I Was Thinking About Something Else

That pretty much sums up my life nowadays. I will be doing something, walking into a room or driving, and I will go askew. Someone will inevitably ask at that same moment, "What are you doing?". Which will confuse me and I can only respond, "Yeah, well...I was thinking about something else".

(formerly A Connecticut Yankee)

Location: Connecticut, United States

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Opportunity Knocks

I have two kids (teenagers), and they both sing with two different choirs at the Episcopal Church in town. They have toured with these choirs, one went to England, they have sung at Carnegie Hall, the National Cathedral, etc. These are by no means 'hack' choirs. The choirs are part of the church, though. I am not a church goer (except to see my kids sing) so I wanted to be upfront about that. I don't begrudge anyone their religious preferences and, by the same token, I rarely discuss my thoughts on the subject. That being said, during the second week of May on a Thursday, an email from the Church came across my desk. It seemed that when Katrina hit the South in late August of 2005, twelve parishoners banded together and began planning a trip down there to help out in whatever way they could. Flash Forward to now and one of these hearty souls takes ill and can't make the trip. She says that she will fund anyone to go in her place with her plane ticket etc., anyone who wants to volunteer. So I raised my hand and got the spot. I had no idea what to expect but this appeared to me as though it was a rare opportunity, so I had to seize upon it.
As I mentioned, Katrina was now six months ago and it remains in the news but it is definitely not page one. So here I was going without any real preparation. Things I was told to do and to get and bring, I did do, got , and brought. Tetanus shot (intramuscular, so it sucked) Suntan lotion (spf 380), insect repellent (98% good old reliable DEET), and as many crappy clothes as you can find that you'll never want to wear again. Oh, and workboots. It was actually the easiest packing I've ever done. And I knew many items would not be making the return flight.
So on to day of flight. We were flying into New Orleans (International) Airport, getting a couple of minivans and heading to Pass Christian, Miss. which is a stones throw as the crow flies from the Gulfport/Biloxi area.
It is very important to understand at this point that when we stepped off the plane in New Orleans it was literally like we stepped through some sort of Stargate-like Portal and time stopped. The New Orleans Airport was not busy (Stephen King creepy), fairly devoid of activity, and most noticeable were the posters listing many steps that you had to take in order to return to your home (if you were authorized to return home, that is). We got our minivan situation straightened out and were on our way to Mississippi.
At this point I have to tell you that nothing really prepares you for what is, or isn't there, for that matter. The word I use constantly, and I know that I was overusing long ago, is magnitude. You can look at what happened in pictures in news stories or in books now, but until you're standing there and you're able to turn 360 degrees, there really is no way to imagine the sheer magnitude of what happened.
New Orleans was a ghost town. Except for the French Quarter, as we were leaving the city on the highway, which is quite elevated above the city, we saw absolutely no life. No people in the streets, no traffic, and the buildings that wereen't demolished were see-through empty/burned out, or just plain wrecked. So much wreckage.
After leaving the city the most obvious thing are the trees, which are now dead, and bent over like grass waving in the wind. Only there is no wind and these trees don't move. Then you notice the debris in the tree tops, left by the 30 foot swell of water that came through. Not small debris either. It was chairs, refigerators, tables. Sprinkled liberally throughout.
It took about an hour and a half to get to our destination in Mississippi, Camp Coast Care, which is close to the beach and Gulfport/Biloxi. If you click on the link there are pictures that give you just a hint of the disaster.
We got there on a Saturday too late to work that day and as it turned out, they take Sunday off (so as not to burn out the folks that are there for two, three weeks at a time. So on Sunday we ventured into New Orleans and all was as I said earlier abot the emptiness with the exception of the French Quarter (which was not crowded, but it was my first time there, so I had no frame of reference). There was a section of the city that we drove through where it appeared as though someone had walked the length of the city street with a giant black magic marker (El Marko!), marking every building with a straight line about 6 feet above the ground. It was so amazing.
As for the work itself, when did finally go to work, one day my team had to go to this house and vacumn out the insulation and remove housewiring and nails. The deal was this young couple (29yrs old) had bought the house three weeks before Katrina. They had kinda puttered around doing odds and ends for two weeks and actually lived in the house for one week when Katrina took the roof (completely) and storm rain poured in destroying the house. At the point that I saw the house, the only thing left was the brick outside of the house and the wooden frame inside the house. The guy said that they sank every dime into buying the house, then Katrina came and it was like they were back in high school again and broke. That was tough.
We were close to a town called Waveland which is on the beach and quite literally it is gone. Only cement foundations of houses remain.
After the end of each day we would head for the beach at night and drink and talk. Most all the debris had been cleared from the beach leaving this beautiful white sand. Or so we thought. Our last day there we finished early at 4pm so we decided to head for the beach. Well that was a real eye-opener. First time seeing the beach during the day. We were walking onto the beach and getting close to the water and looking down, "Oh, what is that?" They appear to be chicken bones (probably), blanched from being on the beach and small enough to not be noticed at night. Well, the 'ew' part of this story is that looking at the whole beach, it was like everyone in Mississippi had gone to the local KFC and tossed the bones out the car window onto the beach as they were speeding by. I kid you not. We are talking about the 'whole' beach. Not some section, but the whole thing. It was so incredibly creepy.
Anyway, we said our goodbyes to the people down there and when we were touching down in LaGuardia Airport, it seemed like some surreal dream.
The after effects have been most unpleasant. Most things seem trivial now and I really feel the need to go back and help.
To that end there is a job opening at a University down there that got hit pretty bad and looks like a good fit to me.