The day broke slowly for the nearly 50 occupants of the house on Herlihy Street. Most, including myself, had gotten back from New Orleans after 1:00am. A few were stirring after 7:00am and fewer still showed up at breakfast. Some groups planned to work half a day, but that is not typical. As it turned out, one group put in a couple of hours while the rest packed and cleaned the house. By noon, almost all groups were on the road, heading back to New Hampshire.
The caravan back included one more passenger than came down. While shingling a shed on Tuesday, Stu, Sam and Jon encountered a beautiful fur ball of a puppy on the property. Stu named it Daisy and last I heard, it had stuck. We brought it back and found that its owner was seriously ill and that it would need a new home. That home will now be with Jon and Sam in New Hampshire.
I stopped to talk to Kathleen before heading back to New Orleans. She congratulated the UNH groups on their commitment and work and would be happy to welcome us back next year. A few are even heading back to work this summer.
I drove down Waveland Avenue and saw the Gulf for the first time this trip — it was a whole mile from were we are staying. I drove along the coast before cutting back to U.S. Highway 90. After a week of driving back and forth between Waveland and New Orleans, I had tired of I-10. The trip along the coast, salt marsh and bayous was a welcome change. When I got close to New Orleans, I turned off and headed to Chalmette. I visited the neighborhood where I worked gutting houses in 2006. It was somewhat disheartening to find that fewer than a quarter of the homes in the neighborhood were occupied and most of the ones we worked on two years ago were for sale.
I stopped by the Chalmette Battlefield (site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans) for a little while and doubled back to Rocky and Carlos’ Restaurant, a St. Bernard Parish institution. I sat at the bar and had a shrimp and oyster dinner. After a week at the camp, where few vegetables were served, I devoured the salad. You could tell it was Good Friday in this largely Roman Catholic parish by the extraordinary number of shrimp and oyster po-boys leaving the kitchen — trays of them at a time. The staff and the guys at the bar were joking, teasing, and exchanging barbs throughout lunch. Beer was flowing. It might have been Good Friday, but in this corner of the world, there was no sack cloth and ashes. And after what these people have been through, that’s a good thing.
When I crossed the Industrial Canal into New Orleans, I made an impromptu detour and visited Musician’s Village and some of the houses we worked on last year. Unlike Chalmette, these houses were anchoring redevelopment in the hard hit Upper Ninth Ward. It is impressive to see what Habitat for Humanity and thousands of volunteers have done here. It is both visually and emotionally arresting. I also visited a couple of houses we worked on away from the Village. Both are complete and occupied and provide a contrast to the mostly unoccupied houses around them. When I took a picture of one, the owner (whom I had not seen) came storming down the front steps waving her arms. I got out of the car and explained that a year ago I had helped caulk and paint her home. She gave me a tour of the exterior and explained that she was renting, but was in the process of working the requisite hours for Habitat needed to purchase a home. Before I left, she thanked me, we shook hands, and I took a picture of she and her dog on the front step.
I checked into my hotel and returned my rental car. Why pay for parking for a car I would no longer need? At 6:00pm I took the ferry over to Algiers where my friends Bruno and Ani live. Bruno met me at the landing. What a beautiful neighborhood! It is technically a part of New Orleans, but it is a small town in the shadow of the city. Behind the levees on this turn in the Mississippi are creole cottages, Victorian homes, and Sears houses. A few small bars and cafes dot the neighborhood. Bruno and Ani are renting half of a cottage just minutes from the ferry. We went over to the Santa Maria Chapter of the Knights of Columbus for their Friday night fish fry. We got take-out and brought it back to their house, sat around their dining room table, and solved all of New Orleans’ problems.
Afterwards, I returned to New Orleans proper and my last night of music. At 10:30pm I went to the Balcony Music Club to see Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. He waltzed in soon thereafter and shook the hand of everyone there. He put on a great show, ranging from traditional tunes to some of his own songs. After the first set, I made the decision to leave and catch the New Orleans Jazz Vipers at the Spotted Cat. It was a tough decision, but longstanding habits are hard to break.