Thursday, August 31, 2006

Louisiana Diary Part III

October 11, 2005

7:45 a.m.---My first day on the job. Assigned to an ERV with L.B., driver. None of the folks I came down here with will be on the truck. Hope I do well, We’re going to Fat City, someplace in or near Metarie. No one can tell me much about it.
Woke up at 5:00 a.m., got into the bathroom and cleaned up before the rush. Slept okay---probably not as well as the night before last, but only because I was so dead tired back then.

7:30 p.m.---Back from the shower, clean, and amazingly, ready to pass out. The showers have only cold water, and it was my first time in them. Before that, we got back to the shelter about 6:15 and I had a hot meal, the first in 2 days. No, not true; I ate at 2:00 this afternoon as well.
We went out with our driver L., a very sweet young woman, and the routine runs like this:
Assignments are posted on the wall in the morning telling everyone which ERV they will be on and with which driver (usually 3-4 workers are assigned to a driver, but the crews and drivers are reshuffled to different trucks everyday.). You sign out for the day and head out to the parking lot to do a run-through of the ERV checklist: lights, gas, etc., and check the inside for what supplies you’ll need when you get to the yard.

NOLA 013

You drive to the kitchen, the big outdoor kitchen run by the local 1st Baptist big motherfucking megachurch. They are very kind and cheerful. You pick up your supplies there in the yard, which include bread and fruit and snacks and water, then get the cambros, which are massive plastic heatproof coolers into which big bags of prepared food are poured. You haul all this stuff into the back of the truck and pack it in, in the most logistically-sound way, strap down the cambros, and you’re off. Sometimes you get MREs to supplement the food, but most of those go on the box trucks, which are driven around to specific sites where they and cases of water are handed out. You usually do 2 runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and take 300 meals out on each run.
Today we served fruit cocktail and beef stew in the first run (about 10 a.m.-12 p.m.), and chicken tenders & patties, green beans, and chocolate-acrylic pudding material in the second (around 3 p.m.-5 p.m.). After each run we take the ERV to the dumpsters across from the church and get rid of the garbage, then drive to the kitchen and unload the cambros, then either pick up more, or clean the utensils and head home, where we scrub down the inside of the ERV and get it ready for the next day. All day while inside the ERV you are cleaning cleaning cleaning up constantly, as food service is a messy business, especially in a moving vehicle, and constantly making bags of fruit and snacks to give out at the back of the truck, or filling foam clamshells with hot food to give out at the side window. You may do a stationary feeding, where you sit in one place till you run out of food, or you may do a mobile feeding, moving slowly through a neighborhood watching for anyone in need while the driver calls people out over the loudspeaker. The work is hot, heavy, and hard, and you are on your feet almost non-stop from the moment you enter the truck till you get back to the shelter.
This morning I helped R. bag oranges, apples, & bottles of water to pass out to the people who came for the meals. Then, when we had all the fruit bagged, I helped plate food into clamshells with L. and LD. R.’s wife N. served the food from the window of the ERV. It was much the same in the afternoon, except R. handled the fruit and water himself while I stayed in the truck plating food.

NOLA 034

I helped load and unload, get rid of garbage, and set up and tear down. At the end of the day on our way back, we had to stop at a car wash and clean the truck. Usually the crew washes down the inside when they get back to the shelter, but it was mostly done when we arrived because while L. and I worked on the outside at the car wash, R., N. and LD. had done all but the floor inside.
Now I’m getting more tired by the minute. I’ll be sore tomorrow, and I have numerous bruises.
The exciting thing is that we (meaning not me, but a few experienced members of our shelter and one ERV) went into the 9th Ward of Orleans Parish for the first time today, with the long-awaited permission of the city. They hope that we will all be in there by the end of the week. We are tremendously excited. The 9th Ward is the very worst, ground zero of the destruction. People who’ve seen it say you’ll never forget it. We are needed desperately. They sent a team in today with double supplies and 3 mental health people. I imagine we’ll hear all about it at the briefing tomorrow. The managers hold a briefing meeting every morning prior to the day’s work, right after the assignments are posted. Managers are supposed to be riding through the neighborhoods determining where the need is, and in consultation with the drivers and ERV workers, make the decisions where to send us, how many runs to schedule, and how many meals we should take.
What was Fat City like? Like so much of the rest of the area, great swaths of destruction side by side with seemingly untouched buildings. A poor area, with titty bars on all sides (at least where we were), but some nice-looking restaurants, too. Not a place you’d like to be alone in, day or night. We pulled into an abandoned corner gas station, and people were already waiting for food before we were even set up. Some came by and sat in their cars just looking at us, waiting for curb service. We just looked back. Many were workers; the area is filled with restoration companies, insurance adjusters, “hurricane relief teams”, and others. Lots of Latinos, including migrants. Luckily, R. and N. are Puerto Rican and speak fluent Spanish, which came in very handy.
Signs pop up like mushrooms all along the highways and at intersections, advertising jobs, cleaning and restorations services, loans, or simply the fact that businesses that were here before the hurricane are back and re-opened again.


Places that look fine turn out to be closed or moved. Places that look devastated are putting handmade signs in the windows or on the streets that say “open”. Sometimes there’s no sense to it.

Everywhere they sell “Drive-Through Daiquiris”.

I was hoping I would lose weight from the work, but I eat like a horse.

Too tired to go on. Maybe I’ll turn in early.

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