we made it

Long day today. I drove the last hour or two this morning to get us into Louisiana. We met up with the other 4 cars and finished the trip into New Orleans together.  We got here around 11:30 this morning. The weather for the drive down could not have been better. It’s 1,161 miles from Our Lady of Lourdes Church back home in De Pere to Marian Central Catholic Middle School, here in New Orleans, where we’re staying. It was bright and sunny all the way. Overnight driving was clear, and the moon was full. Just beautiful. And the farther south we got, the warmer it got. It was zero when we left home. Forecast for New Orleans tomorrow is mid 70s.

 We’re staying at the same place as last year, Marian Central Catholic Middle School. Catholic Charities is still using this building as housing for volunteers. The big difference this year is that we’re the only group here. That means that we have real beds in classrooms, instead of cots among 200 others in a gym. It’s quite nice actually. And they’ve also labeled the showers this year, so there are men’s showers and women’s showers.

As we made our way around town today, my overall impression is that things seem to be back to normal. There are still many many homes that need work; many buildings that still have not been touched since the hurricane in August 2005. But the overall infrastructure seems to be in place. All traffic signals are working now. And many intersections have obviously new traffic signals installed. There are open gas stations everywhere ($2.94/gal). Other open businesses include fast food restaurants, UPS store, grocery stores, home supply stores, etc. Lawns are clean and green. The folks down here have been working hard to get things back to normal and it shows.

We also took three cars and drove through the 9th ward, one of the hardest hit areas. Like the rest of the area, it’s looking better. We saw 4 or 5 brand new houses built, very nice to see. Still the great majority (over 90%) of the lots are empty though. But things are a bit cleaner, and it’s good to see some new homes popping up. Down the road from the middle school here, on Mendez St, there are three brand new homes, all built with at least a 6 foot foundation. It’s good to know that if flooding occurs again (actually experts say the word is “when” not “if”) these homes will still be standing.

I was a bit tired, so I managed to get in a nap for about an hour and half before dinner. Ahhh, that felt great!

At about 5:15, we all left for the evening to go grab a bite to eat. With 39 people, it’s impossible to go together. So we split up. I went with Denis VandenHeuvel, Rick Steeber, David Brooks, Rick Schaefer, Erin Riley, and Maribeth Frinzi. We went to Oceana Grill in the French Quarter, a place that Denis and I stumbled on last year. They have a great Grilled Chicken & Fetuccini Alfredo dish, so Denis and I ordered it (same as last year). It was fantastic. As we were eating, another group of us walked in: Deacon Mike VanderBloomen, Janice Loehlein, Dan Hilbert, Terry & Chris Hasselbacher, Rick Crabb, Dick Collar, Joe Mahr, and Bob Krzewina. Of all the places they could have gone in New Orleans, and they end up sitting right next to us at the same restaurant. Then, a short while later, another group of us walked in: Paul Albers, Bob Gorig, Bruce Bain, Greg Shad, Ann Willems and Ron Coenen. Geez. I guess we all have the same taste.

After dinner, the seven of us walked around the French Quarter for a while. Mardi Gras celebrations started a couple weeks ago, and we stumbled on a mini-parade. We all ended up with a few strings of beeds. A couple of us had a hankering for a McDonalds ice cream cone, so we found a McDonalds right there. But they didn’t have ice cream. So we went to another McDonalds 3 blocks away, but they were out of cones. So we headed back here to the school, and stopped at a 3rd McDonalds on the way. Perfect.

It’s now 9:10pm and things are winding down. A few folks are in bed. Some are here in the kitchen playing cards. There’s one geek in the corner writing in his blog (looks kinda like me). It’s been a great trip so far. I’ll get a good night’s rest tonight, and it’ll be good to finally get to work first thing in the morning.

(While in the French Quarter, I found an open wireless hotspot, so I think I’ll use that to upload my blog this week.)