Monday, June 25, 2012

Dump the Pump NOLA Triple-Bus Adventure Recap

Posted By Google on Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 7:38 PM

To celebrate National Dump the Pump Day on June 21, I bought a $3 RTA day pass and rode around the city on the Broad...

Broad.jpg

Morrison Express...
Morrison.jpg

and Franklin buses.
Franklin.jpg

Unlike my typical bus adventures, I didn't stop at any places along the route and instead just enjoyed being chauffeured around the city.

Those who are hesitant about using public transportation should first try exploring like this, riding without getting off, just to get accustomed to bus travel without fear. Riding like this is like dipping your toes in the pool before getting in.

Of course, as with taking any other trip, there are things you should know before you go...

Like most of my bus adventures, I started in the 7th Ward on St. Bernard and Broad, a corner that could be intimidating for some. I've lived two blocks away all my life, so it doesn't faze me, but the spitting on the ground, begging for money and littering, combined with the smell of boiled seafood carcasses mixed with malt liquor, funk and menthol KOOL cigarettes can be off-putting.

While waiting on the Broad bus—not for very long since I used Google Transit to plan my trip—I saw a man who was strung out on drugs, rambling about different ethnicities:

"I'm black with Indian!"
"Indians be real pretty with good hair, but they got that acne bad!"
"Bruh, how come we all love redbones?"
"But them in there, bruh [pointing to Vietnamese corner store]!"

Sadly, I've been seeing a few people on that corner lately who are strung out on drugs. I saw another man a few weeks ago who was so out of it that he was doing jumping jacks and the 9th Ward Shuffle, talking about how he couldn't calm down.

A few weeks before that, I saw a woman who said, "You know Lil Wayne axed me to marry him before he divorced Nicki Minaj. See a lotta people don't know dey was married! But I told him, 'No Wayne, we like family because your step-daddy is Bunny brother!' But he wrote that whole 'six foot, seven foot' track about me." She later complained about UNITY housing, saying that she was going to have to do more drugs to get housed with them.

(on the Broad bus)

The Broad bus is almost always full
  • The Broad bus is almost always full

With the exception of one area that I call The Perch, it's hard to see out of the windows on RTA's eco-friendly buses because they are too high. When boarding on Thursday, I saw The Perch was free, so I went over and sat in the seat closest to the aisle—I can't see in the other seat.

The Perch
  • The Perch

A lady came about a minute later, wanting to sit down, so I got up to give her the seat next to me. She was mad that I didn't just push over because she wanted to sit with her little friend. Um...NO! Of course they kept reaching over me and they both smelled like they'd been rolling around in a pile of cigarette butts.

Transit tip: Stand your ground but don't be a jerk. If you are sitting in an aisle seat and have a free seat next to you when someone wants to sit down, it's fine to stand up to give the person the window seat. If someone near you is eating, drinking, playing music too loudly or anything else that's against RTA rules, you shouldn't feel bad about politely asking them to stop. Those things are prohibited for a reason!

And speaking of offering seats, there's a definite unspoken who-really-needs-my-seat hierarchy of which passengers should be made aware. Here's the breakdown, from top to bottom. If there are no seats available for a person who outranks you in the who-really-needs-my-seat hierarchy, the polite thing to do would be to give up your seat, especially if you are sitting in the front seats that are reserved for differently-abled and elderly patrons:

Very pregnant women, elderly, differently-abled
Parents with in-lap children or parents who are wearing babies
People carrying something heavy or bulky
People who work on their feet all day
Older women
Older men
Younger women
Younger men

When the bus came to the end of the line at Washington Avenue and South Dorgenois Street, I put in my headphones so I could enjoy riding the entirety of the Broad route, one of my favorite routes, on its return trip. I don't use my MP3 player on Public Transit Tuesdays, since I like to document what riders are saying, but since this was a celebration of public transit, I figured I could jam a bit.

In addition to my summer playlist and all-time favorite songs, the albums that have been in heavy rotation on my MP3 player are Cliff Hines Quintet's Like Mystics of Old, Willard Hill's Gemini Mood Swings (free download), Nova Nola's Wetland, Umami's self-titled album and Amy Winehouse's Lioness: Hidden Treasures.

Transit tip: No one wants to hear your music, so please keep it down.

While on the Chef Menteur Highway, I passed the old Highrise Inn, home to one of the most infamous fraternity parties I attended while in undergrad, Bucked Naked Saturday. Bucked Naked Saturday only cost $3.99—they gave you your penny at the door—and there were several trash cans full of the fraternity's signature drink, Omega Oil (tastes like grape Kool-Aid).

Highrise Inn
  • Highrise Inn

It would have been a great party, except it was so hot. One of the goals of the fraternity hosting the party was to get the girls "bucked naked." They worked to achieve this by turning off the air conditioning, but the plan backfired. Not wanting to mess up their hair and outfits, most of the girls either went outside or walked around the hotel, leaving the guys—drunk on Omega Oil—to strip their clothes on the teeny tiny dance floor.

The one image of that party that I'll never forget is of one of the fraternity members who got naked at every one of his fraternity parties. I remember sitting down, trying to cool off, then looking up and seeing him in gold boots, an open purple robe and a fuzzy purple pimp hat.

Bucked Naked Saturday Flyer
  • Bucked Naked Saturday Flyer

Further down Chef Highway, a man boarded the bus with a tattoo on the back of his neck that read "Greed" and I later discovered he had one on the front of his neck that read "Envy."

CIMG9389.JPG

(off of the Broad bus, at the corner of Downman Road and Chef Menteur Highway, waiting to board the Morrison Express bus)

While looking at the Broad bus schedule before arriving at this stop, I wasn't sure what bus was coming because they only had line numbers on the printed schedules, not line names. It would be nice if the RTA would put a bus number key somewhere on printed schedules, since locals almost never refer to buses by number.

(on the Morrison Express bus)

The Morrison Express bus smelled horrific. It was a combination of the malt liquor, funk and menthol KOOL cigarette smell from earlier, along with sour baby and dog poop. It wasn't just a few people, either—the stank was attacking me from all directions.

It made me remember to always pack a bus bag, a bag full of whatever a bus rider might need:

Roll-on oil fragrances to put under the nose in the presence of an offensive odor
Jacket in case the bus is cold
Baby wipes in case there's a lot of dust kicking up near the bus stop
A bottle of water
An MP3 player to drown out the inane conversations of other passengers and to appear anti-social
Phone charger, if you have a sucky battery like I do.

There was a young man sitting behind me on the bus who kept falling asleep and being startled awake when the bus would hit a pothole. Each time he awakened, he'd kick the back of my seat. I thought about asking him where he was getting off so I could just wake him up at his stop, but I didn't get a good vibe from him. When he woke up angry and dropping f-bombs when we got to Paris Road, I assumed he'd missed his stop.

CIMG9460.JPG

The old Tower of Pizza. I used to play the heck outta some Pac-Man in here. After not going since the early '90s, my Mom and I went on a date here in 2001. She excitedly ordered the Wop Salad—as she had since the beginning of Tower of Pizza—and was promptly told by the waitress, "Um...we call it Italian Salad now." Oops. Rocky & Carlo's still calls it Wop Salad, though. Here's a recipe for...Italian Salad from one of my most trusted and loved New Orleans websites, The Gumbo Pages.

Theres still a Tower of Pizza on Vets by the Black and Gold Sports Shop
  • There's still a Tower of Pizza on Vets by the Black and Gold Sports Shop

So many fond memories of this building. My Paw Paw and I would go to the Bunny Bread discount store, then here (when it was Taco Bell) and then next door to Church's to get some honey-butter biscuits to share with his sister-in-law, Irma. I lost a tooth here and a stranger even paid for my Paw Paw and I to eat once, to show his appreciation of my table manners. He said he usually hated sitting across from kids while they ate, but that I was an exception. I really miss that Taco Bell...

When this was Taco Bell, I begged every grown-up I knew to take me here.
  • When this was Taco Bell, I begged every grown-up I knew to take me here.

I never noticed that I could have taken the Morrison Express to visit my paternal grandmother in the Spring Lake subdivision.

grandmother.jpg
CIMG9455.JPG

The only thing that I liked about riding the Morrison Express was that most of the teenagers on the bus were very fashionable—sorta scary, but still very fashionable. Riding the bus with those kids was like an '80s-'90s time warp, all of them looking like they could've been extras in the dance battle scene in House Party.

It had been years since I'd seen Gumby hairstyles, skateboards, neon color-block fanny packs, cut-off sleeve shirts, leather Africa medallions, tube socks, silk shirts with tacky prints and pixelated shirts.

Was trying to sneak a picture
  • Was trying to sneak a picture

(off of the Morrison Express at Morrison and Read, waiting for the Hayne bus but realizing it doesn't come 'til much later, so waiting for the Morrison Bus to return instead)

One constant in transit, as in life, is that when you don't want to be bothered, someone will bother you.

While waiting for the bus—headphones in, trying to look standoffish—a lady came over who reeked of cheap beer; she had a can of Keystone Light in her purse and was drinking it through a straw. While she was telling me where to get the "sweetest watermelon in the city," a really scary young man approached, chain-smoking and yelling over the phone about his deadbeat father:

"Do I need my f*cking father, n*gga?! Where was the n*gga for me all those times I needed him?!"

He crossed Morrison, so I thought I wouldn't see him again.

About ten minutes later, he returned, still in a huff. The lady at the bus stop and I tried to discreetly observe and discuss him but she soon said, in a loud whisper:

"We betta shut our mouth. We gonna be on da news. I bet that boy is mad about the shooting on Curran."

A Jeep drove by with two young women talking about how they were going to beat some bitch's ass. The old lady at the bus stop thought it was retaliation-motivated, in response to the murder on Curran Boulevard. Again, in a loud whisper, she said:

"Did you hear what they said? They are gonna beat. that. bitch. DOWN!"

(back on the Morrison Express)

During the Loyola Avenue streetcar construction, many buses are detouring to Canal Street near Marais. I boarded the first bus I saw there, the Franklin bus. The Franklin bus goes through the 8th Ward and into some of the 9th Ward.

Only half of the buses that are detouring here
  • Only half of the buses that are detouring here

Guess who I saw while on the Franklin bus? Ol' boy with the Daddy issues from the Morrison Express!

CIMG9488.JPG

One thing that scared me was that the guy with the Daddy issues and five of his friends were all wearing red. As far as I can remember, New Orleans has never been a gang hotbed, but since Hurricane Katrina, the landscape has changed. Also, anyone could tell that these kids all wore red on purpose—even wearing red shoes. I wanted to take a picture, but didn't want to make trouble.
These kids looked cool and I tried to sneak and get a picture of them
  • These kids looked cool and I tried to sneak and get a picture of them

Pretty sure they caught me!
  • Pretty sure they caught me!

I passed by The Munch Factory (5339 Franklin Ave., 324-5372; www.themunchfactory.net), but since I still can't really chew very well, I didn't stop for a bite. They have some of thee best gumbo in town, hands down. It's the right consistency, full of recognizable ingredients and is a rich shade of brown. Everything else is really tasty too, like the buffalo oysters, Fines herb chicken and shrimp and grits. I just wish I could get a New Orleans public school gumbo and grilled cheese combo.
Buffalo Oysters from the Munch Factory
  • Buffalo Oysters from the Munch Factory
Gumbo and Grilled Cheese
  • Gumbo and Grilled Cheese

I also saw some rebuilding activity in the old Vasquez Restaurant across the street. Vasquez reopened on the Northshore but it'd be nice to have one here again.

Have you ever had someone's feelings about something rub off on you?

Mom and her brother
  • Mom and her brother

For as long as I can remember, my tummy gets all knotted up and I feel light-headed when I get to Pontchartrain Park, just because my Mom hated it so much. It's because when she was 5, her brother, 2, drowned in a lagoon there. Honestly, it was never handled appropriately.
Moms brother and their Mom
  • Mom's brother and their Mom

No one even told my Mom that her brother drowned—they just acted like he never existed; that's what they did in the '50s. In fact, my Mom once brought another little boy home, thinking that she had found her brother.
Moms brother and their Dad
  • Mom's brother and their Dad

Recently, one of my Mom's best friends, Ann Marie, told me that when my Mom was a little girl, after her brother "vanished," my grandmother stayed in the bed for days at a time until my Mom reminded her that she was still there and needed her.
Letter in Moms brothers baby book from their Mom, with addendum from my Mom
  • Letter in Mom's brother's baby book from their Mom, with addendum from my Mom

Finally, I made it back to the Canal Streetcar to head over to Gambit HQ. Surprisingly, I wasn't exhausted after riding around New Orleans for hours on the bus and I'm looking forward to celebrating National Dump the Pump Day with you again next year.

Huge thanks to Katie Howe and Mitra for using the hashtag #DumpthePumpNOLA to share wonderful pictures from their Dump the Pump celebration on the St. Charles streetcar!

As always, here are a few outtakes from this bus adventure. I hope you'll check out Public Transit Tuesdays tomorrow when I ride the Tulane bus.

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