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Travel Day

In which I figure out my justifications, we get to the airport, fly with ease, drive from NOLA out to Biloxi, MS, eat pounds and pounds of crawfish, and find ourselves in a convent, where we proceed to go grocery shopping, and get back to do an update.



I'm back in the Gulf Coast of the United States, coming to rebuild houses for people that were left without homes when Katrina came through more than four years ago. On the most part they're people who had insurance, but the insurance didn't cover the difference between their old house and the new one. Or they're folks where the insurance wouldn't cover flooding when they lost their house to the swells rather than the storm. Or... it almost doesn't matter, they're just folks in a hard place after a hard time and have put aside their own pride and resources to the point where they've asked for help.

Last year I went through all the justification of why to go a thousand miles away to help people I didn't even know live in a place where they could probably get destroyed again by the very force of nature that laid them to waste already. I have to admit that having lived on the Ring of Fire, within miles of Tornado Alley, and living on the edge of probably one of the worst Western wildfire fuel areas in the nation, I really can't argue with anyone that wants to rebuild even if something might take their home away again.

Besides, if I don't do it, who will?

Actually... it's kind of a minor miracle to a lot of these people to have crews of new people come every single week to help build them a home. These are people whom they don't know, they haven't done anything for, and most of whom come without any kind of judgment, only help.

So, anyway. We're back.

Last year we had 27 with a family of 5 from the NE. This year, we have 22 without that family, so just as many people, but some of us couldn't make it from last year, but new folks decided to join in.

I spent the last several days trying to whittle down all my stuff down to what I really absolutely had to have and still be comfortable. One of the things that I finally had to indulge in doing was making myself a paper journal. I had grid ruled and regular ruled half-sheet Moleskines, but I really, really wanted a plain one, and I wasn't quite willing to go to Borders and buy three of them with the kraft paper cover because I knew that I really wanted to decorate the outside as well. So I ended up making my own. 12 pieces of paper, folded in half, to make 24 sheets, which ended up making 48 pages of plain sheet journal with just a plain card stock cover. I bled all over it while sewing it as I tried doing the holes for the spine with a needle instead of a pin to start. Oops.

But I ended up with exactly what I needed, a way to record things and digest a bit before putting things down here. *laughs* So, of course, I start with a random paragraph about a paper journal.

But having resolved all that, I was able to sleep last night, for the first time in probably a week, and I slept like the dead, and got to sleep even before 10. That was very nice, as we had to get up at 6, and I basically finished off my list of last minute things, and made it to the car in plenty of time. Jet, George and Isabel came with us to the church and took pictures of all of us, before we got to hug Jet a lot before we left for the airport.

The Longmont Crew

Names from left to right: Don with a grandson, Clay with a son, Mike, Angie, Jenifer, Lysa, Louis, me, Marian, John R., John P., Sara, John C., and Jeff.

I went in a different car then John did, and had to stop for a few things, but we got there very quickly and managed to catch the whole group at the airport. We checked in with United as a group, and then headed out separate ways out to the gate and the plane. the nice thing with traveling only with adults is that we can just assume that everyone is going to make it where they say they're going to and that they all know the whole procedure to get there.

We had plenty of time for everything. I managed to snag two leftover cinnamon rolls from Friday morning for my breakfast and didn't need any more than that. We got on the flight no problem, and the whole group had the back end of the plane, which was really good. I slept for a chunk of it, and wrote and drew for a bit, and then slept some more and knit a little.

There are 14 of us, some of which I know better than others, and I'll do the quick introductions and maybe you'll be able to keep track...

John and I are married and John's the guy that kind of leads the charge in all of this, along with a few things at our church, which is the First Congregational UCC of Longmont. He's the present moderator of the church. Mike is the past-moderator, who sometimes still fills in at functions and does other stuff, his wife is Angie and I love her sense of humor. Don Alspaugh went on the first mission trip with John three years ago, and his two sons, Clay and Russ went the other two times, and are along this time as well.

Russ is really the one that started everything, saying that they just ought to go down and help out as they're able.

Jeff is the son of the chair of the board of worship and his profession is as a construction worker, as is Clay's. His wife, Lysa, did a lot of the organization to get everyone here this year, and I really like her sense of humor and responsibility. Valerie, who met us at the airport is the daughter of Gary and Vicki, and Gabe, their son, and one of the guys on the trip last year, was going to make it but had trouble at work at the last minute, so couldn't. Grr. Louis is a church member that got really interested and he did a lot of the work needed to get the Biloxi Bash together. Michael went on the trip last year, and his lady friend, Jenifer, decided to join us this year. That was really cool. Sara is our youth minister, but she really wanted to just do this on her own.

Yay!

I think that's it. *laughs*

The flight was bumpy and crazy, but safe enough, and we got there just fine. The weather in New Orleans was cold and really windy. i was surprised by just how windy it was when I got to drive one of the three mini-vans that went from there to our place of rest for the coming week. I was very glad of all the training I had driving our Eurovan in the windy Rockies when I had to wrestle the thing when we were crossing the lake.

New Orleans looks better now from the freeway. John remembers from two years ago, when there were still blue tarps up everywhere, and even last year when we could see entire neighborhoods still without much power or with tarps instead of walls and more of the trailers everywhere. This time the houses looked more whole, and there were fewer of the completely blasted apart strip malls. There were even some places completely built new again. That was very nice indeed.

We drove along the coast, on 90 across the outlet of Lake Pontchartrain to the east, and then a bit south and then we were right on the beach at Waveland. That was where the eye of Katrina hit, and we wandered about a little and saw that the town is right bustlin' now rather than the empty place it had been two years ago with just one Cuban restaurant. There's a lot more now, and even the Winn-Dixie has been rebuilt. There were still two or three strip malls left stripped of glass, paint, and signs; and here and there were still the remnants of the blown-out glass signs along the highway of past businesses. Someone in the car remarked that if they hadn't known that a hurricane had come through they would have thought it was just neglect or poverty.

We drove through some of the town and neighborhood and still saw one out of every four or five businesses or houses just swept completely away or just left with the damage from the storm itself. A little ways off the freeway and the devastation is still there.

When we hit the beach, we went a ways and stopped at Shaggy's in Harbor Pass Christian. We'd stopped there on the way out of town a year ago, in order to have some dinner right after working so hard, and the food was so good, we had to do that again. And we lucked out as it was crawfish boil day, so the mud bugs were $3 a pound.


Valerie with a Crawfish
Originally uploaded by Liralen Li.
That's Valerie posing with one of the crawfish from our two-pound pile of the little buggers. They were very, very good and very amusing to eat with plenty of beer. I really stocked up, as they really do their job well, and I had one Barq's root beer in glass, half a dozen raw oysters, 2 jerk shrimp that were spicy and just this side of too hot (John ate the other six), some of his really excellent gumbo, some of the crawfish with potatoes and corn, a whole order of sweet potato french fries, and one slice of key lime pie. *laughs* It was for over two hours' worth of eatin'; and good for both lunch and dinner. I was very happy about that. John had a couple of beers as well, and we left the local economy a lot happier.

The crawfish were interesting to eat as I basically had to pull of the main body, suck out what meat I could see, and then pinch the very end of the tail to loosen the meat from the inside of the tail. The tails were tiny compared to shrimp, but they were tender and sweet. The oysters were utterly excellent, meaty and salty and sweet and perfect with a bit of cocktail sauce and horseradish.

Everyone ended up there, and there were a lot of BBQ pork sandwiches as well as the renowned burgers, both fish and beef, and plenty of fries and beer.


Sunset by Shaggy's
Originally uploaded by Liralen Li.
As we left, I caught the sunset from the parking lot. I'd forgotten just how much I miss the sea. That reminded me, forcibly of that fact.

We were one of the first two cars to go on to the ex-convent, at the Long Term Disaster Recovery Diocese of Biloxi. It's east on 90, left at the Hard Rock Cafe, and then something rightish and then leftish at the church. The place is *free* for volunteers that wear their t-shirts during the day and work on their rebuilding projects, and it's only four to a room, rather than the up-to-24 we had at the other place (whew). The bathroom situation is clearly oriented towards single-sex usage of the place; and, now, is mostly male. But there's kitchens, freezers, refrigerators, and plenty of food already stocked up. But very little fruits or vegetables and very little that's not white-bread and very little lunch meat; and no soy milk. *laughs*

So Angie, Jenifer, Lysa and I went to the local Winn-Dixie and stocked up for all 18 of us to get breakfast and lunch together. There were a lot of things already here, but very little fresh fruit or vegetables. There were dinner things as well, for those that really wanted to do that. Angie and Jenifer will be making breakfast and lunch tomorrow... I'll probably volunteer for some cooking duties one of the mornings, but I hate morning enough that it's hard to do. I also found some Smithfield ham, which I just can't get where I'm from, and I had to get a little of that for my lunches. I'll have to see what I can do about making some sandwiches with it.

We also managed to find a Starbuck's in the lobby of the Hard Rock cafe's casino that's barely half a mile from where we're staying. Jenifer is really addicted to the drinks (as am I) and we may drop by there more often now that we know where it is.

We went back after that little side trip, and I got time with the camera and my laptop. Whew. I should sleep as I have to be up at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow to get a reasonable go at breakfast and helping with my lunch, at least.
All sounds good. Very glad you had a smooth trip there! Take care: I hope it's rewarding.
Yeah, I'm glad that the travel was pretty smooth and easy and no hitches this time. MUCH better than the guy that had to go to the hospital last year. Goodness.

(hugs) It has been pretty good so far...
At least the start of the trip sounds like a good omen.

And the food! Man I can still remember southern food from when I was down there at 12. I was addicted to the beneiges (sp?).

It all did! *grins*

And, yeah, the food... *happy sighs* Ooo... at 12!! That's a good time to be addicted to beignets... Jet certainly is.