Five January 19, 2014Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, memoir, Memory, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
There was no time to stop or drop. Three-quarter throttle up Jackson Avenue, Honda Passport in the right lane (no, not Uptown you fool) when that long Detroit hood pulled out of the side street. The impact and somersault over the hood are mostly a matter of recollection after the fact of the possible mechanics, wondering how I’d come to land on my feet in the middle of the Avenue. My first clear recollection were the corner forty boys hooting and applauding. “Hey, man, if we call Eyewitness News can you do that again?”
It took the heavy, middle-aged man a minute or more to come to his senses and makes his way around the car. I slowly removed my helmet, waved to the corner guys and told him I thought I was OK. My feet wouldn’t start to hurt until the adrenaline wore off. I wave off his apologies with a smile, lost in a reverie of appreciation for my lucky stunt. The tiny 70cc bike, however, was clearly done. The front wheel survived, looking true if flat. When I stood the bike up, it was clear the frame was not, just enough of a bend to render it unrideable.
Marianne had a car, had bravely ridden the Passport to work in her Eighties office skirt suit when I’d broken my arm in the bar stool-vaulting contest at the Abbey. (Some other time; a story in its own right) but the little bike was my ride, the only way I had to get from Carrollton to work in Gretna and out to my newspaper assignments. It was a fixture on the West Bank, the man in the land of Harleys and Goldwings gassing up his tiny bike in a suit. It had carried me across all three ferries and against all sense across the Huey P. Long and Greater New Orelans Bridge, survived the time it dropped out from under me on the slick deck of the GNO just in front of an 18-wheeler. My head hit hard but god bless helmets; I rolled out from under the wheels and the bike passed under the truck between the wheels.
Now its was done and I was stranded. It would be for weeks until my brother-in-law gave me his father’s old Ford Custom 500 with 300 plus on the odometer. I don’t remember the driver’s name. I wish I did. We loaded loaded the bike with room to spare in the trunk of his beat Detroit wheels, and he drove me home, apologizing profusely the entire time as shock slowly set in and I kept moaning over and over again, “how am I going to get to work?” He promised to make it good, and asked how much the bike was worth. I had learned on the way to my house he was on his way back from a no-luck day at the labor pool. I really had no idea, and understood he was broker than I was with my $280 a week suburban newspaper job. Two hundred, I muttered. OK, he said. He gave me his phone number and took mine, but I never really expected to hear from him again
It was a few weeks later when the call came, and I fired up the blown muffler Custom 500 in a cloud of bad gasket smoke like a ghetto James Bond, and drove to somewhere on the Uptown side of Jackson between Magazine and the river. I sat on the spfung couch drinking sweet tea and politely refusing his wife’s cookies while he peeled of the wrinkled tens and twenties, a lot of money for a man with a car almost as gone as mine who spent his days sipping coffee outside of labor pool. At this point in my life Schwegman’s was my bank: cash the check, pay the NOPSI bill, get a money order for the landlord. I knew thar I was barely one rung up the ladder. I was wearing a Haspel wash-and-wear suit when he hit me. For all he knew the bike was a hobby and not a necessity. And he made it good.
We are all suspicious of each other, especially across color lines, but I’ve learned from experience there are times when color only matters when you make your coffee, that honesty is more common than you think. I’ve forgotten the man’s name but I hope through the miracle of the Internet that perhaps a grandchild or someone else who’s heard the other side of this story will know that he was a good man and he is remembered for it.