Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Red Cross Redux 9.26.2005

We've moved from vignettes to montages. . . .. or Red Cross Redux
9/26 7:36 PM

Hi all,
Just a note to say that I haven't forgotten the objections of the eloquent ladies in NY. I will respond when able. For all of you wanting to send things to us personally, UPS is running but the Post Office isn't.

First I need to tell you that we have to put David on a plane to Florida so will do so this Thursday. His father is very ill, and we're lucky that we were able to do it considering the financial situation here. He has to go, bless his heart. He needs some time to talk with his dad now, while his dad is with us. He'll be gone for a few days, but will come back and continue doing what we're doing. I just feel badly that he's getting such a double whammy in his life and there's nothing I can really do about it except support him emotionally.

Today we found one of the missing from yesterday. LC from the shop called while we were feeding the cat at HeadQuarters, who was indeed still in the shop. Her house is gone and she's in Mississippi complaining that it's hard to get beer because, "they don't BELIEVE in that stuff around here." Lucedale, Mississippi. She was stunned that I knew exactly where it was. I knew because it was on our horrendous evacution route AND our circuitous return route. Was so delighted that she was okay considering. Also grateful that the HeadQuarters cat was okay. Now we need to locate R because putting food through the mail slot is a bit difficult! But the cat looks healthy.

Last night on the news, the crawl says: "New Orleans' re-entry plan may start as soon as Monday, Sept 26, starting with the business owners and residents of Algiers." COOL BEANS! Does that mean it's now legal for us to be here? No more checkpoints? Anyone's guess. Too hilarious in a horrid sort of way. Clearly the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing, no matter what the topic or issue is here.

Still no FEMA money, although David and I have graduated. We BOTH actually got a tape at the Red Cross financial line. I called during Hurricane Rita figuring everyone else would be hunkered down or evacuating. Got the tape. David and I have called that number countless times. It's programmed into our phone. We just hit redial. We get the busy signal. But the tape! New and different! "Due to the overwhelming number of calls regarding Hurricane Katrina, we are having difficulty answering all the calls." We think, GREAT, it'll flip over to a hold thingie. No dice. Flips instead to a busy signal which then hangs up on you. It's been two weeks of calling every minute, then every half hour, then every hour. Now we call here and there, laughing all the while. One day someone will answer it. No one we know has gotten any of their Red Cross money. Wait. I lied. One couple applied in Tennessee on their way home and got it.

David spent a day going from the Red Cross station, ("No, we don't have the facilities or the paperwork for the disaster aid program. Please call this number." :::::::::::::Hands him card) to the FEMA office, where they told us our application was pending, but we knew that since we had been checking it online. Now we can't get to the server anymore as it's overloaded and I heard today that the 800 line for them is as impossible as the Red Cross line. He then bravely calls the Unemployment Office. We filed for him as soon as we got home. He's told, "Call the Luling Office." He does. They say, "Call the Gonzales office. There's no one here." He does. They say, "We're evacuating for Rita, call THIS number." He does. He gets some woman from the Louisiana Dept of Labor. She says, "We've sent you two checks for about $350." "Okay, that's great, but we have no mail service." "Oh dear, well then I'll have to send you a form." "Okay, but, um, we HAVE NO MAIL SERVICE." "That's a problem." "Ya THINK?" Finally he asks her, "Where are you?" "Montana." At that point both of them just start laughing. All this money to help, but no way of getting any of it. We'll keep trying the Red Cross line, oh yeah, AND FEMA.

At the Dry Dock, a local bar on Algiers Point, actually open. Guy in a blue polo shirt with a FEMA logo on it. David says, "Buddy, you got BALLS wearing that in here!" He did too. He's lucky he didn't get lynched.

Tall guy on the Ferry today. Dancing to music in his head along with the music on his Walkman. Older guy. Clearly a self medicated schizophrenic doing a relentless and graceful Tai Chi in the style of the Four Tops. He has his "forty." He's been drinking a while. His batteries die, so he slams the side of the Walkman. We have Otis Redding Live on in the car with the sunroof open, so I crank it up and he smiles broadly and begins his dance again. Finally he comes over, I say to him that music makes everything okay. He says clearly and sweetly, "Yes, like the warmth of a smile on a person's face." We talk for a while and we find out that he lives on Claiborne, a ravaged area. He sent his entire family off on whatever form of evacuation he could find. He stayed behind because "it's MY city, and I'm not leaving---it's gonna be GREAT again, you'll see." Then he tells us that the blue roof, a giant tarp people put on their broken roof, is at his house, but he's afraid of heights and he can't put it up and he's the only one on his block. It broke our hearts. He knew about the clinic on Teche run by Common Ground so we told him to ask some of the volunteers over there to help him put it up. He said maybe he'd do that. Then he put his hands out and bowed to us, smiling big and warm, saying, "Sunny days! Sunny days! Sunny days!"

Power blinked on in the Quarter while we were there feeding cats and checking on the shop. Life returned with lights and neon blazing here and there. Alarm systems all over the place hollering as the power came to the buildings. House next to Tennessee Williams' house on 1000 block of Dumaine looked like it had imploded. Bricks everywhere. Towers of trash, a story high on corners. Businesses opening their doors and cleaning out. They're saying that right now, the amount of debris is 12 MILLION cubic yards. After they start demolishing houses, it could go as high as 25 million. That's just New Orleans. Where are they gonna put this stuff?? Someone suggested they use it as the bottom of a new levee system. Not a bad idea. There are probably enough refrigerators alone to put a good bottom layer up and down the canals in this city. There are 168K homes that are trashed, many of which will be demolished. And there are about 100,000 abandoned CARS in this city right now, all of which will be a write off on insurance. Engines useless, sheet metal and glass in good shape. What will we DO with all of this? Couldn't it be USED somehow? :::::::::okay, I'll quit hugging trees for now::::::::::

For any of you who don't know, David was a buggy driver before this all happened. He loved it. For days we worried about the mules.

Royal Carriages is the largest and best known of the buggy companies that take tourists around the Quarter and the Garden District. They have about 30 mules and 15 carriages. When the hurricane hit, four crazy guys stayed in the stables with the mules. Feeding them water dredged from the streets' flooding and pouring some bleach in it, which made it okay for the mules to drink, but not them, they kept them hydrated. The guys themselves hid from the cops and National Guard trying to evacuate everyone. The only food they had was the food in the vending machine in the lounge. The standard crackers, chips, candy, junk, found in vending machines everywhere. There was a soda machine and bottled water machine and luckily the vending machine also had cigarettes. These guys stayed with the mules until the owner could arrange to have them trucked to Mississippi to the "farm." They'll be brought back soon to go to work. They didn't lose a single mule. The guys that saved them are scattered now all over the country, Pablo in New York, Smitty and Roger in Oregon somewhere, and Randolph, we figure, is somewhere close by.

One day we had a Netflix movie that had been delivered prior to Katrina. (Netflix, btw, was fabulous! They not only didn't bill anyone in this area for the month of Sept, they credited back any payment already made.) It was Day After Tomorrow. We figured the trailer looked okay, and hey, Dennis Quaid's in it. Worth a look, we think. Editorial comment here, ignore it: They shoulda left out the wolves. Badly done and a terrible metaphor. But be that as it may, while watching it we found ourselves laughing a bit at our timing. Okay, not the best movie ever made, but hey, watching it while the winds of Rita were still howling outside was something. The day before Texas had dealt with a horrible evacuation, and here was a movie talking about evacuating all the southern half of the US into MEXICO??? Talk about a bottleneck! It was an apropos movie and looked a little different to us now that it would have if we'd watched it before this storm hit.

Could go on, but will leave it alone for now. More to do tomorrow. Trying to help put some folks to work if Lily Duke really has an "in" with the FEMA guys as far as hiring contractors. That's our job tomorrow, along with various other "check-for-me's".

Am trying to compile a list of names and addresses for those of you who want to contribute things, money. Will try to get you a variety as some of you are interested in animal rescue, others medical stuff, others basic needs. So very much appreciated.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTES 9.26.2006
The man on the boat had told me another story while leaning into our car window. He had indeed gotten his entire family out including his 18 yr old daughter who had left with his brother, her uncle. The only time his face went dark was when he said, "I know that son of a bitch. I know he's fucking my daughter and there's nothing I can do about it. I want to kill him 'cuz I know him and know what he's up to and what he's done in the past. I don't know where they are and can't get hold of them to find out if she's okay. I heard they sent them off on a plane to Atlanta but I don't know that for sure." I was appalled at what he was saying, appalled that this might be happening. I asked him why he'd sent her off with him if he knew what kind of man his brother was. His answer was simple, "It was better than keeping her here to maybe die. It was the only choice I had, but it ain't right. It just ain't right." I've always remembered this man and wondered if what he thought happened had really happened, and if it did was he told, what did he do, and how hard it must be for him to live with a choice like that. He truly felt he had no choice.

As for the stable guys, Randolph is back and still taking care of the mules.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Missing 9.25.2005

9/25 12:17 PM

Hi all,
Around here folks are starting to call all this "Katrita". The newscasters, and even our governor, are having trouble keeping Katrina and Rita straight in their broadcasts. "With the events of Katrina, um, I mean Rita. . . . . ." We watched the coverage as the storm was approaching, when we had power, which was intermittent. We lost power both nights all night, and once in the morning, day before yesterday I think. It's kind of a blur. We've decided that watching the coming of a hurricane on the satellite radar stuff is kind of like standing in front of the wall with a firing squad facing you----You don't hear the shot but the bullet moves toward you in super slow motion. The little hurricane symbol moves and takes aim, and everyone tries to figure out the trajectory, but either way you know it's gonna get to you in some fashion.

We didn't get much sleep for the last two days. A lot of wind, a lot of stuff blowing around, a lot of rain. Some weird form of hypervigilance kicks in as you hear a thump and hope, since the roof or the porch or whatever made it through Katrina that this tropical storm wind spike doesn't break something else. We're tired so will answer individual emails as soon as possible.

A couple months before Katrina, David and I had put a five year plan together. We love music and the music here is just pure joy. No matter what your taste, you can find something that will satisfy your hunger. We became friends with many of the bands and club owners on Bourbon and had also watched as so much of "our" music was exported to Europe. A lot of the great Zydeco bands in the area do better anywhere BUT here. The old Professor Longhair music is also everywhere but here. Many, not all, but many of the clubs treat the musicians horribly, no appreciation for the music. We had decided that we wanted to open a club that specialized in keeping New Orleans music and culture IN New Orleans. Of course the music can still be heard, mostly blaring out of the shops on CD's, but many clubs have switched to "party bands" that seem mostly to attempt to accomodate the college kids. We floated the idea to a club owner who's a native New Orleanian and asked if he thought we were nuts. He said, no. He thought a club like that would work very very well. We were going to talk to him about how much it would take to do this, then we'd work hard for five years we figured, and then open it with some help since we don't have a clue how to run a club. We were going to talk with him the weekend Katrina headed our way. We felt like we were on track with a plan. It was lovely.

What was even more lovely was the encouragement of the people we talked with about this. And right now we don't know where many of them are. Billy Fayard, and all the folks from musicians to waitresses, at the R & B Club. Where is Dr. Blues? Where is Tina, the great lithe bartender with the ready smile and the contagious dancing? What about Rhonda, the melding of Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee? Humphrey, the quintessential musician, waving to us as we went by even if we didn't go in. We heard Josie was in Montana. Dopsie and the guys were headed for Europe 9/12. We hope they got there. They all lived in Lafayette area, and one in East Texas, right along Rita's path.

Two from our shop are missing. Yes we're still missing two cats, but we're missing two people as well. Last we heard they had evacuated. LC, her three kids, aged 27-14 and a grandbaby. She had just bought a house free and clear in Arabi. No flood insurance. Was so proud and just settling in. St. Bernard parish is now under water again. We heard three weeks ago that she might be in Tuscaloosa, but haven't heard anything since. Wonderful cheerful smiling person, warm heart, good friend. No idea where she is. TH, another woman who worked at the shop. Lived in New Orleans East I think. Heard she'd gone to Hammond but we don't know. Haven't heard. Teresa was a special ed teacher until she got attacked by a student causing permanent brain damage and making her legally blind. LC talked very fast, TH very slowly. Miss both of their voices and am praying that they're okay.

Ken, the ultimate gentleman buggy driver. Lived in Arabi. Had horses, the true loves of his life. Last David saw him he said he was going home to take care of the horses. Apparently his property was wiped out, we don't know about the horses. Rumor is he's never coming back. A real loss if true.

Three little boys, Kendrick, 12, his brother Trevonne about 14, and Terence also 14, would stop by our house regularly to see if we needed our car washed. Real entrepreneurs these little guys. They could be a pain in the neck as their timing was often not in synch with ours, but seeing their smiles through our windows was a gift. When we moved here, they helped us move in and showed up regularly ever since. Terence was fascinated by the computer. He wants to go to college. I told him that I'd expect an invitation to his graduation. He has the motivation to do it. Kendrick and Trevonne weren't sure what they wanted to do. Trevonne's big goal in life was to have a gold tooth and a diamond earring. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said NBA star. I told him I hated to break it to him, but he wouldn't be tall enough. Okay, then, he said, "I'll be a rap star." These three boys have byzantine living arrangements. They seem to live with an "auntie", but we aren't sure. Kendrick and Trevonne's mom supposedly lived in St. Bernard parish, but no one knew exactly what the arrangements were. We'd see them heading to the eastbank on the Ferry at night when we'd be coming home. "Where ya goin' boys?" "Home to Iberville." Evidently they continued in school on this side of the river. We don't know. Don't know their last names. Don't know if they're okay. It weighs on us.

Moses and Nette lived across the street. We waved as we pulled out of town, they said they were staying. I heard they left day after the storm. No idea where they are.

Dee and Delise were our buddies. They were waitresses at Sammy's on Bourbon. They had both just bought houses in New Orleans East. Worked so hard to do that and were busy renovating. Dee was going to have a house warming and wanted us to come. They might have lost it all. We miss them. We also miss the great Walter. Gruff voiced smooth talker. "Hey baby! I got your catfish just the way you like it. And for you, my man, my SPECIAL seafood pasta. I always take care of my friends." He had become a friend.

Pat O'Brien's. We met there every Friday night after work. Rebecca and her son lived in Slidell. An incredibly beautiful and generous woman, we don't know where she is or if her house was enough away from the lake to make it. Reggie and Love, the doormen on the Bourbon side. Hope Reggie's dog is okay. She had a cough. Ryan, Chuck and Rod lost everything, but will rebuild and are okay. We found their numbers and they are okay. Kathy is in Pennsylvania and aching to come home. We miss them.

I could go on and on. So many that are missing and that WE are missing. So many that we at least know are okay, but still, we are missing. The faces that populate your life, even when you don't know their last names, these are the faces that bring a smile to your face. Hell, even some of the folks that made you roll your eyes or try to avoid them are MISSED right now. Are they okay? Where are they? Will we see them again?

Too many scattered so far.

We miss our landlords, Z and M, who have become our friends. M getting ready for a triathlon (yup, she really DOES that!), Z with his white shirt hanging out on his way to work with his iPod playing. The killer dachschunds running down the street with Z hollering SHIVA get BACK here! Little things like that are missed. Normalcy, or what passed for it in our lives, is missed.

Now there is one thing that we're grateful for missing. The full hit of Rita. Although the Lower Ninth is flooded again, at least everyone was out of there. Still just made me cry to see first the overtopping then the erosion of the makeshift levee repairs. We're also grateful that Houston didn't get hit too badly. The lower lying parishes here are flooding but so far we haven't heard anything catastrophic like we heard in Katrina. Heard from the glorious Polimom outside of Houston that it was not bad there. We're glad Rita missed her.

Got a call from Lily Duke today. I hear the tent city is going up today and tomorrow over at Blaine Kern's. We'll head over there tomorrow after we go check on the shop cats and the Preservation Hall cat (who, rumor has it, was pictured in a People magazine last week! Would love to see the pic!), and there's one more that's been added to our list. The cat at HeadQuarters on Dumaine. We need to check on that one. The owner, R, someone else we care about, is also still MIA. We're hoping he's in Mississippi with his daughter.

Once we finish with the cats, and see if we can get pics of a couple of people's houses and a crypt if we can get there, we'll head over to Kern's. They're gonna need some help and the thinking is to take the operation, with FEMA's help, across the river. It needs to be done, but don't get me started on FEMA helping anyone.

Will answer your questions and comments soon.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTES 9.25.2006

We were wrong about the devastation in the Lower Parishes from Rita. They got hit hard. At the time I wrote this, the full impact hadn't been reported yet.

As for the missing:
Billy Fayard closed the Rock. The band there was nominally called the New Orleans Levee Board, which in hindsight, was pretty funny. They were a great R&B Band. We talked to Billy a couple days before he closed the place, and he really did give it some time to pick up. But in the end, he couldn't make it. The Rock is now another daiquiri bar. One night, we were walking along and saw the remaking of one of our favorite dives into a bright college kid friendly daiquiri bar. The Levee Board sign was still up behind the stage. David went in, told them we wanted the sign, they said no problem they were just gonna throw it away anyway. So it's here in our house, soon to be wall decoration. We are on a quest to locate the musicians we loved there. We started our quest on Saturday night. I'll write about that on New Orleans Slate.

Dopsie is still touring. We saw him and his band and they're doing fine, but they're not here where we can hear them.

LC and TH are also okay. LC is back in town and has been fighting FEMA, insurance companies, you name it. She and all the kids were renting three expensive, tiny apartments over Chris Owens' club and somehow making the rent and remaining reasonably sane. TH, I heard was in Mississippi and doing very well, not coming back.

Tina, the lithe bartender has vanished. She's probably still here working somewhere else. Josie had returned, worked at the Blues Club (which has been closed but we heard will reopen in October) but then went somewhere out on St. Charles St.

Sammy's is still there. Doing far less business than before the storm. Dee, Jamie and Walter are back. Walter looks a bit haggard but is still glad to see us when we pass by. We don't eat there as often as our money situation isn't what it was either. Walter had a very hard time in Houston and it's showing on him.

Moses and Nette eventually came back, to be greeted by a racist idiot that lived a couple blocks over. The three of us were walking around the block when this moron comes over and says to Nette, "Where'd you guys go?" "Alabama." "Why'd you come back? Not enough cotton to pick over there?" Nette just ignored him, I wanted to kill him. Fucking idiot.

The three boys turned up at Christmas time. I wrote about it then. It was wonderful to see them, but we still don't quite know where they are or if they are in school.

Pat O's no longer serves food. We keep hearing that they're GOING to do that again "next month." Not sure if it's staffing issues, or customer issues or both, but we miss their gator bites and their staff. Love returned but Reggie didn't. Our friend Ryan is still there. We owe him a visit.

There is a picture in my head of a standard Saturday night after I'd get off work and David and I would wander around eating, drinking and listening to music. The street would be filled with people having a great time, at least until tomorrow morning. All the bead tossing and fuzzy hats never bothered me. I loved seeing people having a great time doing things they'd never do at home in Duluth. I even loved the stupid, drunken frat boys. When they are 60 they'll be telling their grandchildren about when they visited New Orleans while in college and what wild bad-ass young turks they were, and the New Orleans gleam will be in their eyes.

It's just a picture now and the picture is minus so many familiar friendly faces, even after a year. We still are missing them.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Quickie Update While the Power Holds 9.23.2005

Subject: Quickie update while the power holds Date: 9/23 11:48 AM

Hi all,
I have many of you to answer. Today isn't the day. Yesterday I was forwarded a very eloquent letter re: my use of the Mirror link in the last email. I will absolutely answer that. It was beautifully written and made good points.

Rita is on her way. Winds gusted to 48 mph this morning here in NO. It's been raining pretty much on and off since last night. A tree across the street was just too wet and weak and fell over in the night. Heard things bouncing off the walls of our house and the house next door. Looked this morning, no damage, just a lot of noise. We're currently under a tornado watch til 6PM and are being told that if we won't leave, we need to write our social security numbers on our arms in Sharpie so they can identify us.

Lost power for most of the night last night, but it came on gratefully this morning about 6AM. Cable is gone again, so back to dialup. If the wind keeps increasing the power may go again, so wanted to let you all know that we're fine.

Lower Ninth Ward levee was topped. You'll hear on the news that it was BREACHED. It wasn't. It was topped by storm surge. The eye wall of the Rita has gotten smaller, which means that it can gain strength before it hits landfall. If it gains strength it could cause more storm surge and yet more rain. We were thrilled when it looked like it would be downgraded. Might not be the case if continues forming the way it is now.

Pray for all those Houston folks who are still in their cars, out of gas. I hope they don't have to ride out this storm in their cars. That was my greatest fear during Katrina.

Looks like this storm will split the difference between Houston and New Orleans if it keeps on this track. But things change fast.

Right now we're just watching for tornadoes. They can pop up fast.

So far so good here though. Will write more when this is over.

Love and Light,
Bec and David

NOTE 9.23.2006
The Lower 9 flooded again as the levee had already been breached by Katrina. From what we heard, Rita caused a storm surge that caused what was left of those levees to overtop, as if that area hadn't had enough to deal with.

Rita did indeed "split the difference" and hammered Southwestern Louisiana, an area that has been greatly overlooked compared to New Orleans or the Mississippi Gulf region. Homes and businesses in SW Louisiana were just gone and they're still struggling.

I spent the night Rita hit sitting on my front porch hitting redial on the phone that still worked trying to get through to the Red Cross. I figured everyone had either evacuated or would be busy battening down their own hatches and maybe I'd get through. No. Never did get through to them that night.

I do remember vividly the power of the winds, which in my area were really nothing compared with SW Louisiana. But having grown up in the Midwest, when I thought of high winds, I thought of cold winds. I remember being struck by the warmth of them on that porch that night. I sat there in shorts and a tank top, dialing the phone and being amazed at the warm powerful winds. And, hey, I was so totally on the outer edge of it. Rita blew a few more shingles off roofs around where we were, but nothing too huge, and after what we'd just been through with Katrina, there was a strange sense of resignation.

The stories of the people in Texas on the roads were horrible though. What a mess. Just mass panic and gridlock.

But we were lucky she didn't hit us again.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Couple of Minor Miracles and a Prayer 9.21.2005

Okay, guys, a couple of minor miracles and a prayer. . . .
9/21 2:01 PM

Hi all,
Two miracles today: cable tv is back on, my broadband is not yet, can't figure that one out but am working on it, and UPS GOT THROUGH!! (C and M, THANKS!! The chocolate was a bit melted so it's in the fridge but the medical supplies will get to the clinic today.) We hear a knock on the door, hard knock. Figure okay, it's someone trying to get us to evacuate. No! It's a UPS guy! Amazing! And two packs of Gauloises in there too! It's gotta be Christmas!

We're currently under voluntary evacuation for Rita. We hate seeing the storm track heading toward Texas or anywhere for that matter. When one lives in this region during hurricane season, every time a tropical storm comes up and looks like it could be a hurricane, the weather forecasters say, "It's tracking this way, at this speed, in this direction, and we don't want to wish this on anyone else, but. . . . ." The implication is always "But HEY it ain't coming here! HURRAY!" This time it's harder to say any of those things. Most of our evacuees are in Texas. Galveston is already being evacuated. Many of the Houston Astrodome evacuees from New Orleans are now being flown to Arkansas, bless their hearts. Where are they going to wind up?

Rita is about 500 miles across and getting stronger. Unless we can find a way to make her go away, I fear that there will be five states in trouble when this is done. Florida to Texas, the hurricanes have destroyed things and people and lives. The Gulf water is just so warm that it's inviting to a hurricane. (Altogether now, THERE IS NO GLOBAL WARMING!) I was sent some pictures of Katrina as she approached. They are absolutely beautiful for something that was so utterly destructive. (Thanks, Sher!) If you want to see them, write and I'll forward them to you.

Meanwhile, here on the ground, the National Guard and some of the other aid people have been moved to keep them safe from destruction so that they can come back in sooner when Rita is over. Some are being moved over toward the Texas area. The Red Cross people David talked to yesterday, (more on that later), said they might be evacuating, they don't know. The city is full of media, contractors, various alphabet soup law enforcement. Workers are feverishly trying to get the broken parts of the canals fixed, but one of the holes is at least 300 feet across. Not sure if they'll get it done in time.

On the news today, a woman from Kenner, now in Baton Rouge, screaming at the news reporter about the incompetence of the Red Cross and FEMA.

David's experience yesterday was typical:

He takes our FEMA case number over to the FEMA disaster relief station. He finds a very nice fireman from Las Cruces, New Mexico manning the computer. The guy tells David that they've been given very little training, pretty much only told how to turn the computer on and check status. Well we can and have been doing that from here on our little dialup connection. After spending time there, he is told that our FEMA stuff is "pending." Yup. We knew that. Check it a couple of times a day. Most people have not gotten their FEMA money. Some got it in two days. The vast majority we've talked with either didn't qualify or haven't received it.

Red Cross Disaster Relief had no forms available for David to fill out for that relief. They were sorry, but they didn't have any. "Here's a card with the 800 number." Well you can't get THROUGH on that number unless you have a computer running a redial program to find a nanosecond breach in the busy signal, then you can sit for literally two hrs trying to get things filed there.

David had filed for unemployment as soon as we got home. At one of the centers, FEMA I think, he was told that the LA Dept of Labor was supposed to have reps there to help get that squared away, but they hadn't shown up.

St. Bernard Parish sheriff, so hard hit, along with Jefferson Parish sheriff department is asking where IS the money? They were supposed to be given funds from the big money Washington says is coming. So far, no one, including law enforcement agencies, has seen any of it.

Wanted to write an open letter to Laura Bush: "Dear Mrs. Bush, Evidently you have some influence over your husband. Please tell him to stay home. Everytime he comes to New Orleans for a photo op everything has to come to a halt, including relief work, for his security people. Please ask him to save the gas money and send it to the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's office instead. Thank you."

Was sent an article today that made me sick as well. Food sent by England, Spain, Israel, held up by the FDA because of regulations. It's in the British newspaper if you want to read it: Mirror.co.uk - News - EXCLUSIVE: UP IN FLAMES

There's still much to do here, but we're all keeping a low profile until Rita passes over. It will continue to be citizens, not institutions or agencies, that rebuild here. We will stay and pray for the people in Rita's path, then start back with our requests for food and meds.

Then we'll start asking why are we importing workers? We are forever grateful to that fireman from Las Cruces, and all the other people who left their families to come here to help us. But if FEMA is hiring people to help process, why not hire Louisiana people who are without jobs, can't GET the freaking FEMA money, and could use the paycheck? Ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous. Reports every night about the Louisiana people and New Orleanians without jobs. HIRE THEM to work HERE. Kill at least two birds with one stone: They get a paycheck (while waiting for their relief money), the city and state get rebuilt, and they are no longer in other states wondering what's next.

Had a wonderful Church of Christ pastor tell me that these sorts of ideas are just entirely too logical.

Keep those prayers coming, and love your return emails. They warm our hearts and encourage us more than you can ever know.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTE 9.21.2006

Incredible reading this. Day before yesterday we sent yet another packet of stuff off to FEMA, return receipt, Priority Mail, certified. We had done the FEMA dance for months, then were shuffled off to the SBA, who in turn sent us back to FEMA. We got a piece of mail from them a couple weeks ago asking us WHY our things had been in storage, could we send photos, and could we send receipts.

I wrote them back, included all prior letters and forms and affidavits with the dates (starting September 10, 2005) circled. Oh and I sent photos of our storage unit sludge. To date we have not received any money from any agency other than the Red Cross for $325 I think it was. That story will be in later emails I think.

The area is still full of out of town workers, and our evacuees are still flung far and wide.

Oh yeah, and evidently Mrs. Bush didn't hear my plea. He was back again on the anniversary and the traffic on I-10 was a nightmare. Also there was no posted itinerary for him anywhere that anyone could find.

As for the dollars the St. Bernard folks were waiting for? I think they're still waiting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Strangled in the Red Tape of the Safety Net? 9.20.2005

Finally got Blogger to upload the photos.

Strangled in the Red Tape of the Safety Net? Get this off my NECK!
9/20 11:03 AM

Hi all,
Couldn't write to you yesterday. Was just too damn tired.

A friend wrote a couple days ago, calling some folks "hurricane angels." Well, we met some yesterday. Sent here by a group called Van Nuys Relief, in trucks evidently donated by Avon, the marvelous Schlene and friends (don't know if they want to be named or not so won't presume until they tell me) got four guys to drive them to us here. These trucks were full of stuff. Clothes, linens, toiletries, tons of medical supplies (not just neosporin, guys, amazing necessary stuff), food, water. It was incredible. These guys, Ian Sothenberger, Pete Sanchez, Shawn Booth, Jeffrey Snyder, drove these trucks all over the place. Took one to Picayune then headed here. We told them the route in here then David and I met them and took them to the distribution place at Blaine Kerns. There we were told that they couldn't take the linens and clothes and toys, but would take the food. So David and the four guys started unloading the truck. We put all the medical supplies in my Voodoo mobile and I took off to find someone who would take this awesome stuff. Many people lost all their clothes, their bed linens, everything. Even if their houses survived in some parts of this neighborhood, some of their stuff was just gone from water damage through the roof.

First stop, Red Cross. They had set up a station at Landry High School, right across the street from some of the most decrepidly maintained housing projects I've ever seen. A very poor section of Algiers. I find a woman there. Tell her I have clothes, bed linens and toys but I need a truck to get them to her. The stuff is only ten blocks away. She says no problem. She's delighted. She then takes me to the head of the Red Cross station who is a lovely woman hog-tied by Red Cross regulations. She says that because they aren't brand new in the package she can't take them. She wishes the Red Cross would give the field workers some authority but they don't and it would take a MONTH to get the paperwork through to get this stuff to where it's really needed. She said she REALLY needed it but couldn't take it. Regulations. She suggests I go across the street to the other part of the high school or start my own relief organization.

I head across the street. It's FEMA. I start to tell the head of that field office what's happening. She starts hollering at me, flapping her hands and repeating NO NO NO NO. I was fine til she did that. Then I was pissed. She said she had talked with Jackie Clarkson, our city councilwoman. I said, good. Give me her number. I called Ms. Clarkson, got an answering machine, still no answer and those guys and David are still standing in 94 degree Louisiana heat with these boxes. She keeps hollering at me, I turned around with her still talking and left. She had the same excuse, not new in packages.

I headed to a local church. No one there. Found another church with Red Cross people in front of it. (By now I'd called David a couple times, first saying I had a truck, then saying I didn't, trying to explain what was going on where I was.) I get a Red Cross Chaplain. Explain the situation to her. She says I have to go over and talk to, you guessed it, the FIRST lady I talked with. I said, why don't YOU get in my car and come see what we have. She says she can't. There's a baby faced Red Cross volunteer in front of the Church. I say, fine send HIM with me. She says he's not authorized to go with me in my car. Regulations.

By this time I'm furious. I KNOW people need this stuff. I've been in their houses. I go back to Blaine Kern's and the guys have taken matters into their own hands, literally. There are news crews all over the place and these guys just open the boxes and start giving the stuff out themselves. SCREW the bureaucracy. People NEEDED this stuff. What they couldn't give away in the time they had before they had to go home, they packed up and decided they'd give away on the way back. I found out later last night that those linens had come from four of the finest hotels in Los Angeles. Places the people who got them couldn't possibly afford to stay at for a night. Places the people flocking to the Red Cross center would dream about. The whole thing was unbelievable and I was well beyond mad, but it was just starting.

What about all the medical supplies?? I'd been given a list of supplies needed by a doc who was running the med tent over at Kern's. There had been a clinic set up somewhere else, and he had left a message for me that he "couldn't take the supplies" I could get in. The list he gave me includes everything from alcohol swabs to antibiotics. It's a huge list. I not only can't FIND the clinic he's supposedly at, but the Red Cross and FEMA won't take the med supplies either. You should have seen the back of my car. Incredible stuff had arrived. Better than Christmas. I stop by the 82nd Airborne and find a doc there. He comes to the car, helps me cut open the boxes and sees what's in them. His eyes told the whole story. He said he really needed this stuff but "wasn't allowed to take it." For gods SAKE, the stuff is sealed in individual sterile containers. IV stuff, a sharps container, I can't begin to list everything there was so much. By now I'm near tears. There are people, David and I have FOUND them, who need this stuff. But no one can freaking TAKE it? Why? Because it's regular private citizens like us who are getting it donated and trucked in and distributed. I don't have the right paperwork. It's absurd and obscene.

Finally I find another clinic, by pure luck. I see a sign saying First Aid Station. I head in there and there is a fabulous midwife nurse practitioner. First she wants to treat me for heat exhaustion (I was pretty red in the face by then, coulda been heat, probably anger!), I laugh and grab a bag of ice and take her to my car. She sees what I have and says "Take it to the Clinic on Teche. They need it desperately." I know the Clinic there but in my frustration hadn't thought of them. They're run by self proclaimed anarchists, getting support and supplies from folks like the Vietnam Vets for Peace out of Baton Rouge, Common Ground they call themselves and the Black Panthers are also helping them out. Well of course they are! It's a poor black neighborhood in need and the sign outside the clinic in a Black Muslim mosque says, SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY. Incredibly I find a doctor there. He sees the treasure trove that I've been driving around for nearly three hours and he adds more requests to my already huge list. He says the state is trying to shut them down because they are a volunteer clinic. All the people working there medically are doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, along with the volunteers who are doing outreach on bicycles, but they aren't a HOSPITAL. They are working under the radar and are the only ones getting anything actually DONE from what I can see.

The guys who brought the trucks through from LA are angels, David termed what we're doing "guerilla relief" and he's right. If you try to go through the governmental safety net, you'll never get anything DONE. Nothing will get to the actual people who need it without tons of time (and ya know, time isn't something we have a lot of when some people have been in need for three damn weeks now---we don't HAVE another freakin month to wait for the properly stamped paperwork).

We're still working with the Church of Christ people. Dana, the guy who's running things now that Stan had to go home, is from Minnesota. Wonderful man. I asked if he was with the Church of Christ. He said no. He'd signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross, but was told it would be a year and a lot of hoops before he'd be sent down here. So he said screw it and came down, got hold of Stan and here he is. Bless his heart.

I am including some pictures from yesterday. I only took a few because I was too busy gonzo driving from one place to another. "Try over there, they probably need it. We need it too but CANNOT take it." Incredible. Wanted you to see the angels handing things out on their own.

For the rest of you who want to send stuff, boy do I ever had a medical list including a lot of high blood pressure meds, things like that. Until we find out if Rita drowns herself in the Gulf or not, we're going to wait to send you lists of requests and ways to get them in. They're talking about a mandatory evacuation for us tomorrow. We're not going. Want you all to know that. We plan on still being here next week. The storm is now headed for Texas, but could veer off. We would hate to see a lot of necessary stuff get here now and just get blown away if this storm DOES hit a little more east than they are currently predicting. We will keep in touch with those of you trying to send stuff here. Our phone works most of the time and I actually got a voicemail retrieved the other day, but don't count on that. Our cell phones seem a little better and text msgs do seem to get through. We'll keep in touch because it's citizens, just plain folks, who are going to get things to the people who need them from what I can see. The people working for the big guns are by and large wonderful, whether they're the field workers or the Army/National Guard/Navy/AForce guys. These guys are fabulous. But the bureaucracy that oversees them is too unwieldy to get any real help in in a timely fashion.

Please know how grateful we are to you and how grateful the people getting this stuff are. We can never thank you enough.

Oh yes, and found two more cats in the shop yesterday while walking around inside with no flashlight, just a lit "Prosperity" candle. Still two missing, but the candle was appropriate. What was sent to us by the hurricane angels (thanks for the term, Louis!) was prosperity indeed. THANKS VAN NUYS RELIEF!

There was a little tea set in the toy box. It went to Terrianna, the little girl who's laughter helped us out the day we got the medical runs done. Will send a picture of her when I can. I have lots of pics to send out. Just gonna have to do it piecemeal with this connection.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTE 9.20.2006
The trucks filled with supplies were pulled together by a group of film and television stars in Los Angeles. They had solicited help from Beverly Hills hotels and anyone else they could contact, then they funneled it through a wonderful woman named Schlene. Somewhere here, I have photos of those same trucks being loaded up in Los Angeles by Matthew McConaughey and others. I'll try to track them down. It was mainly Patricia Arquette and Jake Webber behind all this from what I could glean at the time. I didn't mention their names in this email, but feel they need to be recognized now for their remarkable efforts during a horrid time. Ms. Arquette's assistant, Schlene, was the point person and worked tirelessly to help us relay information on routes in to the incredible guys that ran that gauntlet. We will be forever grateful to these people for their tireless efforts. (Evidently this group is now called ReliefSpark and can be found at www.reliefspark.org and I found a slide show of the same trucks that got here being loaded there. They didn't mention that they had gotten to New Orleans, but they did. A slide show of the Los Angeles end of things can be found here.

I have photos of the trucks, and the impromptu distribution at this end, but couldn't get Blogger to upload them this morning. I will add them tonight.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Johnny White's and the Great White Cat 9.18.2005

Subject: Johnny White's and the Great White Cat Date: 9/18 2:21 PM

Hi all,
Yesterday at Blaine Kern's I was handed a huge list of medical supplies that are needed by the doc over there. I've passed that on and I now have the trusty "pass" needed to get trucks in here, so for those of you who have contacted me telling me you have truckloads of supplies to get in, contact me again and give me a fax number. I'll fax you back the pass needed to accomplish this, the address of Blaine Kern's to deliver it to, and Lily Duke's number for the latest route in. (The routes change almost daily as this road opens and that one closes.) I'll try to get in touch with the free pet food people J turned me on to because boy that really is needed. Food distribution will continue for a few weeks at least. I think it will wind down on the Westbank as the stores open and start up on the Eastbank right after that. David waited 20 minutes to get into a local grocery store, then ran amok buying groceries which our bodies then couldn't figure out what to do with after eating lots of crackers for a while here! But we were indeed grateful for the food.

They let business owners into the Quarter yesterday so we headed across to check on the cats at the shop I work at. The SPCA had gotten many of them out. There had originally been 10 cats, two dogs, two snakes and now I hear 2 ferrets. They got as many as they could out but there are at least five still in there. Moose and Pickle are the shop's cats, and T, the owner's house cats were there too, one is still there we think. Her mother's apartment is upstairs from the shop, one of HER cats is still there. We could only find three, one we couldn't identify. We have to find an open Home Depot and put a new hasp and lock on the alley door which the SPCA kicked in to get the others out. We don't care that it's kicked in. There was food and water in abundance still in the shop and we brought more. But with that door ajar in any way, the cats can get out to the street and we want to keep them contained where we can feed them.

The shop, Yesteryears, is full of wonderful masks and beautiful dolls. It was eerie going in there with a flashlight. No power, dolls all over the place, but the mess isn't as big as expected. Masks on the stairs. Cats in shadows. It's usually so bright and full of color, but yesterday it was dark, hot and so quiet that we could kinda hear where the cats were. We'll go back tomorrow and give them fresh water and do the lock.

We decided to walk down the street to "our block." That is the block of St. Peter between Bourbon and Royal. I walk that block to go the A&P when I'm working and David drives his mule UP that block. Often we see each other as we pass. I know every crack and potentially ankle breaking dip in the sidewalk. It felt funny to walk down there and see nothing but law enforcement and military. We got to Preservation Hall. Looks fine. The grand old bastion of jazz appears to have made it through with little damage. They have a huge white cat with white/green eyes that lives there. He can often be seen as you walk that block, sitting outside the Preservation Hall gate, taking in the sun, ignoring the tourists. He was there. He'd run out of food and water. He jumped the gate and sat in my lap while David went back to the car for more food and water. The Preservation Hall gate has a sheet of iron all the way to the ground so getting food in was tough. We poured two lbs of cat food on the sidewalk and I sat there pushing it under the gate for him. David cut an empty gallon container of water into a bowl, squeezed it through the upper bars of the gate, and perfectly aimed the fresh water into the makeshift bowl. The place and the cat are landmarks. At least we can take care of the cat, so he's now on our list critters to keep track of.

We continued down the street to St. Louis Cathedral. The Presbytere, the building to the right if you're looking at the Cathedral, had its cupola blown down in a hurricane in 1915. It's roof had been bare since then. About two months ago they finally replaced it so that it matches the one on its sister building, the Cabildo. We were looking up to make sure that it was there and it was. An Immigration and Customs guy who was down there wondered what we were looking at. We told him. He said, "They musta used super glue this time." We were both okay til we got to the front of the Cathedral, then all I could do was cry. I cried for the next four blocks as we made our way around the Square. Stacks of cots where the artists usually are. One artist who paints cats every day near the hack stand where the buggies sit, had dripped paint for years on the block at the bottom of the fence around the Square. The paint was still there, she wasn't and we hoped that she was okay. Shops in the Pontalba building filled with masks all fine, just waiting for the doors to open, and in front of them bags and bags of trash and a lost filthy surgical mask. Giant media trucks and mobile medical units in front of Cafe du Monde. No human statues, no jugglers, no balloon guys, not even "One Note Johnny", a guy who played on the Square for change and annoyed everyone with his one note. We were worried about all of them and wishing we could hear his one note.

We made our way back up to Bourbon, where our car was, to assess what we needed in the way of hardware for the shop. We took a look and got in the car and headed down Bourbon to go check on another shop T owns in the Marigny. And then we see it. A crowd of people on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. Johnny White's Bar. It's been open during and since Katrina struck. It's become a de facto supply center and story collecting area. Outside a guy sleeps on a cot, oblivious to the people running in and out. A Washington Post photographer comes in, shoots pictures, listens to stories, and hears the gripes. Across St. Ann a mobile med unit manned by an 82nd Airborne doc is giving out tetanus shots. Coming in, getting folks from the bar, giving them their shot, sending them back to the bar for a "shot." They ran out of beer for about 1/2 hr then miraculously several cases appeared, but they needed ice. Street guy we know, who we were delighted to see vertical and breathing, grabs David and says there are pallets of ice just melting in the sun. He and David take off to find them, find it's only a rumor, then find a truck filled with ice. The driver doesn't want to give it to them, it's under lock and key. He warily asks where these two guys are from. Steve, the street guy, not known for soberness or tact, says, "Johnny White's Bar." David says, "I've been doing some work for the Church of Christ." Which is true. I guess the truck driver was a good man. He gave them 18 bags of ice and the beer was cold again. We had some toilet paper still in our car from our supply runs, and the Quarter hasn't really had as much relief as the Westbank. We gave it to them over there. Those folks needed it. There were people there who had no homes to go back to. Larry, the bartender, says to me, "I'm 61 yrs old, but have been running on adrenalin so long I feel like I'm 25."

We're wondering what's going to happen when the adrenalin runs out. They can always get beer and ice, but the adrenalin will give out sooner or later. At some point the city is going to have the "after the funeral" syndrome. After a death, the house is full of helpful people, wonderful caring helpful people. They all bring a covered dish, food of some kind. They clean up, organize, do what they can. But eventually they have to go home and the bereaved is left to deal alone. Sooner or later that will happen to this city. I hope we're ready when it does.

Little weird story: David goes to get gas the other night. He finds a station with gas but no one there. It had pumps that took an ATM card, so he puts the card in and hopes it works. ATM machines have been iffy at best with the phone system being what it is. It works! HUZZAH! Up rolls a seen-better-days Taurus with two women who also fit that description. They have to get to Baton Rouge. David tells them that the ATM function is working. They tell him they don't have a credit card or an ATM card but they have ten dollars in cash. Could he put the ten on the card so they can get to Baton Rouge. Well, truth be told, everyone is a little leery of each other in this city because, well, just because---until you know what you're up against you kind of have your guard up. They give him their ten dollars and he puts the gas in their car. They both get in the car and say, "Thank you, David." He says he froze in his tracks. He turned to them and said, "How did you know my name?" They both looked as confused as he was and said they didn't know how they'd known his name. Then one followed that with, "You must be an angel." At that moment he was and there are so many angels here working their hearts out, doing whatever needs to be done. Right then that's what he was doing.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTE 9.18.2006
Just prior to the storm, I had ordered two new fax ribbon rolls. Thank goodness I had.

Allen Broussard, the President of Jefferson Parish, had issued two permits, one for passing through Jeff Parish, the other a work permit. Our neighbor's neice worked somewhere that gave her access to them, so she had faxed one of each over to us. They were remarkably non-official looking, just a fill in the blanks form with Broussard's signature on the bottom. We were suddenly faxing and copying these passes all over the place. If someone wanted to get in to check their house, they'd contact us and we'd tell them to get to the Kinko's in Dallas, or Atlanta, or wherever they were and we'd fax them "zee paperssss" and we did. We could do it as long as the power, phone and fax ribbons held out. We still have copies of them in our glove compartment, one of those little holdovers. No idea how many of them we faxed out during that time.

Preservation Hall's cat, it turns out, had food in the back, but who knew. And his name is Champ. There is a really good bar that makes great burgers across the street from Preservation Hall called Yo Mama's. One of our favorite haunts. After the storm, Champ would sashay across the street and say hi to me if I was in there.

Yesteryear's is still in business, barely holding on, as is the case for all French Quarter businesses. All the cats are okay, but we worry that the businesses we know and love might not make it to the new year. There has been little or no help for the small business owner, and SBA is offering loans which are hard to get, rarely seen, and are LOANS. For many small business owners, getting a loan right now is a scary proposition when they are having trouble making the rent on their shops and feeding themselves. T started that business over 27 years ago. It's been a fixture on Bourbon Street, a wonderful shop in the midst of tshirt places. There were customers who had come to New Orleans every year for a decade, and had bought a doll at Yesteryears every year.

To visitors and locals alike: PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES. If you're visitor, you'd hate seeing nothing but big box stores in New Orleans. You come here to get away from them. So did we. I needed a new mouse for my computer last week. I bought it from a tiny computer store in the Quarter that is making it literally day by day (there is a letter from the owner of this business on New Orleans Slate). I could have gotten in the car and headed for Best Buy and maybe gotten it cheaper, but if we don't support these businesses they'll be gone.

That would be a horror.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World 9.16.2005

Subject: Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World Date: 9/16 4:20 PM

Hi all,
We are just amazed at how far afield these emails are going. We couldn't be more grateful for the support and the offers of help.

So many of you need some answers from us that you'll get one liners here: ML, by all means if they're interested, send our emails to them. We're humbled and grateful. Thanks! J, C, and anyone else who's offered to get stuff to us, I have a meeting with Lily Duke tomorrow at 10AM. She's the one who can tell us what paperwork we need to get things in here like the free dog food or the medical stuff. BTW, C, the doc over there said he'd have a list for me when I see him next. We'll get all this coordinated somehow. M and Z, we keep trying to get pics taken of YOUR house, but just haven't managed it. Will try again tomorrow. And we didn't hang up on you M, sometimes the line just stops working! And the bamboo plant is still hanging in there!

We were told by the doctor at the food distribution place yesterday that we looked tired and should go home and take a day off and have a drink. Best prescription ever. We tried but David wound up doing a roof over on the East bank today, checking on a house over there, really taking in the disaster in Kenner. I could see it in his eyes when he got home. I wound up figuring out ways to get stuff in here, so our day off didn't really work out but we're trying not to run around quite so much today.

Old red dog in our neighbor's yard should be picked up tomorrow by a rescue group from Utah. We duct taped his address to his collar and hope that he will be found. The owner of the shop I work in on Bourbon had had to evacuate leaving 10 cats, two dogs and two snakes. The SPCA got all but four of the cats out last week. Said they trashed the shop trying to catch them and couldn't get them all. She drove from San Antonio, Texas to Gonzales, LA yesterday and found all of them. At least now we know who's actually still IN the shop. David and I are going over to Bourbon tomorrow to put food and water in there. Businesses will start opening in the next couple weeks over there and as of tomorrow I can legally get into the Quarter to deal with these four guys. One of them is very shy anyway and the SPCA could never have found all his hidey holes. We'll just leave them there and keep the food coming.

We keep talking about the distribution area. I have almost 100 pics but with this horrid dial up connection I can't take the time to get them all uploaded for you. Give me a bit on that. One of the reasons we want you to see it so much is that the whole thing is so utterly surreal. The staging area is Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World.

For those of you unfamiliar with this area, Blaine Kern's is a gigantic complex of enormous warehouses and workshops. They design and make about 1/2 the floats for the various Krewes of Mardi Gras. Some Krewes have their own workshops. They also design and make things for Disney, Las Vegas hotels, other things. A third generation family business, it's really something to see. There was a huge 20 foot tall Jester there, but his face is now in the dirt. Looks like everything in the warehouses was fine and very little damage to the buildings themselves is evident. As army tents went up and stacks of food were placed in what was the parking lot, there was a gigantic alligator in the middle of all this. Take a picture of a soldier, there are the tail ends of floats in warehouses behind him. Big blue tractors that were lugging pallets of diapers are usually used to pull the huge floats down the street during Mardi Gras. In the warehouse staging area is a dead on Alien (Giger would probably love it!) float from last year's Alla parade and in front were towers of cases of cookies. Look around and there's a Captain of the 82nd Airborne talking to Rev. Stan Cunningham in front of a one story fiberglass statue of Elvis, with Marilyn looking on. At one point the guys at Kern lit up the big boat and a couple of the other signature floats so the relief workers from out of state could see them. Blaine Kern says there WILL be Mardi Gras this year. It is, after all, the 150th. I don't doubt it. And his generosity has been so appreciated.

The food distribution issues are changing as more stores open but will remain up and running for few weeks as the stores in our immediate area still aren't in business. We have to go a few miles for things like milk and gas, both precious commodities but becoming a little easier to get. There are long lines at the local Winn Dixie, about 6 miles from here. In the coming week, on the other side of Blaine Kern, a giant tent city will be erected to house workers coming in to help rebuild. I think those workers are coming through Habitat for Humanity, but I'll have more info after my meeting with Lily tomorrow.

Yesterday I took dozens of Mardi Gras beads over to the distribution center. I started handing them out to the soldiers. They loved it. I put some around the Reverend's neck. He said he was pretty sure all the NOLA relief workers were going to be preaching soon and that he'd be drinking and smoking. This guy is amazing. Went home to Nashville today. I told him he had to preach his first sermon back home with the beads around his neck. He might just do it! Of course he will still have to deal with the media circus that will no doubt ensue when one of the guys over there goes to CNN with the band aid on his eye and claims that Stan hit him with a cross and that there's footage to prove it! Bless Stan's heart, he took all the ribbing from us degenerate unsaved New Orleanians with great humor and gave as good as he got. We'll miss him.

Still no mail service, still no social workers that I've seen. Still so much to be done. It remains a very fluid situation, absolutely no pun intended so we'll just have to see what jobs need to be done tomorrow and what kinds of supplies we need. When you all ask we're not dodging the question the answer just changes so fast.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTE: There was indeed Mardi Gras this year, albeit a tad smaller as so many Krewes had lost membership. Blaine Kern got the floats he was contracted to do out on the street when they needed to be in spite of Katrina having damaged some.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Day 17 9.15.2005

Subject: Day 17 Date: 9/15 10:30 AM

Hi all,
David and I really want to tell you how much your emails matter to us. You keep us going. Yesterday we got our tetanus shots courtesy of the 82nd Airborne, our arms hurt, we were tired, and we had a report of three relief workers in a car being shot at on the Westbank, where we are, by some idiots in a white van. Your emails got us out there again, although yesterday was a little different than the days before it. I'll get to that.

Years ago I worked for a while at the local public access station in San Francisco. Somehow, with absolutely zero knowledge of such things, I wound up in the booth, fussing with wires and cables and a board with holes in it from top to bottom. The puzzle was, which cable got plugged into which hole and in which order. There was a guy there named Julio, and this place was his little fiefdom. JulioVision we called it, and we were pretty sure that he purposely rewired the board prior to our arrival just to keep himself amused and us stressed out. How grateful I am for that experience now! David and I have come up with a little list of things we're going to be sure to have in an emergency situation. The first is a UHF antenna adapter. No kidding. We're all so cable or satellite dependent that unless we're really survivalists with the battery powered tv, we couldn't get any news. The information void was horrible. Since I've never seen a cable or cord that I didn't keep, I pulled out my magic box and voila! There it was. The glorious little brown square with two screws on it! Out comes the cable, in goes the adapter hooked up to some speaker wire, and an antenna liberated from an abandoned taxi cab. We were in BUSINESS!! I could have started a business doing that if only I'd had enough adapters! Oh yeah, and after we make sure we have water and adapters, a generator and a wireless laptop would be nice!

Resourcefulness is everything here. We've been writing you what we're seeing but there are so many others out there helping.

Here on Algiers Point are three guys who call themselves Fort Pelican, after the street they live on. Vinnie, Garrett and Greg have cleaned out fridges, shut down power for people out of town, checked on houses, held off looters with bravado and guns if necessary, kept people fed by emptying their own supplies. They stayed during the hurricane and an amazing woman in Houston had a blog. Her blog got hijacked into a sort of Algiers information site. She asked anyone who wasn't here to let her know privately if they had anything in their kitchens that Fort Pelican might be able to use. These guys were running all over, setting up generators, keeping tabs on people, staying up all night to keep the looters out. Their ingenious alarm system on the street was hundreds of empty aluminum cans strewn about the street. Anyone who walked there made noise and got a warning that they would be shot. There were a few actual Wild West shootouts here in our neighborhood. These guys were here through it all and still are. They're amazing. Vinnie had a van, which was helpful. The second or third night he got carjacked and beat up. He was okay, but his transportation was gone. Still he stayed. I saw him day before yesterday on a roof putting up "blue roof" for someone (blue roof is a huge tarp), and Garrett was helping and telling me that he had some insulin in his fridge should I need to get it to someone.

Over a couple blocks from them are the Irish Mafia. These are two crazy Irishmen, Paul and Irish, yeah that's what they call him, and about four families. They were using small generators, and a Blaine Kern tractor as a large generator, feeding and helping everyone on the block. They commandeered food and supplies and delivered ice all over the place. It's the local underground trading post. They were also here during the storm, carrying babies up to the Ferry Building to get them on evac buses. That bunch sat on overstuffed chairs out in the street with rifles and shotguns to keep looters away.

Betty and Ray live right on the point of land that gives us the name Point. Betty has been doing animal rescue, riding on her bike all over the place, finding rescue organizations to come in and get these animals out. So many were left behind and there were plenty of strays to begin with. We called her yesterday after our find.

We went to get our shots and a woman comes up and asks if we're able to bring her and her brother, who has health problems, some toilet paper and canned goods. We say yes, get her address and a list of what she needs. So we go to the distribution point and load up a box and some ice. There is a volunteer over there who knows us and says, "Hey you guys do animal rescue too dontcha?" Yes we say, but we're running out of dog food so we're praying it's not another dog. He says go to the corner of Slidell and Brooklyn St. He tells us there is a retriever there under debris behind a locked gate, needs food and water. So off we go and we do indeed find a very aged, red lab/golden retriever mix. This guy is a miracle of survival. There was debris he was crawling over and under and out of. The entire yard was three feet deep with siding and corrugated metal and worse, the power lines were falling right onto the iron gate. Luckily the power wasn't on yet, but this was an untenable situation for this dog. Unfortunately the gate was chained with heavy chain and a padlock and was too high and the dog too big for us to lift him over. So we drop him some food and water, then head for the Irish Mafia for some bolt cutters. They don't have them but the giant army truck full of guys does. One guy holds up the industrial size bolt cutters he has, another comes out with a chainsaw! Amazing. Their commanding officer lets us take the bolt cutter guy and two others, so we put them in the Voodoo mobile and go over. They get him out really fast and we put him in our car. (pictures of these saviors are attached!) We put him in our neighbors front yard because he can't get out, and a rescue group from Utah will be coming for the old boy today or tomorrow.

It's all resourcefulness, and the people I've told you about are just a few. I have lots of pictures but haven't had time to put them into any kind of reasonable format. Will try to get to that tonight.

Things are winding down in terms of food distribution. As the power comes on ice is no longer an issue. Stores are opening up, but farther down the Westbank from us so people with no cars will still be in need. What we're finding is that this storm not only took the roofs off houses (in fact a block from our virtually untouched house a house was removed from its foundation and dropped into the intersection. It is now kindling), but it has taken the roof off of some of the pre-Katrina problems that went unnoticed or purposely ignored. We're finding that some of the problems we're encountering are just pure poverty and these people will still be poor when this is done. That's bothering us a lot. The kind of community outreach that's been done during the aftermath of this storm, needs to continue for some of them who are ill, old, poor and without transportation. A store open 6 miles from here won't do them a damn bit of good if they can't get their food stamps, their money out of the bank if they have any, or transportation to get there. We keep hearing public service announcements, or pieces on the news, saying "Call your doctor and ask. . . . . ." WHAT DOCTOR? These people by and large don't have one, and many of the docs have moved to Texas where Tulane set up shop. I'm not mad at Tulane. They're doing what they have to, and god bless Charity Hospital which has opened their doors again albeit in a limited way. But the people on this side can't GET there. It's on the Eastbank. West Jefferson Medical Center has been wonderful, but again, no public transportation so how do they get there. Many of the people we're seeing were working in service industry jobs, mostly maids at the hotels, things like that, and getting some public assistance. We haven't seen social workers or anything like that running around here. That's what's needed. We need to be able to turn our list over to someone who will make sure these folks get their meds, have food, get the kids in schools in Jefferson parish, or whatever.

Generations have tried to fix this problem. The two of us won't be able to. We sure don't have the resources to do it all ourselves. We ARE hoping that maybe since some of this is coming to the surface in a huge way now, that someone who does know how to make inroads into the neglect we're seeing, will do so.

Thanks so much for your words of encouragement! I'll start uploading some pics tonight or tomorrow, but with our dialup through New Mexico finnagled connection it's tough! But we want you to see the generosity we've seen and the pictures will give you an idea of the outpouring of the rest of America.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTE 9.15.2006
Polimom's blog was instrumental in information dissemination when we were still in Alabama. Yesterday the Times-Picayune gave her her due in this article. Our gratitude to her remains undiminished by time.

The old red dog was returned to his equally elderly owners sometime in late October or early November 2005. We kept going back to the house to see if they'd returned and one day they answered the door. They were delighted, with tears in their eyes, when they heard the story. They put us in touch with their son so that he could facilitate the dog's return. When he got back they were surprised by how fat he was (although he was clearly on his way when we found him!) They told us that they had left him gallons and gallons of water and 100 lbs of dog food when they left. The food we'd left for him was just an appetizer or dessert, depending. We hadn't see the food as it was on the other side of the debris in the backyard. The looks on their faces when we told them the old dog's story was one of the highpoints of our "aftermath time."

The servicemen who helped us had given us their email addresses. Each of them emailed us to find out about the dog and ask for the photos.

The hospital, public transporation, poverty and inequity issues remain and will probably continue for some time. We still don't have the answers, and we're not seeing much coming from our leaders on these issues either.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Vignettes from Bec and Dave 9.14.2005

Subject: More Vignettes from Bec and David Date: 9/14 11:07 AM

Hi all,
Wow! Amazing where the email is getting forwarded to. Some of the names on the return emails are so lovely to see and we just sit here grinning. We won't be able to respond to you all personally for a while. Please consider this our gigantic THANK YOU.

The medical issues were handled yesterday. We're just delighted. All those years in film work are really a help right now and the woman who's getting the trucks in with the food is a film producer and PR type herself. We understand each other. More on that later.

We talked to the wonderful Lt. Duane Stulz about the plight of our ten medical issue people. That was day before yesterday. It took a while, but I had shown him the list of medications, dosages and how many of each everyone had. He understood the problem. We went to load up the car and he came up to us and said, "Can you get them here by 10AM tomorrow?" Of course we can we figure. He said he'd have a van or something to get them to West Jefferson Medical Center. So we go off to deliver the supplies and on our little route (route is a much more disciplined sounding word than what we're actually doing, which is driving around in a grid) and on our way we stop at each of the ten "medical issue" people's houses and set it up to pick them up in the morning. We had them scheduled for pickup at 8:30, 9:00, and left time for anyone who couldn't manage it. Luckily we did.

David dropped me off at the distribution center while he went to get the folks. Lt. Stulz tells me he has somehow wrangled 4 ambulances to take them down there. They don't really NEED ambulances, but it was all he could get and we didn't care. It was a miracle. I go sit under a tree and wait to escort them as they are dropped off. Moses Page can barely walk, he only has half a foot due to diabetes and he's a large man, so I got to order a couple of cute Army guys around. "Young MEN! I need help getting this man to the medical tent." They came out of the tents lickity split and helped him across the couple acres. Once there the docs checked him and monitored him the entire time as it was hot and it was going to be a wait. Mr. Fink had brought a little overnight bag full of all his meds and his ID. One of the people up on Powder Street, (there were about 6 of them and most of them were on psychiatric drugs) wouldn't come out. This man is a Vietnam Vet with severe PTSD. He just plain wasn't coming out. He's like watching a mole exit a hole, breaks your heart. I tell Lt. Stulz the situation and he says that if we can get the pill bottles from him and his ID that it will be taken care of. So his wife gets to us before the ambulances leave and drops of two huge ziploc bags with his pill bottles and ID in it. It was indeed taken care of. All of these people were shuttled down to the Medical Center and then returned home. After my griping about FEMA, on this one I can't gripe. Apparently FEMA was paying for the medications, which had been a real issue for some of these people.

The little girl, who it turns out is nearly three, not nearly two, came with her grandmother and auntie. We had wrangled a doll for her as she had no toys, then she discovered my cell phone. As I sat under the tent with the patients waiting for the ambulances, she talked and talked and suddenly peals of laughter filled that tent. None of us had heard a child laugh in a long time and we all just sat there laughing with her as she threw her little pigtails back in a pretend conversation. Then I dialed my fabulous daughter, Meg, and Meg talked to her for a while so the little one could hear a voice on the other end. More peals of laughter amid the choppers flying overhead. It was also interesting to note that all the people we had there had gotten dressed up to go. Mr. Fink in what looked like a shirt that he'd ironed, 83 yr old June with full makeup and a black dress and flats. All of them sitting in an army tent in the heat having conversations and dressed up. Looked like a party that had flipped through some parallel universe. Shoulda been couches and cocktails, instead there were Army chairs and baggies full of pill bottles. A really weird image.

So HURRAY, one issue fixed.

Power is going on every day more and more. We actually had a trash pickup yesterday. We couldn't believe it. And we couldn't have been more grateful. The pervasive smell of old food cleaned out of fridges was made worse every day by the heat. Stores are starting to open. Walgreens down the Westbank Expressway is open. We walked in, bought milk! And the ATM cards were working. I told David we looked like okies who'd never seen a store before! We bought two dozen eggs and two gallons of milk. Really valuable commodities. Our neighbor, Mr. M was thrilled to take one of each. He had found an open Popeye's Chicken somewhere, we have no idea where and had brought us some chicken the night before. Best we ever had! We've been looking out for each other when it comes to supplies of any kind. Gas is not a non-issue, but way less of an issue. Stations were opening all up and down the Westbank Expressway. Home Depot is open, looks like Lowes will follow suit soon. We had the Jefferson Parish passes in our car but didn't need them. We don't know anyone who HAS needed them yet, but we keep them here just in case.

Cop from Raleigh, NC comes up to me and asks if we're working with animal rescue. I say yes there's a loose bunch plus the SPCA. He says there's a dog in a yard, a pit bull no one can get near but him. I give him a number and he gives me a hug.

Truckloads of MRE's. David is asked to please try to get them distributed. He and some Army guys are loading them by the case into people's pickup trucks. There are literally tons of them! David said one guy warned him off of the black bean burrito. I said that later to a group of Army guys and wound up with a hilarious version of "The Disaster Area Food Critic." They're all telling me which ones are good, which ones are bad, having arguments because the beef stew really isn't TOOOOOO bad if you put hot sauce on it and how the addition of hot sauce to the packets was the biggest boon to MRE eaters ever!

Stan Cunningham who has been heading up the actual nuts and bolts of distribution is an amazing guy. He'll be leaving on Friday. Lily, the woman who's been getting the trucks IN, wants David and I to take over Stan's job. We've told her that we will only if they can't get someone else. We're actually better field producers in this situation, we told her. She cracked up, agreed and said she wants to talk to us today about it. We will take the job, it's monumental, but we'll do it if she can't get anyone else. I told Stan I was going to wear a tshirt that says, "We're only PLAN B!" Church of Christ apparently wants one of their own to head it up and that's fine with us.

Found a house the other day with four kids in it. Ages 3, 11, 14 and their sister 18 is taking care of them. They said they had an auntie who was an adult, but we didn't see her there at all. Not a stick of furniture in the place, no food. We passed their address on to Stan, talked about the issue of social workers. There aren't any. The Army will be going over there to evacuate them probably. They need to be in school.

Schools here MIGHT open in January but no one knows. The Post Office MIGHT be up and running this week. No one actually knows. Welfare checks are lost, payroll checks can't get to the people via direct deposit because some of the banks still aren't quite up to par. The situation is so fluid that from one day to the next, hell, from morning to afternoon, things change radically. The speed with which some things are being done is incredible, then there are other things that just are not being done at all.

The local Firehouse has boxes of MRE's and water. They complain of being bored. We went over there to get information. They had none. We asked them to please check on Bernice around the corner, old and alone, they responded with, "Ask the National Guard." Useless. They're BORED?? There's so much to do here. What is really needed is a central information point. Some place, like a fire house, where there would be FEMA packets for filing for relief, Red Cross packets, info on schools and options for parents with kids, food stamp workers (the nearest place to apply for food stamps is Boutte which is a LONG LONG way if you don't have a car!), social workers, just a general information center. We don't know how to get that done. Everything is separate.

Some of you have asked how to get stuff to the distribution center here. We'll be talking to Lily about that today. We told her how many of you had offered help and wanted it to come directly here to the center. She said she can find a way. It will probably be through the Church of Christ. We'll let you know what we hear.

One liners:
Sign on a local church says on their pre-Katrina marquee "Live in the overflow!"

Sign in the street on a board taken down from a house: Looters will be severely reprimanded, then shot.

Sign painted in huge white letters to be seen from a chopper: Got milk? Need GAS!

We found a liquor store open yesterday way down the Westbank. Got some rum. A happy day. Had been asked by someone to let them know if we found vodka. We got vodka and traded it for mayonaisse that wasn't out of date and had been refrigerated so we could make tuna salad!

Mayor Nagin says, "Property values in Algiers will skyrocket, so if you have a few pennies you might want to invest there!" (Good job, Z and M!)

Guy who lives on our block looks around and says, "There's no reason to stay here." Um, how about picking up a tree branch or six?

We keep wondering whose landfill is gonna wind up with the hundreds of duct taped fridges on every street. These are the fridges that no one cleaned, they just duct taped them and got them out. Meanwhile on a block over from us was a guy who had actually cleaned up 9 fridges on his block. Man deserves a medal.

Last quickie: Moses Page got his insulin. Oh yeah, and Mr. Fink got "the shot, the shot." Moses leaves his keys at the medical center. Lt. Stulz tells David and I and flashes his big blue eyes at us til we are convinced to go down and get the keys. David and I go over to Moses' house and David gets out to tell him that we're going to get his keys. He says, "How did you KNOW?" David just laughed and said, "We know EVERYTHING!" We went to get the keys and came back, Moses was still on his porch asking "How did you know."

Love and Light to you all!
Bec and David

ML, I'll answer your mail asap. We gotta get out of here right now and get moving. Many thanks!
NOTE 9.14.2006

There is still not enough public transporation for people like the ones we met last year to get to medical care easily. The medical care situation here in New Orleans is still abysmal, and not getting much better. If you have a psychiatric patient in your house, you're really in trouble as there simply aren't enough beds in the area for them.

The people on Powder Street, which we called "The Powder Keg" because of the preponderence of psychiatric patients, all family, that lived there, suffered a loss. June, the lady in the black dress under the tent, died of a heart attack earlier this year from stress we were told.

Although we were and remain unattached to any religious group, we truly were impressed by what Church of Christ did. They were here working their butts off trying to help, not trying to convert, and for that they will always hold a special place in our hearts.

As for the landfill, well. . . . . .One was opened in the New Orleans East area and is still a subject of great disagreement and debate. As we drove around we kept wondering why they didn't use the fridges and other debris as some kind of base to stabilize the ground they were going to build levees on. Not being engineers we didn't know then, and don't know now, if that was a feasible idea or not, but it seemed to us that someone should have been looking at an environmentally friendly way to USE the debris rather than just create another landfill. We still wonder about that.

Social services are still an issue. The house that we found the kids in was something that has stuck in our minds since then. We knocked and knocked on that door. Finally, the older boy opened it a few inches and looked out at us, that's when we noticed that there was no furniture in it. The boy was the oldest at 14, and he was hiking his pants up as his 11 year old sister quickly put hers back on. The three year old little boy was just walking around dazed and dirty and probably hungry. Our stomachs were sick as we realized what was happening in that house, and we had no authority to do anything at all about it. After we told Stan what we'd seen, he sent the Army over there, but we were told that if the 18 yr old "auntie/sister"----we were never clear on who she was from the kids-------really existed, that they had no legal way to force those kids out of there as she would be considered an adult. We went back to the house that afternoon and a couple days later and no one answered. We never knew whether they had been evacuated or whether they just stopped opening the door. It haunts us.

Last time I was on Algiers Point, the "Got Milk? Need GAS!" sign painted on the street pavement was still visible.