Wade on Birmingham

Wade on November 2007


Because four months after the fact isn’t too ridiculously long a wait …

Then and now

Down Biloxi way: We took eight people to the Gulf Coast as part of the Magic City Mission, and we did all right.

I gave you a small taste of life down in Biloxi, but this is a good opportunity to fill in a few more blanks from our weeklong volunteer trip.

What projects did you work on in Biloxi?

Our team did everything from mudding to murals to art class with the kiddies.

I worked on gutting a historic home, one more than a hundred years old. Rather than the usual “smash everything” approach, this job required a bit of destructive finesse. For example, we needed to remove the plaster on the walls, but not take it down to the studs.

This really slows down the work. But it’s hands-on historic preservation, so I’m cool with it.

Mold removal, as usual, was tedious. But it had to be done. Our TL (team leader) worked hard at educating the home owners and the volunteers on proper technique. Too many Katrina victims fell prey to unqualified mold techs, meaning: They paid a lot of money, they rebuilt, the mold returned, they end up on our waiting list, we tear down the newly installed drywall, we remove the mold, they rebuild yet again.

What were the memorable projects?

I painted a mural! Sort of!

The nonprofit group, Boat People SOS, has a branch office in Biloxi where they assist the local Vietnamese community, an especially hard-hit area during the flooding.

Volunteer artists painted a beautiful ocean-themed mural. On the day I helped, I painted over the black outlines which had been partially obscured by more recent layers of paint.

I can trace with a brush, so it wasn’t difficult. Just a fun, low-exertion day.


Another memorable outing took place at an elementary school, where our TL decided to give an art lesson on primary and secondary colors. This involved giving paints and brushes to dozens of kids in the lunchroom after school.

I fled in terror each time those tiny paint-stained paws came near me.

I also worked about 10 hours on that historic house on my last day. That included the wrenching task of demolishing the kitchen: ripping up the floor, taking out the walls and ceiling. All by myself. All very satisfying.

How was it different from the New Orleans trips?

The vibe was different. The Hands On group in Biloxi was winding down for the year, and the shelter was deserted save for us and a returning corporate group.

This made for quiet nights at the shelter, and off-site, too. Biloxi remains not only wrecked by storm damage but also kind of dull.

We did hit the casino, but even that was more obligatory than a wild night out. Unless you count losing 50 bucks in about two hours as “wild.”

And the food?

My absolute favorite thing on the road is going native on the cuisine. Fortunately, the Americorps members knew where to eat.

We went to Le Bakery twice, a small Vietnamese joint with a gorgeous mural on the exterior side wall. The mother and son who run it still live in the back in a FEMA trailer, because their home was wiped out.

Because it is the Gulf Coast, they do po’boys. But you’ve never had ’em like this: pork, daikon, carrot, cilantro, garlic mayo, just all kinds of good stuff. Plus, some very fine pastries. Not to mention these puffy pork dumplings that sat out on a tray on top of the display case. I swear, I’d buy one, drop it in my backpack, and eat it the next day.

Reminds me of some of the soft dumplings I was raised on.

What’s next?

I thought I was done with mission trips. I’ve been taking a breather from heavy volunteer activity.

Then, I saw yet another New Orleans special (Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”), got pissed off, contacted close friends and previous missionaries. So, yes, I’m headed to New Orleans for a week in May to work with Hands on New Orleans in its new digs.

It’ll be a smoother go this time. I know all the people involved. I’m not coordinating a supply drive. I said I’m not doing fund-raising, but I think I’m going to have a couple of my friends do some (they don’t know it yet).

And I’m going to eat at Cochon.

I can’t wait.

Haiku flashback

driving highway 90 [Nov. 11]

The coast laps gently
along the broken shoreline,
casino lights burn.

• • •

Archives: November

Special report: Wade on 2007

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