Tuesday, March 24, 2009

We've Got a Rattler

Traveling within the United States, I often forget how foreign some parts can be. This week I am finding out just that while in New Orleans for spring break . With the state of the current economy, I made a personal decision to cut the spring break costs I would have incurred on a tropical location, and volunteer my time instead. Senior Year Spring Break New Orleans was quickly born. So Sunday morning, down I-55 me and four friends traveled, with the help of our trusty GPS Navigator Nigel, to see just how easy The Big Easy would be.

Already on Day 1 we have found, it is not so easy and not so much like home. A gorgeous and intriguing city still though, yes. However, already three years since Hurricane Katrina hit and the city still has a lot of work to go. Buildings with decaying paint, abandoned homes, and unkempt overgrown can be found everywhere. The one thing not lacking though is graciousness and hospitality, two things many cities could use a huge improvement in.

On our first assignment we were expecting the hard work and labor. What we were not expecting was an encounter with the wild. We picked up our sand brushes bright and early and got to scrubbing the home of one Marilyn Beinvenue. It wasn't long before we discovered that thirty years and a hurricane's worth of dirt was not going to come easily. Not with sand brushes at least. So from her many years on the job as a pool attendant, my friend Tracy realized what this house really needed was a power washer. It was quite easy to convince Marilyn, an very energetic dietician, to hop in the car and search for a power washer to rent. It was even easier to convince her of the matter when she realized she'd be cruising Chef Street in the Land Rover we borrowed from my friend Emilie's Mom. This Land Rover was about Marilyn's dream car, and she made no bones about loving every second of sitting in its luscious leather interior. I will have to admit though, she looked quite dashing when posing in pictures next to it.

After quite a few negotiations with the local power wash renters, we finally settled on True Value as they were the only ones who seemed to understand that most people don't use a power washer on a daily basis. Unfortunately the old rental hadn't been used in some time and was in need of some gas and tweaks. The good thing is we realized so much at the True Value so help was right on hand. Help is exactly what we got too from everyone's favorite local handyman, Mr. Ernie and his assistant Anthony. Well Mr. Ernie shouted his expertise to Anthony, who worked on the washer directly. You see, Tracy was all too quickly informed by Mr. Ernie that he was was unable to work the equipment himself because he had an artificial heart. She knew this was the truth too because he proudly displayed his donor recipient card to verify. So finally, after taking all of the brunt instead of the other assistant Leslie (you see Mr. Ernie takes everything out on Anthony, not Leslie), Anthony nursed our little rental back to health.

It was a darn good thing this washer was revved up and ready to go too, because it wasn't just the dirt on the paint that needed a good sharp blast of water. Once back and in the yard, and after a minor mishap of Margaret dropping the washer on her legs while getting it out of the car, we had a rather large visitor from a snake. Not quite the outdoorswomen, Emilie and I immediately started yelling "snake!" Soon Marilyn, who we had hoped was used to dealing with such visitors, joined is in jumping up and down and yelling. Little did we know the seventeen members of a church organization from Northwest Missouri State University that were at the same site that day, were pros in identifying snakes. It was two of the girls, who apparently handle snakes on a daily basis, that informed us we needed to clear the area immediately. We had a rattler on our hands. Well the city girls we are , we couldn't resist trying to get a closer look. Not obeying orders with the snake orders that the area was apparently contaminated did not go over too well, and things with the Northwest Missouri group remained on rocky waters for the rest of the day. We decided to take to finishing painting Marilyn's doors and frames inside the house, while they decided to sword fight with the sand brush sticks Marilyn had just purchased that day.

The power washer did work like a charm though. Thirty years of dirt washed away almost instantly, and we got the exterior ready to be primed. Marilyn was so excited with our ingenuity in the project that she proclaimed us as "her girls." Such a bond made it hard for us to learn that we were going to begin work on a new site the next day. Alas though, at the end of the day we had to return to our hotel on Rampart Street. A street where just that morning at 9 a.m. with the bars still going strong, we were greeted by a cross-dressing solicitor dressed in black see-through mesh. No, it really was not long at all to figure out New Orleans was full of characters and stories. Just all in a day's worth of work.

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