Monday, January 22, 2007

Day Fourteen

The Fab Five had the video camera today. Click below to see what happened on a very exhausting day of gutting.

Morning was WET. It had rained hard all night and the field where we stay had standing water all around it. We were supposed to get up at 6:00 but we could barely move from the bus to the kitchen in the downpour. We waited until 6:30 to hurry around and get breakfast together.

As usual, we were super-late getting to work, this time with the unusual contributing factor of empty propane tanks. Somehow we walked away and left a burner on all day a couple of days ago and today was the day that our second kitchen tank drained. The breakfast team had huge batches of eggs all mixed up so we had to be sure they got cooked. Justin took the propane tank of the shower truck and fired up the stove. He was quick and so were the cooks, but we still left very late.

We were assigned a two-story house in the center of the city by our Catholic Charities staffer, Morgan. The first story seemed like a basement, though it was at ground level. The second story was the main house, with a series of steps leading up to it. It was a pretty big house with lots of different rooms arranged in a somewhat unusual floor plan. Almost all of the possessions had been cleared so our main job was to bring down the walls and ceilings.

We definitely know how to bring down sheetrock, but these walls and ceilings were a special challenge: they were plaster and lath, meaning that there were small narrow boards behind the face of the wall with plaster squished all between them and smoothed over the top. Some have chicken wire behind the entire contraption that complicates things even further. To remove these walls is much more difficult that regular sheetrock. It’s also very noisy.

We all went banging through the house with sledgehammers and crowbars, sending rocks of plaster everywhere. Once it’s all on the ground, it’s like working on a chain gang to lift and load the rocks that have been produced. The debris is very heavy as well, meaning that it takes a ton of hard work to bring down the plaster, the same amount of effort to get it into bins with which to move it outside, and even more exertion to get it down to street level and dumped by the side of the street.

Teams divided up jobs, with the Knucklebusters serving as our main debris runners all day long. Bryan in particular was the absolute champion of moving the debris. He was also the dirtiest one of all of us. Others took on specialized jobs as well, including Chris, who tackled a very complex kitchen demo that took him most of the day. Elijah and Shane were wielding sledgehammers all over that place and Juan, Megan, Soraya, Matt, and Tommy took on the tiled bathroom with huge grunts and loud cheers (including the famous Saints cheer “WHODAT?!”).

The baseboards were a special challenge in this house, as they were attached more permanently than any other trim we’ve ever seen. Feke, Shane, Elijah, Justin, Jed, and Shawny all messed with them endlessly, until Bree came along and found the foolproof method for removing them.

A few team members talked to friendly neighbors and got great interviews for their eventual final projects, some of which will be presented on the Saint Mary’s campus on Thursday, February 15th at 7:00 p.m. in the Soda Center. All are welcome to attend.

Tonight we had a special treat, as our friend Yvette and her mom Sandra demanded that they provide dinner for us. We tried to tell them that we really love eating tofu and texturized vegetable protein every day, but they somehow convinced us to eat red beans and rice with fried chicken instead. They even brought huge loaves of French bread and a big tub of butter. We were too tired from our workday to be appropriately effusive, but we were clearly, obviously, and sincerely quite content. Thanks Yvette and Sandra!

Tomorrow we will have to split into two groups so that we can finish today’s house but also make our way to Natasha’s Habitat for Humanity house again. We’ll all end the day at Natasha’s, where we hope to connect her to our present for her garden. . . .

Shawny, Megan, and Juan show the rest of our group the proper way to break down the walls.

Here it can be seen the ONEders together after a hard day at work. This is the first family photo to add to the books.

There were several signs on the front of homes all along the block we worked on today. They all stated they were either coming home or already there. It brings a little more hope back to rebuilding New Orleans community and all.

Juan stands in amazement over the waterline on the house. The waterline is higher than Juan is tall, 6 feet to be exact. The waterline does not show how high the water got but where it rested three weeks before it receded.

This is the before shot of the upstairs bathroom before the gutting process began. Below is the after shot. A lot of sweat and hard work went into clearing the house of debris.

Tommy makes a “smore to go,” melting the marshmallow with a lighter, for a great after-lunch treat.

Though injured, Kate still hammers away.

Linzy and Kellie bring the wall down.

A mirror found in the house. If you’re superstitious, we safely escaped seven years bad luck and saved this mirror from being broken.

Juan and Megan swing their crowbars in unison to bring down the drywall.

The sun shines through a window, lights up the dust in the air, and highlights a crowbaw breaking through a wall.

Shawny walks in front of an exposed wall that was removed due to mold. All of the damages must be removed in order to rebuild.

Bryan, Kellie, Tommy, Vanessa, and Feke pose for a picture in front of the dump pile at the end of the day.

Brianna Hardy tears away at the drywall in one of the rooms as Rachel Gaynon and Lindsay Swoboda shovel the debris in the background.

Morgan, from Catholic Charities, and Leo, our dedicated bus driver, stood and discussed the days plans before the work began. Morgan hoped that we would be able to clear the space before dark. We were happy to make that wish come true.

Bryan, as a member of team Knucklebusters, piled our debris across the street. By this point in the day, we had found our niche, and were quite efficient at the process.

There were many tasks throughout the day, including knocking down drywall, as demonstrated by Lindsay, and pulling nails, as Kate shows here.

Marveling at all that has been done, Juan takes five to make sure to keep hydrated. Water is such an important material that even neighbors were coming up to us and asking for bottles. We were happy to share.

Our pile of remains from the interior of the house seemed quite out of place in the colorful neighborhood. Our bus, however, fit right in!

Day Thirteen

Team Mannschaft got to make the video on a VERY fun day. Click below to see real life in Louisiana when the SAINTS are playing!

Our plan for a Sunday morning job fell through, which meant we got to sleep in with no wakeup whatsoever. Strangely, the weather turned very warm in the night (it was almost 70 degrees by about 8:30 in the morning), which made our bus MISERABLE both in temperature and in smell. Even though we could have slept until noon, we were driven out of the bus by how gross it was this morning. If we know it will be hot, we can open windows, put mosquito netting on them, and run fans down the middle of the bus. If we think it will be cold, though, we bundle up tightly and try not to let the door stay open very long so we can hold in the warmth. We expected a deep chill, so we closed things down and bundled up. Ugh.

Once we recovered from our morning stinkout, we made canned ham and eggs for breakfast and did a thorough cleaning job on the trailer. Juan and Kate had already done the same on the storage holds under the bus, so we are now better organized than we have been for awhile. We got word that a big downpour was about to hit us, so we went into storm mode and moved things around in our tents to prevent things from getting soaked. Right when we got ready for it, the rain came down in buckets. No problem.

Just after noon, we loaded into the bus for the main event of the day: watching the Saints in the playoffs while eating enormous piles of crawfish, crab, and ALLIGATOR! We drove up I-10 and went to the beautiful Slidell home of Cindy and David Franatovich, whose house we worked on last Sunday. We cannot even describe what an amazingly beautiful paradise this place was for us today. The house is on the water, in some kind of saltwater channel that drains into Lake Pontchartrain (we think). They have multi-level decking off the back of the house and a big open living room (with a HUGE high definition TV in it!) attached to the kitchen.

To add to the glory of the place, we were met just inside the door by Cindy’s parents, Connie and Jerry LeRouge. They are the warm and wonderful people whose house we cleared near the end of last January’s trip and whose sheds and outbuildings we cleared earlier this week. They were as bubbly as ever, and both of them looked great.

Whether anyone in that house was ready for us or not, we took the place over. Everyone looked exuberant just arriving at the house, and we had not yet experienced all that was to come. One great feature of the highest back deck was an enormous crawfish and crab pot. Most of us would say it was the biggest pot we have ever seen, at least until David told us that it was his “medium-sized” one. (The large one is 4x4x4 feet and looks like a very complicated air conditioning unit.) When we arrived, David and his almost-identical brother Steve were draining out the crabwater from the pot, having already cooked two hampers full of crabs in it (that’s somewhere between 160-200 crabs). They were prepping the pot for its next occupants: 120 pounds of live crawfish.

We were totally unprepared for the fascinating process that revolves around a crawfish boil. We were engrossed in every step of the procedure and we found that David and Steve were great instructors on the finer points of Louisiana cooking. Everyone exclaimed over and over again: “This is SO cool!”

The next item on the menu was alligator tail, which had been scaled and marinated in mild and Louisiana hot sauce, then dipped in a light cornmeal batter and fried. All of us at least tried it and some of us had trouble keeping ourselves from eating it all. It does not taste like chicken.

We got to learn all of the locals’ secrets for eating the delicacies mentioned above and we all made big messes of ourselves as we tore into the shells of our various menu selections. We each ate between 50 and 100 crawfish (not counting Julie, Rachel, and Kate, who opted out for a variety of reasons). When we were finished with the shells, we could throw them right into the waterway, or, for a more fun adventure, throw them into the air and let seagulls dive and grab them before they hit the water.

On top of all of the fine food we were swimming in, the SAINTS were playing! We became superfans. Of course, our fanaticism did not lead to a Saints victory, but we cared enough by the end of that game to be really proud of “our” team, even if we hadn’t followed them (or football in general) for the rest of the season. We even stuck around for the Colts/Patriots game, under the excuse that all of the bath and dish towels we had brought along to wash were not yet dry.

While the football games unfolded, we ate like kings and queens (or, maybe more appropriately, pigs). Lisa Trigo, her husband Bruce, and their daughter Lauren joined us and brought two big king cakes in Saints colors. They also brought Julie back to us, who has made a miraculous recovery and can now rejoin our community on the bus. Yay!

Some people sat by the lake and stared into it. Some people cheered on the Saints or the Colts (one pair rooted for New England, but quietly). Some sat and talked with Connie, Jerry, Cindy, David, Steve, Debbie (Steve’s wife), or Cindy and David’s kids Dara and Dustin. Leo fished.

We had a wonderful day. A better day than this page can explain. We rested, we ate well, and we learned more about Louisiana and about each other. We even had floats made of vanilla ice cream and pink cream soda. Only a Saints victory could have improved this spectacularly decadent day. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh . . .

Leo and Rachel chat on a rocking bench behind the extra large boiling pot filled with Cajun spices, veggies, and seafood.

Feke shows everyone back home how to take advantage of the fried alligator. Mmmmm!!! Delicious!

Our host, David, prepares the alligator tail on the back deck of his house. We were pleasantly surprised with the seasoned chunks of meat.

The Trigo’s brought two Saint’s colored King Cakes for dessert. Although we were full from the gator, crabs, and crawfish, we made room for our new favorite pastry.

We all had a great time, but then the game “Blurt!” came out and the battle of the sexes began. Although it was a close game, the men prevailed, and of course it was in large part thanks to Tim and Tommy.

Our delicious meal consisted of two large baskets of crab with corn and potatoes and of course…. marinated in Louisiana hot sauce. This picture doesn’t even include the 120 pounds of crawfish we worked our way through while watching the Saints game.

The group is enraptured in the game as it begins at David and Cindy’s. Although the Saints didn’t win; we all had a blast. We were spoiled all day long with wonderful food, happy hosts, and one big screen TV.

To take a break from camp life, Rachel, Vince, Janeva and Juan opt for a stroll in the rain. We had an easy morning, and everyone used their spare time to the fullest.

At the home of Cindy and David Fernanavitch, their nephew Wes describes the marine life of the canal to Juan. Right in their backyard live crawfish, alligators, fish, and crabs, (three of which we ate that afternoon!)

In the biggest pot of boiling water we had ever seen, David made 120 lbs of crawfish for our group and his family. There was so much that went into the mix, including brussel sprouts, corn, lemons, bay leaves, onions, potatoes, and special Cajun seasonings – some Tony Chacheries.

At the end of a lovely and comfortable day, with great food and intense football, we gathered for a parting photo. It was nice to be all together and spending time with good friends in a home.

This is the view from Cindy and David’s home in Slidell! We were so lucky to have been invited over for the afternoon to enjoy some playoff football, fresh crab, crawfish, alligator, and the famous red cream soda.

Cindy and David set up an extra table, which simply summarizes everyone’s feelings about the storm over a year ago.

Kellie is served a plate full of delectable crawfish from the 120-pound pot.

Dara and Jerry are pained as they watch as their Saints lose the game Sunday afternoon.

Tommy, Vanessa, and Juan enjoy the seafood lunch prepared for us.