New Orleans–Epilogue

OK, so this isn’t really an epilogue, but I never finished writing about the Spring Break Outreach to New Orleans. I’ll cover the last 2 days, then we’ll have a proper epilogue.

So, first of all, the dates on all previous New Orleans Entries reflect the day that the entry was made, not the day the events occurred. Thus the “Wednesday” is actually about Tuesday. The days here will refer to the actual day events occurred.

Wednesday

(I already posted about Wednesday, but I was too busy talking about food and whining about silly things to write about what we did)

Wednesday I was separated from the rest of the group and sent off with the chain saw crew. Sadly, I never got to use a chainsaw, I was just hauling branches around. Honestly, I think this was the toughest job I had all day. I really wasn’t sure I’d make it. My feet were hurting from the all the walking. See, taking things out of houses doesn’t require much walking, we had enough people to get a pretty good “bucket brigade” thing going so little footwork was required. Anyway, so hauling branches and larger pieces of wood is a lot of whard work. Fortunately we had a lot of downtime.

After we ate lunch (hurray for MREs!!), a guy driving around the neighborhood stopped to talk to us for a while. He was interesting to talk to, although some of the stuff he said was either conflicting or didn’t make much sense. He did make the point several times that every neighborhood in this area was named “lake-something” (lakeview, lakewood, etc.) and that when the levee broke, “The Lake” came rushing back in.

Amusing conversation during lunch:

Me: Joel, what kind of bird is that?
Joel: Well that there is a flying bird. As opposed to a bird that doesn’t fly. I know that bird can fly, I’ve seen it do it.

Maybe you had to be there.

After we finished clearing out most of the backyard of the first house, we visited the Lakeview district. This is one of the areas where a levee broke. This was the first real destruction I’d seen in New Orleans. What I’d seen up until now was just damage (mostly from water). I’ll be posting pictures soon (really), words don’t explain it very well. Large portions of walls were missing from houses, utility poles lying on the ground, cars ruined. Serious destruction. We could see the area where the levee had been repaired (again…pictures really will go up soon).

We met a guy and his family who had lived in the neighborhood. He had been staying with his extended family in Tennessee. He pointed to an empty lot and said “That’s where my house was”. His house had been on the side of the street where the levee was. There were still a number of houses there, so I’m not sure if his had been demolished after the levee broke, or if it was washed away when it broke. His aunt’s house was across the street, and he invited us in to take a look around. It had been a really nice house, but it had some large holes were houses shouldn’t have holes. He said “Crazy, isn’t it?” and thanked us for coming down to help.

The second house we went to for brush clearing operations wasn’t one we could do anything for. The tree was wide and tall and would have interfered with either power lines or houses if we took it down. Our equipment was limited mostly to chainsaws, so we couldn’t do anything really interesting. The third house had plenty of stuff for us to clear out in the back yard. I started to get my second wind just as we were finishing up, but that was the last job.

So that’s the work we did Wednesday. I’ve already posted about the rest of the day.

Thursday

The School (SUM) was sending volunteers to a local drug rehab program building project. They were doing a lot of work on their main building, basically replacing the first story with cement blocks. There wasn’t anything to do on the building itself, but they had a house two stories down that staff members used, and we were putting insulation up in there. This was by far my laziest day (I kind of like to think I deserved it after Wednesday). The lazy pace was nice, and talking to the other guys that went there with me was interesting. One of the guys there had worked with me Tuesday moving those nasty-smelling refrigerators. He said that back home he worked in a sewage plant dealing with raw sewage, and he had never smelled anything that bad before. I think I’m glad I have a really bad sense of smell.

We talked for a while to one of the staff members at the place. He was telling us about where he lived and about the neighborhood. It was interesting to hear his perspective. He placed the blame for the problems squarely on the shoulders of the Army Corps of Engineers. Apparently that’s not an uncommon mindset there (see http://www.levees.org). I’m not sure what to think of that–I don’t have enough information to comment intelligently. When we were talking later, one of the guys in our group said, “You know, everything that had to go wrong here for this to happen, did. I don’t think any one group can be completely blamed for this.” I’m inclined to agree with that statement.

The story of the main building they were renovating is cool. In their rehab program they had all the professional types they needed to do the work–block layer, licensed electrician, carpenter, etc. Apparently the block layer had finished the program and left, but his assistant had learned enough from watching him that he was able to take over. And he was doing a really nice job. Sticking blocks together is easy–sticking them together straight isn’t.

One the insulation was up, we took a drive through the lower ninth ward. This is another area where a levess broke, but this is the one you hear about on the news. The breach was much larger, and the destruction is incredible. The pictures don’t even give a real sense of the extent of it. I have pictures of foundations, just foundations. Wait for the pictures.

Thankfully, chapel was really short Thursday night. It was a good message, but I’ve completely forgotten what it was. That happens to me a lot. I don’t think it’s a good thing.

Friday

Friday I was put to work as a mechanic. They had a large panel truck that needed to have the master cylinder replaced. I was a little apprehensive about this because I hadn’t done much work on larger vehicles, and I was afraid this was going to be some long, involved, highly technical job. So I open up the hood, and the master cylinder is right on top. Held on with two bolts. It doesn’t get any better than this, folks. 🙂

Swapping it out was easy. They had the proper wrenches for tightening and loosening brake lines, so I didn’t have any trouble there, either (yeah, just try loosening a brake line with a combination wrench sometime…most of the time you end up hurting yourself). I managed to squirt brake fluid all over the side of the truck while I was bench priming the master cylinder. For some reason the paint didn’t dissolve…I could just as easily chalk it up to a miracle as anything else. At one point I was “borrowed” to move some pews from a trailer into a church. Pews are really heavy. Especially when you move half a dozen of them.

I finished the brake project a little bit after noon. This was good because we were planning on heading out around this time. I had time to shower just before the girls got back, so we were all packed and ready to go about the same time. We visited Cafe Du Monde (spelling?) on the way there. I honestly wasn’t all that impressed (although I did like the greasy, sugary pastry thing), but it was interesting to see downtown New Orleans.

The flight back was fairly painless. First we flew to Atlanta (the nearest Delta hub), and from there to Seattle. The Atlanta airport has smoking lounges…which I don’t mind, but their ventilation left something to be desired. I don’t like the movable armrests on the airplanes. If the person sitting next to you is too big for their seat–they put the armrest up, which means they’re spilling into your seat. That is not cool.

The Atlanta to Seattle flight was ok, but I was really ready to get off the plane. There is NO legroom. I think if I’m ever on a long flight again I will just pay through the nose for a seat with legroom.

OK, this post is already way too long. I’ll do an “Epilogue Proper” post pretty soon here.