Eight feet high and crazed housewives
Mon, Oct 6, 2008
Well, it only SEEMS like I got to sleep in, since this is Central Time and that means I'm getting up at 3:40 am. For the second day in a row: Ugh.
Fortunately, I set the automatic coffee timer last night, remembering to add coffee AND water, so I'm able to stagger out of bed and start the IV drip immediately.
Even though most of the other folks are also old, they're still on Seattle time and are sleeping in.
I had expected that most of the folks here would be guys, like the Mexican Housebuilding crew. Turns out that more that half of the volunteers here are of the female persuasion. This is very cool for the cook (me) because it means there's LOTS of people offering to help and actually doing the dishes without being nagged. Every night after dinner, a group of menehunes spirits away the dishes and returns them clean.
Anyway, it's still pretty quiet this morning, which gives me time to power through some coffee and read the local alternative weekly, which has The K-Chronicles (a very cool comic strip that you should read if you're not).
Everybody is fed and coffeed and standing outside for a brief worship service, after which they pile into three vehicles and take off. That leaves Den Mother Kathy and me to clean up after breakfast and put food away. I'm not going out to work because I'll be making dinner tonight and shopping beforehand.
Next door to the Home Coming Center (that's how it appears on the sign outside, and yes, it really should be "Homecoming," but I don't think they'd appreciate it if I pointed that out), is what used to be a laundromat and a barber shop. The buildings are still there, but are completely gutted. The electrical panels are rusty and full of gunk.
The Home Coming Center
Welcome to the neighborhood
The alley between the tailor shop and the laundromat
Inside the laundromat looking out
Turns out there's a local coffee shop just across the street (Nola Beans) with free WiFi. And since this is New Orleans, there's a bottle of hot sauce on each table. Private label hot sauce.
Who cares about computer errors when there's hot sauce on the table at the coffee shop!
Home town pride department: Starbucks is well-regarded locally. Not only were they one of the first companies to return after Katrina, they also paid all their employees "Hurricane Time"--meaning they got paychecks even when the Starbucks wasn't open.
The local Starbucks has a brown line painted about eight feet high all the way around. Near the entrance, the line is labeled: "Katrina."
Off for another shopping expedition! This time we head to "Roberts" except that there's an accent over the "e" so you know to pronounce it "Ro-bairs" (this is not how it really works in French--"Robert" is pronounced "Ro-bair" as in "Ro-bair! Ferme la bouche!" which I heard a lot in French class).
It's a local chain (I've been whining again about buying locally) and the prices seem reasonable, so we start shopping.
One thing about New Orleans--if you ask a sales clerk for help, you are entering into a social contract with that person. They will not simply point you at the correct aisle, they will make it their mission in life to make sure that you find what you are looking for, and will make sure that you encounter no more problems with the rest of your shopping expedition.
I asked one sales clerk where to find the tofu (we have a vegetarian in the group), which is not really a New Orleans concept ("Why wouldn't you just eat meat? Why eat fake meat?"). Anyway, before we parted, he had consulted with three other department heads to determine the best place to find it ("Another store").
Ten minutes later I'm at the shrimp counter buying tiny shrimp ("What's the shrimpiest shrimp you have?") when Mr. Tofu showed up and pretty soon we're having a discussion group about whether the frozen shrimp were smaller than the fresh shrimp (the consensus was they were equally shrimpy).
I'm not sure if I'm expected to send him a Christmas card or not...
After shopping, Den Mother Kathy takes me over to see the levy that broke and let Lake Pontchartrain in. There's a big crane working on building it (and the whole levy is behind a barbed wire fence so that nobody steals it).
Still working on it? Aren't they supposed to be done by now? (Three years later.) Our tax dollars at work. At a leisurely pace...
Building up the levees
Once you get off the main roads, there's a lot more dead houses. A lot of them are brick houses that look quite lovely on the outside, even with the boarded up windows. Most of them don't have the boarded up windows, but are gutted inside.
It's like meeting somebody who was a beauty queen 60 years ago. You can imagine what she used to look like, and it's pretty sad to see her now.
Kathy and I head to the local sandwhich shop to get us a "Po' Boy" (kind of like a submarine sandwhich only more so).
One wall of the place has pictures of traditional New Orleans landmarks. The other wall is entirely covered with pictures of what the neighborhood looked like shortly after Aug 29, 2005 (and yes, everybody mentions the date). The firehouse we just walked past looks like a boat shed. There's pictures of people being evacuated by helicopter and National Guard troops guarding places.
There seems to be those folks here who'd like to forget the whole thing and make everything fresh and new. But there's also a lot of people who view it as a rite of passage, or something to remember as a triumph. There's probably a couple of PhD psychology theses to be had examining those attitudes.
St. Dominic's then and now
The local firehouse (no, it's not a boat house)
Since everybody else is off at work, I figure now is the time to take a shower. And--Thank You Jesus!--these are FABULOUS showers. They're in a trailer connected to a garden hose and powered by propane. Three of the stalls are working and the water pressure is fine and the water is hot and I have paid good green money for motel rooms that didn't have showers this nice.
Compared to Juarez (and our housebuilding trips there), we're living like kings. There's lots of electrical outlets, showers with hot water (the last Juarez trip featured a week of cold showers), and WiFi networks.
I wonder if I could convince Laura to move here...
Of course, not "working" all day makes me feel guilty for not doing more, so I decide to bake some cookies for the worker bees when they return. Laura found this great cookie recipe called "Triple Chocolate Cookies" because they have three different forms of chocolate in them (cocoa, chocolate chips, and white chocolate).
It's not without its challenges, though. There's no measuring spoons, for starters, and after asking around, one of the office folk heads over to Rite Aid to get some. They return with a free medicine dosage tube that is calibrated with teaspoons. But now I feel like I'm in a drug lab. A dose of vanilla. A dose of baking powder. Centrifuge for 10 minutes. Put in the autoclave at 350 for 10 minutes. Duck.
(Everybody likes the cookies and the six dozen vanish pretty quickly.)
The skies open up and we're getting rain of biblical proportions. It's raining so hard, that you can't see more than 100 feet. This is the kind of rain you get in tropical places (like a Hawaiian rain forest).
What's especially weird is that later on we talk to a guy who said it hadn't rained. When we pointed out that there were toads drowning, he just shrugged and said, "Yeah, that's New Orleans. Rains some places, not others."
We get a talk by a guy who is the Mission Volunteer Coordinator for the Office of Disaster Response in the Diocese of Olympia (really, that's his job title). He gives us a brief history of New Orleans in a rambling way that kind of jumps back and forth between the 1950's and the 1790's ("Wait, did the Louisiana Purchase include TV rights?").
The short version is that the area we're in (the Lakeview area) was hit pretty hard when the levy failed and Lake Pontchartrain expanded and the area was covered in eight feet of water.
But because this area was fairly well off, it has made the best, fastest recovery of any area in New Orleans.
The bad area is the Ninth ward, which was hit by the storm surge (it's located on the Eastern part of New Orleans). The storm surge was bigger (20 feet) and stronger (turning houses into boats).
Locally, the Ninth ward is called the "Brad Pitt" area, because apparently Mr. Pitt is spending a bunch of money to try and fix it up. We wish him the best of luck.
What best sums the whole situation up is a comment by Pam, who has lived through it. "In the best of all worlds, it would still be a big mess."
There's one lady, Connie, who gets a lot of credit for rebuilding the Lakeview area. She was telling her story, and it turns out that basically, she was a frustrated housewife living in one of the few livable houses in her neighborhood. No postal service. Driving miles to buy groceries. No neighbors. She was about to go crazy.
Then she met a gal who told her to start doing something. So she decided that she'd get folks together and start cleaning up yards in all the vacant houses. She figured that if they look terrible, nobody's going to want to come back and live in them.
Pretty soon, she had 50 volunteers a day showing up on her front yard and heading out with weed whackers and chain saws and cleaning up their neighborhood. And THAT led to her running the Homecoming Center and creating more neighborhood centers in different areas. (And now folks from Galveston are coming to her for lessons on how to get this thing started.)
It's a good thing she didn't go crazy.
After a VERY long talk, it's time for dinner. Fortunately, tonight's dinner is something that comes together quickly (because there's a lot of very hungry folks and it's going to get nasty if food isn't thrown at them and soon).
The dish features Gulf Shrimp (not the shrimpiest shrimp, though), shallots, wine, cajun seasoning, tomatoes, a mess of pasta and a mad dash through the cupboards for bigger and bigger pans ("Geez! This pan isn't going to be big enough!").
I end up with two big pots of it in about 15 minutes and 20 minutes after serving, there were only a few lone pasta shells sitting at the bottom of two big empty pots. And a roomful of burps.
That's it for now. Tomorrow I'll be heading out on a work crew doing wallboard (which I did in Juarez) so by the end of the day, I'll be plastered (nyuk nyuk).