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If it weren’t for Jazz Fest I probably wouldn’t own a bicycle. Each year after the first weekend in May, I put the bike in the shed with the promise of riding it again before Jazz Fest the following year, but it seldom happens. For getting to the Jazz Fest though, bikes easily make their way across Esplanade Avenue, past the “No Parking” signs and through the street crowd. The two-wheelers can go where no other vehicles can, which always makes me feel smug as I pedal past four-wheel vehicles stalled in traffic.

It used to be that bikes could be chained to the Fair Grounds fence, but now there’s a bike parking lot into which they are herded. Inside, the front wheels are lifted to straddle a barricade and then chained. Doing it that way is the most efficient way to jam in lots of bikes. The bike lot fills quickly, but the parking is free and there’s an attendant on duty to nab thieves who’re perhaps lusting for the bell on my handlebar.

In every way, including the exercise, bikes are the best way to go to Jazz Fest – with one exception: when it rains.

There was a steady drizzle throughout most of the day on a Jazz Fest Saturday two years ago. Dampened festival goers headed for the performance tents, which were, as the day passed, surrounded by puddles created by thousands of Birkenstock-clad feet splashing through the water. As the days went on, the question of how we would get home became more challenging. The ever-darkening sky showed no sign of providing a break. By closing time we had to face the reality of there being no easy way out. We were going to have to ride through the rain. Originally, the strategy was to go from point to point – stopping under the eaves of a store, next moving on to huddle beneath a tree and then looking for the protection of a bus shelter. Then we realized that we were already as drenched as possible, and no stops were going to make us less wet. So, the decision was made to ride hard through the rain. And that’s what we did, pedaling past the “No Parking” signs, the scattering crowds and the four-wheeled vehicles which were stalled again in traffic, but whose passengers were mostly dry.

Bumping along Katrina-ravaged streets and over railroad tracks, navigating potholes and watching out for the streetcars, we pedaled the roughly two miles to the sanctuary of home.

It had been a rough day for the bikes. Maybe they deserved another year off.

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