This month’s Country Roads is the adventure issue. Bully.
That means my little contribution may be nestled among daring-do stories of mountain biking, hang gliding on Driskill Mountain, kayaking, alligator wrestling, and spear fishing for great whites.
In Louisiana, the adventurous part of hang gliding is getting you and your glider past lobby security and up the elevator in the tallest building in town, then, somehow, out a window, onto a ledge and—soar! Into the waiting arms of the fire department, EMS, sheriff’s deputies, city police, and state troopers assigned to the urban, anti-hang-gliding task force.
You extreme cyclists, water moccasin catchers, and barefoot skiers have at it. I’m sticking to the adventures of daily life; you know, what befalls a person upon getting out of bed in the morning. Like a virus making the rounds of the world’s precincts.
As I set out on a bicycle ride on a spring afternoon, I was thinking it would be a good time to reread Camus’ The Plague. The governor had just closed the schools. My church shut down. A hip supermarket I frequent closed its free coffee station and stopped tempting shoppers with free, tasty treats in white paper cups.
OK. Close the schools. Cancel sports. Shut down the universities. But stop serving free coffee at the tiny grocery store? This was hitting close to home. We might sulk, but what’s the point? Better to make it another of life’s adventures.
I’m seventy-three. Riding a bicycle on Baton Rouge streets has been an adventure for me for half a century. I flinch every time a car passes close and some idiot yells at me through an open window. Here’s why.
When I was ten or so, I was riding a Columbia bicycle the size of a small horse down Chester Street in Alexandria when what felt like a shotput slammed into my scrawny chest. It was an Irish potato, thrown from a passing car. I captured the potato in my right hand the way cavalrymen do in the movies when they are shot in the chest with an arrow.
“They got me, Sarge; tell Laura I love her.”
My chest was sore for a long time, and there is an active spot in my memory that causes me to wince when cars get too close, but I survived to live in this time of uncertainty.
Since coronavirus closed LSU, the traffic on Highland Road is much less. It’s the difference between traffic before kickoff and after the football fans have made their way onto campus. Dramatically fewer cars.
I live south of LSU where a few college men drive around drinking beer when not attending class. Sometimes, they are called upon by the God of Not Thinking to throw their empty beer bottles at cyclists, pedestrians, or other vehicles. If you ride a bicycle, you know the broken beer bottles pulverized like colored sand against the curbs.
There may not be big upsides to coronavirus, but there are a few good things. It took a pandemic to reduce Baton Rouge’s litter embarrassment.
A friend sent me a phone snap of a sunset in Alabama where he and his wife were driving when corona eclipsed the name of a beer to threaten man and womankind.
“Watching the sun sink into Mobile Bay from Fairhope,” my friend wrote. “There’s plenty of life to live without attending events. As long as you are not in the small percentage of those who die. COVID-19 offers a delightful chance to reconnect with life on a smaller scale.”
The morning inspection of my snow pea crop is life on a smaller scale. Two years ago, a late hard freeze made the snow pea vines look like someone had taken a flame thrower to them. It’s not the same as taking a potato to the chest, but the ruined snow peas were a disappointment. It wasn’t as disappointing as watching the LSU basketball team make a lead disappear, then disappear altogether as the post season conference tournament was coronated. But disappointing nonetheless.
The crisis we find ourselves in will pass—one way or another. The other afternoon, my bicycle ride took me through an unexpected aroma cloud from a driveway crawfish boil. I breathed deeply, at once clearing my sinuses and my brain. We will survive COVID-19. We will do it together. I mean at a social distance . . . that is to say . . . you know what I mean.