Monday, February 14, 2011

A Streetcar Named St. Charles

There are a handful of "must-do's" for us when we visit New Orleans. One of them is to ride the St. Charles Streetcar. (We'll cover the others on the list in the next few days.)

We picked up the streetcar (don't call it a trolley) at the corner of Carondelet and Canal Street. A turn onto Canal, a one-block stretch south, and a right turn onto St. Charles began our morning's travel along the 13-mile route.

This photo shows the neutral ground (or median strip) between the lanes of St. Charles Avenue.

The "neutral ground" got its name from early New Orleans when the French and Spanish could do business between sections of the city standing on the neutral ground.

The St. Charles Streetcar, which began as the New Orleans & Carrollton Rail Road in 1835, is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world. (Service on the entire length of the route was fully restored in June, 2008, after nearly three years due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.)

This is not a ride taken to "make time;" instead, it is a ride taken in order to enjoy the scenery while getting into the rhythm of the methodical shifting of gears and braking every two or three blocks.

I might describe the ride as "rumbling" along St. Charles, through the Garden District, past the campuses of Tulane and Loyola Universities, and past Audobon Zoo and Audobon Park. There was a swaying characteris-tic of old streetcars on old tracks and a rocking at stops and starts that was more comforting than annoying.

As more riders joined us, the driver answered questions posed by visitors, announced a requested stop for a first-time traveler, and shared news with regular riders. The ride took on the quality of a community gathering place on wheels.

The number of riders increased dramatically and the conversa-tions became more animated and higher pitched when school-age kids began their time on the streetcar.

For $5.00, an all-day pass had already enabled us to ride two other streetcars and would allow us to stop along St. Charles to walk through the Garden District or take photographs without having to pay $1.25 each time we get on.

But tday we were headed to a non-touristy destination--the streetcar barn located a few blocks after the streetcar turned off St. Charles Avenue and onto Carrollton Avenue.

Where else but the streetcar barn (right) could I have one of these beauties "pose" with me for a photo.

I had wanted to ask about having my photo taken behind the driver's levers--but in these days of liability cautions, I thought this was pushing my luck beyond its maximum.

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