Posted by: alisa | March 23, 2009

bicycle beginnings


this is just something

i’ve been working on….

hope you enjoy it.

en paz,


bicycle beginnings

I sit down with a cold can of beer in my left hand.
My journal of words and pen in the other.
I sit with Lewis, a middle aged man
with dark freckles and graying hair.
A native New Orleanian,
from the Lower Ninth Ward.
He knows a segment of the city,
forgotten, in all its wonder after the storm.
Beer and cigarette in hand,
Lewis looks at me from across the table.
Smoke streaming high into the air,
I watch it rise and chew on my shyness a little longer.
It has been a long night of story telling for Lewis.
It is his 54th birthday,
and we have heard him share so much of his life.
Does he still have another story in him?
But there is still something more I need to know.
As the moment arrives, I finally ask him,
How did you start biking?

I ask because I want to feel inspired.
I want to find a commonality
among a man from the deep south
and a young woman from the north country.

Oh, you want to know how I started riding bike.
That’s what you sat down with me for?
Ahh, that’s sweet of you darlin’.
We may need another beer….
I don’t have no special story,
but I will tell you how it all happened,
how I got on a bike for the first time.

I ease up a little, breathe in, breathe out.
Knowing that I can sit back and listen
I look to Lewis for his bicycle beginnings.
What is his story?  And what is mine?
I decide it is Lewis’s turn to share with me.
A part of me wants to write it all down
But I don’t.
Some things are better left to memory.
Or subjectivity.
I just sit, sipping my beer,
letting his words transform the space between us.

Well, let me start from the beginning.
Oh, let’s see.  Well, I was just a fourteen when I started.
It was then I made a decision to attend an integrated school.
I wanted an equal opportunity at a brighter future.
A future that would let me see more than the Ninth Ward.
This new school was on the other side of New Orleans,
ten miles from my neighborhood.
I hadn’t really been across the city before
I only knew the Ninth, home.
And that was all about to change.

I take a sip of my beer.
I let it go down my throat and I let it settle.
God, what was I doing at fourteen?
I was stuck in the suburbs.
White.  Homogeneous.
Isolated.  Segregated.

Now, going to this new school proved
to be more difficult than you think.
See, I thought I could take a school bus across town.
But, there was no school bus.
Not for me, and not for anyone in my neighborhood.
You see, they didn’t want to pick up a black kid
and bus him to the white neighborhood.
No, it was harder than that.
And it didn’t end there.

Black?  White?
All I can remember is wanting to know his
bicycle beginnings.
What did all this have to do with color?  And crossing the city?
Maybe there is more to his story
than he made it out to be.

So, when the school bus didn’t come,
I tried to take the city bus.
I took it across town but came across
people who thought I should stay in Lower Ninth.
These people would throw rocks at the windows
They would yell through the windows.
“Hey nigger!  Get off that bus!”
I could hear them even when the
windows were closed.
Damn, I was just fourteen.
But, I still wanted to go to school.

The ugly past hits me.
It hits me harder than this beer.

Such ignorance, hate and greed.

Lewis was just a kid who wanted a fair chance.
What chance did I have to do this bike trip?
To ask Lewis for his story?

I felt it too dangerous to take the city bus,
so, I started walking.
It took me all morning and all evening
to get across to school.
And, again, they didn’t want a black boy
walking through white neighborhoods.
It was too dangerous.  I was followed at night.
I felt so worn, tired, and defeated
every night I returned at nightfall.

He walked ten miles to go to school?
God, I couldn’t walk the five blocks to my school.
I drove.  And I drove alone.
I didn’t have to work so hard to get to school.
Privilege in a choice and proximity.

After all this, I decided to get on a bicycle.
I had never ridden one before.
Ha!  It took me awhile to figure it out.
Can you picture a black kid trying to cross town
on a bike that was too big for him?
Ha!  I can see it now.  Shit, it feels just like yesterday.

Getting on a bike.  I was just a kid too.
But I was little.
My brother helped push me along the sidewalk.
Before too long I was on my own.
Riding my bike around the block.

I know it’s hard to believe.
but I’ve been riding ever since.
You’ve gotta believe me.
I am always on my bike now.
You think a 54 year old would look like this
without having crossed so many miles?
I know New Orleans now.
But I still live in the Lower Ninth.
You see that trailer over there, that’s mine.
It ain’t much, but it’s home.
I’ve been living here my whole life.

Forty years of riding his bike in New Orleans.
He must know all the routes.  He must be so sure of himself.
He must know where he’s going.
When will I ever have that certainty?
So, that’s how it started.
You must have a story.
Why, would you ask me if you didn’t.
So, tell me, how did you start biking?



  1. Great !!!

  2. This is beautiful, Alisa!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: