As the work week waned, the student volunteers are just hitting their stride. Van 2’s sheetrock work on Royal Street is amazing. Even though it seems that every time I pull up to the house they are taking a break. They guys have been working with Tim to measure, cut and hang the board, while the girls have been mudding nail pops and seams between boards. It can be painstaking work, but they will likely be leaving before the next crew is left to mud and sand several times over.
The Van 3 crew on Delery seems to be settling into work on a mess of a house. A lot of it has involved removing and dumpterizing rotted and termite-eaten boards and studs, cleaning an overgrown lot, and listening to crew chief Darren yelling at them. A Ninth Ward-native, Darren works like a demon, and it took a couple of days for the students to realize that he wasn’t usually angry with them, he just had one notch on his volume control — eleven. They’ll come away with some great memories of week of work in the Lower Nine.
My group continued to cut and set the cement-like underflooring and laying tiles, although the lack of buckets and trowels or having a dedicated tile cutter slowed us down considerably. I took care of the former with a trip to Home Depot; for the latter, we worked out a deal with the South Carolina Gamecocks working with James on Tupelo, taking turns on lowernine.org’s only tile cutter. A couple of the guys take the measurements and walk over with the tiles to make the cuts. It is not the most efficient, but it’s what we got and it works. We had another breezy lunch on the levee and returned to laying floors.
Mid afternoon I received a call from my UNH colleague Burt Feintuch, who is here working on a book of interviews with New Orleans musicians. He brought with him Gary Samson, former UNH photographer, who is providing photography for the book. The day they arrived, we attended Kermit Ruffin’s Tuesday night show at Bullet’s Sports Bar. They were between photo shoots for the book and Gary wanted to take some photos of UNH students hard at work during spring break. And who could deny a photographer between photo shoots with “Deacon John” Moore and John Boutte? We were able to get a few shots of students on two work sites before quitting time. Even though I try to document events with my compact Canon, I can’t wait to see Gary’s work.
After cleaning up, we went for a cookout at Laura’s house, deep in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth. It included lowernine.org staff and long-term volunteers, students from UNH and USC, and some of the home owners that lowernine.org is working with. Laura had a huge pot of gumbo, rice, and salad. One of the homeowners brought two enormous poboys. Van 3 brought several pies for “Pi Day,” March 14th — it’s great travelling with nerds. I added 15 pounds of fresh boiled crawfish. She had a beautiful and over-sized backyard with a view towards the levee. We ate, talked, laughed, played volleyball, and stood around a fire pit that James had fashioned out of a dryer drum. And most importantly we got meet and talk to the folks that lowernine.org had helped get back into their homes.
After dark, about half of us went to Rock ‘n Bowl, off of Carrollton on the other side of New Orleans. It is one on the few music venues that is not 21+, which is good when you are travelling with a majority of first and sophomore students. And most important, it is the only place that I know of where you can listen to a Grammy nominated act while bowling. As usual, it reflected well on this idiosyncratic city, where college students meet with tried and true two steppers. Where zydeco and gutter balls commingle. The students’ bowling games appeared slightly better than their two stepping, but nevertheless, they had a great time. And so did I.