Showing posts with label First Draft Krewe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label First Draft Krewe. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Some of you may remember that a couple of years ago, a group of us headed to New Orleans to gut a ruined house. When portions of the levee along the London Avenue Canal collapsed in the aftermath of Katrina, many homes in the Gentilly area of New Orleans flooded. We called ourselves the First Draft Krewe, because ScoutPrime and Athenae at First Draft organized the group who went to work at 1773 Sere Street under the direction of ACORN, which has overseen the reconstruction of 3,500 houses in New Orleans.

Our job was to strip the house down to the bare bones, removing all the inside materials which were rotted, mildewed, and ruined. The house had been completely submerged by the floodwaters. Trust me: it's a shit job, but we wanted to do our small part to help the folks in New Orleans come back.

When we (they really, because I could not do the heavy lifting) got to the kitchen, it was in terrible shape. Cockroaches and termites abounded in huge numbers. Many of us believed the house would be demolished in the end, because of the sorry condition of the kitchen. So why were we doing the difficult and dirty task?

The folks next door, who were well on their way to restoring their house, were quite grateful to have the mess next to them cleaned up. That was reason enough, and you never know. You do the assigned task without too much thinking and questioning because the folks at ACORN, who know what they're about, send you there.

The picture above shows the First Draft Krewe along with our partners, a fine group of students from Elon University, at the end of our work day. As you see, the pile of trash removed from the house is taller and wider than our rather large group.

Now the hero of this post is blogger Sinfonian, who recently returned to 1773 Sere Street to check it out. Pictured below is the termite- and roach-infested kitchen as it looks today.

I could hardly believe what I saw in the picture. Check out the house today at Blast Off!, Sinfonian's blog, at the link above. His story of the return visit and the other pictures of the house are simply amazing. (Links no longer active, alas.)

Thank you, Sinfonian, for taking the trouble and telling us the story.  Hugs and kisses to you. What a beautiful, happy ending - for a change. It seems as if I've been hearing way too much bad news.

Here's my post on our work day.

H/T to ScoutPrime for alerting me to the story.

Friday, November 16, 2007

From Ray In The Comments

In the comments to my Sere Street post:

Ray said...

First, Grandmere, you were not inept, you did great that day. I was watching. Sometimes I had to get out of your way you were going so fast.

Second, as Karen pointed out in my blog comments, sometimes even though we don't get a family back into their house, our gutting it does help the rest of the neighborhood. A gutted house is less of a health hazard, less likely to harbor rodents, less of a blight on the neighborhood, and it makes it easier for those people who did move back in next door to live next to it and to feel better about their neighborhood.

Remember the neighbors who bought us all that fried chicken? They knew the chances of that house being reoccupied were slim, but they still could not stop heaping praise on us for what a wonderful thing we were doing.

We did good work there that day, and though it may not have the exact miraculous happy ending that we imagined in our heads, life seldom does. Good works are little micro things that nudge the world in the right direction a few inches at a time, and as a group we gave it a good shove back onto the path.

I want to share with you what has been my favorite quote since I moved back here. I first read it on a big banner at Ye Olde College Inn, an Uptown eatery that was destroyed by the flood and rebuilt and which still has the best oyster po-boy on earth. It's Teddy Roosevelt, but it could be anybody who has worked in New Orleans:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "

You did good. You should be proud. This city will come back.

Ray, cher, thank you for your kind words. We knew that day that the house we worked on probably was not salvageable. It was riddled with termites, for one thing. It's true. The next-door neighbors were grateful for our work, very grateful, and that, in itself, is reason enough to have done the work.

I want to cry, not so much for that house, but for the whole city, my home town, still the home of my heart. I know New Orleans will recover and be more beautiful than ever, despite the abuse and neglect she has suffered since the great tragedy. You can't kill the spirit of the people of the city.


Sere Street
Originally uploaded by Ray in New Orleans
The First Draft Gutting Krewe, of which I was a rather inept member, and a group of college students from North Carolina gutted this house in the Gentilly area of New Orleans. The picture shows the house as it looks today. I could cry.

From Scout at First Draft:
The facts of Katrina have been recounted many times over--90,000 square miles of damage and destruction, 300,000 homes damaged or destroyed, 80% of New Orleans flooded, over 1700 dead--a breadth and depth of sorrow and suffering that when viewed first hand leaves most to recall the scenes of bombed out WWII Germany and think only a Marshal Plan could begin to bring healing and rebirth.
The people of the Gulf Coast have not had a Marshall Plan to help their recovery. The money dribbles in very slowly to the homeowners - if at all. A great deal of the progress that has been made is due to the determination and work of local people and to volunteers, who come from everywhere to help out. In the richest country in the world, is this the best we can do?

Perhaps it is harsh but when members of the UK show Top Gear traveled through the Gulf Coast and saw the shocking devastation they asked: "How can the rest of America sleep at night knowing that this is here?"

A word from Scout, who does not live there, to the rest of us who do not live there:
For not only should we know but we should care and we should act. It's quite a responsibility to say the least. One which we each try to strive to meet in our own way. Mine has become to write of New Orleans and I harbor no illusions on that front. Most days I don't know that it does a bit of good but I could no more stop than I could stop being an American. For it is in New Orleans that I have truly realized the meaning of America.
You can continue to read Scout's "A Tale of Two Blocks--Part 2" at the link above.

Scout is from Wisconsin, but she has made it her mission to tell the story of enormity of the destruction wreaked by Katrina and the federal flood and the meager and shameful response by government officials to the plight of the people in the area that was destroyed.

Thanks to Ray in New Orleans for the use of the picture. You can find tales and pictures of the many houses Ray has gutted here.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


First Draft Krewe Before

It's truly difficult for me to write about my weekend, because New Orleans is my city and will always be my city, although I have not lived there for nearly 50 years. It's my home. I have lived in my town for 37 years, and it's a good town. My children grew up here, and it was a fine place to raise a family.

The New Orleans which I loved the most did not exist even before Katrina. The NOLA which I grew up in and lived in fof the first 24 years of my life is the city that I loved the most. Over those 24 years, it seemed to change very little, but during the years that I lived away, it changed greatly, unfortunately not always for the better. But it was still there, and I continued faithful to my love who had gone somewhat bad. We visited and enjoyed the goodness which remained.

I had already met Scout on one of her previous trips to New Orleans, but it was great to meet Athenae and Mr. A., Ray in New Orleans, Sinfonian, Cynthia, Mike Danablog, Cheri and Harry (archeop), and Spork. I will forever picture Spork with three heavy cameras hanging around this neck as we took the tour of the devastated areas. You can see some of his terrific pictures at his blog.

Gutting a house is hard work. The house we worked on was on 1773 Sere St next to the London Avenue Canal, which breached about a mile away from the house and flooded a wide area. I will read about those who volunteer to help gut a house with great respect in the future, especially those who work in the heat of July and August. The suits are hot, the respirator is a scary-looking thing which I was not sure I would be able to wear since I have claustrophobia, but it was OK once I got it on. Wearing the hooded suit, the respirator, the goggles, and two sets of gloves - work gloves over rubber gloves - you sweat before you even start to work. Many of the other - ahem - much younger folks did heavier work than I did for a longer time, but I did my little bit for the cause, sweeping debris that fell when the walls were knocked down into a pile, shoveling it into wheel barrows, and picking up boards with nails in them so no one would step on them. The others worked with crowbars and hammers. Some of us found a certain satisfaction in knocking out sheetrock as you can see from Athenae's post.
Inside the house it was dusty and dark; our goggles fogged up and we were drenched in seconds, but it was satisfying, in a situation in which you feel there's so little you can do, to slam a crowbar into some drywall. And that's for the convention center, and that's for fucking Geraldo having smarts our government didn't have and that's for every right-wing nutball who said people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and that's for everybody who ever told me America was a Christian nation. That's for Gentilly and that's for St. Bernard and that's for New Orleans and that's for my country, you fucking fucks, as Ashley would say. [Sadly, Ashley Morris, who blogged brilliantly and prolifically about New Orleans, died unexpectedly on April 2, 2008.]
The retired couple who lived next door appreciated what we did. They are well along in fixing their house but still have their FEMA trailer parked in front. They very kindly allowed us to use the bathroom in the trailer as we worked. Later, the gentleman bought us two cartons of fried chicken wings, which quickly disappeared as we devoured them.

We had a great crew of college students from Elon University working with us as part of a requirement for a class. Good for their teacher for having them do this. I'm sure they learned a great deal from this time out of the classroom.

On Sunday, we took a tour through the devastated areas, some of which I had not seen yet. My husband and I had gone twice before to view the ruins, but at some point I had to ask him to stop before we saw certain areas, because I just could not take any more, but yesterday I saw parts of the city that I had not seen before. Block after block of wasteland, with the only visible progress being the removal of the huge piles of trash and vacant lots where houses had been bulldozed. Occasionally, in the midst of the wasteland, we'd see one house fixed and inhabited. I wondered how the folks could live there alone, surrounded by vacant lots and ruined houses.

We saw the breaches in the levee, which had been repaired, but adjacent to the repaired and reinforced areas were the same old levees that failed after Katrina. No one in the area believes that the US Corps of Engineers has fixed much of anything. The same disaster could repeat itself once again.

Remember that it was not Katrina that caused the major disaster in New Orleans. The city came through the storm pretty well, but the subsequent failures of the levees, built by the same US Corps of Engineers, caused the city to go under water.

Enough for now. I'll probably write more later.

First Draft Krewe After

UPDATE: Many thanks to lb1303 and Dangerblond for their wonderful New Orleans-style hospitality in opening their homes to us, and thanks to all who contributed the delicious food for the gatherings.

UPDATE 2: If you'd like to read an account of a New Orleans all-nighter, go read Mike Danablog at Detached Retina. Keep in mind that the all-nighter came after a hard day's work of house-gutting.

UPDATE 3: A happy ending: Sinfonian, a member of the group who worked with us, returned to 1773 Sere St, which we thought was a lost cause and likely to be demolished.  Pictured below is the termite- and roach-infested kitchen as it looks today.  I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the beautiful new kitchen in the picture.  A young family purchased the house and lives there now.

  Below is a photo of the exterior of the restored house from Google Maps.