ful paraders. The incident got play in the media, and a video of a police officer swatting a smart phone out of the hands of someone trying to document the melee led to that officer’s suspension and an official investigation of the incident. The Krewe of Eris parade is associated in local perception and largely in reality with the entire bohemian/artist/punk/anarchist population of the Marigny/Bywater of which Plan B is a staple institution. So when police showed up at the shop five days after the Eris incident, people naturally assumed the move was retaliation. Police told the media it had been a “voluntary shutdown,” neglecting to say that they threatened to arrest anyone who didn’t “volunteer” to leave. They also failed to mention that when a business’s permits are in question, they must be given two to ten days notice to vacate or show permits. The volunteers of the collective were given two to ten minutes. According to the representative from the Louisiana office of the American Civil Liberties Union, the shut down was illegal.
Not to be defeated, the bike collective took the shop to the streets, setting up a “Mobile Plan B” on St. Roch Avenue, just a few blocks from the Ark. They brought out one of the bike stands, some tools, patches and tubes, an air pump, and a few bins of hardware and set up shop in the “neutral ground,” as the locals call the median. In March, New Orleans weather is mild, warm air stirred by a cool breeze, and the neutral ground of St. Roch Avenue, flanked by old Victorian shotguns and shaded by oak trees, is a pleasant place to hang out. On the first Mobile Plan B day a girl lounged on the sidewalk waiting for a friend to fix her bike. With her greasy yellow locks, lip piercing, black jean shorts and patch-adorned vest, Emily was emblematic of the punk scene that frequents the nearby St. Roch Tavern. The other two girls with her looked more like any normal girl you’d find on a college campus. Emily introduced herself to me and asked what had happened to Plan B and if there was a used bookshop nearby. She and her friends were visiting from Richmond VA, having brought their bikes along with them. She was disappointed about missing Plan B’s ladies’ night on Tuesday evening, the shop night reserved for women and transgendered persons. The collective offers not just bike maintenance but the opportunity to learn a valuable skill set.
Local television stations in their coverage of the shutdown repeatedly referred to Plan B and the Iron Rail as businesses catering to “young transients.” Never mind that these are not businesses. If you live in New Orleans, “young transients” is code for gutter punks, aka unwanted troublemakers. The media therefore, probably by getting their information from the police, managed to stigmatize Plan B and the people who use it. Just as in 1881, cyclists pass through New Orleans on cross-country bicycling tours. Hanging out at Plan B I’ve noticed that the place is a stop for such people, who could be called “transients.” They could also be called visitors. The shop, however, is a resource used by and important to the permanent community, including both renters and homeowners.
I spoke with Victor, a volunteer who’s been active with the Plan B collective since 2005, the year that multiple levee failures allowed the force of Hurricane Katrina to flood New Orleans. He told me how Plan B, with the help of donations from all over the country, was able to resupply the city’s flooded biking population, selling used bikes for ten or even five dollars to people who desperately needed them. Victor attended the March 21st meeting of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association. In a tone conveying the indignation of a great many, he told the Association, “I am absolutely disgusted, disgusted that a city that is so lacking in free social services would willfully and illegally... shut down legal operations that are benefiting this neighborhood because certain people don’t like the way that certain people look.” Sitting in the grass on St. Roch Avenue I saw all kinds of people rolling by on bicycles, including older African Americans and a group of three middle-aged white men who smiled and waved as they passed—a reminder that while Plan B may be an organization of young white punks, they are not the only people who need and use it.
The new mayoral administration of Mitch Landrieu has recognized that. The Mayor’s Office sent the Mayor’s Attaché for Cultural Economy, a new office, to meet with representatives of the collective. Scott Hutcheson was friendly and sympathetic. In a city that runs low on public services, the police had illegally shut down a volunteer-based, completely self-funded community resource. Hutcheson assured the collective that he’d get them whatever permits they needed, although exactly which permits was still something of a mystery, and gave Victor his business card in case the police come back. The shop opened again on April 9th, exactly a month after the Ash Wednesday closure. The commander of the 5th District Police who ordered the shut down action has been replaced.
The positive outcome in all this is that due to all the attention, Plan B now has not only several hundred more Facebook friends to ask for donations and volunteer labor, but the official backing of the Mayor’s Office, a kind of legitimacy these self-described anarchists weren’t looking for but are happy to accept. And City Hall’s recognition of the importance of bicycling to the culture of New Orleans is a very good sign for cyclists, from young punks to yuppies, all over the city.