In which I work in the Ninth Ward, and the city learns a new song
My health has more or less improved, so I’ve begun working. I am not, however, gutting. Because I’ve missed the last couple weeks of gutting, I won’t have the experience necessary to lead volunteer crews next month, as was hoped. Instead, I’ll be handing supplies out in the ninth ward – toilet paper, paper towels, snacks, bleach – from the Diocesan mobile unit. We have an RV, donated by a parish in Baton Rouge, and a Pinske truck (like a Ryder truck) that go to the parking lot of an abandoned Walgreen’s in the ninth ward every day and hand out the supplies, for free, to anyone who needs them. Some days there are ten volunteers, but other days it’s only the deacons who run the program, so my consistent presence should be of some use.
You meet lots of local people in grumbly moods when things are so hot, or who have just learned of an extra $250 bill they have to pay, but they’re always thankful for the free water, food, tissue, etc. They’ll say it’s hot, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, there’s so much work to be done, can you believe that insurance man but THANK YOU for this bleach!!! I hear a similar line from Emily, who often handles intake phone calls (talking to homeowners about gutting). Everyone, Emily says, has some other problem in addition to the storm, which makes sense: life goes on. If you were going to have that stroke before, you’re going to have it now. Your kids still get bad grades or get suspended, you’ve still got to pay the taxman, you have to get to work on time, you have to deal with the unruly neighbors. It doesn’t make rebuilding your home any easier, so usually when people call Emily, they’re in an upset mood, and they’re sick of making unproductive call after unproductive call. But then, all of a sudden, here’s someone who’s able to help them, and even knowing that yes, your home will be gutted and we’ll do it in two weeks takes a load off their shoulders. They call grumpy, but they hang up thrilled. That excites Emily: she says if you have 99 other problems, but you can now sleep at night because this one worry is taken care of, the pain-in-the-neck she has to deal with in making all these calls is worth it.
Thankfully, today wasn’t a grumpy day for most people. Everybody wanted to talk about last night’s football game. You may have heard about it: the Saints’ return to New Orleans had more reporters than the Superbowl! Thankfully, the Saints crushed the Atlanta Falcons, 23-3, but given the city’s energy around the game I don’t think any visiting team could have won. The Times-Picayune was screaming about it all week, and today’s headlines were bigger than those of 9-11. U2 and Green Day opened the show; Green Day put a new twist on an old song, “There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Superdome!” A number of celebrities were there, and for the first time ever, all of the Saints’ season tickets have sold out. Traffic was cut off for ten blocks around the Dome yesterday for concerts and parties, but that wasn’t enough; revelers poured out on to downtown’s Poydras St., gumming up traffic and getting the police involved. In fact, traffic was horrible all over town all day. The Dome was super-loud all through the game, and many beer vendors ran out of alcohol 45 minutes before kickoff. It was a huge event, it was a headache event, but it was a good event. I think it’s safe to say that this is really the first time the city’s been energized since the storm. Yes, Jazzfest and Mardi Gras were important, but they were small events, played up by the press. This really was the big deal ESPN made it out to be. I met one many today who’s 82 year old mother needed to go to bed at 8, but she wanted to see those Saints, and pushed herself all the way to the end of the game before sleeping (kickoff was 7:45). It was just that important!
I myself missed the festivities; I went to Cooter Brown’s, a local sports bar, to watch the game with the other interns, but they were checking IDs at the door. I haven’t been to Cooter’s before, but I’m under the impression they usually don’t check your ID at the door. I guess they figured they’d be packed for the game, and if you’re packed it’s better to be packed with people buying $4 beer rather than $2 Coke. We have no TV at the house, so I happily ate my soup and put the Astros game on the MLB.com radio service instead (can you believe they’re actually back in playoff contention???).
I’ll try to remember to post about sleeping arrangements and the possibility of a car tomorrow. Maybe I’ll write about some of the individuals I’ve met, as well. I’d tell you about them now, but this has turned out to be a much longer post than I had intended, and I don’t wish to burden you. Take care, my friends, and keep praying for my family, this city, and me! God bless!