Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 NOLA Trip Part 2: Homebuilding

I was in NOLA this past week to help build homes through the programs of the New Orleans Area Habitat For Humanity and Americorps.

We arrived at Camp Hope at around 7:30pm on Monday, December 17th. We missed the orientation but were able to check in. Camp Hope is an old school that has been converted to house volunteers, as well as some Americorps staff. For twenty bucks a night, they give you a place to sleep and shower, and provide three meals per day.

The next morning we reported to Musician's Village in the Ninth Ward neighborhood. It turned out that we didn't actually work on any houses physically within the village, but we were working on some houses nearby.

I preferred the construction work we did more than the gutting work I did last March in 2006. Gutting, though necessary, is a sad endeavor. The best you can say to a homeowner is, "You know that sludgy, moldy pile that used to be your worldly possessions? Well, it's out on the curb now! Good luck with the rebuilding!" Construction is something I could feel a lot more positive about.

The houses being constructed are 12 basic templates, all variations on a shotgun shack.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the basic architecture -- a narrow house with a main hallway running its length, with rooms on either side.

Looking to the back from the front (from the house on Gallier)

Looking toward the front from the back room (from the house on Gallier)

The first house we worked on was almost finished when we started working on it. Mostly we were just applying a couple coats of eggshell white to the interior, and doing some miscellaneous touch-ups. There was a house right next to ours where the walls were going up.

The just-started house and the almost-finished house, both on N Galvez, photographed from behind

I spent some time in the just-started house doing "blocking", which consisted of hammering pieces of board between the studs in what was eventually to become the kitchen. We were putting these boards in so the kitchen cabinets could be hung from them.

Work being done on the just-started house

The day we switched to work on the just-started house it was sunny, and must have been in the low-80's. I was actually sweating in the middle of December. Crazy, for an Illinois boy such as myself. We only worked a day on this house, as the next two days were rainy.

The last house I worked on was further along than the just-started house, but not as far as the almost-finished house:

There was a lot of trash outside this house, two large dumpsters and plenty of crap on the ground, which we did our best to clean up. And wouldn't you know there was an iSplotchy in the debris.

During the time I was working in it, I paused and took a picture of this paint bucket to remind me where this last house was situated:

In the house on Gallier I got to learn how to use a circular saw. We were "casing and basing", casing the doorways and putting baseboard down. I cut a fair amount of baseboards, and did my best at hammering them in.

I couldn't help but think of the Simpsons episode Hurricane Neddy, in the scene where Ned Flanders has a mental breakdown. The scene would pop up often in my head, particularly if I didn't get a nail into the baseboard exactly the right way.

Sadly, the fine folks at Fox have disabled a YouTube video of Ned Flanders freaking out after the house his well-meaning neighbors built promptly collapses into a rubble pile (his original house had been destroyed by a hurricane).

Here's a link to the episode on another site. It takes a long time to load, so you might be satisfied with some choice Ned Flanders quotes.

I'm not sure how much better I am at construction, but seeing as my prior experience was nil, I'd say it's better now. There weren't lots of volunteers down there during our week, but an Americorps worker said he expected the number to double after the first week of January. By spring, there are probably going to be over one thousand volunteers, consisting mostly of good-hearted college kids.

What volunteers I did meet and work with I had a great time with. Everyone was concerned with doing the best possible job they could. I met the homeowner of the last house on our final day. I just hope it can be finished soon and she can move in with her family.

Here's one last pic, taking a break on the front steps of the first house we worked at:

Clockwise, from the lower left:
Maria, a French woman visiting from her home in London
Elaine, a sweet person from California, who came out after she recently lost her job
Andy, my travelin' buddy
Natalie, a quick-witted smartypants getting her PhD at Vanderbilt

Not pictured: Lots of other wonderful people I had the good fortune to meet and volunteer with.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my 2007 NOLA Trip: Food, Drink, Music.


Joe said...

"You know that sludgy, moldy pile that used to be your worldly possessions? Well, it's out on the curb now! Good luck with the rebuilding!"

So, are you saying I should NOT have been saying that to those homeowners last year? Huh? I thought I was being positive and upbeat.

Seriously, good job. It looks like you did a great job building, and I'm glad they stayed in the vernacular with the new homes. It's strange, though, how barren everything still looks. Was that your impression?

Oh, btw, call me. There's a babysitting problem, she can't do it.

Life As I Know It Now said...

mega good karma for you dude!

pygalgia said...

Great thing that you have done.

Moderator said...

Thank god for people like you.

Timothy Donavan Russell said...

Good going!

Fran said...

Splotch you got me a little weepy here. This is extraordinary.

Can't wait for the next chapter.

You are a good man Splotchy, you are indeed.

Plus, you bring up Hurricane Neddy... love that one.

Fran said...

I am spready the love.

You done good my man!

Randal Graves said...

I second Fran, you're one of the good dudes - which means you'll be in the front of the line once they open up the political prisoners camps - plus referencing one of the all-time great Simpsons episodes? Icing on the cake.
Keep those mutants coming!

Distributorcap said...

as i said
a mensch

Unknown said...

I admire you for going to build houses in NOLA. We have a parapro at school that recently moved into house that Habitat built for her. It is a wonderful thing.

BAC said...

This is wonderful, thanks for sharing your good work with everyone.


Tengrain said...

Splotchy - you are a god amongst men.



June Butler said...

Splotchy, thank you, thank you, thank you! I am a native New Orleanian, but I have not lived there for a long time. I live only an hour away, so I visit often. I am so very grateful to anyone who goes to work to help rebuild New Orleans.

I worked with a group from First Draft blog and college students from Elon University gutting a house last April. The picture of the FD group is the second down on the left sidebar at the blog. That was before we started to work and were still clean. It was hard work, but what a great group of folks I worked with. I'd say building is better than gutting. It's shit work, but someone had to do it. How exciting that you got to work in Musicians Village.

I'm going to link to this post and "borrow" a picture, as Fran did, if you don't mind. Again, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to you for helping in the place that is still the home of my heart.

The Cunning Runt said...

Thank God for the good people who, like you, actually give a damn about our Fellow Travelers.

It really begs the question, though: Why isn't our GOVERNMENT doing this work???

dguzman said...

Splotch--you're a good egg, my man.

I do have a question, though: did you offer to replace the broken iSplotchy? That right there would've turned any frowns upside down!

GETkristiLOVE said...

I didn't read past "no pictures of drinks" What the hell is up with that?!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Oy, you're such a mensch.

Splotchy said...

bubs, yeah stuff is still barren in a lot of places.

liberality, I'm gonna trade that karma in for a Vespa scooter!

pygalgia, thanks kindly.

grant, usually I'm an unconscionable bastard. They just caught me on a good week.

tim, I'm tellin' ya, you would so dig it down there, you really would.

franiam, aw, shucks. Thanks for the spreading of love and stuff, too.

randal g, I've always wanted to be first in line!

dc, aw, you're getting me all verklempt.

mathman, that's cool! May all the nails in that house be hammered true!

bac, it was my sincere pleasure in sharing.

tengrain, finally, the power of the sun in the palm of my hands!

grandmère mimi, your comment means a lot to me. And thanks a lot for putting up the post on your site.

cr, I thought about that every day, about how would things be different if the government was more involved before, during and after the hurricane.

d, sadly I left all my delicate instruments at home.

gkl, don't worry, I have a glue-huffing post planned for mid February that is going to knock your socks off.

dr mvm, I try, I try. Oy, how I try.