Algiers to San Juan

freighterIN THAT TIME, and I imagine it’s the same now if the Mississippi River hasn’t been rerouted or New Orleans shipped off to better weather in Tennessee, you could stand at the ferry landing at the foot of Canal Street and see Algiers Point on the far riverbank.

It wasn’t the Algiers of Africa — though confusion was conceivable — it was the Algiers of southern Louisiana where I lived alone for a while in a shotgun house with a pressed-tin ceiling, and I had a black BSA motorcycle too.

The day dawned when I wearied of driving a Yellow Cab, and since I had a good bit of newspaper experience and an adventuring heart, I applied for work in the Caribbean — The San Juan Star in the capital of Puerto Rico. I was roundabouts the age of 30, one divorce behind, another waiting ahead like a poised axe.

I got the job, but I didn’t want to leave the BSA behind, so I headed to the shipping area of Sealand freighters and asked what had to be done to sail the bike to the balmy islands. Just drop it off here, I was told.

So the morning of the day I was to fly to San Juan in the afternoon, I drove the BSA to the shipping area and was told it had to be professionally boxed. Now you tell me — I said — there is no time. So they took it, as is.

Flash forward a few weeks. I took a taxi to the docks in San Juan and was pointed thataway where I found the BSA lying on its side atop a pallet. Putting a motorcycle on its side is no better than upending a Chevrolet. Yipes! I exclaimed, or perhaps it was something more nasty.

I jerked it upright and, to my amazement, it cranked almost immediately. I roared off to the beach house in Santurce where I rented a room from a sports writer and his dusky Dominican lover. A fine place to live, in part due to the large lime tree in the yard, which one likes when drinking Cuba libres. And I did.

* * * *

THE BIG TOE CONNECTION

Not far from the beach house was a housing project full of neither Swiss nor English but Puerto Ricans and so, I was told, there was a crime problem in the area. The BSA was not insured, so this was disturbing.

I purchased a roll of stout twine, and every night I parked the bike directly outside my bedroom window. Around the front wheel of the BSA I tied one end of the string. I ran it through the window and connected the other end to my big toe. This burglar alarm worked well because the BSA was never stolen.

Five months later, I left San Juan and returned to New Orleans. And I sold the BSA by putting an ad in The San Juan Star. It went quickly, and I never saw it again. It was a beautiful bike, and I miss it still.

* * * *

(Another post about the BSA and San Juan is here.)

(Another post about the shotgun house in Algiers and the pressed-tin ceiling is here.)

17 thoughts on “Algiers to San Juan”

  1. It sounds like an adventure of a lifetime that one never forgets. It takes guts to pack up your worldly possessions to move to another part of the country or the world. The Germans call it wanderlust.

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    1. Andrés: I loved living in Puerto Rico. Had not the paper been unionized by a pack of communists (literally) who were forever encouraging labor strife, I would likely still be there. I was there for the five months mentioned here, and then I returned a couple of years later and stayed almost a year more. Both times, I departed due to union troubles. Since I spoke no Spanish at the time, my employment opportunities outside the English-language newspaper were very limited.

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      1. The Happy Wanderer
        I love to go a-wandering,
        Along the mountain track,
        And as I go, I love to sing,
        My knapsack on my back.

        Oh, may I go a-wandering
        Until the day I die!
        Oh, may I always laugh and sing,
        Beneath God’s clear blue sky!

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  2. My husband had an old Indian – burgundy color, not sure of the year – when he was in college. He sold it just before he went into the navy in 1962 and he still misses it.

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  3. I had a ’72 Triumph Bonneville when I was in college. Left it in Alabama when I headed off to grad school because I was afraid of the traffic in Baton Rouge. My daddy sold it for me — got back the same $1500 I paid for it. I wish I still had it — it wasn’t that good of a bike (had the nasty tendency to vibrate apart) — it would be worth considerably more today.

    Great story, my friend.

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    1. Ray: A couple of years before I had the BSA, when I was still married to my first wife, I had a Triumph Tiger. It was a 500-cc, I think. It too vibrated like crazy. So did the Norton Interstate 850 that I took to San Antonio from New Orleans in 1984 when I got back into the newspaper business after about a three-year break. All those Brit bikes had the same problem. The Norton was really bad. I had problems keeping the exhaust pipes connected to the cylinder heads. Oh, well, that’s all in the past.

      Like the reborn Indian brand, they are making Triumphs again, as you may know. They are nothing like those old bikes. They just resurrected the name more than anything, I think.

      Glad you liked the yarn. It was interesting living it.

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  4. In 1965 my younger brother was stationed in Germany. On leave, he went to Britain and bought a BSA Shooting Star. He rode it all over western Europe. When he came home, he shipped it from Belgium. It seemed like it took forever to arrive in San Pedro. When we went to pick it up, he didn’t have the money for the custom fee. I got stuck with it.
    It was shipped on a tub called the “Karpfanger.” The ship was listing terribly while at the dock. A couple of days later, I read in the paper that it sunk leaving the harbor.
    The BSA was a wonder to behold. I never got to drive it. When he left for the university in Wisconsin, he had it packed up in the back of my father’s old 1958 Chevrolet Apache van.
    When I asked him what happen to the bike, he just says “I don’t want to talk about it.”

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