I surprise the city.

Showing up in places and at times where and when I am not expected.

Like these mornings in New Orleans.

I run, wherever I may be when I wake each morning.

Traveling? A new city? Find a street, a trail.

My first mornings here in New Orleans led me down the fairly busy Magazine Street, then through the tourist French Quarter. Neither all that satisfying.

But today as the day before I headed south on Baronne from Poydras. Under the interstate. And then into a city I surprise.

Friday morning meant schoolchildren early rubbing their eyes accompanied by mothers and grandmothers. The sun hadn’t yet risen. Rubbing their eyes, blinking at a man running down the street.

But this morning, almost deserted streets. Past Brown Dairy just south of the Pontchartrain Expressway. A lone man on bicycle pedaling slowly the wrong direction on one way Baronne. He gave me a sidelong glance, just enough for me to catch. I tip my head in greeting and he makes a like movement, almost imperceptible. We are fellow intruders on the city’s new day.

No other running people. I am alone on Baronne which now turns into Dryades.

What a lovely name word. Tree nymphs. Mythology rendered in French. New Orleans is a city yet French, at least in memory. The French memory yet lingers just as in two other cities I’ve been part of, Detroit and St Louis. Cities with lovely street names. Belleterre. Soulard. oui.

The houses along Dryades, were they made from lovely trees? Now worn, raggedy, some ramshackle. Some deserted. Like bones visible underneath skin as the city lies sleeping. Dark windows in the dark morning.

I run past Second King Solomon Baptist Church which is almost immediately followed by Second Mt Carmel Baptist Church, close enough so that you wonder if they decided to share the distinction of not being first. But as far as the running man is concerned they are only like the church at Sardis which John the Divine wrote had no awareness of the hour of visitation. Unseen, unheard, I pass by.

Startled cats. More than one cat stares at me wide-eyed from the curb or crouches mid-street as I approach and pass. But where are the dogs? One or two, barely barking as I run past. Maybe they too are sleeping like their masters.

I was surprising a city. I was seeing it stripped of people, moving vehicles, light. At rest, quiet, a diminished cast of characters.

The skeleton of a city. Churches. Street names. Houses motionless. Utility poles and power lines with shoes tied together at the laces dangling from lines.

There’s a pair of baby shoes. What was that about?

Past Napoleon. Bordeaux. Soniat. Dufossat. Now I pause at Jefferson where the street is all tore up.

Yesterday I arrived there just as a crew of construction workers began their stretching exercises. It reminded me of a group of older Koreans I would run past early mornings along Lake Michigan from Waveland north to Montrose Harbor in Chicago. Greeting the sun and each other with their slow but ever deeper and higher stretches. Preparing for the day.

Today the construction workers are absent. It is Saturday. It’s just me, and now a few runners appearing along St Charles, headed north, headed south.

I turn, too, and head back north.

The sun now appears. A red ball above houses. More cars, bicyclists, people sitting on front steps of houses I passed earlier. I am beginning to be less of a surprise to this city’s life.

yesterday in New Orleans

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