Gulf Coast - 10/1/10

9/14/10 – 5:32 p.m.
    Today was pretty cool. We got all the wall framing up in one morning, sheathed and started on the trusses in the afternoon. The Habitat guys really know how to layout framing in a really fool proof way so volunteers can pre-build all the walls. I didn’t get to do any layout, but I learned a lot just from putting walls together. There are a lot of things they do differently here because of the volunteer factor. One little example is marking for a stud. The conventional way to do it is draw a line that indicates one edge of the stud, and an X on the side where the stud goes. Here, they mark both sides of the stud to make it more clear. There’s lot of little stuff like that, but also some things that don’t hold up to our standards – things they’ve just learned to except as a necessary margin of error. The youngest guy on the Habitat staff learned everything he know’s about building from working for Habitat, so that’s all he knows. He’s still a good builder and a great guy and friend of ours.

9/19/10 – 3:20 p.m.
    On our way back from New Orleans for the second time in 24 hours. This drive is going to get old fast when we’re working in the city.
    We finally went into the city in the morning for the Café Do Monde and French Market experience. All fun, but so touristy. The Café was so packed that we were lucky to get a table when we walked in.That place must be making a killing. It’s open 24/7 selling just coffee and beignets. Connie (Norm’s wife) is down here visiting this weekend, and she was kind enough to pay for all of us. Then Nick paid me a buck to eat all the left over powdered sugar from 21 beignets so I made a profit from the whole thing.
    I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by the French Market. It calls it’s self a farmer’s and flee market but there was only one produce vendor and the flee market was mostly China goods. There was some nice art and crafts work, though.
    I finally got to see Jackson Square. My parents lived in New Orleans for a few months before I was born, and Jackson Square is one of the places they told me I needed to see. I love all the artwork and performers all around it.

9/25/10 8:12 p.m.
    I’m writing this in my little note book for the first time in a while. I bought 2 more of these before coming down south, but haven’t even finished this one since I’m faster typing on my laptop anyway.
    I’m sitting in the Mockingbird Cafe waiting for my veggie burger. Best veggie burgers I’ve ever had – they’re home made and taste a lot like falafel. I can’t wait for food after my 20+ mile bike ride this afternoon. I’d been lazy most of the day and kind of thinking about biking to gulfport to buy some stuff at a bike shop. Around 3:00 I checked it out on line and found out it closes at 5:00. Google says it’ll take an hour and a half to bike there, but I’m pretty sure I can get there faster. Fifteen minutes later I’m on my way and I realize Jake still has my bike pump. Oh well, I don’t have a spare tube anyway, that’s what I’m going to buy. Beautiful ride across the bridge and down the coast. About half a mile short of Gulfport I realize I have no idea where this bike shop is. The first guy I ask says “yeah, I just walked by one” so I bike down the way he pointed me until I think I must have gone to far. The second guy I ask says “actually I’m walking there right now to buy a mountain bike” and points me back the way I came. I go into the shop for a tube and a water bottle holder and come out with a $60 hydropack, but hey, that happens.
    I’m a third the way back when I start thinking I’m not going to make it back. I’m struggling, I should have taken break. Then I notice my front tire’s flat. Now I have a tube and no pump. I call Laura and she says that she, Doug, and Evan will get me after  they get food. I’m walking my bike through a neighborhood and I see an older gentleman washing his car so I ask if he has a bike pump I could use. He’s quite for a moment then says “I’ve got a compressor, I’ll go get a tank for you” So that was the third time I took advantage of southern hospitality that day. I ended up meeting Doug half way back anyway because it was getting late.
    For class yesterday we watched a lecture video recorded by Jo Richardson. Because of wireless complications, we had to all pile in Norm’s office for the whole thing. After that we went into Waveland to tour a pre-built house with a local contractor Norm had met. That was mildly interesting, but afterword we drove past a giant house under construction so we stopped in to see if we could look around. We waited in the van until Norm found the homeowner and got her permission, than we all piled out. Turns out the homeowner currently lives in a Habitat house on Union Street where we’re working. She couldn’t tell us enough how grateful she is to Habitat and the volunteers, and made it very clear that she married into this house. Her husband’s house got ruined by weather and animals after the storm, so he wanted to rebuild it the way it was. He also wanted his wheelchair-bound mother to be able to live with them so he expanded every room by 10! A couple years later and his mom has passed away and his house is over 10,000 square feet. After we looked around, she took us to the old fashioned soda fountain/pharmacy that her husband owns, and treated us all to ice-cream.

9/29/10 – 9:30 p.m.
    John and Vivian Anderson showed up today. Well, actually I think they showed up last night, but Dr. Anderson came to the job-site this morning. He even brought us cookies and NY apples.
    He arrived at kind of a weird time at the Habitat site. If he’d been here anytime in the past few weeks, we would have been working hard on one of the two houses we built, but this week we’ve been waiting for inspections, foam, and drywall to happen. We’ll be ready for interior paint tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to that, but today it was mostly cleaning and moving stuff. Norm gave a pretty good little prep talk this morning, to try and get everyone out of this slump – he said “I don’t want to finish on a wimper”. Tomorrow’s our last day with Habitat, so that’s kind of depressing.
    Dr. Anderson was kind enough to take us all out for dinner tonight. We went to a seafood place called Shaggy’s in Pass Christian, right out on the dock.

10/1/10 – 3:12 p.m.
    This morning we went into the city to visit the place we’ll be working next at. The organization is The Episcopal Church Initiative the and they’re primarily doing renovations in the 9th ward. A guy named Pete gave us a presentation on exactly what happened in the city during the flood. That was pretty eye-opening. He started out buy making it very clear that this was not a natural disaster. He said “where you’re staying on the Mississippi coast, that was a natural disaster. Here, the flooding here was entirely a man made disaster.” He went on to explain all the things man did, like cutting a canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the river, and another one form that canal to the gulf. These canals acted as direct passageways for the storm surge to rush into the city. On top of that, the oil companies have been diligently digging channels through the bayous that protect New Orleans, and causing erosion at the rate of the loss of a football field of land every 30 minutes!
    He went on to tell us about all the bureaucracy that the homeowners had to go through just to get add after the flood. First of all, the insurance companies made it clear that they weren’t going to pay for anything. Even if you had flood insurance, they would still deny you on the grounds that this was not a natural flood, or any other justification they could come up with. Then if you wanted government aid, you had a full time paperwork job ahead of you, on top of whatever day job you’re working to survive. Just one example: you needed to prove that you owned the house. Well, in a lot of these neighborhood, especially the poorer ones, the home had been past on through generations so the title is in the great grandfather’s name and to prove ownership you have to track down every single living descendant and get them to sign it off.
    After that, Pete got in the van with us and took us for a tour of the upper and lower 9th Ward. I knew it was going to be bad, but it’s hard to understand how bad it still is until you see it. I’ve been to third world countries before, and that’s what this neighborhood reminds me of more than anything else. About 40% of the houses are still boarded up or just gone, and in many places people are still living in buildings with broken windows and busted out roofs. Pete told us not to drive to slowing because they get a lot of “disaster tourists” and he said “it’s a really sickening thing, and we don’t want to look like that”
    We toured a house they had renovated, and it looked like an interesting project. We also drove through the cluster of houses that Brad Pitt’s organization built. These houses are on stilts, they each have a PV array on top that must power most of the house, they all have passive sun blocking systems on the outside, but they’re highly controversial because of the architecture. They’re highly modern to post-modern, and meant people are offended by this intrusion on their architectural traditions. I like the houses, I thought they were brilliantly designed, but putting them somewhere where they’re so out of place is an architectural failing.



Norm likes his beignet


Nick and Adam in Jackson Square


We went for a walk through the Garden District.


Siding on the Dutch Hip that Frank and I did.


Luckily I didn't get a paint speckle tan


Government funded housing on the next street from ours built with Insulated Concrete Forms. I'm not a huge fan of using lots of concrete because the embodied energy is so high, but these are probably strongest houses you could built in a hurricane region.

First stairs I've ever built, but me and Tim figured it out.


We went to visit the Stennis Space Center. Here's their first engine testing tower. It's crazy big. The openings on the left are for flames to shoot out.

Here's one of their newer testing towers, with one under construction in the back left.


After that we went into space. Unfortunately Tier was driving so we crashed on Mars.


Jake Schreppel


Little frog in Doug's hard hat


We got to see the foam sprayed into one of our houses. Good stuff.

A shed we built in a day.


The foundation work is all subbed out, and took way to long.


Last day with Habitat was sad, but we're still in the same town as all these awesome people. (oh, and most of us got mohawks before Dr. Anderson got here)


One of the many run down houses in the 9th Ward



This is the wall that separates the Industrial Canal from the lower 9th Ward. Right where we're looking is where a bardge crashed trough the wall during Katrina, acting as the cadilisk for the flooding of this neighborhood. To the right you can see one of the Brad Pitt houses.

Most of the houses have an "X" like this one spray painted on them from right after the storm. The date is at the top, the group that searched the house is to the left, "N.E." on the right stands for "no entry" meaning they only looked in from the outside. In the space below, you sometimes see the number of bodies found.

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