I have never written a trip report before but I set aside one week annually to rebuild homes in New Orleans so that homeowners can either move back to their homes or continue to live in their homes as they get older. I felt compelled to come help rebuild in New Orleans because it is a unique city whose residents have treated me warmly before Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration did so little to help in its aftermath. I've done 12 trips to work on 23 homes and for the last few years, have met some friends from the Maryland area to work with Rebuilding Together New Orleans on some great projects during Mardi Gras season.
I always come a few days before the work week to explore on my own and have stayed at HH Whitney House the last few years. Located in a quiet neighborhood on Esplanade, this B & B is a perfect hideaway and many guests I've met there are return customers. I feel that Glen, one of the co-owners, always takes good care of me when I stay there. HH Whitney always provides yummy breakfasts and Community Coffee in a beautiful historic home. Coming early gave me a chance to eat Italian Creole at Adolfo's with friends on Thursday night. We thoroughly enjoyed the Cannelloni combo with Spinach & Cheese and Crabmeat & Corn burrito-size cannellonis, Veal with Ocean Sauce, and Tilapia with Ocean Sauce. Ocean sauce is two delicious sauces that you can also have individually: crabmeat & capers and shrimp & crawfish. We then walked across the street to catch Jon Cleary on solo piano at dba. I saw him play last year there as well and he provided another great night of music.
I also traveled out on Friday to Bywater to The Joint for some great BBQ brisket, ribs, and pulled pork with some smoky sweet baked beans that had bits of pulled pork. You could see that the smoke permeated through the bark of the brisket to impart deep flavor that did not need either of the two BBQ sauces for additional flavor and the leftovers made for a good lunch the next day. Dinner was a hamburger with grilled onions and red creme soda at Camellia Grill, and good conversation with a psychology student from NYC who was a first-time NOLA visitor.
I came back to Adolfo's for dinner on Saturday with 6 other volunteers; they all had either the cannellonis or Ocean sauce dishes while I opted for the eggplant parmigiana. We instantly got quiet while eating and when we were finished, it would have taken a CSI team to find any trace of any food ever being on our plates. Then it was off to see the Crew du Vieux and krewdelusion parades. I thought my eyes would melt at some of the float contents at the Crew du Vieux and there were few photos I could have taken without having to go to confession for.
I was in the McClendonville neighborhood 2 weeks before the Super Bowl with a bunch of my volunteer friends and RTNO staff. There were 10 houses in the neighborhood that needed work on replacing wooden siding, water heater enclosures, and eaves, building stairs with cement bases, electrical wiring, building fences, and lots of painting.
It was great that we could all work in the same neighborhood on various projects and many of the homeowners we helped were elderly or military veterans. The work we did left some of the painting on the fronts of houses unfinished so that the NFL could bring in some of the few hundred volunteers the Friday before the Super Bowl to finish. We combined work with social outings, not only to enjoy the wonderful food and music in New Orleans but also because these outings are a great way to bond with people you work with.
On Sunday, we had an orientation to go over the projects and divide up the volunteers to the various projects on the different homes, then we split up for musical adventures. Some went to see B.B. King at Tipitina's while others (myself included) went to see Kermit Ruffins at his Treme speakeasy. Kermit is a great trumpet player and an enthusiastic ambassador for the city of New Orleans and he stayed for fan photos after the show and when he found out what we were doing that week, thanked us for coming to help rebuild. The location is great acoustically but chaotic for drinks and food, has few tables and chairs for the number of music fans and I was unimpressed by the meatloaf dinner I had there. The neighborhood looks like your car might be up on cinderblocks when you return so it might be good to go there in groups.
Monday night after the first day of work, some of the volunteers went to see Jon Cleary at Chickie Wah Wah and had a great time. I decided to stay in and work on optimizing photos I took to document the work. I talked to some of the volunteers I had taken to Creole Creamery last year about going on Tuesday night and started talking it up as an outing to all the volunteers.
Tuesday after the second day of work and dinner, we had all the volunteers who had gone to Creole Creamery last year go again and our numbers went from 6 last year to 18 this year. For the uninitiated, Creole Creamery has some incredible seasonal flavors of gelato and sorbettos and for those who can't make up their minds about flavors, offer mini scoops in 4- and 6-scoop samplers. Christmas Eve was a flavor many of us enjoyed with dried cranberries, port, sage, and pecans seemingly oddly and deliciously combined like an oxymoron.
Knowing that most of the volunteers have a sweet tooth, I shared some great pecan brittle from Leah's Pralines with them on Wednesday. After the work day, we cleaned up and went to Midcity Lanes (aka Rock 'n Bowl) for bowling, swing dancing, jambalaya, crawfish etoufee with rice, and a orange and walnut salad. It was fun but most of us shouldn't give up our day jobs to join the pro bowling tour.
Thursday, I went with my friend Paul to Joey K's on Magazine Street for dinner. He had mentioned that he and his wife had dined together there a few years ago and that she said the Shrimp Magazine was one of the best meals she ever had. Paul ordered the Trout Tchoupatoulas and I had a bowl of red beans and rice followed by the all-you-can-eat catfish that came with a pile of french fries. I polished off the yummy red beans and rice, and the catfish was perfect with ketchup and hot sauce. I could only finish half the catfish and the rest was enough for lunch the next day. I ended up pulling an all-nighter to optimize some 300 or so photos that I and two other volunteers had taken so I could reduce their file sizes and get them ready to burn to disk so that the photos could be shared with RTNO and the homeowners.
On Friday, a few volunteers had their return flights so I said my goodbyes to them that morning. Many of the volunteers went to a Boys and Girls Club and did repairs there as well but I was so tired from the photo work (plus I had caught my roommate's cold) that I couldn't join in the work. I delivered the disks with photos to the RTNO house captain we had worked with, then I went back to the church dorm to sleep. I burned a second set of photo disks for the man who recruited most of the Maryland volunteers and he promised that he would make copies of the disks for all the volunteers when they returned home. I skipped the Treme tour I was going to walk as well as the Crew of Cork and Crew of Cleopatra parades I was going to watch with my dinner friends from Thursday.
Unfortunately, almost everyone who volunteered that week got the "New Orleans cold" by the time they got home. Saturday was when most of us had return flights home and more than a few of us got a little misty-eyed saying our farewells but we were already talking about the great experience and the possibility of working together on another NOLA rebuilding project next year.