After some frustrating organizational snafus at the control center in Montgomery, Alabama, and then a repeat performance in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the Sis and I eventually found ourselves in Gulfport, Mississippi with a crew of the craziest smart alecks I have ever met. Our crew bonded as a happy sixsome during our first few days of shipping air around two different states in stylish Budget rental trucks, and then despite our widely ranging ideologies, hung tight and fast for the rest of our tenure.
From the left, The Crew is as follows: Juneau Jen, The Colonel, Me, Domino Don, The Sis, and Bumper Car Jim.
Our crew was a small part of a fleet of 60+ panel trucks that worked in the Gulfport area. Each day we would load up the trucks at the warehouse and distribute the goods to an assigned sector of the community. And by loading up the truck, what I really mean is toting around cases and cases of donated goods in a parking lot with no shade in 96 degree heat with 96% humidity, building pallets of goods to try and match to the needs of the citizens of our sector. Folks were dropping like flies in that parking lot. Fortunately our crew, drinking in fluids like the desert sands, managed to maintain the sneaker side down and did not end up under medical supervision.
Me and Mad Hattie the panel truck.
After the loading process (an unfortunately slow event, lasting sometimes up to two and a half hours!) each two-person truck would disperse into the community. For most of the time we were split into male/female couples, which, despite my loud internal feminist protestations, probably worked out for the better, as it gave the community a choice of folks to relate to... does that make sense? Anyway, I therefore spent the first half of my Bulk Distribution time with Domino Don, working in a rather needy community right near the warehouse. Honestly, I think that many of these folks could have used the Red Cross help before the hurricane. So in a way our job was easier. We would drive down the tiny gridded streets and chat with folks out on their stoops as to whether they needed food, water and/or cleaning supplies, depending on what the warehouse had that day. The majority of times, once we stopped and opened the truck, we would gather a crowd of folks and empty out the truck in no time. We sure didn't have to go looking for folks to help. The first day of this, Don and I filled up the truck three times! (For some reason the warehouse crew got slower as the weeks went on, instead of faster, so at the beginning, loading was actually quite a snappy affair...)
So after 8 or 10 hours of this hard labor in stifling heat, shuffling heavy boxes in and out of an un-airconditioned truck bed, with an occasional lunch break in a mercifully air conditioned chain restaurant, we would wend our way home to the luxury of our accommodations. Heh heh.
The accommodations were affectionately known as the Shake N Bake Oven. Have you ever had a pajama party with 600 of your closest friends? In an airless muggy warehouse? With no running water? I have. And it was FUN!
This was actually the second shelter we stayed in, but we were there for the majority of our stay. The first staff shelter was an elementary school that had running water AND air-conditioning, but those pesky school teachers wanted it back to actually start the school year. Durn them. So it was off to the warehouse on the Navy base.
Honestly it wasn't too bad when we first got there, but unfortunately it got hotter every day we stayed in Gulfport, and therefore so did our un-ventilated accommodations. The good thing about our new location were the amenities provided by the industry that supports the western forest fire crews. We had hot prepared meals and showers all provided out of 18-wheeler truck containers in the parking lots around our warehouse. The unfun part was the porta potties. Outside in the sun. All day. You'd wipe down your seat, paper paper paper it, do your business, and then spend twice as long picking the paper off your sweaty hide. Ew. And I have a question to all you men out there who read this blog (two, three of you...) why is it that there is always a puddle of piss below the urinals in these porta potties? Is your aim that bad, or is there some sort of engineering design flaw that causes a distressing splashback. Or are you all just gross? I need to know.
So now we were fed, and showered, and the next obvious step is to get some much needed rest. The first few nights I passed out from sheer exhaustion, but as the mercury rose it became more challenging. About three nights in, I hunkered down in my cot and did nothing but some serious sweating for the entire night. I now know what a glazed ham feels like in a 350 degree oven. Stewing in my own juices. Marinating, if you will. Thank heavens no one studded me with cloves. Definitely not sleeping though. So a couple of my crew mates and I moved over to the Ritz. And by Ritz I mean a rickety old wooden flatbed truck in the parking lot, as demonstrated here by The Colonel and Juneau.
Ah, sweet relief. Except for the West Nile laden mosquitoes. And the fact that it wasn't much cooler than the Shake N Bake. But I was beggin, and I sure wasn't choosin, so it was better than nothing. And the really amazing thing about all of this is that I had a home to come home to. This was a temporary situation for me. My house wasn't blown to smithereens like some of our clients' homes were.
So all in all I feel like an exceptionally lucky individual. I met some amazingly resilient people, all of whom were incredibly nice to us. Even in what was deemed "unsafe neighborhoods". Even when I got Mad Hattie stuck on someone's trailer when trying to back out of their driveway. And they had to drive their tractor over to drag the trailer sideways to uncouple the two. Oops. Sorry. Most folks I talked to felt amazingly lucky to be alive. I will forever be in awe of how genuinely polite everyone was despite their varied situations. I also got to see some staggering destruction by good old unpredictable Mother Nature first hand. I have some pictures of this stuff, but it'll have to wait until next time. The people are much more important.