Monday, September 22, 2008

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath, But A Harsh Word Stirs Up Anger

Well here we are... Houston, after what seems like three weeks. We are here. Jed just cussed out a lady on the phone at PaRR, right now I am more than a little concerned that she is going to cause us more trouble. Yes she was being unreasonable, but Jed needs to learn to keep his temper in check. If his little outburst costs us the chance to work here, then he better hope I have better control of MY temper. After all this I am swearing-off ever going out working for PaRR again.... but then again everyone does, each time they leave the field. And somehow they always come back. It’s like getting Malaria, it never really goes away, but with the right medicine you can control it, and mask the symptoms.

Other than these little bits of excitement the trip here from New Orleans was uneventful, which is a blessing. After the three months we battled through Katrina, we have much appreciated the traveling and mechanical mercies God has granted us. Well for now I guess this is all. We shall see what happens from here. We arrived to Houston with a third tank of gas and about 80 cents between us. If we are able to get the quick pay through, then we should have some money in about 4 days, but somehow we have to survive between now and then. As I said we'll see…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

City of... Humidity

Troy here...This morning found us... sleeping, imagine that. Casey our host said she had to bike uptown to meet with someone about buying her car, and she wanted to know if we wanted to bike with her. They have a pile of bikes on there back porch for couch surfers to use. Of course we said yes. We were sitting around waiting for a phone call to say that money had been wired to us so we could head out to Houston.

So we hopped onto our bikes, one which was referred to as "Deathtrap" and the other one had a seat which refused to stay in one place and continually flip straight up—pointing right at one’s rump... this of course made for awkward riding. We headed out for our leisurely 9 mile bike ride, much out of shape from a week of sitting around twiddling our thumbs, and sleeping in the car. Ridding through Downtown New Orleans was beautiful—an amazing city to be sure.

As my brother put it, "It’s not every day you get to ride on a bike that’s older than you are, through a city that’s older than your country." We rode to Tulane university, and rode around Audubon Park. While in the park we saw a gorgeous stone pavilion and headed for it. When we got there, we had to stop and watch the locals who were practicing what can only be described as some odd mixture of tai-chi, and 80's pop dance.

To top it off, at everyone’s feet was a nice warm can of Papst blue ribbon beer...mmmmmmm yummy! I can only imagine the taste, as it was close to 90 degrees. We finally got a phone call that we were not going to get any money, and we were pretty much stranded in New Orleans. So we headed “home”. Then Rachael called back, I tried to answer the call while ridding Deathtrap and nearly wiped out into a street car. She had called to tell me she had managed to borrow some more money, and we WOULD be able to get to Houston. Whew what a relief!

Hopping back on Deathtrap I caught back up to Jed and headed back to the apartment. After nine miles of no injuries, in the last half block I turned a corner and the peddles caught the ground…jumping and throwing my foot off, to be run over by said peddle and gouge my Achilles tendon. Not to complain, but…ok I will complain!!! Arrgh. Anyways, we decided to stay around and hang with our hosts for a while, there was no reason to leave so early and still get there late at night in the dark, with no idea where to go.

Later I walked the six blocks to find the closest Western Union, and found it in a literal hole in the wall convenience store called "Royal Convenience Store." Tucked in a nook in the base of a tall building down town, the inside was about the size of my living room, with a small glassed in booth for the Western Union guy. The man inside was…very unique. A small thin Jewish man, about my age, wearing both a Yarmulke and a pony tail.

He was dressed in a maroon polyester suit straight from the 70's. And had on a green and purple paisley shirt and a necklace with the symbol of the Klingon empire on it... Why I know the symbol for the Klingon Empire I refuse say, but other than that he was completely normal looking. I filled out my papers and slid them through, then as an afterthought I slid my passport through the slit as verification.

He thumbed through it and then asked "is this a new passport?" "Yes" I said laughing. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a worn-looking passport and slid it through the slot to me. "Man look at mine its so boring looking, these new ones are sweet.” Overlooking the absurdness of the fact that I now had his passport, I had to agree, the new ones are "way cooler." I slid his back through and remarked, "Yeah, I spent some time in Papua New Guinea earlier this year, so I had to get a new one." He stopped dead. "You've been to PNG?" he practically shouted.

Then he began to ask me a landslide of questions, "Did you fly into Port Moresby? Did you get to see the highlands? What were you doing?" I told him I was doing cultural and linguistics’ studies with New Tribes Mission. He was floored. Turns out he has been trying to go to PNG for five years. He is a philosophy major with a minor in cultural anthropology. And a special interest in PNG. A year ago he had written the embassy and asked them if they had any spare literature, so they sent him some flyers and a police manual in Pison {the trade language of PNG} and then he starts rattling of words and phrases in Pison, and asking me all these questions.

The clerk at the counter was staring at us like we were insane. We began discussing cargo cult, and cultural syncretism. In all, the whole thing lasted about 7 minutes but when I left, I was blown away at yet another odd "coincidence" in our journeys. Ahh, the life of a Bird! Oh yeah, when he asked me where I was from he was laughing when he said he girlfriend was from Roanoke as well. Yup, another good night. Later we rolled out of the “Big Easy” and headed to the “Lone Star”. Texas, here we come!!!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sloshing Through Swamp Muck...

Trying to make time for a quick update. Here are a few more Houma pictures:

The water was rising while I was in this area...

You can see the water line in this house where the water was receding by the time I came through here.

The water was up into this home before going down...the levee broke in this area.

For More Pictures Go To My Online Album

I spent two days in Houma, and then got called back to the Marrero area, outside of New Orleans. The storm surge had hit there as well, and whole towns were inundated with water. On Monday I tried going to the area where my applicants were located (lower Barataria Blvd), and ran up on a "road closed" barricade due to high water. I consulted my "trusty" Streets & Trips software and decided to try to enter from the Lafitte Larose Hwy side, but came up on a police roadblock. There was standing water across Barataria in both directions, and floodwaters surrounding the houses. The police weren't letting anyone in there. On top of that, it was raining heavily, and during the several hours I was there while waiting to meet with some of my applicants the water level actually rose a little bit.

Over the next couple days I trudged through a lot of swamp muck (blackwater form the bayous mixed with contaminants like raw sewage from flooded septic tanks, fuel oil, etc). But I met a WHOLE LOT of great people. I'm sharing a few pictures with you here, and I'll blog more later...I'm late for an appointment right now, so gotta go!

On The Hunt

This is Troy. Well it started off as a pretty straight forward morning. Waking up in the Explorer... trying to stretch and get the kinks out of my neck, then realizing that I'm 6'1" and the Explorer is a foot and a half narrower than I am tall. Then you begin to notice the rain. Heavy rain, and of course we have the windows half down. So it dawns on you that you’re wet. The sun roof is leaking, despite the fact that we have a large silver boat strapped over it. Jed is sitting there wild haired, with my laptop checking game scores. It’s of course Saturday, game day, and he is all about the games.

Well I'm still sore and more than a little hungry. so of course I make the obvious suggestion, "lets find some sort of sports bar where we can eat some cheep wings {one of my favorite foods in the world} and drink free ice tea refills all day, and you can watch your games on the big screens. seemed very simple, but in the end it cost us nearly two hours of peoples misdirection’s, to places that had been closed for years to places that weren’t even wing joints.

Finally in the end I was so annoyed I said, "Frick it, I’m pulling in the next place and asking for better directions. The next road veered of to the left, I turned down it and was upset to see no store for a ways, and I considered turning back but kept forward. Pulling in I saw the sign. "Wow, World of wing! Cafe and wingery." Yeah it was a beautiful thing.

Hours and hours later, we headed out to find our couch surfers place. Whew that was fun; they live two blocks off Bourbon St... well if you know anything about Bourbon Street that means is a heck of a thing to get to it on a Saturday night at 9:00 pm thousands of drunk college girls wearing a speck of thread and a thought. Stumbling around running into an equal amount of completely smashed rednecks. Throw in a few hounded transvestites strutting around in about the same thing as the college girls. And even a few dozen midgets and some people that looked like they stepped of the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. Oh yeah, and cops... lots and lots and LOTS of cops.

Finally we were able to find a parking spot a mere 8 blocks from our destination. When we got to our home for the night, we were greeted by Heather and Casey, a couple of extremely friendly and happy hosts. Their house was full of their art, from paintings of Jafar and Cruela devil in the stairwell to many beautiful ceramics upstairs. Later we were lead down to a comedy club that performs freeform comedy, which was incredibly funny, I would recommend it to anyone. It’s called "Yo’ mamma’s." All in all a great night, and a nice break from the annoying life of a parking lot dweller.

We were sitting in the living room, and I was playing guitar, and singing into my amp like at the Drainage canal the night earlier, when it hit me. "We are two blocks from Bourbon Street! What am I doing here; I should go make some money! Well it was already 1:00 in the morning at this time, but I grabbed all my stuff, and of course at 1:00 there are still 20,000 people stumbling around. So I sat on the corner, and actually made 16 bucks.

But it was cool. I had a lot of people gathering around me and listening. Then after it was all over and I was walking home, I heard a familiar style of guitar slicing through the night, I turned to see Bill Gregory, a guitarist whom I had the honor of seeing three years earlier, playing on the stage of a club I was passing. I walked in and he saw me and smiled walked over to my corner of the stage and proceeded to pretty much show off, because he remembered me.

I personally think he's is one of the greatest guitarists out there…period. And as a semi-professional musician and a perfectionist, I don’t say it lightly. Here is a link to a video I found of him on really doesn’t do him justice, but it’s still pretty amazing. We walked home together and watched each others back from getting mugged, until we parted ways on St Louis Street. Wow another freaking cool night. And hey, now I can say I have been a street performer on Bourbon Street. Now that’s paying your dues! LOL!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Just another reason to never ever come back to do this again... Just like all the other times I never came back...

Today I got a shock.. Yup, I lost it too. When going to go check into the base camp as usual, I got a phone call from PaRR. It seems now, 13 days after I drove up to Winchester VA to get my FBI fingerprints and background check done--Which was supposed to come back in 48 hours}, it had finally come back, and low and behold.. It was "Not favorable" so after 6 1/2 years of working as an inspector, and no problems, and busting my bust for FEMA, they tell me Ii can’t work for them. Of course they won’t tell me why. They just say, "Go back home." Too bad I had to borrow money to get here in the first place, and now I don’t have enough to get home. We have been waiting for them to give me the go ahead, so we could request a Quick Pay which basically advances us enough money to live off for the next couple weeks till our real pay comes in. Plus the entire time we were there I was supposed to be getting paid a per diem each day. It is a large per diem, and would have actually made it worth while. Since you can be sitting there for a week waiting, but then I was informed that not only were they sending me home, they were not going to pay me the per diem. But rather a very small lump sum which was smaller than one day of the per diem. And no matter if I was sitting there for one day or two weeks they hadn’t planned on paying anymore than that.... Now hundreds of new inspectors are being paid the per diem to sit around the hotel and await their FBI results... Be me, a 6 year veteran. I get shafted. Yup, sounds pretty normal from PaRR

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Adventure calls..

Adventure calls.. and its probably calling collect

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Flooding In Houma, LA

Well I got to Houma a lot later than I meant to. I passed flooded areas along the way and when I got to Houma I realized that many areas of the city were already flooding. I found my way to my first applicant's house, and the street was flooded. I'm in an SUV right now (A Chrysler Torrent) so I wasn't concerned about driving in it, because it wasn't that deep.

Southwest of Des Alemands...

It WAS a mobile home...

Just dock your boat at the front of the Family Dollar and come on in to shop...

Starting to flood from the backwash of Ike...

By the time I got done with my inspection, the water had risen about 2 inches. I don't know how high it's expected to get, but I heard someone mention waist deep water in places. I'm camped out in my car for the night in the parking lot of the Days Inn (that has no room in the Inn...) They said I could use the restroom during the night if I need to. It's a beautiful night with a lovely breeze. Almost no mosquitoes...

I had Chinese for dinner before parking here. I'll share my two dinner buddies with you...Crawfish and Frog Legs...Mmmmm Mmmmm Good!

Oh, I actually prefer that my food DOESN'T stare at me while I'm eating it! LOL!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Calm Before The Storm...

9/12/08 08:00 It’s Friday morning, and we’ve been experiencing the outer bands of Ike since yesterday. On my way to my first appointment this morning I heard the Tornado Warning on the radio, and there was already localized flooding and small scale power outages in our area.

18:00 Here are a couple pics fron Metairie, LA (a suburb of New Orleans) along Lake Pontchartrain.

21:00 Well, we've had wind and rain, but not anything major by our hotel. I saw on the news that one of the levees in Plaquemines Parish was breached. That's where I was for quite a while after Katrina.

I was on the phone with one of my applicants in the Houma area earlier today. Last night the water had crossed the raod and was in his yard. This morning it was into his house. He was "gonna grab a few things and git in m' boat and try to leave." I've worried about him so much. When I spoke to his wife she said he'd been having chest pains too (and that he was a stubborn man!)...She and I cried on the phone together.

The emotional strain on the people in this area is just tremendous. With the threat of residuals from Ike and the financial burden of mandatory evacuation expenses taking their rent and utility money it's created tremendous pressure. Please pray for all those who are affected by Gustav and Ike (and Hanna too). I've laughed with, cried with, and mourned with many of these people, and they all have a very special place in my heart.

As I watch footage from Ike's assault on the Texas coast all I can do is pray... They've issued a "certain death" warning for all the Galveston residents who decided to ride out the storm. Rescue efforts have had to be canceled due to the 110 mph winds. I pray that God spares their lives...

Our little "family" is dissolving. David left tonight. I'm leaving tomorrow for Houma. And Evelyn leaves Sunday for Baton Rouge...

More later...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

From Pearl River, LA...

9/10/08 I’m sitting in Pearl River, LA at Pearl City Seafood (64207 Hwy 41, Pearl River, LA 70452) eating Crawfish Etoutfee. It is really good. When I pulled in I thought this was a restaurant, but it’s just a store. BUT, the lady was so sweet…she pulled out a folding chair and pulled over their “garbage can” that they use to store sugar, so that I could sit and eat. I love the food in Louisiana, and wish I could come sometime when it’s not following a hurricane, just to do a “food tour.” I want to find some Boudan sausage this time. I got addicted to it when I was here after Katrina.

So glad that the level of destruction out here is not like after Katrina. One of my applicants out here today lost everything because of Katrina. Not to downplay anyones losses with Gustav. All losses are still that...losses.

More later...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Quick Update From New Orleans

I’m sure everyone’s been wondering when I was going to post about my current deployment to New Orleans in response to Hurricane Gustav. It's going to have to be in bits and pieces, but here it is.

Those who know me know that I “moonlight” occasionally as a Disaster Housing Inspector contracted to FEMA through PaRR Inspections. I’ve been involved in Disaster Relief since 2002 when my sons and I went to WV to volunteer with the Salvation Army for a few days after severe flooding wiped out whole communities.

While there we met a number of inspectors who were contracted to FEMA and decided that we’d like to do that as well. My oldest son and I checked in to that and ended up driving to E. Syracuse, NY for training. Since that time I’ve been deployed to New Orleans 3 times (2003, 2005 – Katrina, and 2008 – Gustav), Baltimore (2004), and Puerto Rico (2004).

As a Disaster Housing Inspector my function is to go out and verify whether or not the applicant has damages that are disaster related and record them for FEMA. Long hours, little sleep, 7 days a week, mentally and at times physically challenging. If you like to help other people and don't mind being out of your comfort zone, then this job is for you! :-)

I've hooked up with three other inspectors whom I met when we first got to Dallas on the first. We're all sharing a room here in Kenner (a New Orleans suburb). Let me introduce you:

Meet Barb from Spokane, Washington. She’s been with PaRR for a long time and has a very interesting background. She’s got a bunch of kids, a passel of grandkids, and her stories remind me of things that I have done or would do. In her spare time she fights to promote safety and fair laws for taxi drivers.

David...a new inspector, from Albuquerque, NM. He’s one of the few real gentleman that you run into (polite, opens the doors for you, protective of women, and makes it obvious that he’s happily married and not interested in anyone else). He’s been a great addition to our happy little group.

and Evelyn from...I don't remember... LOL! Evelyn is also a new inspector…and she’s a hoot! I had an opportunity to spend some time talking with her on a deeper level one night, and realized that she’s like an onion…there are lots of layers filled with great things inside. And there’s never a dull moment with her around, She’s got a heart of gold.

It's been nice having a team of people to hang out with (aka work until 12 -1 AM with and know you aren't the only person working at that time of night/morning). We haven't even had any issues with getting on each other's nerves (too much) or in each other's way! That's pretty good with only one bathroom for the four of us.

Out of time, more later...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Special Olympics Benefit

Well, I don't have much time, but I wanted to write a short (I hear you laughing, stop that! LOL!!!) post about the Special Olympics Benefit Concert that I attended on August 30th. The band that my daughter, Zipporah Bird, sings with, Ryze, performed for the 3 hours in Covington, VA and most of the proceeds went to help sponsor the Special Olympics athletes in that area.

I had the opportunity to go with them and take some photographs and home video (surprise, surprise!) So I wanted to share one of the videos with you.

It was a great concert, and I danced for almost 2 hours with one of the Special Olympics athletes named Jimmy. Outside of dancing during Praise and Worship at church, I hadn't danced in 26 years, so it was a lot of fun.

I want to encourage everyone to check out the Special Olympics group in your area and help support these very special athletes!