Pilgrims Progress




FLATULENCE: Flats are something that happen to other people, like my brother, despite our both rolling on Kevlar-lined Schwalbe tires. So Thursday morning's soft rear tire was a further reminder of the impermanence of all things, the folly of instrumentality as a buffer against nature...or road wires. My bike tech (Barc) installed one of our new "slime" inner tubes, the notion being that any existing or future small leaks will be self-sealed by the green goop inside the tube. Folly, but a dream to hang on to. At day's end Friday in Bayou La Batre (Cajun for "that frock I bought you looks splendid"), Barc ran over a 3-inch nail on a roadside, causing a very fast leak. Bad Friday. Even his stylish new haircut could not lift his spirits, so we passed on the Lenten fish fry at the parish church, opting instead for the comfort of Riesling and ripple chips. Bedtime for the Sparky at 7:15 pm; I pushed it to 8:00 so I could watch Seinfeld re-runs.

BLAZING SADDLES: No, not that other flatulence. I laughed when Santa put a tube of butt butter in my Christmas stocking, but he must have known that seven hours on the bike saddle--for weeks on end, literally--can render some sensitive areas as red as Rudolf's other end. In Phoenix I bought a small stick of Glide, a lubricant applied to skin folds and seams in the nether regions of one's choice, and have applied it intermittently until Louisiana, when a minor flesh-eating disease called for stronger measures. Grandson Jonathan favours diaper rash ointment with a coconut oil base: I'm more of an aloe type. Now if I can manage to cycle without sitting, all will be well. March 12 update: smooth as a Georgia peach.

I'M LESTER THE NIGHTFLY, HELLO BATON ROUGE: Brother Barc is occasionally right, and his advice to cycle with pre-recorded music and audiobooks was sound. But what to download? My playlist includes multiple Steely Dan albums, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Ella and Louis. Barc calls my tastes "elevator music," but I'll happily ride that lift. Books? To date, Donald Spoto's biography of Grace Kelly, Louise Penny's latest Gamache, Lee Child, and Nick Hornby. The latest was Atwul Gawande's Being Mortal, in which this surgeon explores our culture's (and the medical profession's) failure to anticipate aging and inevitable physical decline. As we two senior citizens pedal furiously in pursuit of our more youthful selves, Dr. Gawande's thoughts were an interesting counterpoint to the tractor trailer with our names on it, not quite yet in our rearview mirrors. What has been a revelation to me are these things called podcasts...daily from CBC, NPR, The New Yorker, NYTimes, Fox News...just kidding: I'm sticking with the fake news foisted by the liberal media. Audio overload sets in for me at regular intervals, so the stretches of road with just birdsong or headwinds are enough to cleanse the brain of trumpery.

BARC'S BREAKFASTS: My little brother, as previously reported, is a man of defined food tastes. Four legs good, two legs bad...just add fried onions and gravy. Where our culinary interests intersect, though, is in an appreciation of a proper full breakfast, including fried eggs, assorted sides, and good coffee. While other breakfast stops along our route have been good, we experienced the Platonic ideal at BJ's Cafe in Vancleave MS. After camping out behind First Baptist (beside the kiddies' playground and downsized toilet...what could go wrong?), BJ's (opening at 4:00am) served up a perfect plate of eggs, sausage, biscuit, grits, and coffee in a crowded, authentic setting of drawling locals and no-nonsense waitresses. I wanted the t-shirt, but appropriately none were for sale. Just a test.

ROAD KILL: No human bodies to date, but a remarkable roadside menagerie of stiffening or flattened carcasses. For the record: wild hogs, dogs, cats, turtles, possums, otters, snakes, weasels, armadillos, birds, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, frogs, and other critters who lacked reflective clothing.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: If Steve Bannon's agenda is to link church and state throughout the US, the South seems covered already. Baptist churches of all shades compete with gospel missions, Catholics, Presbyterians, and a few Episcopal churches in larger towns with electricity and indoor plumbing. It's hard to imagine all are well-attended, but in absolute numbers the South seems well churched, unlike contemporary Quebec, unless one considers the "dep" a place of worship.

BAYOU BUDDIES: Speaking of religion, Barc and I have been blessed by the kindness of strangers, even if Barc might ascribe such impulses to secular humanism. In Franklinton at the Sugar Cafe, Big John comped us our buffet lunch of southern treats...including the best boiled okra and tomato mixture of the trip...just like that. When the Dauphin Island ferry shut down because of high wind, we were (sort of) stranded until the ferry's captain, Lewis, drove us back north to west of Mobile in his pickup, complete with politically-charged bumper stickers. Southern hospitality is not a myth.

COOL RUNNINGS: While it's winter down south, it's warmer than usual, so the AC is used liberally in all restaurants and many stores. At the Lagniappe in Zachary LA, for example, Barc had to leave before I finished my lunch, as somehow 63F was not agreeing with his skin tone. It really was freaking cold, but typical of many establishments.

PINS ON THE MAP SINCE AUSTIN (TX): Wincester, Independence, Coldspring, Silsbee, Merryville (LA), Oberlin, Chicot State Park, Simmesport, Perry's hideaway, Zachary, Amite, Poplarville (MS), Vancleave, Bayou La Batre (AL), Mobile, Daphne (March 12).

B-52's: Saw our first strategic bomber at the USS Alabama memorial exhibit east of Mobile. Big, although not battleship big. Sidebar fun fact: Barc likes aluminum-hulled boats.







I had a problem. Owing to a magnetism over which I have little control, so many fair maidens were throwing themselves at me, it was becoming a safety hazard. After leaving tire tracks on three bodices in a row, I had to act...  a tired woman in a bodice is never a pretty sight. I needed a haircut, stat. My long, flowing, lustrous locks, the envy of all regardless of their position on the gender spectrum, had to go (Before I go on, I know what you're saying: "Barc. Sometimes when I measure your attractiveness, I don't even consider your hair." Please. Women are getting rubbered. This is no time to kid around).



 We were in Bayou La Batre, an evocatively-named small Louisiana town which, loosely translated, means "Swamp of the Uncooked Pancake". I called "The Cut Above"...

Unknown Female: "The Cut Above. May I help you?"

Hairful Man: "Can you fit me in?"

Female-sounding Person: "If I couldn't, you'd be the first."

Feeling a little uncomfortable with the thrust of the conversation, I reined in my phone pheromones and mumbled a demure thank you; with great power comes great responsibility.



Google Maps put "The Cut Above" about a mile down the road, just south of St. Margaret's Catholic Church. Google Fake Maps lied. Unaware of an impending Interweb letdown, I zipped down the road on my pannier-free bike, light and powerful, the biking equivalent of shedding a heavy backpack on a summit and floating away. Faster than Trump's attention span, I arrived at my destination - sort of.  Things were a little murky.  I consulted my phone. My phone consulted Google. Google insisted "The Cut Above" was right in front of me." I stared in front of me, squinting a little this time, but "Bubba's Discount Dental" continued to stare back at me. Plan B...

Still Unknown Female: "The Cut Above. May I help you?"

Hirsute Man on Bike: "Where are you?"

Lady of the Afternoon: "Marlin? You know you shouldn't be calling me here."

Shaggy: "You're supposed to be here in front of me."

Bayou Baroness: "But Marlin, it ain't Friday."

Unshorn Stud: "It's not Marlin."

Swamp Squaw: "Billy Ray?"

I hung up. The feng shui of Project Haircut: The Cut Above, was profoundly out of order. Across the street, a Vietnamese man swung in a hammock outside a post-Katrina, peeling-concrete block with a small, faded barber shop symbol (true story). He took care of my needs (somewhat true story, with profoundly limited parameters).



Over the first hundred yards of the seventeen hundred yards back to the motel, I passed seven women wearing tightly-laced bodices, and precious little else.  I braced myself for evasive action. Nothing. Not a swerve, not a lurch. My relief, as you can imagine, was palpable. The US is a litigious nation. For weeks I had been fearing getting slapped with a lawsuit for Malicious and Salacious Tempting. In these uncertain times, I couldn't be certain of the outcome.

At yard 183 of the 1700 yards back to the motel, a 3 inch spike impaled my rear tire, leaving me flat broke. The walk back to the room was interminable, and bodice-free. Karma giveth, and karma taketh away.