Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Getting There

Last year, John went with ten other people to Biloxi, MS to work on rebuilding houses. Jet and I stayed home and had a pretty good time together by ourselves. But I kept wondering if there wasn't something I could do, too.

I know... a bunch of highly paid professional people going down to do construction jobs. It seems almost a waste of time and potential money. Why not just donate a week's pay to the Mission instead? I don't have a great answer for it other than the fact that I really wanted to get my hands on the work of fixing something that's broken. To do something about what's wrong, still, and still needs to be fixed. And it's not just the buildings that need fixing, everyone says that some of what we're doing is going and listening to people's stories, hearing what they went through and being able to take that away with us.

I'm not sure I even care who was "supposed" to fix it anymore. I don't really care about the debate as to whose responsibility it is anymore. I just wanted to take responsibility for what I can do about fixing people's lives, fixing a community that's really broken, and doing what I can to make the world just a little bit more fair.

Even with all those high ideals I had real difficulty wrapping my head around the fact that I had to pack for 70° weather rather than for the 40° that I've gotten rather used to at home. It's been a cold spring. But it helped that I was really trying to be sparse in packing, since there are laundry facilities there. We packed for four days rather than the seven that we were going to be there for, and added tools, bedding, and our towels. The dorms weren't going to have all the linens, though they could lend stuff it's nicer to have your own.

We're working through the East Back Bay labor organization, and staying at The Seashore, which is a Methodist Retreat Center right across the street from water. It's an amazing deal $75 for a whole week's worth of bedding, shared bath, and breakfast, packed lunch, and dinner every day. But it's only available for folks that are going to be working for the week. So we had to pack a few amenities like our own bedding, our towels, and pillows. I was amused to find that I have practice enough at packing that by the time I was done and had written the note for the Things To Remember In The Morning that I pretty much fell asleep and didn't dream or worry about packing at all. That's pretty good for me.

The alarm went off at 6 am, and I got up, showered, and couldn't stomach anything. Jet has a saying, "It's not morning until after breakfast." I have to agree with him. We all drove to the church, and thirteen people met up there to get into three different vans to get to the airport. Folks have been great volunteering things like getting us places.

It took a while, and Jet begged and begged for me to play foosball with him for a while, so I did until the last of the driving vans arrived. Then I gave him a big hug and he smiled and John gave him a big hug and he giggled and then he tried to climb into the van with us. Poor guy. But he realized he wasn't supposed to and got on his brave face, and he went with Granny and Grandpa to IHOP, so I hope that it's a treat for him.

We got in and I fell asleep, like usual. Napping girl. When we got to the airport check in was easy, and security was a snap, and we were in the concourses a good two hours before the flight. The flight is in one of the small jets, so we actually went all the way to the end of the concourse, down some stairs and through another concourse.

One couple dropped out ten minutes before the plane was boarded because one of them nearly passed out from a relapse of the flu, and it was really scary for a bit, so it was good that they didn't go and did go home. But it was really sad to lose them at the last minute like that.

This account is going to have a cast of 27 at this point, and I'll start with the eleven folks that were on the plane and try to connect the dots as to who is whom and how we're all related, or not.

I and John are married to each other. John went on the trip last year, where there were eight guys and three gals. Only one of the ladies made it back. I came along this year just because he had such a blast last year and because I was thinking I could help and do something and it would be an experience.

Don and Clay - They both went last year, and we know Don and his wife from our church. Don's a white-haired gentleman from the South, and his gracious wife, Dede worked last year, but had to do kid care this year, so didn't come. Clay is their son, who is in the construction business.

Bill -- was my boss nearly five or six years ago. He's a good guy, good sense of humor and works really, really hard.

Kristen -- A very levelheaded lady we know from church who is married to the guy that is part owner of the Pumphouse, one of our best local brew pubs. She teaches as a substitute teacher.

Alan -- A guy we know from church, his wife knits and works at a dance studio. Alan is an engineer, working in bioengineering, and has a great, quiet sense of humor that is really fun. I got to ride with him on the plane both there and back and I was very glad that he was okay with me just sleeping most of the way.

Angie and Mike -- Also from church. Mike's the moderator of the church, John's now the moderator-elect, so they have had to work pretty closely with each other on a lot of things. Angie has a wicked sense of humor and is really fun.

Lisa and Jeff -- They're from church, too, though I know the grandmother of their child a bit better as the head of the Board of Worship and one of the Disciples class members.

That was the plane load of folks. The flight left on time and got to Baton Rouge on time. It was a Frontier flight, so it had a puffin on the tail and wings, whose name, as given to us by the attendant, was Paxton. laughter I am always amazed by the level of detail people can go to. I napped another hour on the plane, either my nap-anywhere abilities were in full force or I'm just extremely sleep deprived from the last few weeks. Either is as likely as the other. But a drink and a snack revived me pretty well, and when we arrived at the Baton Rouge airport the world below us was deep verdant green. The trees were in full leaf, and the world was in late spring!

This is in comparison to Colorado where the buds are just starting to fatten and fill, the tulips and hydrangeas are just starting to come out of the ground, the trees are still stark skeletons, and the grass is still dead brown. There were ferns! And lots of plants and it was warm and humid and everything I couldn't imagine when I was in Colorado.

For those of you who are like me, and don't have any clue where Baton Rouge is compared to everything else, it's just a bit north and west of New Orleans, since it was that far inland it got very little storm damage. It also has much cheaper air flights, rental cars, and other amenities, so John decided that we'd all fly into there instead of into New Orleans, which is still pretty expensive in comparison.

John got all three of the rental cars, and I got to drive the first long stretch along the freeway. That was a lot of fun. Though it was really obvious that we weren't in Colorado anymore, as with the trees everywhere, all the sight lines were so limited it felt odd. In Colorado there usually isn't anything obscuring the horizon on all sides, the sky is wide, wide open there, and it's so odd to have it so closed in. We had Bill and Alan in the car with us and we had fun spotting all the Waffle Houses along the way.

The Waffle House seems to be a Southern institution, far more common than anything else on the road, and they're all tiny little brick buildings and they all seem to have someone inside them, eating at any hour of the day or night. It's pretty amazing because there seems to be one on every exit and nearly ever 200 feet in some of the more highly populated areas.

We stopped at Abita Springs, and the exit had a Waffle House, but our destination was the Abita Brew Pub. Abita beer was the only beer that they seemed to be able to get that was a locally brewed beer the last year they were hear, so John remembered the name and looked up the brew pub, and found that it was halfway between Baton Rouge and Biloxi. So we all stopped there and got lunch/dinner as we hadn't had anything on the plane. John was smart and got the jambalaya, a nice rice dish with plenty of sausage and seafood and the taste he gave me was delicious. I got the Overstuffed Shrimp Tchefuncte, mainly because I'd never seen it before.

It was good, too... though it was more like a giant, spicy hush puppy made from a very good bread-based stuffing all wrapped around a regular sized shrimp. The deep fried balls were then slathered in a white sauce. There were zucchini on the side along with smashed potatoes that were creamy and good. I didn't eat all the stuffing, but I enjoyed the vegetable and potatoes a great deal along with the shrimps.

The waitress shared the fact that since the storm, Abita has grown a great deal. Quite a few folks from St. Bernard's Parish have rebuilt in Abita, rather than in New Orleans. The whole town has doubled, and with all the new construction, everyone in town has been doing really well. The new personalities have meshed well with the town as a whole, and the workers, when they get paid, often spent a lot of that money right there in that bar. Hee. So that was pretty cool in that the local money came to stay local. As Kristen said, "Buy something at Wal-Mart and your money goes to China, buy a micro-brewed beer and your money stays local."

John drove from there, as we were starting to near the Gulf. Mike came with us, as Don had to go to New Orleans to pick up a couple more people.

First was a town called Waveland, which was at the eye of Katrina when she hit land. It was devastated, and last year, they had seen nearly nothing in terms of businesses, and there were trailer parks everywhere. This year, however, there were lots of signs of life and business, even on a Sunday there was plenty of traffic, open businesses, and even more than just the one restaurant they'd seen last year! It was pretty cool how much of it was built. But there were so many pockets of stuff that was still just rubble or cleared land that hadn't been built two and a half years after the storm. There were still a lot of businesses and buildings with boarded windows and empty lots. We just kept heading east along the shore.

There was a marina that was just a crazy mess of sticks last year, but now has a restaurant and all kinds of shrimp ships and other kinds of ships all parked there now. But a few miles down we saw another pier that had been left a complete mess.

The beach was a mess, as there's been a storm recently, and a lot of the sand had blown or been washed onto the street. But John and Mike were amazed to see people on the beach this year, as there hadn't been any last year, nearly at all. We saw all kinds of houses that were rebuilt but nearly as many were still wrecked or just completely cleared pads. It was kind of strange to see so many beautiful, stately, really expensive houses next to boarded up ruins and plain for-sale concrete pads. It would be unbelievable anywhere else.

We reached the Methodist Retreat Center not that much later. Seashores is the name of the place, and it houses people for $75 for a whole week in a dorm room like setup. So we can sleep 16 per room on bunk beds. It's not that comfortable, but it's better than nothing. And the price is right. I'm not quite that happy with it, but the bathrooms are better than most camping ones, and we can clean it more if necessary.

There we met up with nearly everyone else.

This included the three folks that flew in yesterday, at least six folks that came in by car, and a five folks from Philadelphia, who were a family that had met Don when he was here two years ago. So, in a way, it all kinda grew from Don, who spoke about it and got the group to come last year, and last year's group got everyone else to come this year.

I'll introduce those folks tomorrow as, honestly, I don't remember all the names at this particular time. Breakfast is at 6:30 a.m. and then there's going to be sitting around and waiting on what jobs are going to be assigned to whom, so I'll have more time to write, tomorrow, I think.

There was a small run to the grocery store, where I finally got a comb as I'd forgotten to pack one. And some water for the night. By the time we got back everyone was asleep because of the early start. I think that there might be a wifi connection in one of the RVs so I might have a chance to upload this while I'm out on the road. That would be more fun. Now if I could only find the cable for downloading my pictures!! Oh, well, no cable, so the pictures will be added after I get back home.
Tags: building_things, katrina, travel

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