Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Work Day #6

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pauline St. Site: Giles, Bob, Mary, Lyn, Glenda
Errands and Clean up: Kathy, Carla, Nancy and Emma

The Wickfield St. site has come to completion of our portion. All we need to do is remove the bracing that was holding the greenboard in place until the Liquid Nails cured.

The Pauline St. site maxes out at about 5 people for effective and efficient working. It’s too small to have too many people and there is only one saw and one nail gun. So we decided to send five people to Pauline St. and four will run a few errands (like print out our boarding passes) and clean up Rampart Center so we can eat dinner, pack and be ready to leave by 5 am tomorrow morning.

The work crew got a bit of an earlier start and the rest of us got the refrigerator cleaned out and a start on some of the housekeeping. Rampart isn’t expecting anyone to arrive until May 10, so we made sure all perishables were disposed of properly. We took what was usable (and didn’t need refrigeration) over to the volunteer center for their use. Some of the items in the fridge were well past edible from past guests! The next group will have plenty of mustard, but won’t have to deal with icky milk or meat.

We were asked to clean the bathrooms, so we got that done. We vacuumed the carpets in the women’s bedroom and the dining room. Bob had already vacuumed the carpet in the men’s bedroom!

We found a place in the French Quarter, within walking distance, to print the boarding passes. This will make check-in as quick and easy as possible.

We then ran by the Wickfield St. house to remove the bracing. Then we took the tools we no longer needed back to the volunteer center and returned the keys for the Wickfield house.

We made a quick stop at Tulane University to pick up a pennant for one of Emma’s teachers. Mr. P has decorated his classroom with university pennants and we thought we could add to his collection.

We grabbed some lunch and while eating the other group called and let us know they would be done earlier than expected.

They were having lunch and then would return the remaining tools and gas up their van for tomorrow. We were able to have our final team meeting early and get to dinner before our restaurant of choice opened at 5:30. (This would be “Eat” down in the Quarter) We were able to get mostly packed (our bedding would have to wait until morning) and we all got to bed relatively early. The first alarm would go off at 3:15am so we could be on the road at 5am.

Today’s Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:

5 hours x 5 people x $18 = $450

Total Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:


Work Day #5

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pauline St. Site: Giles, Mary, Carla, Glenda, Bob, Emma
Wickfield St. Site: Kathy, Lyn, Nancy

We were all happy to see there was no storm damage from the storm that came through over the weekend at the Pauline St site. That crews continued with the baseboards and moulding as well as touch up painting.

The Wickfield site doors finally have a solution. Cut off the bottom of the doors just enough so they can close. We can’t fix the crooked floors, so that’s all we can do.

We prepped the place the re-tiling must be done after the plumbers fixed the plumbing and installed new greenboard. Someone else will have to do the tiling. We don’t have a tile saw with us, nor do we have any tile.

At lunch, we ran into the same guy from AT&T. Kinda freaky. We’re in a different neighborhood and at a different restaurant. We talked to him a bit again.

After we finished up at the Wickfield house, we went over to the Pauline St. house. We got there in time to meet Tamika, who will be living there with her grandfather. She loved how the woodwork looked. She thanked us several times.

The board Emma made and we all signed was given to her. Emma had a hard time parting with it, but I got a bunch of photos so I can put them all together and she will have a copy. Mom brag alert: She did an AWESOME job. All we told her was “design and draw something” and she came up with all on her own.

We anticipate being able to get most, if not all, the woodwork installed tomorrow.

Today’s Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:

8 hours x 9 people x $18 = $1296

Rest Day

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Today is our day of rest. Some folks got up early and went to Café Dumond for Bienets. Some folks slept in. That would be Emma and me. We opted for sleep! We realize we missed out on a New Orleans Classic, but we needed/wanted sleep. Some then went to church at the church where we are staying, others did a little shopping. And some of us kept sleeping.

After everyone woke up and the others returned, we loaded up the vans and went to Stein’s Deli for lunch. Carla’s doctor is best friends with the owner and so we had to check it out. It was everything a Jewish Deli should be and was very good food. Highly recommended!

After lunch we headed over the canal to the Lower Ninth Ward. We were under the impression we had seen horrific destruction around our work sites. We were wrong.

This was a blighted area before The Storm. It had buildings in disrepair to begin with. The area we drove around was densely populated. Single family homes… small single family homes…. but packed in tightly on narrow streets. One of the reasons they had such high losses in the flood was because they simply had more people packed into a square mile. Our neighborhood, for example, just doesn’t have that kind of density, even though we feel pretty darn packed in. Our lots run in the 1/9th of an acre range. I would say these were more like 1/18th of an acre. We can park cars on both sides of the street and still have room to drive down the middle. If a car is parked on the street, there is barely enough room to drive between car and opposite curb.

One of the things I noticed was there were not a lot of FEMA trailers in this neighborhood. These folks were renters, not homeowners. They went off to Houston or Little Rock or Atlanta and never came back. They had nothing to come back to. The house they lived in was unlivable. Their possessions were destroyed. Their family and friends were scattered around the country. So they had no need for a FEMA trailer. It makes me wonder if that’s why so many FEMA trailers have gone unused. There are a few FEMA Trailer Parks around the city that we have seen. Surely there are others. We saw one Tent City underneath a freeway. According to the papers, there are a lot of squatters in the condemned housing. But many many have simply left. They will probably never return. They just don’t have a reason to come back. No family here. No friends here. No job here. No property here.

We drove up to the levee that is against this neighborhood. The water is high today. It rained hard last night. It wouldn’t take much more rain to have that water come over the levee again. A breech would send an unbelievable amount of water back into this neighborhood. Just like every neighborhood built against a levee. So many neighborhoods in Sacramento face this threat too.

We decided to head back to Rampart Center as we became increasingly uncomfortable. It wasn’t so much that we felt unsafe, but we felt intrusive. There were people out. Some working on their homes. Most just trying to live in these houses. We were looking at them like a tourist attraction. We weren’t really… we just wanted to be able to tell their story.

We regrouped back at Rampart Center. Giles and Mary wanted to do some shopping in the Quarter, so they went off to do that. The rest of us got on the Canal Street Streetcar to go out to one of the historical cemeteries. On our way there, it started to rain. And by “rain”, I mean a torrent. Firehose like. Sure, we get those kind of red cells moving through back home. But this didn’t move through. This was the kind of rain we had going out to meet Kurt the night before. The kind that your windshield wipers just cannot move the water off fast enough. We decided to just look at the cemetery from the Streetcar. The rain started to let up on the trip back. By this time we had decided to transfer to the St. Charles Street Streetcar and take a ride through the Garden District. The rain had returned with a vengence by the time we had to switch Streetcars. We got soaked.

We enjoyed the ride and the glance at the old money homes of New Orleans. Such a stark contrast to where we had been earlier. We went past Tulane University and Loyola University. At the end of the line was a small café where we got some coffee, hot chocolate, cookies and croissants. The rain had stopped again and we were able to sit outside and dry off a bit. We headed back to meet Mary and Giles for dinner. We had dinner at a place where I don’t think anyone got what they thought they were getting. Except for maybe Emma who ordered Chicken Tenders. Emma and I left the group and did our souvenier shopping and we walked part way down Bourbon Street. There was a section that was just raining beads and Emma got a bunch. She wanted to just stay there and get more and more beads. I finally reminded her that we had a weight limit on our suitcases and we had enough.

Today’s Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:

0 hours x 9 people x $18 = $0 It was a rest day after all. But we did put some money into the local economy!

Work Day #4

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pauline St. Site: Giles, Mary, Bob, Glenda, Carla, Emma
Wickfield St. Site: Kathy, Lyn
McDonald’s: Nancy

I took the time to sit with WiFi at McDonald’s and get everyone updated with the photos. The connection is slow and it took way more time than it should have. I am definitely spoiled by having internet and WiFi just about any place I need it. I have yet to see a Starbucks, Borders Books or Panera Bread… all of which have WiFi available. At least they do back home. There appears to be some sort of citywide internet access here. But connecting has been difficult and that service is ending soon. I can see some wireless ‘out there’ but they all connect to this citywide service via Earthlink.

So I go to McDonald’s, pay my $3 and get 2 hours of connection.

The Wickfield house is crooked. The bi-fold closet doors that need to be installed are proving to be “(expletive deleted) doors” for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the opening for the doors is just *this* much too small. Then the house is crooked. So nothing is anything approaching plumb. The floor rises and falls within inches. The headers for the doors aren’t straight. Kathy and Lyn spent the morning working on those and still don’t have them installed.

At the Pauline Street house, they continued with the baseboard and window trim installation. Stain and varnish, cut and install.

We stopped work at about noon today. We went to Mass at 4pm across town. Kurt, our capital campaign consultant, gave the homily there this afternoon. After dinner he took us to dinner at R&O’s, a local favorite. It is right by one of the levee breeches. It was raining like a banshee when we arrived and dark when we left so we couldn’t really see the breech… but Kurt said it was right across the street and down maybe 50 yards at the most. Mary and I got to hear more of Kurt’s Storm Story during dinner. His Mardi Gras stories were good too. ;-)

Tomorrow is our day off. We will be doing some touristy stuff and seeing some of the city.

Today’s Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:

4 hours x 9 people x $18 = $648

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Work Day #3

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pauline St. site: Giles, Mary, Bob, Glenda, Carla, Emma and Nancy Daley
Wickfield St. site: Kathy and Lyn

We all arrived at the Pauline St. site and then Kathy and Lyn went over to the Wickfield St. site to let the plumbers in again and install a bi-fold door. We continued staining and polyurethane-ing the woodwork and began installation of the baseboards. The stained baseboards are giving the room a nice finished look. We are working our way around the perimeter of the house. We determined we didn’t have enough baseboard to complete the job so we had more delivered and so we have stained and polyurethaned again. Carla and I are experts by now.

We met for lunch (McDonald’s employees are starting to recognize us… is that bad?) (where I got yesterday’s entry uploaded) and found out that Kathy and Lyn are still not done with the door. They took Emma back with them to have her do some sort of painting….as they continue doing battle with the door. We had workers at the house when we returned. The window guys. They are putting the new windows in. We are rather concerned that the windows have neither tarpaper nor flashing. Hopefully, whatever they do will be enough.

By the way…. check back next week after we get back. Since I don’t have much Internet time, I can’t always get photos uploaded. I will be adding photos to most every day’s blog entry.

I haven’t told you about the school yet. Parkview Magnet School. What used to be a school, rather. It is boarded up and mostly chain link fenced. There are several holes in the chain link fencing. We drove past it the first day we were here. Yesterday, Carla and I stopped to take photos. I ducked through a hole in the fence and got some photos ‘inside’. I didn’t go into any of the buildings…. the boarded up windows and doors were still boarded up…. not to mention the safety factor. I was uneasy walking under the covered pathways as it was.

There will never be children here again. The only option here is to raze these buildings. God FORBID there be any children in these buildings.

I could feel the mold in my lungs and I was outside with a breeze. The mold is visible on the buildings. The siding warped. On the lawn, a classroom door….water damaged beyond any hope of repair.

This was a happy place.
Children looked forward to the first day of school here. Did they even get a first day of school in 2005? The Storm hit on August 29. Had school started? Or were they just eagerly looking forward to the first day ‘next week’? Was that happily decorated door ever seen by the children it was to welcome to class?

In an ironic twist, this sign was still there.

It hadn’t been washed away by the flood. It hadn’t been bent by the winds. It hadn’t been consumed by moss or mold. It was the cleanest thing in a sea of things that hadn’t been clean for 32 months. It looked like it had been put up yesterday. No children will learn here again..

Meanwhile, on a lighter note….

I made my blog entry last night and then put away my computer. It was then we started talking to the film crew. The Mixer, Walter Anderson, was in the hall and so we could see and hear what was going on upstairs. We were able to watch the scenes being rehearsed and filmed. We all will be able to say those lines along with the cast when we go see this movie. Mr. Anderson explained to the group of us gathered about how a movie is put together. He also told us he was sure that Forest Whitaker would meet us. Oh… and you might want to go upstairs and wait up there because they were about to wrap up for the night. Remember… this is movie making. They’re done when the Director is happy with a scene… no matter how long that takes. Upstairs we went anyway…. this is an old church with narrow stairs and passageways. There are rooms that are hallways (like the shower area) and small nooks and crannies. Several women are sitting on director’s chairs in one of these narrow passageways just outside the gym door.

(the set in the gym)

Emma has brought a pad of paper and is hoping for autographs. She is, however, far to shy to actually ASK for the autographs. We don’t recognize any of the women and we don’t know if they are actresses waiting for their scene or what. They were crew… Make-up Dept. Head, Key Make-up, Hair Dept. Head, Key Set Costumer, Director’s Assistant and one of the Producers. Kathy asked if they would give Emma their autographs.

We started to wonder if they were going to be done before midnight. We were tired. We were sleepy. There was a break in the action while they moved cameras to a new angle. The Make-Up Department Head, Debra Denson went in and asked Mr. Whitaker if he would do a quick meet and greet. Which he did. He was very gracious and gladly gave Emma an autograph and posed for a photo with those of us still awake… which included our roommates, Chris and Quincy from New York.

It was an interesting end to an interesting and emotional day. Earlier in the day I had walked around this flooded out elementary school. I spent the evening listening to a movie being made about the days following this flood. I heard a little girl say “Daddy… is that our house? Daddy… I want to go home.” This movie is based on real events. Today, they moved to a cemetery for a funeral scene. Next week they film the scenes before The Storm hits. At some point they will or have already filmed the scenes of the family returning home after the flood. I can guarantee you this will be filmed on a set. I can also guarantee you that the horror you will see on the screen will not capture what these people faced. We are even getting the cleaned up version. And there is still a smell in the air. Faint as it may be, it is still there. The piles of debris in the street that has been there for weeks, if not months, gets rained on and bakes in the heat and humidity. As I sit on the front step of our house I have to wonder what goo was upon this step. I wonder what has soaked into the ground here. I wonder if this faint smell will ever really fade. I look at the houses that are still empty, with broken windows and falling in ceilings and collapsing walls and am reminded of something George Carlin said; “…the earth will survive… we don’t need to “save the earth”, we need to save the people…”

The earth will survive. It will take back that which belongs to the earth. These things that are of the people, will not without help. We need to save the people. Earth will take care of herself.

Today’s Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:

8.5 hours x 9 people x $18 = $1377

Friday, April 25, 2008

Work Day #2

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pauline St. Site

Kathy, Giles, Mary, Bob, Glenda, Lyn, Carla, Nancy, Emma

We said good morning as we were leaving for our site to the first arrivals of the movie crew. They were surprised at how early we were heading out to work (8:30am). We are all at the Pauline St. site this morning because the Wickfield site needs supplies delivered. We made a quick stop at Home Depot for sandpaper and rags then headed over.

Carla hung our California Republic flag for the first time at this site.

It is not often the California flag makes a person well up with pride. But it did today. After all, I AM CALIFORNIAN.

Tameka, granddaughter of our homeowner, replenished us with supplies. She will be living in the home and caring for her grandfather. She was very pleased with the progress we had made. She was especially happy to see the things we had fixed to give the rooms a more finished look.

We have noticed that building assignments are given based more on willingness than experience. We are fortunate to have Giles as our Construction Lead. Bob has been working with Habitat for Humanity for years. Kathy and Mary have several years of SSP trips worth of experience. Glenda and I have done our own home repairs. Carla and Emma are happy to take instruction and learn how to complete the tasks correctly.

Our other site required professional plumbers today. There wasn’t much hand on work to do while the plumbers worked. The supplies hadn’t been delivered, so Kathy and Lyn purchased the required correct size bi-fold doors and took them over to that site. Those will be installed tomorrow or Saturday. They also got the tools we needed from the Relief Center for the Pauline St. site. We were able to get the windowsills and trim work cut and stained. Tomorrow we will polyurethane those pieces. We were able to get the polyurethane on the already installed windowsills, window trim and door frames as well as get one side of one door stained. Tomorrow……. more staining and polyurethane-ing as well as installation of the window trim work and baseboards. At least that’s the hope!

While we were waiting for our supplies to be delivered, I took a walk around the neighborhood. Clearly, some of these houses cannot be rebuilt. They have been neglected for far too long. The mold is inside and outside. Holes in the roof have let subsequent storms in again. Windows have been broken that allow both weather and critters inside. They list to one side…or to both sides… sagging under the weight of a water sodden roof and ceiling with only water sodden wood framework to hold it up. Some houses were removed from the planet by tornadoes. A few others have been razed. I could see the remains of flooring on the slab…. where the kitchen and living rooms were. Where the bathroom was.

Construction is happening. Some starting completely over but most just fixing what The Storm left behind. But there is a lot of construction is not happening. As we were leaving the Wendy’s where we had lunch an AT&T employee stopped us. He stopped us to thank us for doing the work. He gave us some lay of the land… we are in the 9th Ward, but the Lower 9th Ward is what we hear about all the time on news. We are working in the Pontchartrain Park section of Gentily. He had evacuated right before the storm and had not been able to move two of their trucks to “safe ground”. These were the only trucks that survived The Storm. The “safe ground” was not so safe after all…. it flooded the trucks completely. He told us he only had nine inches of water in his house and was only out of his house for six weeks while repairs were made. They were able to get in and cut out the wet sheetrock and pull out the wet flooring before the mold set in. He also told us this area was the first “middle class black” area in the city back in the day. My assessment of the economic status of this neighborhood had been correct after all. They were just working folk, raising families like millions of others after the war. They worked hard, raised children that in turn worked hard and raised their own families. Our homeowner recently celebrated his 85th birthday and these family bonds were strong enough to bring his family together from all over the country. His son in California was there. His granddaughter from Baltimore is moving back to care for him.

I hear so many decry how these folks are just looking for a handout. And maybe some are. But many just want to move back home. Some of them are too old to do the work themselves and can’t afford to hire anyone. Then, when people are hired, the work may not be done very well. There are so many who are just looking to make a quick buck and will do a job for cheap, on the cheap. We happened to talk to a man walking down the street who told us how they had to worry about looters still. What would a looter do with an air conditioner? Sell it to another homeowner as brand new.

We rail against all the rules and regulations that California businesses must endure to do business in California. But I see how much I take those things for granted. I know that unlicensed contractors are regularly ‘stung’ by the Contractor’s Licensing Board. I know they are out in force making sure, to the best of their ability, that the scammers don’t take advantage after a wildfire or flood or earthquake. Even this film crew would have been required to have more bathroom facilities available than the single women’s toilet and single men’s toilet that we are sharing with them. (ick)

Speaking of which…….

Back at Rampart Center ------ the move is supposed to be in their last day and night of filming. We inadvertently walked through their set when we got back. Fortunately, for all concerned, they were at lunch. Filming is going on in both the main courtyard (where we walk in) and in the sanctuary today. Tonight, it is in the gym upstairs and the courtyard. I am sitting in the hallway outside our room where the sound crew has set up shop. It is all mighty interesting. Inconvenient, but interesting! It will also be interesting to go see this movie. I’ve watched a scene go through rehearsal several times with several takes of filming. Plus, I’ve been up there on the set before and after the crew has been here. Remember… the showers are up there!

Today’s Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:

7 hours x 9 people x $18 = $1134

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day #1 Post Script

The film crew is working by the time we get back. They are filming "Patriots" starring Forrest Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker is upstairs on set filming right when we want to shower. Unfortunately, the showers re next to the gym. The gym is their movie set. Quiet on the set! After a bit of negotiation, they broke for lunch and the women used both the men's and women's showers VERY quickly so we could be done by the time they returned. We got to Emeril's in time for our 6:30pm reservation. We ate well - from the crab topped potato chip to our entrees to the "one of everything" dessert. The dessert was from our Capital Campaign Consultant, Kurt. He is friends with Emeril's General Manager (or someone...) and was able to arrange the reservation for us.

The movie was still filming when we got back so we took a a walk and experienced Bourbon Street. We heard the music and caught beads tossed to us from balconies (no other requirements asked except that we catch them...). The movie was still going when we returned, but wrapped for the day shortly thereafter. We all zonked out in bed quickly.

Work Day #1

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pauline Street Site

Giles, Bob, Lyn, Nancy and Emma (later, Glenda)

An industrial canal is across the street. The water came right through this neighborhood. I can't see evidence of a high water mark. But I do see where holes were cut in roofs. Is this where people escaped? The street is potholed w/ what could be sinkholes. Some houses are rebuilt. Some haven't been touched. Many RV trailers in driveways and front yards.

Staining baseboards (our task at this site) went quickly. Now to McD's for water, salt and potty.

Jeff, who is the youngest son of our homeowner, along with his wife Tammy, stopped by. Jeff asked us to cut a piece of sheetrock and sign and decorate it.

He told us about the house and the neighborhood. He is an Orleans Parish Sheriff's Deputy and grew up in the house. He is the youngest of six kids. His parents bought the house in 1954 for $11,000 using the GI Bill from WWII. It was a 3 bedroom house without the "den" (family room). After Hurricane Betsy damaged the home, they added the back section on, which appears may have doubled the square footage.

Jeff said the water was up to the ceiling in this house. In his own house, the water was only about 4 feet high. But the water in both places didn't recede for 3 weeks.

Several of the neighbors died in the flood. He pointed out which houses they had lived in and named them. The he point out a couple of empty slabs down the street - just five houses to the south. This is where a tornado touched down shortly after the hurricane. One woman was killed in the tornado, her body being found on the levee behind where her house was. Jeff said it was the first tornado here in his whole life of living here. His adult daughter was moving back to New Orleans to live with her grandfather in this house.

This is a working class neighborhood that appears to have had little change in neighbors since everyone moved in back in the 1950's. You can imagine a neighborhood with children playing and everyone knew everyone else - and how it didn't matter who's momma caught you up to no good, you were gonna get a whoopin' from her.

It is now eerily quiet except for the occasional jet from the airport or the train whistle about half a mile away. There is very little people noise. In a place in need of heavy reconstruction, it is quiet. No children play here now. No neighbors are out visiting.

This place reminds me of the neighborhoods I visited as a child. The relatives we would visit in the summertime, lived in neighborhoods like this. These small homes that raised families in the 50's and 60's. Where people didn't buy their "first" house, but rather their only house. Houses that had the mortgage burned decades ago. This isn't "someplace else" - it is a place very familiar to me.

The mail truck drives by and does not stop here. There is no mailbox. Some houses have mailboxes. Others do not. This is how you know who's living here and who is not. Although it might be difficult to say "living" here when the house cannot be occupied and home is the FEMA trailer on the front lawn.

We have been told to track our hours. Each one of us "earns" $18/hour for the City of New Orleans. The money sent by the Federal Government for relief and rebuilding after The Storm (locals only call it The Storm) must be repaid by the city. Our volunteer hours are credited against that debt.

Today's Volunteer Labor Debt Reduction:
7.5 hours x 9 people x $18 = $1215