Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Orleans, Part 2

Monday morning was orientation at Little Farms UCC, where we heard from Rev. Alan Coe, the Minister for UCC Disaster Response in New Orleans. He told us a little about the situation and how UCC Disaster Response approaches their work. People with whom we'd be working are members of area UCC churches who'd possibly already used up their government assistance to pay back their insurance companies. And as it turns out, faith-based groups are doing most of the cleanup. I saw multiple homes with Catholic Charities banners waving out front, we ran into a Methodist group on the way down, I said hello to a Presbyterian group in the French Quarter. So there is a powerful presence of faith groups working there. The flip side of that is that one house may take a year or two to be rebuilt...who knows if a group will be down to work on one's house one week to the next, and then how skilled they are; how quickly they work?

After that, we were divided into four teams. My team ended up at a house owned by Sandra, who used to live in the lower 9th Ward before buying this house for a steal with her insurance money. This was a very sturdy brick house that didn't need a lot of work on the outside, but had pretty well been gutted and redone on the inside. We were charged with hanging, mudding, and sanding drywall initially. That ended up taking us only until Wednesday, so we began to turn our attention to other things.

It seems that volunteer groups are very self-directed. UCC Disaster Response has a guy in charge of overseeing who needs what at each site, but otherwise groups self-select a team leader and follow his/her lead. By Wednesday we'd sanded drywall until the dust was coming out our pores, so we turned our attention to other jobs. A few people began priming walls, a few finished the drywall in the laundry room and bathroom, and I was part of a team that began texturing the ceilings.

Here's the thing about texturing ceilings. Some just roll paint on, and some go for that swirly mud effect. We used something called a popcorn sprayer, which is a big funnel of goop attached to an air compressor, which you subsequently spray at the ceiling. I was the appointed sprayer and, if I say so myself, became quite efficient at it. We ended up doing three rooms and the hallway. It made my arms tired, but was a lot of fun.

So now I have to say something about the French Quarter. Basically, it's awesome. Wednesday evening we went to the Cafe Du Monde. You only order two things at the Cafe Du Monde: beignets and cafe au lait. You have other choices, but that's all you should order. Beignets are these little puffy fried donuts covered in powdered sugar that are probably kind of like the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness. Their cafe au lait is your basic coffee with chickory added, and it was pretty much the best cup of coffee I've ever had. So I sat there on the patio of the Cafe Du Monde eating beingets and drinking the Best Coffee Ever while listening to a pair of street musicians playing some smooth funky New Orleans jazz. I could have sat there the rest of the evening and been completely happy.

But I didn't. A few of us also sampled the fine cuisine at a place called The Gumbo Shop. I wanted gator sausage, but they were out, so I had their gumbo along with a local brew called Avida Amber. We toured the shops, and eventually ended up on Bourbon Street. There are only so many bars and strip clubs you can witness all in a row before your mind starts to numb out. Maybe that's why so many frat boys and Girls Gone Wild go there. We did see a street preacher with a bullhorn trying to clean the place up, but mostly it was people milling around acting like the beer you'd get in one place would be different than the beer you'd get at the next place. Virtually every bar had a band playing, which wasn't bad. Probably the saddest sight I saw there was a pair of strippers in bikinis hanging out in front of their club wearing these half-vacant stares as if they were wondering at what point it'd all gone wrong. I can now say that I experienced Bourbon Street, but I don't know if that's really saying much.

All in all, it was a great trip. I enjoyed the work, and the touristy highlight for me was definitely Cafe Du Monde. My Association is already planning some trips for early next year, but I've pretty well rationed out my vacation time already. That, and there's a baby on the way.