Friday, December 12, 2008

Going to NOLA soon?

If so, check out this article in the Seattle Times. It's a great reason to get off of Bourbon Street and see places a little less touristy. The best part (and how I think Seattle is missing out):

"One of the more unusual may be Checkpoint Charlie's at 501 Esplanade Ave, at Decatur, on the edge of the Quarter. It's your basic corner dump-of-a-bar but with a few unusual touches: There's live blues or rock from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. most days, and there's no cover charge. It's also open (and serving bar food) 24 hours a day.
Also here: the ultimate neighborhood touch — there's a laundromat along the back wall."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Here's another piece of the "New Racial Order" series from the Birmingham Weekly, including an interesting take on what Obama can do to reach out to southerners from SC to Texas who voted so emphatically against him in on Election Day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What are we doing? REALLY?

This morning I was on a full bus in Seattle. A passenger boarded, using crutches. In every other city or town I've ever ridden public transportation, several people would have been falling over themselves offering their seat. Not in Seattle. He had to ask for someone to offer their seat...I am not shitting you, people. And the first person to move was the oldest person seating up there. At least four of the younger folks seated didn't even look up from their books or blackberries! Now, one of the younger gentlemen did finally give up his seat, so that both the injured rider and the older woman could sit down. But, really...

Many of us are still exuberant about what happened on November 4th, and we might even be patting ourselves on the back for what "we" accomplished. And I'd be willing to bet that some of them were sitting at the front of my bus this morning. But I've got news for everyone. The "change" that we were all looking for on Election Day won't happen if we (you, me, and the people on either side of you) don't change. We are entitled to NOTHING as a result of what happened on November 4th. If we don't change, how are the next 4 years really going to be any different? What did we really 'win' if we just plug ourselves back into our iPods and ignore everyone around us?

As for me, I think I'll start sitting at the front of the bus. At least then I can be sure that a seat will be available for someone who might need it more than me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who's hurt most by this crisis?

For anyone who thought I was just being dramatic in my post about not wanting the media or politicians (including our President-elect) to make this financial crisis about the plight of the middle class, here's an article from Sunday's NYT.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The election of Barack Obama


This expression has been on my face for the past 37 hours. I'll let others who are better at historical punditry explain how significant this is. I just want to comment on the last portion of Barack's speech in Chicago on Tuesday night. It's difficult at times to imagine what is possible, and imagine whether or not we can really change as a country and as a people. Even for those of us who WANT that change, it's difficult. Maybe even more so. But the story of Ann Nixon Cooper and others like her give me pause. As he described all of the things that she had seen in her life, it became clear to me that change does happen, we can make progress in the face of extreme adversity. Even if we don't get there in my lifetime, the promise of this wonderful experiment we call America is what makes it worth continuing to struggle and fight for. I will never forget Tuesday night. I got to share it with some incredible people, and we will have that for the rest of our lives. Even my 6-year old niece was excited.

I still have that grin on my face. But it's time to get to work. And I'm not just talking about what I do for a paycheck.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"That's how we do it in the South"

Okay...there are plenty of things that they "do" in the South that make my blood hot enough to boil peanuts. It is the South, after all, and two things they love dearly are their churches and their politics, neither of which I am particularly in tune with.

But the individual who made the comment in this particular instance was referring to something that I've mentioned a couple of times before--the simple act of acknowledging someone else. It typically includes the elements of (1) eye contact, (2) a slight movement of the head, (3) what could pass as a toothy-grin in Seattle (we've raised avoiding # 1 to an art form, so don't even bother about getting us to smile), and, especially in the smaller communities, (4) some version of the traditional greeting "hello". It happens in stores, restaurants, on the street, even at stoplights.

After living this for two full weeks, I noticed that instead of being disconcerted about this sudden influx of existential recognition on the part of 'strangers', I actually found it totally refreshing. So much so that 67+ hours since my return to Seattle, I'm discovering my answer to the question 'what did you like best about your trip?' "People" is my response. Don't get me wrong. I love Seattle. I don't think I've ever lived anywhere else that had such a sense of the importance of civic engagement. But sometimes, I think we lose the ability to see one another. My favorites are the ones who jam their iPods into their ears and start pecking away on their Blackberries on the bus or walking on the street (at 7 AM...REALLY??). Why don't you just write "eat shit and die" on your forehead and call it good, save yourself some cash in this harsh economic climate, and cut into some of that corporate greed you keep self-righteously bitching about?...

But I digress. I find myself, since returning, surrounded by what passes for "normal" in this Seattle life. And I also am finding that, while I can accept most of it as 'livable, if not dysfunctional, insanity', I can't continue to believe that it's normal to not see people. Or, if you do see them, to see them as something in your way, barely worth an "excuse me" in the tone of "get out my way." Heck, even in Manhattan people look at each other on the street. Although that may actually lead to an altercation, so maybe that's not the best example. In Birmingham (I'll call it a city), folks at the coffee shop look up from their laptops and give you the nod...don't fool yourself, you know exactly what I mean.

So I could simply slip back into that "normalcy" again, could just pretend that the person sitting next to me on the bus doesn't actually need help with their bags, could go on believing that it's best for me to just look down or straight ahead, and hope that someone else will smile, or help, or say "hello", so that I know it's okay to do the same. But that's not how we do it in the South. :-)

One of the themes of this election season has been 'how we can, how we should, be better than what we are.' I'm going to try to start seeing people again. I know it's not going to solve the energy crisis or increase my desire to open my retirement plan statements every quarter. But...ehh. Whatevs.

I'll occasionally post random pieces about the South on this blog, starting with the stuff below. Comments are always welcome. I'd like to keep it going just because I do plan to return to the South, and use this as a forum and travel log. This trip was about Civil War and civil rights history, and the Space Center (and volunteering, of course!). Next time, I'm thinking a 'musical history of the South'. I also got to eat at some great BBQ places this trip, and might try to do an actual 'great holes-in-the-wall bbq joints' listing next time. Although I need to devise an exercise regimen for that, too, so my arteries don't explode.

For your continued entertainment, a series on Alabama Racial Politics being run in the Birmingham Weekly (like the Seattle Weekly):


Friday, October 24, 2008

One more

Today I went to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, across from the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls were killed in a bombing back in the early '60s. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take photos. But they do a fantastic job of helping you experience the history of the civil rights struggle, and Birmingham's history in that. If you are ever down here, make it your primary stop. It paints a brutally honest picture of what it was like, and it evokes some pretty strong emotions even if you're not from here. Reading some of the laws, and hearing some of the speeches made, and looking at the coverage from that time period in Birmingham makes me think about the ways we look at each other. I know many of us want to believe that race doesn't hinder our progress any longer, that we put that behind us, and that Barack Obama's candidacy somehow transcends race or helps America move past it. I'm hesitant to think one person can do that. What I saw today at the Institute makes me believe that even more. I like Obama, I just wish he was more willing to talk about race and racism in this country. I suppose that's too much to ask of someone who's running for president, even if he is black. I just hope people don't start to believe that everything will be fine and dandy if he's elected. There's still a lot of work ahead if we are to live up to our promise, no matter what "class" you put yourself in.

I head back to NOLA in the morning, after attending the Alabama A&M/Alabama State football parade downtown. It should be good entertainment to send me on my way. It's been good to visit here, and wrap up my trip with my friend Allison. I've mentioned it before, but this has been a good experience for me. I've visited places I would never have otherwise, and met people that have made me think about what I believe. It's easy to "mock" the South for its perceived backwardness, but these people take their politics and religion very seriously. And even if I don't agree with everything I've heard, I'm glad we've been able to listen to each other. I discovered we agree on more things than we disagree on. That's the place to start, right?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

At home in Birmingham

Have arrived in Birmingham, and staying with my friend Allison.  It's been a good two days since my last post.  Corinth, MS, and Huntsville, AL, are now on my list of cool places I've managed to visit.  Corinth, for those who don't know, was the all-important spot of the crossroads for the Ohio-Mobile and Memphis-Charleston railroad lines.  These were the only lines that connected Kentucky and Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.  Very important strategically during the Civil War.  The Union's victory here allowed Grant to eventually attack Vicksburg and gain control of the Mississippi River.  It was one of the most important spots of the western theater during the war, and didn't get as much attention as bigger battles like Gettysburg and Antietam, but 8,000 men died in the Battle of Corinth.

Some random observations as I headed through upcoming vote in Blount County apparently about the purchase of alcohol--one campaign sign says "Vote No to Alcohol Sales.  Keep Blount County Special."  The oppositions' sign says "Vote Blount County WET!".  I leave it to you to make your own judgments.  :)  Another sign simply said "SARAH!" in support of the McCain/Palin ticket.  It was not a hand-made sign, so I can only assume there are more out there.  I will need to see if I can get my hands on one.  So far, my un-scientific poll of signs along the road have Obama/Biden leading McCain/Palin 178-103, with Ron Paul coming in third at 5.  And Dennis Kucinich with 2.  Just kidding.

Space Camp didn't work out like I wanted, couldn't get in for a variety of reasons.  But basically, it's for "trainees only" and my friend's boss is sort of a jerk.  But really, doesn't the fact that it's exclusive like that make you want to do it even more??  Next time, I'm signing up for a day camp.  Anyway, I did get into the museum for free, and that was awesome!  Those Saturn rockets look small on tv, but when you stand next to them and realize just how big they really are, it makes you appreciate how much work went into making that program successful.  We built that!  The sheer creativity of how they were able to make that work is inspiring.  I also got to see the original lunar lander and rover.  Sorry to geek out on some of you, but yesterday was a dream come true.  I'm a huge space nut, always have been, and it was great to finally visit that place.  That, combined with the Civil War elements of the trip, have really satisfied an unfilled need that I've had for a long time.  I felt like I was 5 years old again, but could appreciate with adult eyes.

If you're following this to make sure I'm alive, I'll be wrapping up my trip here in Birmingham.  I got here earlier this afternoon, after making a stop in Pinson, Alabama for Ken's BBQ (Thanks Jim!  They were tickled that someone from Seattle had stopped in based on a recommendation!!).  Allison has some fun stuff planned for me while I'm here, and then I'll be heading back to NOLA on Saturday morning.  My flight back to Seattle leaves early Sunday.  Then it's back to work on Monday, and figuring out how to post photos.  

I don't think I'll be posting again before I get back to Seattle, so here are a few final observations about this trip:

Don't dismiss the importance of making eye contact and nodding hello to people.

In MS, they have "corp" limits instead of "city" limits, as in Tupelo Corp Limit or Jackson Corp Limit...don't know why.

People can tell I'm not from around here before I even open my mouth.  It's helpful to remember my first observation about eye contact, and to be willing to tell people where I'm from and why I'm here.

Coffee is NOT a universal constant, at least in terms of strength.  However, I did find a Starbucks in Tupelo the other day that really hit the spot (sorry Marshall, but I had to do it.  Tupelo is not New Orleans.)  Most smaller towns won't have anything besides what's served at the gas station.  For an addict like me, it might be helpful in the future to bring some with me, and brew it in the hotel.

This has been great.  Next time, I want to do a musical history tour.  And have a travel companion.  I need someone to talk to when all I can get is religious channels on the radio. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mississippi moment of Zen

Last night at a stoplight in downtown Tupelo, as I drove back from dinner. Set the scene, I have the window down and am blaring Footloose (you know, classic 80's film of city boy moving to the country to stir things up and make good)...

A not quite-so-monster size truck pulls up alongside, and the passenger window comes down. Country music volume increases. I smile, and think 'uh, oh.' Reach over and turn my radio down, and still smiling, turn to look up at the passenger side of the truck:

"How ya doin'?" I say.
"Good. You?"
"I'm all right."
"Colorado, huh?" My rental's license plates...
"No, Washington, actually."
The driver leans in. "DC?"
"No. State."
"Oh...that's cool. Welcome to Tupelo!"

He cranks the music up even louder, they both start laughing, the light changes, and we are all on our way...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

mississippi is BEAUTIFUL

To the Mississippi State Tourism Board or the Parks Dept:

You have a beautiful state, with thousands of photo opportunities for tourists along your many highways and byways. But it's hard to take advantage of those opps from a moving vehicle. Think about building a few more spots for people to pull over to the side of the a matter of fact, consider putting in a shoulder or two. Just a suggestion.

Okay enough with the negativity. I'll take this chance to get people caught up since I haven't posted for a few days. On Sunday, I left NOLA a little before noon, picked up my sporty little red Focus, and headed out of town in I-10 East towards Bay St. Louis, MS, to see my friend Michelle. We met while volunteering in Biloxi a year and a half ago. I got to town while she was still working, so I drove around BSL for a while, took some pictures, and settled in for a beer and some BBQ brisket at Gabby's Bar in Old Towne. Turns out it's just a block or so from where Michelle works (the Buttercup), so she was able to just walk over and meet me. Once we found each other, we headed to her place, where I proceeded to fall asleep while she went to work on another project for a few hours. Apparently, the 45-minute drive and 2 Bud Lights were enough to put me on my ass. I woke up for dinner, which entailed a short walk over to the church that she used to work at (St. Rose) for "Sunday Supper", a community dinner held at (I'm not making this up, I have a photo) the Holy Spirit Center. Anyway, the gumbo dinner was great, the people (esp Jaime, Kathy and Becca) were very nice, and I got to make a centerpiece (or a wall-hanging?) out of construction paper and random pieces of shrubbery.
Michelle will think I'm making this up, but after a week of volunteering and playing in NOLA, this was exactly the type of night I needed.

The next day--Monday, we had breakfast at the Mockingbird Cafe (Jack Johnson on the speaker system...I forgot where I was for a minute). We said a quick goodbye as she left for work, and I hit the road back onto I-10 heading back to LA, then north on I-55 to Jackson, MS. Nothing much happened here, but I did manage to get a decent map from a rest stop and some nice lady outside of Hazlehurst kept me from going the wrong way (bless her heart). I pulled off in Clinton (west of Jackson) on I-20 for gas and barbecue. Thanks to Betty at the Clinton Visitor Center for recommending a place close by. I was a little skeptical at first, since it was in an Exxon station. But it turned out to be great!

I got into Vicksburg around 1:30, checked in at the hotel and then headed over the Vicksburg National Military Park. There's no really good way I can describe it. Other than huge. The driving tour took almost 2 hours. Ever since I studied the Civil War in college, I have wanted to visit some of these battlefields. What I guess struck me most was how quiet it was, even with people walking around all over the place. I took a few photos of some of the state memorials, but I spent most of my time trying to capture the layout of the area with my camera. I wanted to imagine what it was like for the soldiers standing on those fields back in 1863. It was strange reading about the importance of taking the high ground in textbooks, then seeing in reality that 'higher' ground in some cases meant a matter of 50 feet in elevation, through thick forests or over open field.

The cemetery towards the end of the driving tour was the most powerful part, by far. Hillside after hillside of small, white stones overlooking the Mississippi River. You can hear the traffic on the river, boats sounding their horns, and the occasional car going by on the trail. Other than that, nothing. Not even birds. Weird.

I left Vicksburg early this morning (Tuesday) because I wanted to take a route with smaller roads and towns. I went up Old Hwy 3 to Yazoo City (coolest name EVER), then hit state road 49-E to Greenwood. This was an awesome stretch! For those of you unfamiliar with MS, there are many Natural Wildlife Refuges and Wildlife Mgmt Areas in the central and northern parts of the state, so lots of small rivers, marshes and forests. The morning was exactly like it was described in my civil war books. The dew settles onto the fields overnight, and then evaporates as the sun begins to rise. It creates a mist that floats off the grass and leaves like they're on fire. It mingles with the trees in the forests, and at times you can't see anything. But you can hear everything. I imagined sentries nodding off at their posts, and then popping awake after hearing a twig snap. Eerie.

Once everything burned off, it turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive. Greenwood, if you didn't know, is the Cotton Capital of the World. The fields are in full bloom, and it looks like snow. I'll put pictures on as soon as I get back to Seattle.

I hit hwy 82-E and had a funny United Way moment. A radio commercial came on just outside of Winona, and the announcer talked about the organization building 23 homes over the past few years for people who can't afford it (I forget the name). So the announcement is "when you are called upon to give to United Way over the next few months, please give all that you can so that we may continue this Christian mission." :-)

After 82, I hit the Natchez Trace Parkway heading north to Tupelo. This is where I really wanted to have some turnouts on the road! This stretch of the Pkwy was about 75 miles through the Tombigbee National Forest andChickasaw Wildlife Mgmt Area. LOTS of beautiful rivers, forests, and meadows, and hopefully my attempt at photography going 45 mph will turn out to do it justice.

I got to Tupelo around 2, grabbed some lunch at Eli's BBQ Grill on Main Street. The Tupelo National Battlefield Park left lots to be desired, though. It was two cannons and a statue. I thought I'd missed it at first, because I blinked.

I think I'm just going to hang out at the hotel tonight to get some rest (that's who's computer I'm using). I drove 478 miles today, the longest stretch of the trip besides next Saturday heading back to NOLA. Tomorrow, I continue north on Hwy 45 stopping at Brices Crossroads Nat'l Battlefield Site outside of Baldwyn (hopefully they'll have at least 3 cannons), up to Corinth near the TN border, then over to Huntsville, AL on highway 72. I'm staying in Huntsville, and get to visit Space Camp! I'm SO EXCITED!!! Space Camp, BAby!

I don't think I'll have access to a computer again until I get to Birmingham on Thursday night. I'll try to relay the Space Camp adventure at that point. Woo-hoo!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Heading out

I'll be heading out of New Orleans in just a few hours, but I want to give a quick "bless their hearts" to my friend Adam, his wife Miranda, and their son Jackson, for putting me up for the night at their lovely home on the south side of the river in the Algiers area. They are the epitome of that 'spirit of generosity' I mentioned earlier. Thank you very much!

"On the road again...just can't wait to get on the road again..."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Down to me

I guess everyone got on the plane okay this morning, since I haven't gotten any "Where did Bill go?" messages. It was sort of bittersweet seeing the group off at the airport. I'm happy to be starting the second part of my journey down south. But part of me wishes any of them could be coming with me. They did Seattle proud this week, and I was just too damn tired to say that to them this morning. There were the occasional slow movers in the morning as the week went on, but by the time the van arrived they were ready to go across the board.

And holy cow, what a fun team! I felt like I was the party-pooper of the group most of the time, leaving whatever bar we were in to head home before anyone else. I guess that's just a symptom of getting ready to age out of the "Seattle Works" demographic. :) Actually, I've been saying that for years, but I know it's not true. They won't be able to get rid of me any more than I could get rid of them. Everyone in the group seemed to have as much fun as they needed, and they're heading home in one piece.

Our final night, we went to the (in)famous Mother-in-Law Lounge, for steamed crawdads and po-boys. What a feast! Then we proceeded to visit with the locals (including the owner of said establishment, Ms. Antoinette) for several hours, drinking glass of wine after glass of wine and picking jazz and blues classics from the juke box. And where else would the owner/bartendar slide the corkscrew and bottle over to a first-time customer and say "I need you to open that fo' me, and go 'head and pour dat yo'self", and then give you the glass for free because "you did all the hard work"?? I'm sure photos will show up on various Facebook accounts over the coming weeks. Enjoy!

I've tried to say this before in various situations and media, but there is something cosmic and magical about New Orleans. It's a spirit of generosity, and a generosity of spirit, that you simply can NOT find anywhere else. And that's not meant as a challenge or a cynical comment about other is simply a statement of factual opinion shared by me and few million other folks who don't even live here. Whereas in Vegas, where everything that happens there stays there, everything that happens in New Orleans is talked about, and talked about, and talked about again...proudly. I can't wait to bore you all, again...proudly. :)

I will be signing off now, and will have limited access to the Internet during the "vacation" phase of my trip to the south. I will try to post as much as possible.

A Top 10 NOLA moments addendum:

10a. The broken house rule (No inappropriate fraternization in facility)...
9a. Shout outs to Scooter, Peanut, and the rest of the gang!
8a. Our fearless leaders, Ray and Marshall, of Katrina Corps! Get your butts down here, people!! I ain't lyin', you will have a life-changing experience. And Ray can amaze you with the ability to have conversations with himself for an entire van-ride. Just kiddin', Ray, nothin' but love, baby.
7a. "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's...AMORE!"
6a. Nia and her beautiful blue hair. And blue face. And blue hands. And blue clothes. Good lord, did she get any paint on the doors? Just kiddin', Nia, nothin' but love, baby.
5a. "At laaaaaaaast, my love has come along..."
4a. Running to the truck stop to pick up change for the bar. You just don't see things like that every day...
3a. Giving up on finishing the Indiana Jones novel I started on Saturday night...I think he lives in the end.
2a. "I found my thrill....on Blueberry Hill....on Blueberry Hill....where I found you".
1a. The best part of the trip (so far): Ashley, Beth, Bill, Pam, Ryan, Scott, Tyler, and the rest of our crew from Connecticut, DC, and Wales. Talk to you all in a week!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Final Call from NOLA

We'll be taking the team to the airport in a few hours. It's been a good last night. More later...

New Orleans Top 10

On the lighter side of things...we went out to see the Revival Jazz Band at Restoration Hall last night, and I started to think about some of the funnier moments of the trip. Here is a sample (the names have been removed to protect the not-so-innocent):

10. F**k you, you f**cking f**k
9. Test tube to be on Facebook soon
8. Doing laundry while drinking a bloody Mary, talking it up with Louise the bartender, and watching "Sugar & Spice" at Buddha Belly on Magazine Street...I love this town!
7. 'Which way does the Mississippi crescent?...I think it's that way...No, I think it's that's that's that's that's...'(insert your best impression of Louis Black saying "son of a bitch!")
6. 'Sorry, I thought that was MY leg. Then I realized I was wearing pants.'
5. Red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya...the real stuff
4. Cooking breakfast every morning
3. 'Mmmmm...I suppose that eye candy's reserved for the gay bars?'
2. Watching the debate with our own version of "Joe the Plumber"
1. "Somebody get that woman a street sign!"

This is our last day of volunteering. As I've mentioned, I will be taking an additional week to travel around a bit starting this Sunday and I will have limited access to the Internet so postings may be more scattered. The rest of us head out tomorrow morning. I just want to say that it's been a pleasure and a privilege volunteering with these folks--my Seattle team: Bill, Ryan, Beth, Scott, Tyler, Pam, and Ashley, and our additions during the week: our Connecticut crew Erick and Anna, and of course, our Welsh friend Nia. And I have to also tell you that this has been my best trip yet in terms of the organization. The guys at Katrina Corps, Marshall and Ray, have gone out of their way to make sure we have everything we need, to answer any questions the group may have, and to put us in a position to experience the culture and people of New Orleans in addition to the tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done. I can't thank them enough. When I return in the future, it will be because of them (and hopefully to volunteer with them).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The view from here

A small group of us just got done watching the last debate at Ms. May's (a 24-hour bar about a block away). I got a little uppity when the education question was asked, and Senator McCain tried to express that vouchers, choice, and competition were the answers to what was wrong with our public education system. Sorry, John, but "choice" only works if every student has the opportunity to make that choice regardless of where they live or what tax bracket their parents fall into. And leaving the opportunity up to the luck of the draw or lottery is just plain irresponsible. We're better than that.

You know what cracks me up about the current financial crisis? I know, people who weren't suffering before are going to suffer now, and I feel badly about that. I really do. But you know what? There have been plenty of people in this country for years who struggle economically every DAY. People that we typically ignore. People that have never dreamt of owning a home, with or without a sub-prime mortgage. People who don't own stocks in a 401K plan or an IRA. But they manage to save money anyway. And now their tax dollars, like yours and mine, are being used to save the very companies and greedy individuals who have 'destroyed the hopes and dreams of so many members of the middle class.' But does the media talk about them? No. Do either one of the candidates acknowledge that poverty exists in the form of these people, with all efforts geared towards making the "middle class" the primary issue in this economic crisis? No. And that cracks me up. And it pisses me off. I want my candidate to tell me what he is willing to do for people who are WORSE OFF than me, not what he's going to do FOR ME. Maybe I do have a few thousand dollars less to retire on, but I'm not close to retiring yet. If you are, I am really sorry. And I understand it's not your fault. But don't try to convince me that you or I are now the most "at risk" population in our country. Don't insult me like that.

Today, I had some time to think about why I keep coming back to the gulf coast, and to New Orleans in particular. And one of the primary reasons is just what I was talking about. Many of the people here have almost nothing to show for their lives of work and toil. Some lost it all in the storm. Others never had it. Some can put their entire life into a violin case, or a trombone sleeve. And that's okay for them, because it's all they need. They don't have stock portfolios. And they are happy. They smile at you, and play amazing music for you, and give you a little extra just to show they appreciate you smiling back. Even if you don't drop a dollar in the case. I wish we didn't have to learn this lesson in such a harsh way. And for some, repeatedly. It makes me believe that we are getting exactly what we deserve. So don't try to convince me that our suffering is greater just because it garners more attention. Don't insult me like that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day two on the job

We just finished up our second day at the work site. Today we spent most of our time loading and unloading a UHaul full of supplies. I took an opportunity to walk around the school a bit more (it's HUGE). I took a few photos of some lesson plans written on the chalk board in a few classes on the 3rd floor, dated August 26, 2005. Two days before Katrina. It was eerie. The place hadn't been touched since. One of the messages on the board: "Have a safe weekend." I smiled and choked up at the same time.

Tonight, we feast on West African cuisine, and will probably take in a show.

I realize I sort of went off in my post last night, but I can't help but feel agitated about seeing this city continue to fall by the wayside as we all go on about our own life crises. As one New Orleanian pointed out to me, it's funny how the government...our government...can look at an area like New Orleans and the Lower 9th Ward and say flat out that they don't have the billions of dollars it would take to build a levee that can withstand a category 5 hurricane, but then turn around and spend $850 billion on a "levee" around a 2-block area in downtown Manhattan called Wall Street. Our priorities as a nation (and yes, as long as we call ourselves American, we have to take responsibility over how our money is spent and begin holding our leaders accountable for crap like this) are frightening. Someone once said that a "budget" is as much a moral document as a financial one. The situation here in New Orleans has made that point clear to me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Man, we have some cooks among us! Taco supreme meal, buffet-style. I am impressed!

So like I was saying this school will serve all Lower 9th Ward high school students. The "inauguration" of the site will feature a light display that includes some elements designed by the same person that put together the fireworks display at the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic's THAT for raising the bar? If I could figure out how to post pictures from my borrowed digital camera, you could see some of the work right now. Unfortunately, I am challenged in that regard. So you will have to wait until I return. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of work going on at the school, and some amazing things are being planned.

After we left our project today, we took a tour of the Lower 9th. I obviously have been there before, seen it, done it...but please don't think I'm playing the drama card when I say that I was distressed by what I saw. It's been over 3 years. 3 YEARS! Why aren't these people back in their homes??? What is preventing us from accomplishing here what we are able to accomplish in Iowa after a flood, or in California after a wildfire? Why does an organization like this have to go out and cut the grass at a particular residence just to keep the city of New Orleans from serving a lien notice on the property? How is that right? And more significantly, why are we allowing that to happen? We have forgotten what is happening down here. Not what DID happen. What IS happening. When was the last time you heard a non-anniversary report about the recovery efforts? People like us are still needed. Desperately. People like us still have to take this story back, and tell people in our home towns that things are still not right in New Orleans. But don't take our word for it. Come down and see for yourselves.

Marshall, our KC team captain, has a great hold on the knowledge and history around the city and its racial makeup. He poses some interesting questions about social class, economic status, and the ineffectiveness of a government not interested in helping those who need it, rather than those who can pay for it. I can sense the excitement in his voice when he talks about the school project, and the impact it can potentially have on thousands of kids who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity. I know people who would dismiss that excitement as naive. I know people who would look at Marshall as someone who is doing this because he can't find anything more than a low-paying nonprofit job without health insurance. I want to tell you something about his man. He doesn't have health insurance, so he actually had to stitch himself up at a job site incident a few weeks ago. Who the fuck among us would be interested in trying that, much less able to?? He's doing this because he believes it. He's doing this because it's not right that these people had to flee their homes in the face of mother nature, only to have insurance companies say that wind caused most of the damage so the payment would be far less than expected. And those homes, bought fair and square by the owners, are in danger of being re-claimed by the government and sold to developers. And we are letting it happen. Marshall isn't. But we are.

I am going to bed now, because I'm obviously wound up about this. All I'm asking is that you allow yourself to think about this situation for a minute. And if you decide that it's unacceptable to simply "let it happen", then tell someone. Call someone. Write someone. Do something within your power to raise awareness about this. This is happening to American citizens, like you and me. We're letting it happen, and we're not saying anything about it to anyone. We can change that.
Today, we went to a school in the Bywater (Upper 9th) District. This particular school (I'll get the name tomorrow when I'm paying attention) had been part of the NO Public School District. But because of its failure to meet No Child Left Behind standards (sound familiar Seattle?), it was placed into the "Recovery" School District. For those of you unfamiliar with that name, you can Google it. I would call it a damn shame. Schools that should be given the resources to meet the needs of their struggling students are instead stripped of everything they could possibly use to draw students and families back to the neighborhood. Schools in the RSD are usually the worst of the worst, and they lack the creative and challenging academic track to prove it. That's where this school comes in. Katrina Corps is helping renovate it (it hasn't been used for years), and are hoping to turn it into a...I guess I would call it a arts/community/education/innovation center. It will host nonprofits (including KC), artists, musicians, and the like, and serve all high school students of the Lower 9th Ward.

I'm going to write more about this later. But it's dinner time.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Night one comes to an end, after listening to some great music from dozens of local artists. It was literally a who's who of NOLA jazz, blues, and funk...all in someone's back yard in the Bywater district. Amazing. Tomorrow, we visit the French Quarter, do some grocery shopping, and find out more about what we'll be doing.

A shout out for the January 08 NOLA team...we are staying at the HONO site on Napoleon again. We have the place to ourselves, and it's much nicer now. And the VISTAs even seem nicer, too. :-)

Bed time.


Safe arrival in New Orleans

We have arrived in New Orleans, and are at our base site. Actually staying at the same site I stayed at in January, so I'm familiar with the NOLA neighborhood. We're off for dinner, then a jazz show.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

This Saturday, October 11th, a group of volunteers from Seattle, WA will be heading down to New Orleans to help with the continuing relief efforts. We'll be hosted by a group called Katrina Corps, and our trip was organized with the help of Seattle Works ( I'm excited about going back down (it's my third trip since Katrina). For blog posts on previous trips, visit

I'll also be spending an extra week traveling around Mississippi and Alabama. I won't have a computer, so hopefully I'll be able to hit up the local libraries on my route. Check back often!