Treasured Trails

Just before Ana went back to school, the city closed a major intersection near our house in order to extend the Canal Street streetcar line.

Personally, I’m all for bringing the streetcar closer to my house, even if by just a block or two. But my neighbors generally were opposed due to the temporary closure of the Canal Street-City Park Avenue-Canal Boulevard intersection. The project has disrupted major morning and afternoon traffic patterns and funneled commuters into neighborhood side streets already collapsed and potholed by neglect.

For Ana, Julian and me headed toward school each morning, the closure has diverted us from the interstate — and all for the better.

My route

I’m into routes. For me, the best route in New Orleans maximizes smoothness and directness while minimizing traffic lights and high traffic street crossings. The following is my route from our house to the school:

From our house, we go down Canal Boulevard to Rosedale, then turn right onto Conti. We turn right onto City Park, then left onto Bienville. We snake our way through side streets (Iberbille to N Pierce to D’hemecourt) until we get to Jeff Davis, then turn right and head over the interstate. Jeff Davis becomes Vendome, then we jog over to Vincennes. Right onto Fontainebleau, left onto Versailles, right onto Claiborne, left onto either Lowerline or Adams. We park near Carrollton Cemetery and from there walk to school.

The whole trip takes about 20 minutes no matter when we leave our house.

If the commute sounds hectic and the opposite of tranquil, well it was. That is, until my eyes adjusted. Then it became a daily journey among friends.

The people

It should come as no surprise that, as we go about our daily routine, others on our path are doing the same. These are the people we’ve come to know and look for:

On Conti, we often see one of Julian’s teachers walking toward his daycare. She’s been part of our family for a long time. When Ana was Julian’s age (4+ years ago!) she was Ana’s teacher as well.

Just a couple blocks away on Bienville between City Park and Carrollton, we see the shirtless Jerry curl man. He walks very erect, always in blue jeans and with a backpack, and never wearing a shirt.

On the riverside corner of Carrollton and Iberville, we see the waving man sitting on a bench out on the sidewalk. Our first few weeks, I noticed that he would wave to passing streetcars and buses. Then all of a sudden, we became part of his wave krewe as well. Now we’re friends.

On D’hemecourt as we near Jeff Davis, we often pass the quintessential lil old lady who’s out sweeping her sidewalk or the street around her catch basin. Catch basins have been in the news in New Orleans lately, thanks to repeated street flooding incidents since the summer. In many cases, catch basins are clogged, restricting drainage between the street and pumping stations. She’s doing her part.

About a week ago, when we turned onto Jeff Davis, we were behind a crossover (maybe a Dodge Journey?) that had a Tweety Bird sticker on the back windshield. Now, every morning as Jeff Davis becomes Vendome, Ana asks, “Where is Tweety Bird? Do you think we’ll ever see her again?”

From our first days driving down Versailles, I’d often notice a cat sitting along the neutral ground (median). She looked excited, as if she were waiting for something delightful. Some mornings, we’d see her walking briskly toward the same spot, as if she was late for a date. Then one morning we learned, in the words of Paul Harvey, “the rest of the story.”

That morning we saw an old man — old enough to be Paul Harvey himself — walking up the sidewalk to our right. He wore a collared shirt and slacks, pulled high and cinched with a woven leather belt. In his hands was a bowl of cat food. His face wore a tender smile.

In my rearview mirror, I saw his curved figure carefully cross the road, meet the cat at their prearranged spot, and slowly and gingerly lower the bowl of food down to the grass below. He offered the cat a familiar pat as she began to eat her breakfast.

My favorite part

Closer to the school, we see what you’d expect near a school at drop off time. Parents and kids scurrying toward the gate, neighbors walking their dogs and leaving prizes along the sidewalk, an older man cutting his grass with a reel mower, people headed to work.

But my favorite sight each morning is my most treasured: my two kids walking, holding hands, toward the school. As an only child, siblings are a mystery to me. How can two human beings love each other so much, be so similar, yet torment each other practically at the same time? Oh siblings… Well these siblings walk together hand in hand to the school yard, then to Ana’s classroom where we bid her a good-day.

I could’ve never predicted all this when I first heard the news that the nearby intersection would be closed for months. But sometimes the unexpected path is the sweetest.