After growing up together in small-town North Carolina James and I – Rumbley – went separate ways. James moved to New York City pursuing his love for music. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – only to trade my Toyota 4-Runner in for a 94’ Chevy Van. We reconnected in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn – with the same desire to see the world – to travel together from place to place helping others.
We imagined journeys to big cities and rural towns – forming friendships where ever we went – lending our hands how ever we could – building community. Like synergist – forming local and global relationships – networking like-minded people together – collaborating on ideas in music, media, and technology - architecture and construction - health, environment, and community organizing. Prodigals – still, products – of our parents’ generation – we would use our education with a global perspective while maintaining our small-town manners – post-modern hippies some say – loving the world in our own way.
Three months after Katrina – having heard a buddy in Brooklyn discuss the atmosphere around New Orleans as if it were a 21st century Gold Rush – James and I decided to go. We felt a need to experience first hand what will most certainly be revered as a monumental “thing” (as the locals call it) in our nation’s unfolding history – our collective journey into adulthood.
We posted Ad’s on Craig’s list – subleased our apt. the next day – and headed for New Orleans in our ’94 black and tan Chevy conversion van. With a brief stop in North Carolina – to drop the news on our parents – armed with an education and iPods – we embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Our mission – become NonprofitCivilians to a city in distress.
Nearly the entire East Coast was under a severe storm warning – we trudged on – as it poured the entire 14 hours from NC to NO. At 1:34am central time Dec. 6th, 2005 – we passed into New Orleans – just as the storm let up.
The city was dark and wet – though not as wet as it had been – evident by waterlines – visible even at night – reminding every home with their lingering presence. Gloomy was this scene.
Though eager to explore we headed the advice from a local bar maiden about the midnight curfew – and parked the van on a narrow side street. With only twenty-four years behind us – mostly in small-town North Carolina – and a phone number, we drifted to sleep – our first night in New Orleans – in a van down by the Mississippi river – in a city of needs – in a city of opportunity.
Awakened by voices passing the van’s sidewalk window – where our heads laid – we rose to a brisk sunlight morning – our mood still enthusiastic – and the city a bit more inviting. A few people were heading to a local sidewalk café – Sound Café – which we would begin to share as a community office space.
An atmosphere of distress – evident in both the city’s wind beaten façade and its people’s frustrated manner. After briefly scoping out the neighborhood – Frisbee in hand – we made a phone call – the beginning of our first local relationship.
Lamar was an ol’ buddy of Angus – a friend and neighbor of James and I in New York. Angus had given us Lamar’s phone number before we left Brooklyn and assured us he was “good people”.
Tall and lanky – thinning hair a mess – Lamar abrasively – more clumsily – exited his vehicle onto Charters St. Approaching – he seemed a bit scattered – disoriented mannerisms – as if multiple streams of thought were continuously colliding – distracting his focus. He invited us in.
As Lamar picked up his vintage bass guitar – I could tell he was a musician at heart. Acknowledging his loss – and others – Lamar speaks of his blessing – new opportunities to share his music – his love – the passion of New Orleans. Lamar’s new band – 3 Legged Dog – is a cast of characters – old friends – brought together after the storm while tarping roofs. They are the hottest mix of southern rock and old Delta blues in town.
Good people – all the people who’ve befriended us – all good people – good people with a heavy load. All streams of life converged when natural disaster and human failure flooded this city with first wind – then water – now chaos. No wonder Lamar was “a bit scattered” – his life was just sent through the largest wash and rinse cycle in US history.
All around us now – people rebuilding – attempting to gather and restore the scattered, tattered pieces of their life. But life will be different and people seem to know that. As they salvage what remains – they also imagine new ways of life. Lamar came home to a flooded house, a broken band, and an X-girlfriend. Still – the storm put things into perspective.
As James and I assimilate into the Marigny – around Port & Charters – a similar New Orleans spirit is recognizable. Billy – a fifty six year “Nawlins” native – continues to anchor his community. Having always been a civic minded neighbor – during the storm, Billy was iconized by a community who accepted his leadership – to navigate the chaos during the flood. Now in the rebuilding phase, Billy speaks of the stability he feels in his work life – having James and I on board with his local renovation business – freeing his mind to be focused on his community – who continue to look to him for an image of confidence.
Astronomer John has historical roots in New Orleans. His father – famous jazz musician Pud Brown – harbored Louis Armstrong for a year while the mob was looking for Louis. Helping astronomer John move from the home he weathered the storm in – kicked out by his landlords for higher rent – we discovered his love for outer space. Grandfathered in by the French Market Association – he is the one and only – the New Orleans sidewalk Astronomer. People have missed him in Jackson Square in front of the Café Du Monde. But Astronomer John is juggling his love of Astronomy with turning his new house into a home.
Road Kill owner, John, runs his small rock and roll shop in the French Market – Dumaine St. and now on Decatur. He owns a few properties in New Orleans – a personal success story for a man who has tales of warming himself around fires in trash bins with bums and coke heads in Washington Square Park, NYC. We call him “the organic man” – sober and organic for 18 years in New Orleans – a city of drinking and indulgence – like-minds continue to be few. With damage to all his properties and the tourist industry (mostly tourist shop in the French Market) – Katrina has taken a toll on this one man show.
To a city in distress James and I have come – to become NonprofitCivilians. To respond to the needs we personally encounter – to fill gaps left wide by corporate and government charity. We have reduced our personal needs and suppressed the wants of a consumer mentality. Living and working from our van we are adaptable and mobile. We are collecting technology – from laptops and iPods to audio and video recording equipment – documenting our experience. Collaborating with local resources – from local community leaders to Habitat for Humanity – we are facilitating mutually advantageous conjunctions of relief efforts. We have shunned contemporary paths to “success” for what is also becoming our personal quest toward self-sufficiency – sustainability – harmony. This is our way of helping.
Come – see life through our eyes – the up and coming generation. Follow us – get an outsiders perspective of an insiders life. Listen with us – as we experience their stories and ensure we are welcome. Share with us – as we support and work alongside those rebuilding. Join James and I – Rumbley – as we become a part of this New Orleans community.