We woke up on our last day ready – but sad -- to do all the tasks that it took to pack up and leave. We made thank you cards for all of our hosts and then got all of our stuff out into the yard. We gave the whole Stella Maris Center a pretty thorough cleaning and struggled mightily to fit everything into the truck and the van so that we could all start driving west (some of us only as far as Houston, the rest all the way to California). It was HOT when we were packing, so we got the full experience on our last day in Louisiana. Everyone was quicker than usual to get into the van, as it was air-conditioned.
We drove the van and the truck into the French Quarter, and made one last run for souvenirs, lunch, and beignets at Café du Monde. (Alli got her beignet total to 11.5.) We ran into the same difficulty as the Jan Termers faced: it just seems weird to buy beads and shot glasses to commemorate an experience like this one. We bought a few small gifts for friends and family, but we didn't boost the New Orleans economy nearly as much as the mayor might have hoped. Still, we breathed in the beauty of the city, wished for better days, and vowed that we would all be back.
We gathered at the cars and parted ways, knowing that we all had quite a day still ahead of us. Chris, Justin, and Caitlyn were setting out on a 36 hour drive, while the rest of us faced a 5-6 hour trip to Houston, then two flights before landing in Oakland around 2:00 a.m. Alli was the deejay in the van, while everyone from the back yelled out song requests. Despite a few terrible song choices, it was a fun ride.
We stopped to get gas outside of Baton Rouge, and gathered up some snacks and drinks. As Shawny was making her purchase, she saw a familiar face: Don Palmer, Rosie's neighbor from N. Clairborne St. The Jan Term group had cleared the Palmers' house, as well as the house of Don's parents, Leroy and Odessa. They are currently staying in Baron Rouge. Back in January, we shared some very moving experiences with that family, including an impromptu funeral for their beloved pet.
We all exclaimed in amazement over the odds that we would run into each other in that gas station at that moment. We asked Don and his wife Troylyn about their plans, having heard from Rosie that they were not returning to the Ninth Ward. They corrected us, saying that they are, in fact, returning. They had been waiting for the reconstruction plan to be announced (the one about the levels to which houses would need to be raised to qualify for flood insurance) and they are now making plans for the dropped-down room at the back of the house, which probably does not meet the new criteria. They are also waiting for their final insurance settlement. They fear that the insurance company is waiting until the next hurricane season passes before doling out the payments. We wished them well, and expressed our hope that we would meet again.
We got to the Houston airport in plenty of time for our flight, and headed off to Las Vegas, then Oakland. Our flight was late, and we were pretty tired by the time we actually claimed our luggage. We called the folks in the truck, and learned that they had gotten a speeding ticket in Texas. Drag! We all hit our pillows in California by about 3:00 a.m., and the people in the truck were home by midnight Sunday night.
Some of us have discussed returning to NOLA this summer, as much work still needs to be done. We know that the temperatures will be unbearable, so we are unsure whether we can face the challenge. Further, we assume that the heightened hostilities that we sensed this time will grow even more striking. At the same time, we know that FEMA's support is diminishing, even though the problems in the city are not. All of us – and all of you – need to think: about what is possible, what is feasible, and what is necessary.
We thank you for all of your support.