Thursday, October 06, 2005

Git 'er Dun...

At 3 a.m. on Eighty east
It's in the nature of the beast
To wonder if there's something missing
I am wretched, I am tired
But the preacher is on fire
And I wish I could believe

Whoever watches over all these truckers
Show a little mercy for a weary sinner
And deliver me, oh deliver me
Deliver me to the next Best Western
-Richard Shindell

Well, I'm here in the Best Western in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After this I will stay in the staff shelter at W.W. Lewis Middle School in Sulphur, LA. Their mascot is the Rebel--a little Confederate fellow with a big hat and a saber decorates the basketball gymnasium where we set up cots today. I can't think of a room better suited to make fifty people all living in it an acoustic hell. This is supposed to be housing for the Red Cross volunteers who will be doing the Client Services work, not a shelter for evacuees. However, since we are opening the center tomorrow at eight a.m., what is actually more of a concern is that Baton Rouge sent us today--you guessed it--absolutely NO Red Cross staff, as of 5 p.m. So, a center opening in an area devastated by Rita that has had no Red Cross relief yet (the 800 number requires perseverence) will have only about twelve to fifteen workers to manage it. I hope that some local volunteers will come out of the woodwork. Otherwise it will be rough on everyone.

I am eager to actually have a job of work to do, however. Red Cross volunteers are told to expect some difficulties on what is called in ARC culture a "hardship disaster." We were given a bunch of hardship codes--air quality, food availability and variety, sleeping quarters, weather, transportation, and a few others. We can handle that. What is infinitely more difficult is that we have signed up to help, and can get very frustrated when we feel that we are not able to help. When you hear about Red Cross volunteers walking off the job, I'm willing to bet that it's not sleeping on cots in a room with a bunch of strangers, eating MRE's (meals ready to eat, for those who don't know the abbreviation), doing repetitive or physically taxing work, etc. I think that it is most likely a feeling of frustration with not getting things done.

I did see some interesting things today, and will try to figure out how to work my digital camera, not only to get its pictures out, but to post them here as well. There is a way to do it. I got a picture of a woman loading an Allstate insurance office into a truck and trailer because the roof had blown off, and a restaurant with no front which has experienced no looting since Rita hit--it's all just sitting there. The woods are blown down all over, and salvage logging operations are going on everywhere. The scope of the disaster is awesome even retrospectively. Again I am struck by the fact that there is only one fatality attributed to the disaster.

Partly, this is because after the debacle in New Orleans with Katrina, local and federal officials made a real effort to get people evacuated. The governor apparently told folks who were thinking about not going to do everyone a favor and write their social security number on their arms with permanent marker so that it would be easier to identify the body. Also, to write how many people were in the house on the garage door with spray paint so that the rescue workers would know when to stop looking for corpses. This got people's attention, and they evacuated.

I don't know what else to say, really. I didn't need to bring water or food, my sleeping bag will be useful. Psyllium is good to have...

I'm still not sure why I came, but I still haven't met any clients, except on the phone a little this morning--Ah... for a little while I had a job to do. I have no idea how I will get online, either. Wireless cafes don't seem to exist out here. Consider: I am in a full Best Wester, sitting at the only Internet terminal in the place, and me and the other guy in my group are the only two I have seen on the thing... It's not an essential part of the culture the way it is where I circulate. And I don't think it's that everyone is jacked in in their room, either. This hotel is full of first responders--linemen, plumbers, crane operators, loggers, and some relief workers. It is mostly working men in caps and camoflage clothes, overalls, interesting facial hair. They are showered and sitting in the lobby now in t-shirts with the sleeves sawed off and flip-flops. They are drinking Coors Lite, playing cards, and watching the news and car racing. There is a friendly festival atmosphere to the place for sure, but it isn't an online culture. It's just folks.

Funny? We went to the grocery for some vegetables and fruits (I must give tribute to those who have taught me to eat real food--thanks!). We also got some beer. NOthing but Coors Lite and Miller Lite left--and then in the back, a sixer of Killian's Red--I know that it's just Coors dressed up, but it does taste better than Bud Lite. Anyway, product of Louisiana--Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning. I don't make this stuff up. Try to say Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning without affecting a southern accent. I bet you can't do it.


Blogger Robin M. said...

Southern accents are infectious, fer sure.

Glad to see you're hanging in there. I went to San Antonio once on a disaster relief mission, when I used to work for the Red Cross. There is too much bureaucracy, there is too much pettiness, there is too much redundancy, but they are still amazing when you see what they really accomplish. It's just compared to what could have been done that it seems so little.

Do you mind if I give your blog a plug at What Canst Thou Say?

Good luck with all of this.

2:00 PM, October 09, 2005  
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