2007 NOLA Trip Part 2: Homebuilding

I was in NOLA this past week to help build homes through the programs of the New Orleans Area Habitat For Humanity and Americorps.

We arrived at Camp Hope at around 7:30pm on Monday, December 17th. We missed the orientation but were able to check in. Camp Hope is an old school that has been converted to house volunteers, as well as some Americorps staff. For twenty bucks a night, they give you a place to sleep and shower, and provide three meals per day.

The next morning we reported to Musician’s Village in the Ninth Ward neighborhood. It turned out that we didn’t actually work on any houses physically within the village, but we were working on some houses nearby.

I preferred the construction work we did more than the gutting work I did last March in 2006. Gutting, though necessary, is a sad endeavor. The best you can say to a homeowner is, “You know that sludgy, moldy pile that used to be your worldly possessions? Well, it’s out on the curb now! Good luck with the rebuilding!” Construction is something I could feel a lot more positive about.

The houses being constructed are 12 basic templates, all variations on a shotgun shack.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the basic architecture — a narrow house with a main hallway running its length, with rooms on either side.

Looking to the back from the front (from the house on Gallier)

Looking toward the front from the back room (from the house on Gallier)

The first house we worked on was almost finished when we started working on it. Mostly we were just applying a couple coats of eggshell white to the interior, and doing some miscellaneous touch-ups. There was a house right next to ours where the walls were going up.

The just-started house and the almost-finished house, both on N Galvez, photographed from behind

I spent some time in the just-started house doing “blocking”, which consisted of hammering pieces of board between the studs in what was eventually to become the kitchen. We were putting these boards in so the kitchen cabinets could be hung from them.

Work being done on the just-started house

The day we switched to work on the just-started house it was sunny, and must have been in the low-80’s. I was actually sweating in the middle of December. Crazy, for an Illinois boy such as myself. We only worked a day on this house, as the next two days were rainy.

The last house I worked on was further along than the just-started house, but not as far as the almost-finished house:

There was a lot of trash outside this house, two large dumpsters and plenty of crap on the ground, which we did our best to clean up. And wouldn’t you know there was an iSplotchy in the debris.

During the time I was working in it, I paused and took a picture of this paint bucket to remind me where this last house was situated:

In the house on Gallier I got to learn how to use a circular saw. We were “casing and basing”, casing the doorways and putting baseboard down. I cut a fair amount of baseboards, and did my best at hammering them in.

I couldn’t help but think of the Simpsons episode Hurricane Neddy, in the scene where Ned Flanders has a mental breakdown. The scene would pop up often in my head, particularly if I didn’t get a nail into the baseboard exactly the right way.

Sadly, the fine folks at Fox have disabled a YouTube video of Ned Flanders freaking out after the house his well-meaning neighbors built promptly collapses into a rubble pile (his original house had been destroyed by a hurricane).

Here’s a link to the episode on another site. It takes a long time to load, so you might be satisfied with some choice Ned Flanders quotes.

I’m not sure how much better I am at construction, but seeing as my prior experience was nil, I’d say it’s better now. There weren’t lots of volunteers down there during our week, but an Americorps worker said he expected the number to double after the first week of January. By spring, there are probably going to be over one thousand volunteers, consisting mostly of good-hearted college kids.

What volunteers I did meet and work with I had a great time with. Everyone was concerned with doing the best possible job they could. I met the homeowner of the last house on our final day. I just hope it can be finished soon and she can move in with her family.

Here’s one last pic, taking a break on the front steps of the first house we worked at:


Clockwise, from the lower left:
Maria, a French woman visiting from her home in London
Elaine, a sweet person from California, who came out after she recently lost her job
Splotchy
Andy, my travelin’ buddy
Natalie, a quick-witted smartypants getting her PhD at Vanderbilt

Not pictured: Lots of other wonderful people I had the good fortune to meet and volunteer with.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my 2007 NOLA Trip: Food, Drink, Music.

Phew!

I’m back home!

It only took a short, non-stop 16 hour car ride, briefly interrupted by a quick stop to change a tire with a distressing bulge on it.

It’s good to be back. It was a really fantastic trip, with a lot of fun, food, drink, hammering and painting. I saw some of the same places and people from my last trip in March 2006, and saw lots of new places and people as well.

I had forgotten how moving an experience it was the last time. It was as powerful, if not more so, the second time around. What stands out for me isn’t just working on the houses, but also meeting the various people there — other volunteers, some of the shopowners, and the occasional random person who invites you into their home to have a conversation. Pretty damned amazing.

Thanks a lot for the kind comments. I’ll be posting about various topics regarding the trip soon.

Just to clear up any suspense, no, I didn’t personally meet Brad Pitt, but I did feel the presence of his star power. And I saw his pink houses, but more on that later.

The Eye Of The Posting Hurricane

I’ll prolly be posting a lot of stuff about New Orleans when I return, but it’s not really easy right now, as the cellphone posting didn’t end up being good enough for me to use, and the two public computers available to me are largely dominated by college students logging into Facebook and watching hee-larious YouTube videos (there is one looking at me right now with an itchy mouse finger).

But, I have been taking lots of pictures and have been taking in lots of nifty experiences, which I’ll hopefully transmute into some posts you may find some interest in reading.

Okay, I dunno if I’ll make another post from here before the long trip back on Saturday. Thanks a lot for your kind comments.

I had fried food today for all of you. Yes, every single thing I stuffed down my gullet was fried. And yes, I took pictures of the food before I ate it. You’re going to just to have to wait for the feast for the eyes that awaits you.

Love and Kisses from the Big Easy,

Splotchy

I Made It

So much to tell, but no time to tell it.

In a nutshell:

  • Horrible snowy roads in Illinois
  • Playing movie title games to stay awake
  • A moving experience at Graceland
  • Some great barbeque in Memphis
  • 2 Green Monkey mixes in the car (Total Absorption, What’s In A Word?)
  • The Crescent City Soul Box Set
  • Going the wrong way to Camp Hope
  • Finally finding Camp Hope
  • Deciding what the hell let’s go to the French Quarter
  • Spending about a half hour walking around, looking for the French Quarter after parking at Frenchman and Chartres
  • Finding the French Quarter
  • Looking for a place to eat
  • Calling MizBubs to ask for a place to eat
  • Asking a policeman for a place to eat
  • Eating at a great restaurant with wonderful crabcakes
  • Walking the long way back to the car
  • Driving back to Camp Hope, desperately trying to reach it by the midnight curfew
  • We Made It
  • Sleep (no farting man next to me, but two guys over has a wicked snore)
  • Wake Up
  • Start Blogging

Today is the first day of work in Musician’s Village. I’m excited!

See ya soon.

Thunderbirds Are GO!


As of today, it’s only one month until I start helping build homes for the New Orleans Area Habitat For Humanity.

I’ll be working there from Tuesday, December 18th, through Saturday, December 22nd. A buddy of mine and I will be driving down to New Orleans on the 16th.

I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room for when I was going down, as MizSplotchy is going to grad school now and I can’t really be gone for any stretch of time when she’s in class.

I know Bubs has plans to go down there sometime in the spring. I’d really encourage anyone reading this to consider going down there to help out.

I’ll do my best to report on the state of things, and how they have changed (or not) since I was last down there, in March of 2006. I’m planning on taking lots of pictures — homebuilding, fried pickle-eating, y’know, the “highlights”.

Read a little more about the project at my previous post here.