Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hurry Up and Wait: More from New Orleans

Hurry up and wait. That sums up much of life down here. We seldom get started when planned due to having to wait for something, or having to find an address, or to get a key, or something. It’s always something.

There was an emergency today and we were diverted from mucking out houses and sent over to a church west of New Orleans to erect a tent city. Overnight, I was transformed from a "homewrecker" to a "homebuilder." The work wasn’t nearly as hard and the air was a lot more refreshing as what we’ve been doing since Monday, but it was also less rewarding. This "tent city" consists of 70 "tents" that are made out of corrugated plastic (like cardboard, only waterproof) that’s riveted together. The tents are placed in "pods," each which has a central heating and cooling system. It’s really quite ingenious. The people we were helping was trying to get ready for their first group which is coming in this weekend, seventy-some college students from Texas who will spend two weeks working in the area and living in this plastic village. The village is designed to be used over the next two years and can house up to 140 workers. The "tents," when properly constructed and anchored, are supposed to withstand 70 mile per hour wind. Jim, our local crew leader, tried to put the best spin on things. "Well, y’all naw, I didn’t naw about this job," he told us in his thick accent as we were eating a meal his wife had fixed (jambalaya and fried fish with wonderful lemon pies). "But it kinda wore on me, y’all naw, got challenging getting those rivets in at the right place." I hope he didn’t see me roll our eyes. My hands, after a day of this type of work, feel old and arthritic.

Coming back home this evening, we missed out turn. Looking at a map, we decided to cut across through the central part of the city (Between the Garden District and where we’re staying near Loyola University. Soon we were in an area where there were no lights (not even streetlights) and no people. It was eerie driving through there in the dark. Only a few blocks away, on both sides, life is returning to normal, but this neighborhood is still abandoned.

The headlines of today’s The Times-Picayune reads "Sigh Seeing." It’s not a misprint. The article is about Grayline and Isabella Tours offering sightseeing tours of the devastation. The Grayline tour is $35; Isaballa’s tour is $49, but also includes the 9th Ward. Both have been in the city for years, giving tours of historic sights. There is a debate going on over whether or not this is "callous profiteering," or just plain "distasteful." Of course the companies are saying they’re helping get the message out about how bad the city has been devastated by Katrina. In other local news reported in today’s paper, there are still 161 bodies who haven’t been identified, they’re still searching for bodies in the lower 9th ward, and a crucifix damaged in the storm is "in the hands of the master." I thought that last article was somewhat funny, for there are many of us who worship the guy represented on the crucifix as the Master.

Tomorrow is our last day in the city. We’re not going to have much time for work, but instead will get a tour of our own, (no, we’re not paying 49 or even 35 bucks), but we will go into some of the areas we’ve yet seen and the site of some of the levee breaks. Tomorrow is also "12th Night," (also known as Epiphany), which supposedly kicks off the Mardi Grad season (of course it heats up the closer you get to Ash Wednesday). We’re leaving at the wrong time. This trip has been enlightening.


  1. I've been really fascinated by your stories from the deep south. I hope you weren't in the confrontation reported in the newspapers this morning between home owners and crews bulldozing debris off sidewalks. Sounds like volunteers such as your self had to require police escorts.

    Have a safe trip back.

  2. I'm sure you'll have more stories to tell once you're home and can digest it all. Photos too.

  3. Ed, we didn't have any problems down there. Some of the folks are upset about the "sigh seeing" but everyone was very nice to us and seemed to appreaciate what we were doing.

    Colleen, hopefully I have photos later in the week.

  4. I look forward to the photos, Sage.