New Orleans day 4, the Rocket!

Thursday. I was up this morning at 5:30am as usual. Meals this week have been a crap shoot. Catholic Charities provides breakfast items in the morning like fruit, cereal, milk, bread, bagels. But some mornings there just isn’t much there, even though I’m one of the first ones to the kitchen. They also provide food to make a lunch: bread, meat, chips, fruit, etc. Today, we had lunch provided by donations from our church. So we had subs from Subway. That was a nice treat.

We headed back over to Willie Mae’s house first thing to finish up. We had to finish sweeping out some ceiling and insulation debris. We finished up in a couple hours and we took this group shot in front.

a group shot

Neil then took us to another house that a different crew had started but not finished. There, we had to rip out the bathroom in the house and also a bathroom structure in the garage. We finished up by 12:30. Here are some shots of this house:

the pile for the 2nd house we worked on today group shot

They didn’t have any other jobs for us to start this afternoon so we headed back to camp. This was very cool, because there were no lines for showers. We relaxed this afternoon.

This evening, a bunch of us went down to the IMAX theatre on the Mississippi River and saw the 5:00 showing of “Hurricane on the Bayou“. This is the movie that Mimi had told us about on Monday. It was 40 minutes long, and it told the story of the impact of the disappearing wetlands along with how Hurricane Katrina affected the area. It was very interesting.

I want to show you a couple of shots, from the movie. First, on the left here is an aerial view of an entire neighborhood during the flood; it really gives you some perspective of what it’s like to be under 10 feet of water. The second shot is the movie trailer. Both of these are from their web site:

neighborhood flooded Hurricane on the Bayou

We got back from the theatre around 6:30pm. Mike VanderBloomen had ordered pizzas from Dominos and we were surprised to see a bunch of our group already gathering in a neighbor’s yard. Here’s the story on that.

Since we’re not allowed to have beer at the school, Mike and Paul met a guy who lives right across the street from the school at 2270 Mendez (map). His name was Ron, but he told us to call him “Rocket”. Rocket was more than happy to have us there in his lawn. He was living in the FEMA trailer there on his lot, and he’s slowly working to get his house rebuilt on the inside. Rocket was an awesome character. He shared many stories with us plus a few jokes over pizza and beer. This is the kind of guy that you’d want for a neighbor on all sides of your house.

Rocket, his neighbor and the boys Rocket and Mike

Above is a photo of Rocket with Tom Georgia, Alex Albers and Mike Reynders, three St. Norbert College students who were on the trip with us. The woman is Rocket’s neighbor, and she sure had some great words of praise for her neighbor. The picture on the right is Mike VanderBloomen with Rocket. He had a way of making everyone smile.

house markings I also want to tell you about these spray painted markings that we saw on EVERY house in this area. I had seen them all week and Rocket finally told me what the markings on his house mean. Starting at the top, the “9-11” is the date that the authorities first inspected the house after the flood. Note that Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, so Rocket’s house was first inspected 13 days later. The “5-73” is a code identifying the inspection team. “NE” indicates the area of the city where the house is located. And finally, the “0” indicates the number of corpses that were found in the house.

Since it was dark outside, I couldn’t get any video, but I did get a few audio recordings of Rocket telling jokes and stories. If you weren’t there with us, it might be hard to get a feeling for what he was like. But for those of us who were there, I’m expecting that just hearing his voice again will make you smile.

MP3 file Statue? (1,449KB MP3)
MP3 file Jokes and Gas (2,073KB MP3)

Rocket was definitely a breath of hope in this neighborhood that had suffered in 10 feet of water. Rocket made us all feel welcome, and he even invited us to stay with him if the Packers ever play the Saints in New Orleans. This is the first time I’ve ever been to New Orleans, and I can now say that I’ve got a friend here.

We were originally planning to head home first thing Saturday morning. But we’ve decided to hit the road tomorrow after work instead. So, tonight’s our last night in New Orleans. After a week of seeing all the destruction in the area, it sure was great to spend some time with Rocket and see first hand that there are some truly dedicated people here. It might take a long time to get this area back, but with guys like Rocket, I’m convinced they’ll be just fine.

I’m heading to bed early tonight. Gotta start a long trip tomorrow. I miss the ladies of my castle waiting for me back home.