The colorful paint on this custom motorcycle captured the passion of the city of New Orleans wonderfully.
Friday morning I woke up with the hopefulness of a riverboat gambler holding a hidden ace up his sleeve. No, I wasn’t heading up the river on the famous paddle wheel steamboat, the Natchez, but I was going to participate in New Orleans Bike Week
’s Plantation Poker Run.
Even though it was just past eight o’clock in the morning, the parking lot of the Riverwalk Festival venue was already filling up. Seems like there were plenty of other riders feeling like it might just be their lucky day too and that they were going to be the one to ride away with the new Harley-Davidson
Sportster grand prize. While many of the bikers sat around polishing their bikes and exchanging in friendly conversation waiting to head out as a group, I grabbed a tally card and route map, fired the 2009 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide up and set out first. My wife and I, who accompanied me on the trip in celebration of our 10th anniversary and who is my lucky charm, got the drop on the pack with the help of a GPS. We punched in the address for New Orleans Harley-Davidson and set out with the old adage ‘the early bird gets the worm’ in our heads. Besides, the sun was out and it was already sticky and warm and keeping in motion meant keeping cool. I also had the powdered sugar confections known as beignets on my mind so a pit stop at the world famous Café Du Monde was in order first.
Cruising around the downtown area, riders will quickly become aware of the unkind nature of the hole-ridden and uneven nature of New Orleans’ streets. Heading out of town for the first stop of the poker run, it was a short hop to
Friday we took a ride through the bayous outside of New Orleans for the Plantation Poker Run where we visited historic mansions like the Destrehan Plantation (above) and Oak Alley (below).
Kenner and New Orleans Harley-Davidson. The rear suspension on the Glide was a little soft for riding two-up, so a trip to the dealership’s service department was in order. They happily obliged as one of the techs grabbed his pump and met me at the bike and adjusted the rear suspension to meet the demands of the rough roads. Our first pick wasn’t promising, a lousy eight of clubs, so we hopped on the Electra Glide for the next leg of the ride, but not before my wife found just the pair of new Harley-Davidson riding boots she had been looking for to the tune of 90 bucks. I think the smiling salesgirl saw us coming from a mile away.
As much as I love toiling around town to enjoy the unique architecture of the city, it felt good to escape the crush of drivers who shoot out from unexpected angles and the stoplight-to-stoplight crawl of the French Quarters. The next stretch of the run was built up on a bridged road that gave us an overhead look at the bayous and the dank green canopy that envelops the marshy ground. The fertile ground was so thick with ground cover that I could easily see how it fostered folkloric tales of wild swamp creatures. A car could be spotted here and there under the pylons of the bridge as solitary fisherman dropped a line in their favorite secret fishing hole.
Our first stop was at the Destrehan Plantation with its claim to fame as the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi River Valley. With its giant white columns and a second floor balcony that runs the length of its façade, the antebellum mansion conjures images of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.
Ladies in big hooped dresses from eras long past gave tours through the hallowed halls. As much as we would have loved to have heard the full history of the historic building, the need to shoot photos for a potential feature in MotoUSA the magazine took precedence. As I staged the bike in strategic locations, my wife clicked away as the pictures captured the contrast of old architecture versus the new engineering embodied in the Harley-Davidson.
Chef Rob Vance from New Orleans' La Bayou prepares some bone-in pork chops with an apple-cider glaze for the Chrome Kitchen cookoff held during New Orleans Bike Week 2010.
The adventure continued as we visited Laura Plantation next, by far the most antiquated yet most symbolic of the plantation houses, followed by Oak Alley with its corridor of perfectly placed regal oaks that lead to its front doors. The final stop was the colorful San Francisco Plantation, the most ornate of the bunch. Built in the old Creole style way back in 1856, the mansion reflects “La Belle Epoque” which celebrated the finest things in life in its grand design and the opulent nature of its architecture and décor. Its twin cisterns, round towers on each side of the rectangular building that served to store water for the house, had grand spires that pointed to the sky and looked more like the tops of temples you’d see in India.
It wouldn’t be a good trip to Louisiana without taking advantage of more Cajun cuisine. Down the road from the Laura Plantation we found a small local chow house called B & C Seafood around lunchtime. The pictures of 12-foot alligators, giant snapping turtles and monster catfish harvested from the nearby waterways attest to the freshness of the catch-of-the day. A hearty bowl of seafood gumbo and an oyster poboy hit the spot for two hungry travelers. We paid our compliments to the chef, a six-foot-tall alligator who had been stuffed in a standing position and dressed up in a white chef’s suit and hat.
Doing photo passes and taking pictures at every plantation meant it was a good thing that we got an early start because we had to race to get back before 4 p.m. cut-off time to turn in our hand. A traffic accident east of the city on I-10 made me wish lane-splitting was law in Louisiana as I watched the digital clock on the Harley creep closer to four. Some deft maneuvering got us back to the Riverwalk Festival with ten minutes to spare. We also learned that the crew at New Orleans Harley-Davidson had made a mistake and weren’t supposed to draw any cards, which meant our original eight went back in the deck for a chance at five fresh cards. We got a promising Ace as high card but couldn’t match it up and an A,10,7, 4,3 combo wasn’t going to win us anything.
Dave 'Letterfly' Knoderer keeps a steady hand while he works his custom painting and pinstriping magic at New Orleans Bike Week 2010.
After turning in our hand, we spent a little time checking out vendor’s row where we saw the steady hand of Dave ‘Letterfly’ Knoderer painting a skull on a front fender
freehand. Creating colorful murals and precision pinstriping by hand seems to be a dying art and it was refreshing to watch the talented artist at work. A rider from Arkansas, Bud Harrison, stopped by with excitement in his eye as Knoderer was painting an ornate mural on his tank based on a drawing Harrison’s son had done for his father. His pride in having something his son had created for him permanently captured in paint on the tank of his 2005 Vulcan Classic 1500 was evident. Working under the mantra ‘Have brush will travel,’ Knoderer travels the circuit bringing his talent to different events around the region.
We next followed our noses to the aromas coming from the Chrome Kitchen where Chef Chad Richardson of Primo’s Restaurant was busy preparing some sliders with roasted meat and poblano peppers while Chef Rob Vance of La Bayou waited in the wings to begin creating his featured bone-in pork chops with an apple-cider glaze. Participants got to indulge in the tasty treats for free with the only requirement being that they filled out a questionnaire where they rated the dishes from the various chefs to see who would become the new ‘King of the Chrome Kitchen.’ Organizers of this unique event have plans to make the Chrome Kitchen a staple on the rally circuit as a showcase for regional culinary talent and to promote the local dishes of different locales around the States.
Adjacent to the Chrome Kitchen stood what at first glance appeared to be an old bus. From its black and white exterior, you wouldn’t realize what lie inside of this refurbished 1987 International school bus. But walk up the sandblasted steps and you enter a tailgater’s dream. The bus has been gutted and what once held stiff, high-backed seats has
The Extreme Tailgate Bus has butterly doors that open up to expose the ultimate tailgating kitchen complete with a 36-inch smoker and a 48-inch gas grill.
been replaced with high-class accommodations. Both sides have been decked out with beautiful custom wood-paneled cabinetry. A big table perfect for playing cards or having a meal has been tailored into the right side right across from a 47-inch satellite TV. It also has a touch screen computer inside the cabin while two more 47-inch TVs have been mounted on the exterior of the bus. The roof has been raised with a seven-inch body lift so you can move around comfortably without crouching. It also has a built-in beer tap, because what good is a tailgate party without some cold suds flowing amongst friends.
But the piece de resistance is its cooking area in the back of the bus. It’s got butterfly doors that open up to reveal every tailgater’s dream. On one side there’s a 48-inch gas grill and a 36-inch smoker with a big stack that filled the air with the smell of the chicken smoking inside. On the other side sat a prep table, a side burner, it was equipped with refrigeration and has hot and cold running water. It’s the coolest ‘bus’ you’ll ever see.
The Extreme Tailgate Bus is the mad creation of an adventurous group called Imagimotive out of Magnolia, Texas. Run by the Mims family, sons Kevin and Robert along with their father Mike have also created custom trailers and vans and a neat little innovation called the Tailgate Party Box. But the bus is hands-down their crowning achievement. You could own your own ultimate party bus for the paltry sum of $160,000. If I ever hit the lottery, I’ll be giving the Mims a call. Until then, I’m still a Hibachi grill and a plastic Coleman cooler type of guy.
When Brian Howe sang, his voice boomed. But he spent too much time airing personal grievances with the sound guy instead of bucking up, being professional, and entertaining the crowd.
The night ended with a concert by Brian Howe of Bad Co. fame. Something tells me Howe has never played a true biker event before based on his reaction to someone ripping off a squealing smoky burnout after his first song. At the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, revving engines during the show are a compliment to the band. Of course, if a band sucks, bikers will also try to drown them out when a chorus of bikers rev it up at the same time. When Howe sang, his voice was money, but he spent much of the show displaying his grievances with the Broken Spoke’s sound guy. The funny part is, none of the other bands had any problems putting on a solid performance. It might have had more to do with the ego of an aging rocker playing to a much smaller crowd than he was accustomed to in his Bad Co. heydays but he let his agitation get in the way to what could have been a great show. Luckily, Bourbon Street beckoned and we went in search of our newest favorite drink and found it in the form of an elixir called the ‘Hand Grenade.’