We actually started at 6:30 in the morning, which is when breakfast starts getting served here. There was an alarm that went off at 6 a.m. but I slept through it. So I'm probably setting one for 6:15 for tomorrow morning. They served pancakes and bacon and I was probably the last person served as, well, that's just the way I am. I'll admit that the coffee was really horrible as it had been brewing since probably 6 am. The reason for breakfast being that early was that the first coordinating meeting starts at 7:30 in the morning at the First Missionary Baptist church. Some 50 people all showed up from Indiana, Ohio, Philadelphia, Oregon, and our big Colorado group. It was a pretty large gathering, but one of our guys, Gary had arrived with his wife, Vicki, several days before we had, and he'd been scoping out all the projects and what we could do on them.
John and I met Gary and Vicki at church, and they'd both gone with him last year. Gary was a building inspector, so he knows building inside and out and how they're supposed to be built. So he really knows his stuff. Their son, Gabe, is a contractor and really good at what he does as well.
Fred was in our group this time, too, and he'd flown in with Teresa and Gabe, the son of Gary and Vicki. Fred's the husband of my massage therapist, and he's a technical artist and an excellent photographer as well as pretty handy with the tools. Both he and Bonnie, his wife, go to our church as well. Teresa we met at church, and she's a nice lady that's very active in a lot of things and she came on this trip without her husband as did Kristen, who was on the plane, yesterday.
The Parsons, Marian and John joined our group as well. They'd driven from Colorado in their Prius, as they had other vacation plans as well. John Parsons has been in construction as well, so our group had a lot of experts, and it made it easier for the job manager to just go on with their other job. He just left it in the hands of our capable folks to do the planning and execution on getting things done.
At the Baptist church Gary was asked to pull 10 or so people to go work with him. Those folks went with him to the East Biloxi Coordination, Relief, and Redevelopment Agency (EBCRR), where we got an orientation on what they do and how they do it, and most of the folks managing the place have lived here and lived through the hurricane. There's still a lot of pain over the whole thing. Something that struck me, though, was the one man who said that there are two kinds of angels now involved with the whole thing. The first were the people who were struck and harmed, people who needed help to get up again and were willing to ask for it.
The second kind of angels were the kind that were coming to help. He said no one believes they deserve to be helped. That really struck me, that no one ever believes that they deserve to be helped, and the whole concept of group after group after group of complete strangers coming to this area just to help them have a home was astonishing to him, to all their clients, and to everyone involved in the project. When the hurricane happened, and this guy was involved in the first groups that came just to help, he and his friends felt that they were about to see something they'd never seen before. That so many people would all just volunteer their time and efforts still amazes him and everyone that works with coordinating all these volunteers. The numbers of volunteers in just the last year have jumped astronomically, until all the missions and places that take volunteers have actually been overwhelmed by the number of people who are coming.
I think that says something about the American public.
It says something about our group that the manager of all the work sites saw us coming on the list of volunteer groups and said, "Finally, a group that actually knows what it's doing. I'm glad they're here." Nearly half our group either has construction experience or worked as handymen or on sites. So in every single group that we split into, someone on the site knew what to do and could answer questions whenever anyone had any. Best of all, the whole group, experienced or not, was very much into the standard of "Do it as if you were working on your own home." So the standards were great across the group and that made it really easy to work with everyone.
When we got to the site, the site manager thanked us for our time and efforts. He said that no matter how little we seemed to get done, it was important because it was just one more thing someone else didn't have to do. I rather liked that attitude, as with all the houses that are still washed out, it could feel very futile to only "finish" one house or even just a stage of a house.
Our main goal was to work on a house that needed sheet-rock installed in it. There was stuff that also had to be finished on the outside of the house, but the big job was to get the sheet rock to a professional level. The group that had installed the sheet rock in the house had not done a stellar job, they'd left screw heads still sticking out of the walls, and some of them they'd broken the paper on the sheet rock with so that they were sunk too deep.
So, for those that don't know, sheet rock is the stuff that is hung on the frame of a house for the interior walls. It underlies wallpaper, paint, or whatever the interior walls are finished with. It's basically slabs of chalk-like substance that is attached with screws to the studs. And it actually provides some structural stability for the house on the inside. The screws shouldn't break the paper too deeply or else it will actually damage the structural strength of the slab of rock, and they can't stick out because when the folks come to finish the wall, then the wall will have bits of metal sticking up out of the straight, smooth surface. So it's pretty exact as to where the screw head has to lie in order for it to perform both functions.
So, yes. I spent the whole day screwing around.
I really like that kind of exacting work. I love doing detail work like that, especially with power tools. John handed me an electric drill with a battery pack (no cords for me!), and let me go. I happily went over a whole room, line of screws by line of screws and tried to fix every problem I came across. If someone sets a screw into sheet rock that doesn't actually sink into a stud, the screw will go into the sheet rock, but before the head can set it'll just twirl like a pinwheel. If the head doesn't set into the paper, then I know it's not actually set into a stud. So I had to take all of those out, find out where the stud was, and then set it into a place where it would meet wood. That way I could take care of all the loose screws.
I also set extra screws where they'd broken the sheet rock too deeply, and I set screw heads just a bit into the paper when they stuck out far enough to thunk against a putty knife.
If this sounds boring to you, it probably would be. *laughter* I'll admit, though, that I had the most fun setting new screws into new sheet rock, because then I didn't have to deal with other people's mistakes. There were three different rooms, a closet, and some other places that needed new sheet rock, so I had plenty to do. The bathroom had to be completely done with water resistant sheet rock, and the back of the kitchen splash guard had to be replaced with the stuff as well. It's a lot like screwing on a deck, when I thought about it, as the screws have to be set at almost exactly the same height as well. Enough into the wood to not stick out of the deck, but not so deeply that it would damage the wood involved.
Two other ladies did all the correction work in the back bedroom. When I'd finished with what I could do in one bedroom, Fred took over and did all the things I had no clue how to do, like the corners and filling in a substantial gap. He also knew enough to fill in all the other gaps in the number of screws along the boards. Michael, John P., Gabe, and John did most of the livingroom and kitchen.
For me, though the biggest difference was that a deck is always underneath me, so getting leverage is easy. Sheet rock not only goes on the walls, it goes on the ceiling as well, and even a five pound drill can get heavy when it's over my head all the time. It's also tough to get leverage from all angles, and harder even from a not all that stable ladder. The best thing, though, was that there was a lift that took sheets of sheet rock and held them against the ceiling! When John and I did ceiling sheet rock, we'd had to hold it up against the ceiling ourselves. Ugh. That was hard work, as those sheets can be really, really heavy.
Lunch was a good break for me. The Mission packed white bread sandwiches with lunch meat and American cheese along with Cheetos, mayo and mustard packets, and some water or pop. But we were all hungry enough to just scarf the stuff down. I hate white bread, but it was food. And I was hungry. I do manual labor on a frequent basis, now, what with the OUR center garden, I am getting more used to it, I think, than I used to be.
I think, perhaps, that that is why I did a lot more sheet rock screws in the afternoon than I think I even did in the morning. Part of it was because it was mostly installing the new stuff rather than just working over other people's mistakes. I helped with the higher wall screws. Gary, Gabe, and the two Johns worked like mad to measure, cut, and just set up sheet rock for us to install completely. They'd set enough screws to hold it up, and we'd do the work of setting the necessary number of screws for each underlying stud along the length of it. When the Bells showed up, Jim and JoAnn, they started right in on a couple of closets and the laundry room.
My right hand started to blister where I gripped the screwdriver, so I got my gloves on before it got much beyond irritated. I didn't want one day's worth of work to disable me for the following days. It made me think about Byakuya and Kaoru and their hand guards. I had almost sprained my right wrist, yesterday, on lugging stuff around. Today, though, it felt just fine, so I just used it as much as I could.
While I took a mid-afternoon break to down a whole bottle of water, the daughter of the woman whose house it was drove up. Several folks who had met her at Shaggy's a nearby bar that has great burgers, all said hi to her. It was cool to have already established a type of connection with the owner of the house. I think we might go there Friday night for dinner, just to say hi and see if she remembers us.
It was funny, though, as we're not used to actually feeling sweaty as a group. We were joking about sweating like pigs, because in Colorado, with the altitude and the lack of humidity, we nearly never get wet with sweat unless we're nearly killing ourselves. Here, at sea level with 80% humidity, we were sweating a lot, and it was pretty funny for quite a few of us. Yeah, we are a little weird.
The site manager closed down the site a bit after 5, and Gary told me I should stop, as it would still be there tomorrow. So I did. We'd finished pretty much the whole interior of the house, which was two bedrooms, a kitchen, the hallway, and a small livingroom. We'd had to use new sheet-rock for the livingroom and kitchen. So there was a lot of work done in just the first day and that was only our group, which was less than half the people we'd brought. The only thing left were the extra screws in the bathroom sheet rock, the things I was working on right at the very end. By the end of the day we were all covered in sheet rock dust and gritty with it. I think that wearing my contacts was probably a mistake. I'll probably use my glasses tomorrow and gain a bit more eye protection along with not having contacts for the grit to just get at.
We went back to the Seashores, and jumped for the showers. There's only two in our room, but we happily went for it, and I got third shower and it was very, very good to pour hot water all over my head. *happy sigh*
It was really funny, to me, when several folks said, "HEY! My towel's still wet from yesterday!!"
It's another Colorado thing. Again, we're used to the fact that if we leave out anything, even nearly wringing wet, it will be dry the next day. Nearly no matter how wet it is. I've had a bucket of water pretty much disappear after sitting out for a few days. So to have a damp towel NOT dry was really surprising to us. But we figured out that the outside dryer worked just fine, and if we really wanted dry towels that was the way to go. So, after our showers, the ladies threw our towels into the dryer and they were dry in minutes. Whew.
Dinner was at Cafe New Orleans: Country Cajun Cooking. They were a small sports bar, and not very busy on a Monday night, so we got all 29 folks into one room, and a big L-shaped table and we all sat down and ate and drank and talked about our day. The next two days were going to be independent, everyone would do what they liked; but Thursday is going to be the Shed and Friday will likely be Shaggy's. So we took advantage of everyone being in one place at one time. The whole crew was working on at least five different projects, so our days are going to be pretty widespread.
Angie and Mike were working on taping and finishing someone else's sheet rock hanging, filling in all the cracks and then applying tape to all the joints between the sheets. They worked in a house that wasn't exactly square, the floor probably slanted towards the sea.
The food was okay. Both John and I got the Cajun sampler that had a bit of etouffe, creole shrimp, gumbo, and red beans and rice. It was far too much for me to eat, but I ate what I liked. I also got a "stuffed crab" just to see what it was like, and it was almost exactly like my overstuffed shrimp. So I don't have to ordered stuffed seafood anymore. So I'm happy about that. And it was good to taste a little bit of everything, even though I'd known what they were all like, it was kind of neat to try their versions of everything.
I also drank two whole glasses of sweet tea. I think I was a little dehydrated, and it helped a lot. We came back to the shores, and I'm just writing. A group went off to a bar to drink and watch basketball and stuff. I decided to catch up a little in my corner. I have a little corner next to my bed where there's a chair, a power outlet, and enough light for my laptop, which is to say not much. I feel nicely isolated in my little corner, and I can just sit and write for a while. So I might get just enough "alone" time to really digest as I go.
I'm sore, but not too sore. I think that tomorrow will start earlier as we know what we're doing, where we're going, and who is going where. There should be no need to reorganize. I really want to finish that bathroom, too. I like finishing what I start.