Tuesday, 10/25/05. After Nick left on Monday morning, I took the free ferry across to Algiers, and joined up with the Common Ground project.
This morning I went with several others from here to unload the truckload of bikes that came from Chicago. The unofficial count was something like 450. Clara from Chicago told me most of these bikes come from scrap salvage sources. Many are in good condition, but they are mostly older models, with a heavy proportion of Schwinn and Huffy. Many nice Raleigh type three-speeds.
This afternoon I took my harp to the New Orleans Lockup when prisoners were released. A group from Common Ground went to interview those who were being released, concerning their treatment. I played my harp for about 15 minutes in the discharge area, no one objected, I got some smiles.
Check here for updated pictures and news from Plan B, including a link to the Morgantown's Positive Spin website.
Monday, 10/24/05. Today I'm across the river in Algiers. Nick started back today, I will return by train to West Virginia, via Washington DC, on Thursday.
I've moved from a house with no electricity in the ninth ward, connecting with a group called Common Ground.
I discovered this operation when a young guy from Common Ground happened to find the Plan B bike shop. He happened to mention the name of the main person, Jenka, and I remembered her. She also recognized me, instantly, when she saw my harp tied to the back of my pack.
There seems to be some isolation of various private non-profit relief efforts from one another. Folks are too busy to really do the diplomacy that needs to happen. The bike shop folks want to fix bikes. The free restaurant fixes meals. Common Ground distributes cleaning supplies and food, runs a clinic and helps with legal aid. The peoples' groups are scattered, while the corporatereconstruction is well coordinated. Everyone is stressed. Folks are mostly behaving well but not always.
This morning I set up a computer at the free clinic in Algiers. They have lots of volunteers, all ages and skill levels. Everyone is working very hard, but the weather is beautiful. Today very windy, almost chilly, but sunny.
This afternoon I crossed back to New Orleans, to Plan B, where two bike mechanics were due to arrive from Chicago. There is a very convenient free ferry boat from across the Mississippi.
Sunday, 10/23/05. The Plan B Bicycle Project is in a warehouse, in the older part of town that did not actually flood. We stayed last night in a house in a seedy neighborhood, but on relatively high ground that didn't flood. Looks bad, but that was true before Katrina. Quite a bit of wind damage even where flood did not come.
Plan B folks are young, pierced, tatooed, with dreadlocks and mohawks. Very, very devoted to their bikes, we worked from arrival till almost dark, rehabbing these bikes. Three of the bikes went out the door to local users while we were working.
Their volume in the past has been more like dozens than hundreds. This will be a challenge.
There is a retired guy named Paul who is the janitor and all-around fixer at the warehouse. On Saturday morning, Nick and I used our U-Haul truck to salvage a freezer from the sidewalk, for Paul. In the process, we also made acquaintance of a true NO character named Scott, who is a contractor that lives near Plan B. Scott was in NO throughout the hurricane, and for several days after he WAS the police (he says) because he distributed his 40-some firearms to neighbors who collectively defended their homes from looters. What got him started was my harp with the decoration that says "Preserve our Bill of Rights." He said indeed, we need that second amendment.
I spent Saturday evening with jazz harpist Patrice Fisher and her husband Carlos. They took me to the top-flight jazz clubs, first for dinner at Palm Court, then for good measure to Snug Harbor. Carlos and Patrice are terrific hosts. They know, and are known by, all the musicians and maybe also the club operators. Patrice has been running a harp program in Guatemala for several years. For more, go here.
On Sunday, we helped Paul scavenge refrigerators from the sidewalks of the city. It seems that most folks prefer to get insurance money to replace them rather than to clean out three weeks worth of rotten food. Paul is collecting them to use in furnishing apartments in the warehouse, for an artist's colony.
There are humvees patrolling the streets, and also police, not a whole lot of people. Folks distributing new testaments in front of the cathedral. I played my harp for an hour or so, and collected about $1.50 in tips. A peaceful scene on a Sunday afternoon.
I've been eating at a "free restaurant" set up by volunteers in Washington Park, a few blocks from the Plan B shop. They also have free clothing and other items. Workers I spoke with were from New York and Florida.
10/22/05: I posted this report from an internet cafe in New Orleans' French Quarter.
Nick Hein and I drove a U-Haul with 85 bikes from Morgantown, straight through, arriving 3 PM yesterday at the Plan B community bike shop. For more info, go here. There are 500 more bikes coming on Tuesday. This is putting the Plan B effort up a huge notch. The wider plan is (or should be) to rebuild NO with sustainable transportation.
Even with the city rather empty, there are quite a few bikes on the streets. Many single-speed, which is just fine here in flat country. It looks like a scene from the 50's. Or, also, from Haiti, which shares the French tradition in architecture.
Driving in, whole forests were laid on the ground. Many roofs are covered with blue tarps waiting for workers to repair them properly. Many roofs are GONE.