Month: March 2020

Running Away

We drove from summer to winter, from a charming disheveled city unprepared for another epic disaster to the clean well-lighted state of Massachusetts.

Monday evening, Steve and I sat out in the little brick backyard of our winter rental house on Octavia Street in New Orleans. A Monarch butterfly drifted by, a mockingbird annoyed Steve as it liked to do every evening. We admired the yellow flowers blooming in the branches of a tree against the blue sky streaked with a contrail. We listened to the song of the trains rolling, squealing, bumping together along the tracks on the other side of Tchoupotoulis along the Mississippi River a block away. The evening star appeared, bright in the sky. It felt like summer.

Tuesday morning as the sun rose, we locked the door of our little house with a purple door, put the key through the mail slot, climbed into my old Honda, and drove away.

Not toward our home, though. Our beloved cities of New York and New Orleans are the hardest hit by COVID-19. We headed to the Berkshires to be near loving family (even if we couldn’t hug them) and a Blue State health care system.

Through Mississippi, we drove past acres of wisteria blooms hanging from branches along the highway. Through Alabama we saw the tender green of trees just leafing out with redbuds blooming everywhere. Many hours later as we climbed to the Tennessee mountains, we saw bare tree branches with just forsythia blooming.

A man waved a banner from an overpass: “Thank you truckers.”

We stopped only for gas, using paper towels between hand and pump handle and keypad. We ate apples and oranges, crackers and hard-boiled eggs, cookies and a great big Snickers. We peed at the side of the road.

After midnight, we followed a tip that Cracker Barrel welcomes people parking overnight. There among the big campers quietly resting, we pulled up, tried to find comfortable positions, Steve in the back seat, me reclining as far back as I could in the front seat. We slept for a few uneasy hours.

At 5 a.m. we set off again in the rain, drinking lukewarm surprisingly ok coffee from the thermos.

We thought there’d be little traffic except for trucks, but there were vehicles of all kinds. The country did not seem shut down. A WalMart lot was full.

We went a bit out of our way so we wouldn’t have to see the New York skyline in the distance, driving instead up the Delaware Water Gap, stopping for a short walk on a peaceful trail, looking at gray skies, brown woods and water, patches of snow.

Late morning, we drove up to our Airbnb in Great Barrington, a duplex on a quiet street where we will self-quarantine for 14 days. Mo and Mike stopped by to deliver cookies, latex gloves, and an alcohol spray bottle. I met them outside and we helplessly waved at each other, promising walks in the country. In two weeks, we can consider being in the same room and petting Baci, who was barking her greeting from the car.

This place is comfortable, and Steve and I were soon napping hard to make up for nearly 27 hours in a metal box that is my heroic 2005 sedan, which just turned over 100,000 miles.

In the evening, we had a good dinner Steve made from the supplies we brought with us. Then Steve called me to the back door. Look up. There, over the snowy landscape, was the evening star.

Where the Trees are Winning

Tree 1 Sidewalk 0

New Orleans and New York have a lot in common besides their first names. As the infrastructure crumbles, city officials sell out to developers. Both cities cater to rich people and tourists to the detriment of most residents. And both cities are wonderful, full of interesting people, neighborhoods, and food.

There’s one thing New Orleans seems to understand that New York hasn’t worked out. Trees are more important than pavement. The big curvy roots of gigantic live oaks make sidewalks bulge and break. What does the city do? They leave the trees alone. Pedestrians hike over the lumpy sidewalks. Cars swerve around the trees that take up more parking spaces than a bus.

Is it negligence, lack of funds or is it because New Orleans appreciates its trees? I don’t know. I’m one of those pesky tourists (though a long-term one). After spending a year fighting New York government that wants to chop down 1,000 mature trees in our neighborhood East River Park this year, I’m appreciating New Orleans where trees get to be trees.

Here it looks like a homeowner has eliminated the front yard to accommodate the trees.

OK, I do have to stop romanticizing and realize New Orleans is terrible for handicapped people. Though there are curb cuts for wheelchairs on every corner, many sidewalks are impassable for wheelchairs. The streets aren’t better. They are crumbling. New York is much better for getting around. Can there be a way to have our trees and be able to get around smoothly? Look at the creative solution above. Move the sidewalk, not the trees.

New York, take note. Move the floodwalls, not the trees.

See the website for East River Park ACTION for more on the fight to save East River Park in New York.