Mmmmm. More Concrete

Posted on 20 May 2010 | No responses

Today we finished the forms for the sidewalk and then started mixing and pouring concrete. No machines involved, we did it all the old school way mixing about a hundred 80lb bags of concrete in wheelbarrows. Here is the site at about 11 am;


The circular thing in the middle is the water meter and we struggled with that for a while. initially it sat too low, so we had to dig it out, along with the line leading into and out of it, and reposition it about three inches lower so that it will sit flush. We certainly learned from our experience last week and the concrete work went a lot better today, by the time we left we had about half the sidewalk poured and finished with nice beveled edges and break points every four feet.


We’ll finish this job tomorrow and move on to another site about 5 blocks away.

Since we have been in a new neighborhood I have been visiting new lunch places. The Upper Ninth really is a different neck of the woods compared to last week in East New Orleans. Today I got a catfish PoBoy  form the most heavily fortified sandwich shop I have seen. One Inch thick Plexiglas everywhere, with little slots to pass cash and an armored lazy susan type device to pass the food to you. Since they didn’t have Gatorade, I headed next door to the convenience store, I haven’t seen Thunderbird, MD 20-20, Night Train and the other “Fortified” Wines since I left Southern California, but now I know where to get them should I feel the need. They also had a jar of Pickled Pig Lips, tempting, but I resisted for now. Maybe tomorrow.

I was thinking today about the changes I have been through since arriving. Day One I wore my watch and checked it often, Day two I left my watch at the hotel, but wondered what time it was. Now two weeks later I’m not sure where my watch is and there are really only two times that matter at the site which are lunch time and quitting time and both of those are pretty flexible. It’s a refreshing change from my normally structured work days.  In the same vein, on day one it was all about having enough bottled water, by day two I was happy to refill a used Gatorade bottle from a 5 gallon water cooler and by today I was equally happy to stick my head under an outdoor faucet. Staying hydrated is the biggest issue. Today I think I had a cup of coffee, a Coke, two Sprites, two bottles of Gatorade 5 or 6 refilled bottles of water and several drinks from the faucet, but the porta-potty remained unvisited, which really is not a good thing. I’ll try to drink even more tomorrow.

Mike suggested that I need to get out and have some fun and I have his permission to come in late and hung-over tomorrow. I don’t think he really believes me when I tell him that for me the work is fun and therapeutic. It feels so good at the end of the day to have created something tangible and permanent.

I’m sitting here in the hotel watching Jeopardy and there was a category about New Orleans and Katrina. I can proudly say that after two weeks here, talking to people who lived through the experience and seeing the results first hand, I was able to get all the answers correct.

Back on the Chain Gang

Posted on 19 May 2010 | No responses

We started the morning at the site in East New Orleans at 4619 Wilson Avenue, where we poured the concrete yesterday, and overall it looks pretty good. From there it was off to the Upper Ninth Ward to dig out some sidewalks and build the forms so that we can pour more concrete later in the week.


The crew I am with this week is not as driven as last weeks crew, so they are taking more breaks and that makes for slower going, but we are still getting things done. The shot below is the sidewalk work in progress, including the tamper I made from a scrap 4 by 4 and some spare wood to pack down the dirt. At most construction sites this would all be done with a Bobcat and other heavy machinery in a fraction of the time it takes us, but machines are expensive, especially in comparison with free volunteer labor.


Tomorrow we’ll be finishing up the forms for the sidewalk at this site and another site nearby. Habitat has about 25 sites under construction currently and it is nice to see the different locations. They are all basically the same layout, but the homeowners do get to pick color schemes, tile, countertops etc. Habitat buys and owns each site, and people that want to buy a home have to put in 100 hours of work and then they can pick the lot they want and start the process.

The Crew Leader I have been working with since I have been here is a guy named Mike and he is a great guy to work with, very patient and tolerant but takes safety seriously and has called out a couple of folks for some stupid things they were doing that were putting others at risk. Working with 15 high School kids can be a challenge. Mike is here with Americorp and for his work he gets paid a small Government stipend for his time. To help get by, he works 5 nights a week and all day Sunday and Monday at a retail store in the local mall. Even with that he is eligible for food stamps. He’s here for a year, but is talking about staying longer if he can. I truly admire his dedication and his willingness to spend a chunk of his life working for the benefit of others.

Laying Concrete

Posted on 18 May 2010 | No responses

Today we started a new week with a new group of volunteers. the Alaska crew have gone home and in their place we have a team from an Indiana High School. The day started slowly, but then at 9:30 the concrete truck showed up and it was all hands on deck.

This is the first time Habitat has had volunteers handle laying the concrete, normally it is subcontracted out at a cost of $3,000 per house, so today was an experiment of sorts. It started well, but our lack of experience hurt us at times and we did let the concrete set for too long before we tried to get a finish on it but overall we did a pretty good job.


Things got interesting at about 3 o’clock when the skies opened and the pounding rain started to add it’s own texture to the concrete. We got most of it finished reasonably well and then covered it up with Tyvek, so we’ll see how it looks tomorrow morning.

For now the PBS Documentary on Katrina "Storm that drowned a city” is on and I’m watching that in order to better understand what the city went through. The house we are building sits about 4 feet off the ground which is about the level of the water that was standing in this neighborhood for about two weeks after the storm, but the initial storm surge that hit was about 15 feet, so I hope the levees hold next time.

A Tale of Two Cities

Posted on 17 May 2010 | No responses

As I posted earlier, Monday is not a work day for Habitat, we work Tuesday through Saturday and as the weather was much nicer today I went into town and di some of the tourist stuff. Started with Beignets and Coffee at Morning Call which is my new favorite breakfast and then drove in and found a parking space near the French Market.

I wandered around the French Quarter and the river bank for a little while taking in the sights before enjoying a Gator Po-Boy at Johnnys PoBoy



If you stick to the Central Business District and the French Quarter it would be easy to think that the city has recovered from the impact of the Hurricane and I am sure that many people who visit do just that. However, just 10 minutes away is the Lower Ninth Ward so I went over there and did a little more exploring and the contrast is amazing.


That looks like an over grown back road, but it is, or at least it was, a suburban street and probably had 20 or 30 homes. You don’t have to go looking for this either, it is everywhere in the Lower Ninth, the sites that have been rebuilt are far out numbered by sites that are are empty or abandoned


Tomorrow it’s back to work, the weather is supposed to be close to 90 most of the week, with high humidity and a chance of thunderstorms, so staying hydrated will be the biggest issue. Hopefully the concrete arrives tomorrow and we can get the driveways and sidewalks in and get these homes another step closer to finished. The homeowners for one of the homes came to dinner with us on Friday night and brought their three little boys aged 5, 2 and 1 and I know they are all excited to get moved in. The thought of the boys playing basketball in the driveway some day makes this all so much more real.

Playing Tourist

Posted on 17 May 2010 | No responses

The weather is looking much better today so I’m playing tourist in the French Quarter

Drive Thru Daiquiris???

Posted on 16 May 2010 | No responses

Just down the road from my hotel is a drive thru daiquiri stand and being Sunday the special is One Gallon Daiquiris for $18. Really, who in the world thought that was a good idea? An alcoholic drink, several times the size of a human bladder and sold at a dive thru window. More surprisingly, it’s all legal as long as you don’t remove the lid or insert a straw while driving.

Heavy rain this morning

Posted on 16 May 2010 | No responses

Apparently 2 inches of rain fell in an hour this morning so there are now all sorts of flood warnings posted. I managed to time a run to the Tiffin Inn Pancake House fir breakfast. I’d rather get a little wet and have a decent cheap breakfast as opposed to staying dry and having an expensive but mediocre hotel meal. Here’s a shot of downtown New Orleans today that I pulled from a local news site.

I really need to get some laundry done, after three days working under the house most of my clothes are beyond filthy. I’ll have to see if I can time a dash to the laundromat between storms

A rainy day in New Orleans

Posted on 15 May 2010 | No responses

The weather had been beautiful all week, but caught up with us today. The morning was cloudy so the work was actually quite pleasant without the direct sun baking us, I worried with a couple of the crew from Alaska and built a platform for the air conditioning compressor to stand on so that it is above the flood plain. Something that I am quite familiar with from our own home back in CT.

Today was the last day for the group from Alaska, so we took an extended lunch and went to a BBQ joint called The Joint which is a hole in the wall in the Bywater area of NOLA and had some of the best barbecue I have ever had.

In the afternoon the skies opened so we spend the rest of the day sorting through all the construction materials which are stored in shipping containers at each site, loading the excess into a box truck and taking it down to the warehouse.

I now have Sunday and Monday off, although Sunday is supposed to be wetter than today, so I may just hole up in the hotel, and then go into town and hit some of then tourist spots on Monday when they are quieter. Tuesday it will be back to work with a whole new crew of volunteers to experience with.

Finally done with the chicken wire

Posted on 14 May 2010 | No responses

Just a quick update for today, finally we finished hanging the chicken wire just after lunch and then moved on to backfilling around the forms for the concrete sidewalk and driveway.

The group I have been working with is made up of three people who are here independently and then a group of about 12 students from the University of Alaska Anchorage and since today is my birthday, they asked me to join them for dinner. We are getting together with the future home owners of the house we are working on so it will be nice to meet them. It did mean that I had to run out and buy a reasonable shirt as I really wasn’t planning to go anywhere fancy when I packed for the trip.

They are forecasting rain for tomorrow, so I doubt we will be putting down the concrete and we’ll have to wait and see what we end up doing.

Another day in the crawl space

Posted on 13 May 2010 | No responses

We met up at the local Habitat warehouse to unload a track load of miscellaneous supplies. The warehouse itself is a pretty interesting piece of architecture


After that we again spent most of the day in the crawl space putting up chicken wire. It’s not glamorous work and will probably never be seen,  but everybody is taking the time to do it right. Some of the statistics you hear are truly astounding, our crew leader was explaining that New Orleans lost 150,000 homes during Katrina. Since then, Habitat has built 375 homes, and they are the largest home builder in the area.

The area we are working in is well outside of the tourist areas of New Orleans, so there aren’t too many fast food chains around, which is refreshing. There is a place called Lucky Jean’s Seafood that does seafood, Po-Boys, Fried Chicken and Chinese Food and seems to do them all pretty well but today we tried Big Momma’s Chicken and Waffles which is in interesting combination. I recommend the wings with “Katrina Hot” sauce, but the waffles got good reviews as well.

As well as the ‘invisible” work under the house, other teams have been making progress on the exterior. Here’s a current shot showing the added railings on the porch and the moulds laid out ready for the pouring of the sidewalk and driveway.


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