This post originally appeared on theday.com on July 17th, 2007
Some Notes from the Road
- In New Orleans our middle-class-Connecticut privileged souls all felt a tugging moral obligation to do some unscheduled volunteer work. This was harder than expected. We thought about just driving up to someone’s blown-out house and asking them what they needed done. Instead, we called the Southeast Louisiana chapter of Red Cross and they gave us a few things to do. The first day was ok. We stacked a bunch of medical care packages into a truck, moved them to a more central warehouse, then un-stacked them. The whole process took four hours but we did only about 25 minutes of actual work, as we had to wait an hour and a half for someone to unlock the warehouse. The second day was slightly tragic. We got the number of a reverend who gave us the number of a pastor who wanted some new doors on his church in the outskirts of New Orleans. We showed up to find another construction crew already well entrenched in the project. We asked if we could help and they gave us hammers to hold for a while. Finally they told us to pry nails out of boards that I don’t think they ever used. We did this, getting soaked through from a rainstorm, outside of a church with a state of the art speaker system and a solid roof. Pimp alerted me that the pastor drove off in a 75,000 dollar Land Rover. After seeing the devastation still rampant in other parts of the city and in thousands of acres of Louisiana and Mississippi countryside, we felt a little worse about ourselves for spending our insignificant efforts here rather than at a place where any effort would be appreciated. If anyone wants to do volunteer work in this area I recommend doing it through an agency, for a few weeks. I assume that they probably know where people need it most.
- Along the way we’ve been trying to decide which is the scariest state in the Union. So far, it is, hands down, Texas. On the drive from New Orleans to Houston to Austin we passed hundreds of miles of oil, plastic, and other noxious-smelling plants churning along both horizons. Gases and soot seeped through drawn up windows. Forgive me native Texaners, but here you can watch the world going to hell. Every human face we encountered seemed somehow more perverted and frightening than the last. When circling around elevated highways in the early morning outside of Austin, looking for a cheap motel, we passed a man lurching out of the woods. He had tattered shorts and no shirt. He moved with jerks and starts, with a face so contorted and greasy that it looked about to burst. I’m pretty sure blood was pouring down his stomach. And I think we probably witnessed the back-end of a murder. Will, who was driving and in a delirious state, wanted to stop and talk to him, maybe ask for directions. It would be funny, he said. He slowed way down and this is how I got such good look. I screamed at Will to keep going. The man was following his head towards a rusty car with a smashed roof that none of us could name, and which none us believed could ever run. I had bad dreams that night. We spent it in a Motel Six, clutching cigarette burned sheets, while the parking lot crawled with other unsmiling creatures in cut-off shirts at three in the morning.
- Texas went from being one of the scariest states to one of the most beautiful within a stretch of a few hours. We are currently in San Marcos, a town about thirty miles south of Austin. It lies on two clear rivers, the San Marcos and the Blanco, lined with rope swings and overhanging trees. Yesterday we happened to be drifting down-river when hundreds of college cheerleaders from all over the state, currently at a camp at the university here, decided to do the same thing. We swam the river over and over. Will, who is deathly afraid of water snakes, refused to get out. This morning I had two heaving breakfast tacos (eggs, cheese, peppers, onions, mushrooms, chicken, and flavor-soaked corn chips, all wrapped in flour tortillas) for about five dollars. Then I had a two-dollar bowl of grits too, a meal in itself. It is an awesome blend of the south and the west here. The beers are cheap. Every shop has awesome artwork. The women are beautiful. Blues, bluegrass, and folk flood the streets. We are staying with a group of women who live on the river, work at coffee shops by day, then play siren-esque folk and “spin fire”[i] under the stars by night. Will says this might be the best place he’s ever been, ever. Texas, you are a two-faced bastard…
[i] Performed by rotating two ropes, with flaming balls on the end, in crazy ways.