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:
Wednesday, March 16, 2011:
Wednesday was the most service-oriented day of the trip for me, and I absolutely loved the project. I went with a group of six other people to a house that needed a big pile of dirt moved from the front yard to the side of the house to fortify it. The house was built up on stone stilts for flood protection, and moving the dirt over there was meant to help any rainfall or flooding soak in before it even got under the house. When we arrived, we met the woman who lived in the house. She was a little shy and skeptical at first, but when she warmed up to us she was just a firecracker.
There was a house across the street with a famous “X” painted on it, that looked uninhabited. The neighborhood in general was pretty nice, including another house across the street that was brand new and huge! It definitely contrasted strangely with the house we were working on. Anyway, we began our work on the house by weeding the garden area in front of her porch and replacing the line of stones she had outlining it with rocks from the Lower 9th, which I thought was a really cool idea.
I was definitely a little bit worried about the project, because we only had a few hours to work and there was a ton to get done. Not only that, but we dug in (no pun intended) to the garden without really knowing what we were doing. As the day went on, like I mentioned, the woman became increasingly friendly with us, and told us about how the water level was so high during Katrina and how she recovered and was so happy to have volunteers helping because she usually did all the work by herself. We met her dogs (Toby in particular stands out!), and she got us pizza at the end of the work day.
We moved countless wheelbarrow loads of dirt to the side of the house, almost leveled off the original dirt pile to the level of the lawn, and weed-whacked her overgrown grass to a good level. All in all, the place looked a hundred times better than when we had originally showed up. It felt great to be working out in the warm sun and helping a local resident finish recovering from the disaster. The garden area with the new rocks looks fantastic, and I spent a good amount of time cleaning up her backyard. I moved banana trees that had been cut down and cut up, moved a bird bath and set up a temporary fence.
One heartbreaking aspect of this day for me was having to leave the woman and her house after just a few short hours on the job. When she was told we weren’t able to stay longer, she was very sad about it. She had grown to enjoy our company (and likewise for us!), and was almost begging us to come back on Friday. That is one thing I absolutely would have done. Don’t get me wrong, Friday was an awesome day in itself, but I really thought we could have gone back to her house and finished all the work and spent some more time getting to know her.
One other regret I had is not seeing any of her photography. That is what she does for a living; a photographer. From what I saw on this break, I can imagine that she must have captured some unbelievable images, and I was really looking forward to seeing her work, but we never got around to it. This might sound weird, but if I ever go back to New Orleans I would really like to try to find her again and just sit and talk for a little while. She was really an intriguing person! Overall though the service experience we got working at her house was incredible and definitely one of the most memorable aspects of my trip!
After the project, we drove back to the hotel and got ready to do a walking tour of the St. Louis Cathedral, parts of the French Quarter, and a famous cemetery. The cathedral was actually very beautiful (I’m not a religious man, but I can appreciate some good architecture, artwork and history any day!), and the square outside was teeming with local life. We listened to a band playing called the Willow Family Band that I thought was ridiculously good. They gave me a business card because I couldn’t afford a CD at the time, but I plan on checking out their website soon! We spent most of the next couple hours walking through the town, checking out the sights and enjoying the warm sun. Unfortunately, the cemetery we went to was closed already, but we still got to peek in through the gates and those places are just one of a kind in New Orleans. Nothing like the little graveyards you see normally!
That night, Bryan, Lena, Amy, Cailee, Shayna, Stephanie, Kylie and myself went to a restaurant by the Riverwalk that we remembered from the previous night. We had an awesome, hilarious dinner that got our night off to a great start! Stephanie ordered crawdads (crayfish?) and we all tried one…they were interesting, to say the least. Once we figured out to not eat the nasty brown and yellow mushy insides and just strip the tail off, it was much more like shrimp and tasted much better! After dinner, we all went out on Bourbon Street again. We spent a lot of time at a karaoke bar, and Lena and Kylie graced us with a beautiful rendition of…yeah, no chance I can remember the exact song. Sorry girls. 🙂 But this was also the first night we brought out the Cougar flag! I had totally forgotten I stole our house flag off the wall in Pullman and packed it for just such an occasion. We brought it everywhere we went, and waved it up and down Bourbon Street, on the balconies, in the bars, with the bartenders, policemen, hot dog vendors…everyone we could convince to take a picture with us.
Let me tell you, I have not seen such spontaneous school spirit in a long time. We had a good portion of the group doing the fight song, or yelling “Fuck the Huskies!” up and down Bourbon Street for hours. One of the best moments of the night was when a random blonde girl holding a beer started screaming and jumping up and down when she saw us carrying the flag. “I FUCKING LOVE THE COUGS!” she yelled and gave us each a hug. We found out she was WSU alum, and spent plenty of time taking pictures and videos. She started the patented “Goooooo….Cougssss” chant and hung out with us for a part of the night. One last encounter we had tonight was Bryan meeting the cops that had arrested him on Monday night. He recognized them and approached them to ask about what exactly had happened. But, he was immediately advised to walk away. Let’s just say those guys weren’t the biggest Bryan fans in the world!
This day and night was a little tamer than nights past, but the service project had a great impact on me and we got to spend another awesome night on Bourbon Street, this time representing Cougar pride at all possible places! Tomorrow is St. Patty’s Day in the French Quarter – trust me, you do NOT want to miss that one.