure, before reading this one.)

* * * *

GETTING OFF the Greyhound bus from New York City, there I was in Nashville, Hillbilly Heaven, and where my parents had relocated three years earlier.

My father picked me up at the bus station, drove me back to their apartment, phoned my mother where she was working, and said: Brace yourself.

Those very words.

I soon had a job at a small firm that refurbished mattresses. I and another guy would drive a truck to homes and pick up tatty mattresses that would be cleaned and returned to the owners. I worked there just long enough to save money for another Greyhound ticket, back to California.

My parents were still bracing themselves when I headed west again.

The ride from Nashville was not quite so long as the earlier trip from Los Angeles to New York, but it was a long haul nonetheless. Only a few months had passed.

I got off the bus in downtown Los Angeles, and a friend from the Air Force met me. I quickly found a studio apartment in Santa Monica and a job parking cars in a Beverly Hills lot. Things went downhill fast, economically and emotionally.

Just a few weeks later, I was broke. And living in Los Angeles without a car ain’t no cakewalk. I phoned my parents and asked for bus fare. Soon I was back on a Greyhound heading east to Nashville.

Shortly after my return, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, but that did not last long. Nothing lasted long for me in those times.

My parents were in Nashville because my father was working on The Tennessean newspaper. Within a year after my second return, my parents moved to New Orleans. I jumped into the Rambler’s back seat, going along for the ride.

New Orleans. Now that was a place where I felt at home.

For 18 years.

Two wives, one divorce, two (almost three) degrees, the newspaper business, bars, motorcycles, airplanes, raw oysters, Dixie Beer, crawfish and ketchup, hangovers, Mardi Gras … and even more Dixie Beer. It was a city that suited me.

Up in the sky

SUNDAY WAS the final installment of a three-day, hot-air balloon festival in our mountaintop town.

I shot this brief video from our upstairs terraza.

The airport, and that’s using the term loosely, rests on the edge of my neighborhood on the outskirts of town. It’s a dirt strip that goes virtually unused all year.

There is a hangar there, and a DC-9 without wings on display. A funny story that. The DC-9 was brought here on a massive flatbed tractor-trailer some years back.

It had almost completed the trip when it had to make a right turn from one highway to a lesser road just three blocks from the Hacienda. There is an incline to the roadbed and, halfway around the curve, the jet fell off the trailer.

It rolled briefly toward a carnitas stand about 20 feet away. I imagine those seconds were endless to the crew cutting carnitas. It’s not often you see a DC-9 rolling your way.

The jet was hoisted back upon the trailer and continued the short distance to our airport where it now lives.

The hangar there, the DC-9 and, previously, an ultralight service is owned by some well-off individual. The ultralight service has gone out of business due to lack of, well, business.

Once I drove over there to inquire about learning to fly ultralights, something I never got around to, and the fellow let me go inside the DC-9, which was lots of fun.

I have a private-pilot’s license though I haven’t used it since the 1970s. It never expires. I also took a number of sailplane lessons in Central Texas, but I never got that license either.

There’s something a bit unnerving about being up in a plane with no means of propulsion whatsoever.

I skydived once in Louisiana, and I went up in a hot-air balloon once in Texas. Giving my mother near heart attacks apparently was an unconscious, lifetime goal.

And then there were the motorcycles.

She’s dead now, so I’ve quit doing all that stuff.

My father could not have cared less.

* * * *

(Promo! For those of you who have not recently visited — or never have — my SlickPic photos, there is a new look and new photos. The SlickPic Gallery is where you’ll find gobs of photos of the Hacienda through the years, our Cuba visit in 2012, photos of the Downtown Casita (available on AirBnB), my art furniture, Mexico in general and, last but not least, a blow by blow — photo-wise — of the construction of our free-standing pastry kitchen.)

The yearning biker

AS MENTIONED a time or two in the past, I’ve been hankering for a motorcycle. This hankering started last year, and I wrote about it in the appropriately titled Geezer Dreams.

I came perilously close to buying a bike, but common sense prevailed. I’m no spring chicken, and I’m enjoying life too much to jeopardize it for a few cheap thrills.

The dream still erupts occasionally, and I tamp it down.

I considered Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki, all of which are sold in Mexico. There are dealers for the three makes down the mountainside in the capital city.

I also seriously considered Italika, which is the largest-selling motorcycle in Mexico. It’s not sold above the border. It does export to a few other Latin American nations.

Italika is 100 percent Mexican in spite of its name, and the bikes are made in a factory in Toluca. You can buy one online, and it’s delivered directly to your front gate.

A crash helmet is included!

You see Italikas everywhere. They don’t make big bikes, just small to what once was considered mid-size. They very recently added a new bike that is their beefiest at 300 cc.

It’s called the Vort-X 300,* and there’s no price yet.

The first motorcycle I ever drove on a regular basis was my Air Force roommate’s 305-cc Honda Hawk.

I barreled it 100 mph down a California freeway one black night, and I wasn’t even drunk, just young and nuts.

Italika bikes are pretty, and I think I would look quite sporty astride one. They are remarkably affordable.

This likely will remain an unfulfilled desire.

But maybe I could start a biker gang, the Gringo Geezers. We could terrorize anthills and roof dogs.

* * * *

* In the course of my “extensive research” for this piece, I discovered there is also an Italika Vort-X 650.  It debuted last year. However, it is nowhere to be seen on the Italika website, and it is not made in Toluca. It is made in China, imported, and has a BMW design although BMW plays no part in its manufacture. It’s something of a mystery.