For those of you who don’t know, I just spent my spring break in New Orleans, LA enjoying Bourbon Street and doing local service projects. I went with a group of 39 people from the WSU Center for Civic Engagement, most of whom I did not know entering the trip. We spent 5 days and 5 nights in the French Quarter and witnessed everything from the still-damaged Lower 9th Ward, to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to a beach in Mississippi, to the crazy nightlife on Bourbon Street.
If only this blog entry could do the trip justice…It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life, and I am already missing the people, parties, weather, food and general culture that we encountered down there. Honestly, if anyone has not gotten the chance to experience New Orleans yet, I highly recommend spending a few days down there. (Upcoming: New Orleans Jazz Fest – look it up!) Here is my recap of the trip:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011:
Tuesday morning started on a rough note, to say the least. Following our crazy first night, Bryan, Rafael and I were rudely woken a little after the pre-arranged meeting time of 9:30 a.m. by a loud knock on the door. Maggie’s patented knock, followed by “Guys, get up! Charlie’s pissed!” Those last two words are all it took for us to shoot awake and pull on our clothes and brush our teeth in record time. Somehow we had slept through three alarms and everyone was waiting for us in the hotel lobby. We felt terrible as we snuck down there and got into the last van to go to our first service project.
Feeling drowsy and possibly still a bit intoxicated, we drove to Project Green Light, trying to piece together our nights on the way. Bryan complained that he had gotten arrested and put in a medi-van the night before but nobody else could remember it. Then, he reached into his shirt and looked at me with wide eyes as he pulled out two of those little electrode stickers that had been on his chest still from the night before. “Told you!!!” How ridiculous.
Anyway, we finally arrived at Project Green Light and got in groups for a safety briefing. The Green Light representative went over what we were supposed to do, plus safety precautions and the houses we were going to. The goal of Project Green Light is to provide the environmentally-friendly, long-lasting bulbs to people that could not afford them. For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, they are the fancy, twisted bulbs that you see nowadays. Some people we serviced had been on the waiting list for these bulbs for over five years. The bulbs in themselves are pretty expensive, but if used can cut down energy costs significantly. Our mission: go to three houses and replace all their bulbs (except for dimmer lights – the new bulbs would explode in those sockets) with the green, energy-saving lights.
We had trouble finding our first house and weren’t necessarily in the most friendly-looking area. We found two men on the sidewalk and asked for directions. The man who did the talking was a gigantic specimen. He looked like he was a tight end by his size and sheer strength. He had three teardrops under his left eye (take that as you may), and a noticeable grill, to complement a full head of stringy grey hair. He was intimidating, but extremely friendly and helpful; still another testament to the people of New Orleans. He pointed us in the right direction, and we eventually found the apartment we were looking for.
When we knocked on the door, a very shy, old black woman answered the door and welcomed us into her home. She was very skeptical at first, especially when we told her that the new bulbs were 60-watts, much lower than her previous bulbs. We went to work replacing bulbs in her bedroom, bathroom and living room, and when all was said and done, she was very pleased with the result. We were saving her over $500 a year in energy bills and she could still see at the same clarity she had with her old bulbs! We spent a few minutes chatting with her, and she really warmed up to us as the process went on. We joked with her, and told her about our time so far in the French Quarter, and she told us stories of how she had lost so much in Katrina, including her husband, but had come back and recovered through the will of God. She was absolutely one of the most memorable people I met on the entire trip.
The second house we went to didn’t work out because the mother wasn’t home, but we re-scheduled the meeting for a different group of volunteers, so they would still get their light bulbs. Then we moved on to our last house, a small flat in a quiet neighborhood. The woman was waiting out front for us and was not very receptive to what we were doing until we got inside and actually started changing the bulbs. She only had one working bulb in the bathroom, but when I replaced all four above the mirror, it turns out that she just had bum bulbs, so she was very happy she could see in the mirror now. We ended up saving her almost $600 on energy costs per year!
From Project Green Light, we continued on to the all-group swamp tour. Getting there was an adventure in itself, as our very unreliable GPS system kept taking us in loops and on to the wrong freeways. But, our van made it there with a few minutes to spare, likely because of Amber’s NASCAR-worthy peel-out on a U-Turn as we passed by the entrance. We hopped on the boat just in time for it to pull out and start floating down the swamp. We had a very funny tour guide who was really knowledgeable about the area, but kept the mood light with jokes and sarcastic comments about alligators eating passengers. We saw tons of gators and turtles and birds and even got to hold a live baby alligator! After this fun diversion, we were still only halfway done with our day.
We got back to the hotel and all showered and changed into our fancy pants and dresses for a jazz dinner cruise on the Mississippi. We met at the Riverwalk area by the waterfront and got ready to hop aboard the paddle wheeler. It was pretty fun to get all dressed up and get dinner catered to us for a couple hours. It was relaxing after a long day in the sun. There was a cool little band playing in the dining room of the boat, and we got a really delicious meal (the fish especially, stands out in my mind). After we all ate our fill, wandered the deck, and played a game of B.S., the boat docked again and we retreated back to the hotel for the night. Well, most of us anyway.
Tuesday was Amy’s 22nd birthday, and apparently she decided that the crazy night before counted as her 22 run, because she and her roommates went home and passed out! But, Bryan, Rafael and I felt we had to celebrate in her honor, so we trekked down to Bourbon Street around 11 p.m. and got a couple grenades, and walked the street looking for a bar to hit. Surprisingly, Tuesday seems to be a dull day in the French Quarter, because there was hardly any action going on downtown. We stayed down there and had a chill night out, drinking in Amy’s honor until around 1:30 a.m. Then we headed back to the hotel and fell asleep to prepare for service project #2, some touristy activities, and much more mischief on Wednesday.