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Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 7
New Orleans


Henry Swanson  
Day 7

I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone...

I was so sore from the past two days of painting, caulking, hauling wheelbarrows full of stuff and standing on ladders that I had trouble sleeping last night. I was already awake when the alarm went off at 5:30AM.
Showered, dressed, quick coffee and Angela's magic sweet rolls, then the early morning dash down to the site on Roman.
After the morning prayer we spent another four nonstop hours in the hot sun painting and caulking while other teams laid concrete, put up framing, put roofs on, in short, built houses. We have met so many wonderful, generous, caring people over the past several days – too many to count.
MaryJane from Toronto
Kates from University of Tennessee
Ian and Linda
Young volunteers
Underneath one of the houses, on the wood framing, I left my mark along with the graffiti of several other volunteers...
At 11:30 we broke for lunch and by 12:15 we were back at work. Today, for some reason, we had many people come back from the lunch break, and it was a busy afternoon until we did our roll-up at 3:00.
Chuck had come by at 1:30 and showed Carol, me, MaryJane (from Toronto) and Rebecca (from San Diego) photos of the damage to his house in the Lower Ninth Ward. We spent several minutes talking with him, then made plans to see him perform tonight at the Palm Court Jazz Café.
I went back to one of the houses I had been working on to retrieve a couple of ladders, and I looked back over the site and the thirty houses (one hundred are now planned) and the beautiful people from all around the world and I totally lost my composure and started to weep. Carol and I have both been crying quite a bit over the past several days. No matter where you go in the Crescent City you are presented with reminders of the effect of the storm on people's lives. There is a saying now in this town that we heard repeatedly: “you are either on Prozac or you should be.” Less than a week after we returned home to Tucson, there was a news report from New Orleans that a young man in the French Quarter had killed his girlfriend, dismembered her body, cooked her head in a pot on the stove, cooked her legs and feet in the oven, then walked over to the Omni Royal Hotel at Royal and St. Louis Streets and jumped from one of the top floors. They had ridden out the wrath of Katrina in the Quarter together only to come to this end...
You have to see the vastness of the devastation to believe it. St. Bernard Parish looks like a gigantic set for a disaster movie. Just about every telephone pole in the city has signs stapled to it by roofing contractors, mold removal services, house gutting services, lost dog/cat/relative/friend. And the con artists are hard at work. We have heard tales of rates of $500 to $800 per hour to do some of this work. These people cannot afford to pay this, so these broken houses are just going to sit there until the city comes along and razes them into the ground.
Typical telephone pole
A great many of the streets still don't have signs (blown down by Katrina) and some of the one-way signs have been turned around in the wind as well. Also, in many places you can't make left hand turns, so driving is a wonderfully challenging experience.
We have come to love this place. The music, the culture, the food, the art, the River, the voodoo, the bayous, the shops, the Lake. But mostly the people. The past three days are among the most rewarding, worthwhile, heart-warming days of our lives. We are already making plans to return.
The Spirit of New Orleans
At 3:30PM we said tearful goodbyes and thank-yous and job-well-dones to our many friends that we made over the past three days. We made plans to see Rebecca and MaryJane at the Palm Court Jazz Café, and we made plans to meet Brad and Ali for dinner at the Acme Oyster House before heading over there to see Chuck perform.
At 5PM Carol and I drove into the Quarter and parked at Brad and Ali's hotel, the Provincial, where the restaurant Stella is located. While we waited for Brad and Ali, we walked the few blocks to the Palm Court Jazz Café on Decatur where we made reservations for 7:45PM. Then Carol and I walked to the Acme Oyster House (no line!!) on the west side of the Quarter, where we met up with our friends and enjoyed a delicious dinner of two dozen fresh raw oysters, seafood gumbo, a fried oyster po boy sandwich and tasty Abita Amber beer. We thoroughly enjoyed dinner but Carol and I felt that the oysters at Desire Oyster Bar, two blocks away, were larger and tastier.
David, Brad, Ali and Carol at Acme Oyster House
Apres dinner we started to walk back to the east side of the Quarter towards the Palm Court , but Carol's ankle was flaring up so we caught a cab. Arriving too early for the show, we window shopped until we spied an inviting shop of unique clothes. Both Ali and Carol found and bought some reasonably-priced, one-of-a-kind items.
Then it was time to catch the show, so we walked to the Palm Court Jazz Café, 1204 Decatur Street, 504-525-0200. As we walked into the club I immediately noticed Chuck, alone at the bar, lost in his own thoughts behind dark sunglasses, as he slowly sipped a beer. We walked over and gave him a hug and he lit up like a candle. We visited for a while, then found our reserved table at the foot of the stage. Our friends Rebecca, Mary Jane and Michael soon came in and joined us at the table and we proceeded to raise the house (pun intended.) This is one of many things that NOLA needs right now – people spending money having a great time. We were more than happy to do just that.
Carol, Chuck Badie and David
David, MaryJane, Michael and Rebecca
Rebecca and Chuck
Brad and David
The band played wonderful New Orleans-style jazz, and Chuck's smooth and seemingly effortless prowess on his large bass fiddle blew us away. Midway through the first set, Chuck dedicated a song to Carol and me and our HFH friends, which brought tears to our eyes. Chuck's voice was smooth as silk, weathered and sultry from years of beer and cigarettes. He is truly an artist/performer, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
Note the Katrina-damaged sign...
Chuck Badie and band
Chuck Badie at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe
Photo by Rebecca K. Smith

The proprietress/owner, Nina Buck, an Englishwoman who has obviously found a niche in The Big Easy, floated waif-like through the club throughout the evening and we enjoyed meeting her and talking with her.

Carol, Nina Buck and David
When the show was over we thanked the band and spent quite a while saying our goodbyes to Chuck, who has by now become a dear friend. We exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch. His last words to me – “God be with you, Dave, and God bless you and yours” - brought tears to my eyes.
Rebecca, Brad and Ali
Brad, Chuck Badie and Alie
Brad, Ali, Carol and David
As we walked out of the club, I glanced back one last time, and there was Chuck, alone once again at the bar, lost in his thoughts and memories, quietly sipping a beer behind his dark sunglasses. An old, spent man who just wants a place to hang his hat. That image will be burned into my brain forever. So much love and loss, all at the same time. Chuck will be sadly missed and will forever remain in our hearts. God be with you also, Chuck.
Chuck Badie and David
Carol, Ali, Brad and I walked out of the Palm Court Jazz Café at 12:30AM, walked a block until strains of Loretta Lynn music beckoned us into another club. We sat and listened for a while, then walked back to the Provincial, where we ran into Andy and Vicky from northern California , who have also worked as volunteers at Habitat for Humanity. The six of us chatted for a while, then we had to bid our friends farewell, and we drove up Canal Street and crashed into bed in the wee hours of the morning. A very emotional day…
Andy, David, Vicky, Carol, Brad and Ali at 1AM in the French Quarter

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