Day Three. Still breezy and cool, but with beautiful blue skies. Great weather for either working or kicking around the French Quarter and we did both. I was late for morning meeting when I tried to get into my car while talking on the cell phone — I hit the panic button on the key to the rental car and, well, I panicked. After what seemed like an hour with the drive through crowd at McDonald’s staring at me, I figured out how to get the alarm to reset.
I stopped by lowernine.org for a brief visit with Emily, who was at work for the first time this week. She is old friend from our Operation Helping Hands days and is the main reason we are here, working with lowernine.org. Afterwards, I headed over to Gordon Street where we were waiting for the proper tools to lay a tile floor. Van 3, over on Deleray was also in a holding pattern. However, Van 2 over on Royal was going great guns, installing insulation and sheet rock.
Casey found out that the window in the van had been replaced (they forgot to call on Tuesday), so he, another student and I drove across to Metairie. On the way, I took them by Musician’s Village in the Upper Ninth, where I had worked in 2007. It looked great, quite functional, lived in, and like it had been there for longer than a few years.
We returned to find the work situation much the same. We positioned tile and tools to be ready, but the much -needed equipment did not materialize until late morning. Eileen and I decided for the group to take an early lunch break, because it would be crazy to mix up a batch or mortar and then leave it.
Some of us picked up poboys on the way, from a business establishment that would seem weird anywhere else. But in New Orleans, you just stand and say, well yeah, one stop shopping for poboys and retreads make sense. We carried our lunches over to the levee overlooking the river and the Industrial Canal. Across the river was the port/industrial area of Algiers and upstream you could make out the spire on St. Louis Cathedral.
It appeared a minor midweek slump had set in, which is normal. The group was a little less animated and tired of waiting, but after lunch and a snooze on the levee they were ready to learn how to lay floor tiles. We mixed up some mortar and after instructions and a demonstrations we rotated in and out of setting a layer of mortar and carefully placing and spacing the ceramic tiles. We only had tools to work in one room, but everyone tool a turn. Hopefully, we can get enough tools on Thursday to work in three rooms at once.
After work, the girls called dibs on the showers so four of the guys went over to part of the Lower Ninth where the break in the Industrial Canal did the most damage. I rode across from Tupelo Street and was amazed at the desolation and abandoned homes so far away from the canal. It was a constant reminder of those who have not returned and how much work is left to be done. When I got to my traditional starting point, the intersection of Tennessee and Galvez, I was stunned to see the footing for a home to be built on that very corner. Where a disembodied stoop had for years lay as a monument to government nonchalance and inactivity; where I have begun every tour of the neighborhood since March 2006. Next year there will be a family living in the shade of those live oaks.
After cleaning up, I left the students to their taco night and went into the City to meet up former students Kyle and Kendra, both to catch up with them some more and to enlist them into serving as judges for the evening’s contest. For a couple of weeks, Kyle has been working on a French Quarter Scavenger Hunt to challenge the students’ knowledge of New Orleans and to get them to see the City in a new or, at least different, light. We met the six groups of four at 8 pm in front of the Cathedral. We gave each a sheet with 35 things to search for, photograph, and bring back in two hours. For example: take a picture of the Crescent City Bridge, take a picture with a bachelor/bachelorette party, take a picture of a street name that can be found in a jazz song, and take a picture of a Bill Ross lookalike. I would judge the last one as a tie-breaker. Kyle and Kendra, as residents of New Orleans, would judge the rest. The winning group would receive a trip to Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee.
While the class tore through the French Quarter, startling tourist and residents alike, the judges and I rested a window seat at Molly’s on the Market. Again, it was a wonderful chance for us to talk and catch up. It also gave the leaders a chance to take some time off from their charges. We got back together in front of the Cathedral a little after 10. Kendra and Kyle judged the evidence and each group scored 20 or better, but the Hot Seven brought home the championship with 26 points. And none of the look-alike photos looked anything like me. Each of the groups is to create a slide show of their quest for class next Thursday. I can’t wait.
Not surprisingly, on the heels of such an evening, the whole bunch was ready to head back to the Lower Ninth for a good night’s sleep.