Thursday, December 15, 2011

New York City Trip

As much as I love my road trips, I relish my mundane life here in Tuscaloosa. The weather has been unseasonably warm allowing me to have the doors and windows open. Daggy and Stumpy soaked up the sun yesterday as I typed out my journal entry.

A load of laundry was done up and hung out to dry. I’m hosting the Rowing Club Christmas party here in conjunction with lighting the luminaries here in the historic district Sunday night. Cleaning and decorating was started. Going into the yard with my pruner gave me more than enough greens. My pink perfection Camelieas are just coming into bloom, so I’ll be able to have bowls of those beautiful blossoms around the house. This year I’m decorating on a budget of ZERO dollars!!!

Decorations all up:

Back to New York City: Thursday the 8th

It was about 4:15 when I got in line for standing room tickets for “The Book of Mormon” behind a college girl and her dad. I was about 20th in line. We guarded our spots against line breakers. Actually the entire line did that. A man about my age and two young girls soon joined the line.

This guy was nice enough, but I could tell he was not used to being around young people. He was so hurt when these young women could not name the four Beatles. It would be like someone who grew up in the 1940’s being upset because I could not name the Andrew’s Sisters in 1970. (I do know their names today: Patti, Maxine, Laverne!)

I told these girls how when I’m questioned about new music I just mention the groups of Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails. The young women both had bewildered looks! I laughed and said I’m going to have to update my “modern recording groups!”

At 5:00 there was the lottery for the available 32 seats. The crowd really grew for that offering. The college girl and her dad got box seats for $35.00! There were a number of people ahead of me in line who scored tickets that way. I moved up behind a group who waited in line Wednesday in the rain. They were right at the cut off! My little group lucked out and we all got standing room spots. I was flying when I was handed my ticket. Then the shivers kicked in. It was getting cold and standing for those two hours outside was taking its toll.

The ticket Lottery:

There was a place just down the street where I could get coffee. The clerk said, “Oh my God, you’re shivering!” as I handed her the money for my hot coffee. It was the combination of the cold and the adrenaline is all I could figure. Once I settled down I headed out to kill a bit of time before the show.

My Score!:

I toured Times Square. This is the first I have explored the area since it has been “Disneyfied”. I miss the grittiness it had back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is too much like being in Orlando now. I talked to one of the guides at the TKT’S booth. I did not see “Standing on Ceremony” listed on the board. He told me to check back around two in the afternoon Friday. He could not believe I had scored a ticket to BOM!!! He assured me I would love the show.

Once in the theatre we were asked to stand out of the way against the wall till the show started. Our standing room was behind the orchestra seats with our spots marked on a rail we could hold on to. My spot was #8 which was on the right side not far from the center. Our usher asked us to be respectful of those seated ahead of us and to watch the railing as it was kind of wobbly!

The Book of Mormon started and it was magic from start to finish. The view for me was pretty much unobstructed. I was so immersed in the show it did not register I was even standing!

I was walking on air as I left the theatre and headed to the “Y” after the performance. I was worn out at this point in time. The streets were filled with people and the holiday lights and decorations were lit with a vengeance. What a magic time to be in the city!

Friday December the 9th:

I slept through the entire night. The room though tiny was very quiet. At a little after 6:00 a.m. I was in the huge work out room on the Concept 2 rowing machine to get my meters in for the Winter Challenge.

After my shower and getting cleaned up I fed $2.00 into the “pay computer” on my floor for 10 minutes of online time. Recorded my meters online, did some fast e-mails and posted a VERY hurried journal note before the timer shut down.

I was starving at this point in time. I found a nice sit down place where I got an omlette, potatoes, toast and coffee for a reasonable price. From here I headed to the Elizabeth Taylor Exhibit. When I got my ticket on-line I put the wrong date in. I was told to return on Friday and it would be taken care of. At this time of the morning there was nobody around but the doorman. I showed him my paperwork and explained how I had messed up. He was so nice. He told me to return around 12:00 as that is when the exhibit opened. There was nobody around now who could do anything.

I was right in the area where “Good Morning America” is broadcast. People told me to show up and see if I could get on TV wearing my Utilikilt! Sorry.. I was not going to waste my time on that TV show. I had more important things to do!

I walked to W 35th to the Ali Forney Center. This group helps homeless gay and lesbian street kids. They need all the help they can get. Since I was in town I wanted to drop off a donation.

From here I headed to Macy’s. The store was all decked out for the holidays. I had a sadistic reason for going here. I wanted to see if “Santaland” was as horrible as David Sederis described it in his “Santaland Diaries”. I started at the 9th floor and worked down. “Santaland” was on the 8th floor. Unfortunately, I missed seeing a bunch of screaming kids lined up waiting to enter through a steam train. It was still a bit early for that. But, I did see the “elves” waving their hands saying, “Merry Christmas” over and over again. Those poor people!

Working my way through the store a clerk who had been standing in a group approached me …”You were here yesterday, I remember you!” I laughed, “No, it was not me!!” “Oh, there was a guy wearing a kilt just like you here yesterday!” she explained. I had them all laughing telling them Utilikilt stories!

Now it was time to get over to Rockefeller Center to get my ticket straightened out. There was a huge line to see the exhibit. I had to go to a separate line where my original ticket was initialed and OKed for admittance. I brought all my communication and paperwork in case of problems. There was nothing to it!

It was announced on Reuters the Elizabeth Taylors gems alone brought in $116 million. Here is a copy and paste from that article:

Christie's officials also were ecstatic with the results, which followed a monumental 10-day exhibition of Taylor's jewelry, couture, art and memorabilia that sold 25,000 tickets at $30 each.

Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie's Americas, said the auctioneers knew the sale was going to do very well, given Taylor's lavish tastes and worldwide fame as one of the last great Hollywood stars.

"This truly is one of the greatest jewelry collections in the world," he told Reuters. "But in my wildest dreams, I did not think we would outsell the estimate by five times."

Marc Porter, Christie's Americas president and chairman, said the auction was "one of the most extraordinary sales Christie's has ever had." He called it "a testament to the love of Elizabeth Taylor worldwide" as well as to her collecting ability.

It took me an hour and a half to view the clothes and gems on display. One man by me was saying how he worked backstage at an event when Elizabeth Taylor and the designer Halston arrived. “All the energy on that stage was focused on those two” he explained. It is terrible but whenever I hear of “Halston the designer” all I can think of is the scene from the movie “Polyester” when Cuddles pulls a dress off the rack in a high end store, “Oh look Francine, Halston!!! I’m going to go try it on!!!” (I tried to see if a “Youtubes” of this was on line. No luck!)

After seeing all these jewels it is hard to imagine diamonds are rare. My head was about to explode from overload by the time I was finished..

I saw the doorman I had spoken to earlier as I was leaving. He told me he was glad I got my ticket mess straightened out and got to see the exhibit.

From here I went to the TKTS booth to see about getting tickets for “Standing on Ceremony” tonight. As I was looking at the board, this little lady tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned she said, “Sorry Sorry.” Her friend had a camera. I realized she wanted a picture of us together. I put my arm around her and gave a big smile as her friend took our picture. It dawned on me she was trying to say she was sorry for disturbing me…. Who knows what part of the world that picture of this neat lady and the man wearing a Utilikilt will be shown in.

Standing on Ceremony was not listed on the available list. I made a trip to the theatre at Minetta Lane to get a ticket…….

To be continued………

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Backyard Picture History




“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is so true in my life. With my last brick project pretty well finished up, I was searching my picture files for some early shots I could use for comparison. I can spend hours just reliving the past viewing those pictures. I decided to be kind to myself and only go back to 2000!!!

The year 2000 was when I poured the cement pad to my driveway, built the wooden gate/fence and poured the sidewalk to the existing pad that was at my back study door. It was May 29th I poured out that cement according to the date scratched into the surface. The two bricks Judy got me from Niagara Falls Blvd are incorporated into this!

I’ve have always envied those people who have a vision right from the “get-go” on how they want things to be. In my case things seem to evolve which can end up causing much more work and aggravation.

It was in 2001 I got the idea to install a walkway to my workshop from the driveway to make it easier to get my 1988 Lowrider out of the backyard. Oh my god: how many bags of cement did I mix that spring?

Here is a shot showing the many different levels of patios and walkways I had to contend with. This is a kitty who used to visit Stumpy!!

All those levels and odd angles made my “tits itch”. As Ron aptly coined me, “That Jimmy is like a squirrel in a cage; he just keeps going round and round and round.” In 2009 I got the bright idea to revamp that mess.

Overall shot showing the sidewalk.

Busting up those old pads:

Laying out and building the extension:

Showing the how the new patio met with the existing sidewalk:

The finished extention:

This is a shot I tried to duplicate of the first in this series taken this morning:

I lived pretty happily with this configuration until the mess at the workshop end of the sidewalk started to bug me. I knew I would not rest until I ripped out that sidewalk I installed ten years previous.

These shots show the many different levels at the workshop end:

Installation of the new bricks:

Because these bricks were a “hodge-podge” there was no uniformanity in size. This makes laying these out an extremely labour intensive proposition. I tried to get a picture to show the assemblage of bricks in the mock up stage to show the differences in brick height:

The Nelsonville Star Pavers though were a dream to install as they were all the same size.

The new installation looking to the workshop:

Looking towards the house:

The street paver bricks are laid with a "sand topping mix". This is a mixture of sand and cement. It is swept between the cracks and then soaked with water. This makes a pretty permanent installation, and prevents weeds from growing through. It is a royal pain in the butt though as the residue also fills all the details of the bricks you want to expose. Using a shop vacuum you have to work fast as the bricks are kept wet to suck up the residue. The results are great, but it is so much work. Those gel knee pads I splurged on years ago have paid for themselves many times over! The Star Pavers I did not set with the sand/concrete mix. I just have sand between the joints. They are a valuable brick which may be salvaged and moved again when I'm long gone from here.... I’m worn out from this project. It is safe to say I will not be undertaking another task of this scale for a while!

Just digging up the pictures for this entry was a chore.

Cats have their routines of their favourite spots. Stumpy has his routine now where he loves to spend the mornings sacked out on my computer desk. It is awkward to use my mouse around him, but lets face it; he is the one who calls the shots here!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tornado Entry: 23



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday began with an early walk of the neighborhoods with Debbie. I did not sleep well the night before. I’m waking up again around midnight and finding it so hard to get back to sleep. The birds are singing now in these early hours. There seems to always be one Mockingbird singing his little heart out anytime during the night.

Stumpy was having a fine time picking up smells from Debbies old car and making himself comfortable in the “rag top”. Oh..... to enjoy a sample of my “old normal life” before heading out..…

Walking into the church Todd cornered me and told me I needed a new shirt. When the relief work first started the volunteer shirts were orange. When it was realized that this was the color of the University of Alabama’s rival school Auburn, the shirt color was changed to the University of Alabama’s school color: crimson red. The early sign-ons could be singled out by their orange shirts. My shirt was faded and worn from weeks of working in the field. I considered that shirt my badge of honour. There was a crew doing filming so I guess they wanted everyone to look the same.

It has been so great to be crewing out with the same guys for the past few days. David the team leader is a master at roofing. I’ve learned so much from him. Our team has really bonded. As always seems to happen in my life, this smooth sailing was not to last long. Todd told me in addition to needing the new shirt; he was going to be putting me on as the team leader of David’s team.

It was emotional when we emptied out David’s truck after our last job. David taught me how to snag the best tools when we crew out in the mornings. I’ve made up a spread sheet to start with.

David is one of the most spiritual people I’ve met in a long time. He is living his life as God tells him. He has been told his work here is done and he must move on. Today, (5/26) we go out on our own. Cory, Mitchell, and Scott will still be crewing out. They have as much or if not more experience than I do. All we can do is our best. We are a team!

Last day of David’s team: David, Scott, Corey, Mitchell, (aka Winston!) and Jamie

Tornado Entry: 22



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This daily routine of disaster help is like a job now. The Samaritan’s Purse operation in Hueytown I delivered the tee shirts to, has closed and moved on to Joplin, Missouri.

Tuesday I again crewed out with David, Corey, Mitchell, and Scott. These are good hard working guys. We all work pretty well together. Todd tried to push me to being a team leader, but I told him David was short and he needed me! I did not want to be an overseer removing debris.

We were again out in Alberta City doing some straightening up of some previous jobs. Our assignment before lunch provided us with the needed comic relief for the day.

Man: Approaching Scott and Myself on the ground. Hey are you guys’ contractors? Who are you working for?

Jamie: We are volunteers for Samaritan’s Purse. We are just tarping houses today. I’m retired; I should be sitting on my front porch drinking coffee right now!

Man: There’s more to life than that. I’m trying to contract out crews to do roofing work for me. Do you want a job?

Jamie: You mean people get paid to do this? No thanks….

None of the boys wanted to crew on!!!

Man walked away…

Jamie: God Bless sir…..

This man drove off in a vehicle with Florida tags. There will be swarms of contractors from all over for the rebuilding stage. I would not want this man putting on my roof!

We returned to the lady’s house we did the major work to the other day. She was so thrilled to see us again. She is 99 years old. What a sweet lady. She reminded me so of my mother as she forced cookies and water on us. She wanted to feed us all with the food people have been bringing her. The boys blushed as she kept telling them how cute they were! This kind of interaction is all the reward I need…my bread cast upon the water is being returned to me ten fold.

Progress is being made. Ever so slowly the piles of trees and rubble are going down. The traffic patterns are returning to normal: volunteer and relief centers are closing or getting drastically smaller.

Monday will probably be my last day volunteering in this fashion. When I get home from my road trip the SP operations should be pretty well shut down here.

I want my old life back

Tornado Entry: 21



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday morning started with a cup of nuked up stale coffee and the Huffington Post. Tornado pictures were the featured story. “Why are they still showing Tuscaloosa tornado pictures?” I immediately thought. Then I read the story and realized another community, Joplin, Missouri was destroyed by a killer storm. My heart goes out to the victims.

The volunteers at the church seem to be “petering out”. I’ve heard this stage of Samaritan’s Purse will be finished up around the middle of June. I have about another week left and then I’m on the road.

I am so looking foreword to going to the “Brick Swap” in Spencer, NY. The brick collectors are such a fun group. Been planning my road trip: It looks like I’ll stop at the Motel 6 in Wytheville, which is a good ½ way stop. The Mexican restaurant I like there has moved to a location just down the hill from the motel. Now I can have two beers with supper and not have to worry about driving!

From there I’ll stop at my friend Len’s who is just over the VA/West VA border on I-81. Then the Brick Swap, and a trip to Lockport, NY my hometown for a few days. Then… to Union, IL for the antique phonograph show. Finally my life will be returning to my “normal”.

I crewed out tarping roofs with David. He is the true master, I have learned so much from him. We were working on steep pitched roofs today. Two college boys Corey and Mitchell I’ve worked with in the past and David did the grunt work on top while I helped with the ground and ladder work. The three on the roof had to be harnessed off which slows things down considerably.

Loading up supplies I bumped my shin into a bob-cat skid. God did that hurt. There was a huge “egg” there within seconds. It is always something!

The last house we worked on was on the fringe of the worst damage. A tree branch cut through the roof from the peak to the base. We had to lay out 2/4’s for a grid and then sheets of plywood. The entire repair was then tarped over. It turned out to be a beautiful job.

The lady living in this home is elderly and disabled, needing a walker to get around. What a sweet lady. She offered us her “meals on wheels” supper to eat as she was not hungry!

It stayed fairly overcast with an occasional breeze. But, it was hot, in the 90’s. We all stayed hydrated with Gatorade and water.

My friend Guy was in town. He stopped over at 6:30. We had the best time just talking on the front porch. I feel sorry for people who have never experienced a warm evening rocking on a front porch and having intelligent conversation.

I have no idea what I’ll be doing today. I figure I’m on the down slide now with my volunteer duties. I'm running late this morning so this entry is rather hurried....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tornado Entry: 20




Back in 1989 when Ron was working at Kodak, his job required him to do team training. There was an aptitude test he used in those classes that he administered to me. It was a long series of questions, with no right or wrong answer. Upon grading you were assigned a designation by letters as to your strongest attributes. I can see that paper in my mind, but a quick search of my files failed to turn it up. Ron was impressed by how my attributes in things mechanical and working with my hands pretty much jumped off the page. Those skills have been working overtime lately.

Saturday I had a crew of 10 to clean off a lot for a trailer. This was way out in Cottondale. The original trailer was picked up off the block foundation and thrown into trees. The bottom frame and floor is still tangled up there. Our job was to clean the walls and debris to allow a bobcat access. The family survived in their “storm cellar”.

This is the first I’ve been out in this backwoods section of the county. The people living here are proud, but poor. They are also a living example of how Alabama is part and parcel of the “Diabetes belt”. The family we were helping out are all diabetic and overweight from the grandmother to the mother & father, to the daughter. I don’t judge, but the facts speak for themselves. I’m just seeing the tip of the iceberg; how can our broken health care system even attempt to keep these people halfway healthy?

The family was on site helping out as much as they could. In respect to them I did not bring out my camera to take pictures of the job.

Some of the team were complaining how it was a waste of their time to clean the site by hand, as a bob-cat could have done job in no time. I told them I would contact Todd and relay their thoughts to him. These people don’t realize; I usually know as little of the job as they do. Todd explained once again we only have one functioning bob-cat and the site has to be cleared by hand to the suspended frame so it can be brought down and cut up. Wood and metal must be put into separate piles and the rest of the debris put into the empty dumpster which had been delivered to the site that morning.

Hearing our status from the powers in charge we went to work: The front wall and ceiling of the trailer were flat on the ground, covered in debris in front of the suspended floor/frame. That mess was shoveled into wheelbarrows and wheeled to the dumpster.

By the time we got to really moving that stuff, the bottom of the dumpster was full and the entry door was closed. Our easy time was over, now we had to lift the debris over the sides. I noticed one guy from the team studying the contact information on the dumpster and talking on his cell phone.

Jamie: What are you doing, who are you calling?

Man: I’m calling the dumpster people to bring us another dumpster, this is nearly full.

Jamie: Please don’t do that. Tell whoever you are talking to, to disregard your call. Samaritan’s Purse is NOT responsible for this dumpster, it is the homeowner. There is a LOT of room left. It is NOT our call to have it hauled out.

It took every ounce of my energy to not go off on a tear. Who does this guy think he is? He can just call up out of the blue and make the decision that would incur more expenses. I’m not power hungry, but the team decisions must go through me. That damn dumpster is not a team decision.

My God, the rental, delivery and pick-up on these is now $500.00. This guy has not even looked over the edge and he is the authority the dumpster is full. I can just hear the wrath of Todd if that man had his way……

There was so much dead air space to be filled up. From loading UPS trucks and Billy's vans and trucks over the years I learned you need to have things filled solid. I’m starting to believe that God does provide us with tools. I pulled a round trampoline mat out of a tree. This was the perfect size to hold 3-4 wheelbarrow loads of insulation and debris. Having about five people grab the sides, we could raise it even to the lip of the dumpster. I was on top to hoist it over the edge and roll the contents out. I then worked to pack it down solid.

The cool gray morning burned off to a clear blue sky and a roasting hot sun. We tried to find some shade for our lunch break. I could tell the team was tiring out early.

Getting back to the job at hand I had to yell from the top of the dumpster for help in transferring the debris. People no longer ran to help unquestioned. It is amazing how deaf people become when a disagreeable job is to be done. I try not to get annoyed. But, it is not like I’m asking them to do more than I’m doing myself. Truth be told, I’m the one soaked in God knows what stinking to high heaven spreading out wet fiberglass.

The job ended with a core crew of six. The metal siding was the last major clean up we did rolling it up like a rug. It sounds easy enough, but the work to clear the wood framing and insulation away to enable this was pretty impressive.

The family was so grateful. They got a decent insurance settlement and have another trailer all set to be put on the site once the debris is cleared away.

I was tired and smelly when I turned in the paperwork. I’m not sure if I’ll volunteer out Sunday afternoon or not. If we don’t have enough people to take out the four by noon, I’ll probably go out again.

I can still detect a “dumpster smell” on me even after two hot showers scrubbing down with Dr Bonner’s Peppermint soap. The stories I’ll have to tell from all this…life really is good….

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tornado Entry: 19




Thursday started out with a western omlette at Wrights. It was so good to see this place back up and running. The owner told me how she lost her home of 26 years on Crescent Ridge Road, one of the hardest hit areas. She asked where the gang was Wednesday. I explained how they did not realize they were open again, and they met at the “nasty truck stop” at exit 77. I promised they would be back! I had them laughing telling them my Utilikilt story of tarping a roof and getting startled looks from the cadaver crews!

Finally did a shopping, meeting up with Woody and Gene at both Hell-mart and Sam’s Club. For the first time in ages I needed to get underwear. For nearly as long as I can remember I’ve worn Hane’s briefs. With losing weight these past few years my waist size has dropped back to 32” . Hanes sizing’s now go from 28”-30” being small. The medium starts at 32”-34”. The 30”-32” size I wore back in the day no longer exists! This kind of change drives me crazy!

Thursday was like reliving a previous life. After unloading the truck I took a quick nap with Daggy listening to “Performance Today” on Alabama Public Radio. Then did up the back yard, mowing trimming and raking. It was good to see some order and familiarity. Those bricks, fire hydrants, railroad signs and manhole covers are my little “utopia”!

Got cleaned up, put on my Utilikilt and walked to Innisfree to meet up with the gang. What a good time to sit back and have a few beers and tell stories. I had the fish and chips for my meal. Some good fried stuff was just what I needed!

Everyone ended up back at my house for one more beer on the front porch. It was just like the old days at my house in Lockport. Billy loves to tell the story how he and Linda arrived en route to the Union Show in their motor home in 1984. It was in the evening and a “porch party” was in full swing! We got a bucket of “Killer Wings” from Wagners and partied the night away. This old body can’t party like that anymore!!!

Friday I was in much better shape when I showed up at the church. Joyce told me I looked a lot better from the last time she saw me. Things are slacking off now. Finally I was able to crew out with David tarping roofs. David is the expert to learn from.

For the first time I did not have to drive my truck, being able to ride with Todd and Jeremy. These guys were great. They were from North Carolina and had been crewing out all week. Our tarping jobs were out in Holt, in one of the worst hit areas. The first house we worked on was not too badly damaged. It was just on the “ring”. I wish I had my taken my camera. The trees behind were bent at nearly a 90° angle. The trunks were not broken, they were just bent.

The homeowners arrived and told us the story of how the tornado hit. The stories of faith I’m hearing are amazing. The mother told her teenagers and husband to “put on your shoes NOW!” as they prepared for the onslaught. She told us “God told me to have the wear their shoes.” Once the storm passed, the first thing they all did was run out into the debris to save people from the rubble. They were about the only source for clean towels supplies to dress and wrap wounds. Their vehicle was spared to transport people to the hospital.

These everyday people are the true heroes of this disaster.

Across the street hardly a house is standing. Weeks later, many homes have already been leveled.

Our second job was to fix up a roof not far from here. This job turned out to be just down the street from the tarping job Samantha, Holly, Clay and I did last week.

The people who live in this part of town do not have a lot. The lady living in this house is no exception. Her vehicle was totaled by the storm. It was a vintage 1990’s Chevy with no insurance value. Her house is a ramshackle one story added to haphazardly over the years. She warned us to be careful and she had no insurance.

The roof was partly tarped. The bad part was a very poorly built addition. The roof deck was thin, wet particle board. David and Jeremy did the roof work as it would not safely support any more weight. I heard this woman’s story as the guys were working. If anything, this experience has reinforced to me how rich my life is. The work we are doing is not really storm damage, it is just a messed up roof.

From here we had another job in an area I have never been before. The damage here is as bad as I have seen anywhere. This trap job is extensive. The steeply pitched roof is pretty well devoid of shingles. It would be easiest to go and just put another roof on now that the deck is totally exposed. Oh well….

We headed back to the church. We were through for the day.

From there I ran to Publix and picked up six lamb shanks that were on sale and a steak.

After a delicious supper the cats and I lit the bug torches had a “party” on the patio; it is now such a nice break to enjoy my “normalcy” in this fashion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tornado Entry: 18




Tuesday morning I approached the church with a dull leaden feeling. I can feel burn-out happening. This feeling reminds me all too well how I lived through out 1997-1998. I was living with Joe waiting for the elusive transfer south. I was a mess: (not the good kind of mess!) It was in November 1997 I had Ron’s Cat Chloe put down. That traumatic event was like turning a switch. From that time on I just lived to work. Overtime was off the charts then and I was working 60+ hours a week. That period of time is very painful to look back on for me.

The dull, dead feeling is returning as I try to do all I can to help in the clean-up. I need to have time to take care of my life. There are stacks of mail to go through and projects of my mine to do. A second load of laundry is in the spin cycle as I type this out. I have not cleaned the bathrooms or run the vacuum in weeks. I’m taking a few days off to get my life in order and get a second wind.

Tuesday I had a huge team. We split up. I took three to do a quick clean-up and put Clay in charge of the other team. Like an idiot I had forgotten to write down the work location they were at. I told them to call me on my cell which never happened.

It was an easy raking job we went on. Stopped back to the trailers to get the location to meet back up with Clay’s team: They were on Hargrove Road right by the entrance to Hillcrest. Hillcrest was devastated by the tornado.

This home we are working on sustained a fair amount of damage. I would estimate it would be a borderline call if it can be saved or not. There were roofing and gable sections from the garage lying in the yard. We got to work with the crowbars and axes to break up the sections. Slow but sure progress was made.

I had to laugh, in the morning before we headed out one of the girls asked if she could have another tee shirt as the one she wore yesterday was dirty. The ladies in charge of the shirts naturally told her “NO!” This girl was relating the story on the site as to why she was not wearing her “official” tee shirt. I laughed and told her I was lucky to get my shirt washed once a week. She still did not get it.

We were supposed to have a chainsaw team join us to take down a fallen tree in the back. Clay and the boys were sawing their hearts out of that tree with pruning saws. A bobcat was working in the neighbors’ yard. This man operating the bobcat and his son came over and took care of the tree in short order. It is like watching a ballet witnessing these craftsmen at work.

Clay in the center and the “chainsaw man”.

It turned out the homeowner and I had numerous friends in common. I was so happy to see Rusty, our “Starbucks Friend” from the days when Debby and I would stop by the coffee shop in the Ferguson Center on Campus. I did not know he lived in Hillcrest. His home survived. Steve and Des, friends who live across the street from him were not so lucky. I ran the gas line to their kitchen stove when they remodeled back in 2004. I cried when I saw that beautiful house ripped open.

It is this roller coaster of emotions that is wearing me out. I almost seems absurd, but this is how progress is made a little bit at a time. I took this picture to try and convey how a bit of green can have an effect among the ruins. My crew did a fantastic job. I am so proud of the work they did.

My crew:

After turning in my paperwork I told the coordinators I was burning out and was not sure if I would show up or not on Wednesday. Joyce told me to take some time off. “We need you at your best” she said. These past few days have not been my best.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tornado Entry: 17




Tuscaloosa can now be regarded as a “Tale of Two Cities”. Not so much in the Charles Dickens sense of London, and Paris in one of my favourite escapist books to read. Instead there is the “normal” Tuscaloosa where life goes on as if nothing has happened, and the cleaning and rebuilding Tuscaloosa recovering from the Tornado.

The clean-up to prepare for the rebuilding Tuscaloosa is so draining. I can feel burn-out setting in. I tell the story how the “Blizzard of 1977” was supposed to be the storm on my lifetime. I don’t mean to belittle that disaster, but it was nothing in scope to what I’m now living.

Cleaning up the wood:

Monday I was assigned a crew of some 10 Louisiana State students. Clay also showed up. I grabbed him to be on my team. He is my main man!!

Our first job was out in Alberta City on the outer fringe of the serious damage. A roof had to be stabilized. Clay took the brave ones who would venture up the ladder. The neighbors across the street were preparing for back hoes. I told the homeowner if she needed any help I had all these kids who would love to pitch in. They were put to work pulling up the patio blocks and landscaping. These were stacked out of the way to be reused.

Clay and his crew on the roof:

Cleaning up across the street:

Our next stop was not far away. This was more chainsaw work needed with removal done with a bob cat. The small stuff had already been cut away. The lady living in this house was so nice. She told us about her families she worked for, how she was an influence in the children she raised. It was like I was living in the book, “The Help”. The people I’m meeting is unreal.

As we were preparing to leave an example of how frustrations build upon this disaster played out. The phone line was ripped from the house and secured to the porch railing. A garbage truck filled with logs passed catching the line. The line held, but it ripped the railing from the porch. It is the small pain in the neck jobs like this that can wear you out.

The house next door was on a worksheet. There was no signature so we needed approval to do work. The roof was badly damaged having huge areas open and exposed. The homeowners were home. They were very wary, finally refusing our help. They said they had to have insurance adjusters at the property first. We hear this a lot. I explain all we are doing is protecting the house from further water damage. I’ve reached the point where I don’t care. If they don’t want help, they don’t want help. Too many people are out there who desperately need assistance.

We were told that hot food was at the Holt Assistance Center. Two and half weeks into the clean up, the hot food centers are closing down. We got the center at 12:30. The hot food was hot dogs and the remains of granola bars and some kind of marshmallow Easter candy. Tuesday we will pack sandwiches from the church.

We finished up the jobs we had, and returned to the church to see if there was more we could do.

Todd gave me another folder for Team 11. This looked to be mainly clean up work. The weather had turned cold and the kids were not dressed for chill. I told them to get their stuff together and I had extra sweats they could borrow. They were all driving together in a church van. Clay knew where I lived so I told them to meet at my house.

I picked up a lot of extra gloves and headed to my house. After getting the clothes together I thought I’d make up a Google map to the job site. The notebooks were not in the cab. Oh Shit! The team 10 book was in the truck bed. No Team 11 was present. I nervously backtracked my route and miracle of miracles that notebook was in the middle of 21st Ave. It had been run over, but everything was there.

We got to the job. This was on the west side not far from my plant which was destroyed. A trailer was blown into a house. What a nightmare: We cleaned up as best we could. Insulation was blowing around everywhere. I passed out face masks. One of the kids was wearing flip-flops. What are they thinking???

A young girl was concerned as she was getting bumps on her arm. I took her to Rite-Aid where the pharmacist recommended Benadryl. We got that and headed back to the site. It was time to quit for the day. On the way back to the church I detoured to Office Max for a folder and Pets Plus for cat food.

The kids were waiting for me in the lot. Clay got his tools and helped me unload the SP supplies. My clothes were returned.

I was able to get an exact duplicate folder. The insert was easy to change. The end piece on the spine was a bear to peel off. Fortunately enough glue remained to hold it fast to the replacement. The claw end of the hammer was needed to bend open the crushed rings.

This kind of stress I do not need!!!

I got home at about 5:45 after turning in the distressed paperwork. Fixed up chicken wings for supper and was in bed at 8:00.

It is 6:45 a.m. now. I just took this photo of my new Raintree. It seems to be doing well. I’m going to use the planting of it as a bookmark for returning to my old life. I want to put this present life behind me as soon as possible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tornado Entry: 16




This entry was originally started Sunday morning the 15th and never finished. I finished it up with my first coffee of the day today, Monday the 16th.

I slept in this morning. It was so nice to have a day start leisurely and no place to go. Two loads of laundry were done up and hung on the line. I attempted to balance my checking account. Ugh… it is $30.00 off… that drives me crazy!

Saturday I surprised the SP Coordinators by showing up for half a day. There was a good crew of half day people who set out to 4th Street East to cut some trees and fix up the tarping on a roof.

I had earlier met up with Sara and Holly. (I had her named as Laura in my previous entry) They are so personable. Someday we will meet again. Sara grew up with missionary parents and is very versed in things biblical. She said a prayer to keep me and my crew safe today.

We needed to get supplies, so Jim, and Luther went on ahead to kick out the chain saw work. They are local guys so they should not have any problem finding the place.

Myself and my crew of three college boys headed out. One in the cab with me, and the other two riding in the back bed: My truck looks like something from “the Grapes of Wrath” with the ladder and tools all hanging out.

We were driving up a hill on 25th Ave East when out of the corner of my eye I saw a bucket truck pulling out and into my side. I hit the horn, said a quick prayer and hit the gas as easy as I could to avoid jolting the boys out of the truck bed. We all survived. That prayer was just what I needed. I’m afraid my guardian angels are on overtime lately.

The GPS can’t get us to 4th St East where we need to be. This section of town is so difficult. We parked and walked to the damn address. This street dead ends to a sidewalk just at 25th Ave. The GPS for whatever reason has this street intersecting. We had to drive to University Blvd, drive over one block and then up 26th ave. This is the only entrance to this section of 4th St.

Jim and Luther had the same problem finding the place. Surveying the house, we discover the tree work had already been done. This is happening a lot. I sent the “chainsaw boys” to the next job. The boys and I needed to firm up tarping and cover holes in the house and cover the broken windows.

It can be hard to figure out and secure previous jobs. It took a bit but we got everything done we could. New power lines had been installed along the west side of the place. They were really close to the roof so we stayed away. There was no way to safely get a ladder close.

We went over to the next job. Luther was waiting for us. Again the chainsaw work had been done. This house was built into the side of a hill. The peak at the front where the damage occurred was about 2 ½ stories off the ground. This roof had a VERY steep pitch and was metal. I put the ladder to the side and climbed up. One step off the ladder convinced me to scrap this job. It was too dangerous for my skills. This roof survived well, the leak was just over the front porch. There was nothing leaking into the house. The house owner daughter told us the story how she picked up her father from the hospital the morning the tornado hit. He had suffered a stroke. He had a couple more and was not in the best of shape. Apparently the leaking water was driving him to distraction.

There was a hanging shard of metal I was able to knock off the front that was a danger. I explained how metal roofs are so slippery, and the last thing you want to do is to be nailing holes into them that are not needed. They were very appreciative for what little help we were.

From here we went to the Moose Lodge for lunch. The boys loved it! They went back for seconds. Now I can appreciate how my mother enjoyed when we kids dug into our food!

Driving back to the church we were behind a pick up truck…my jaw dropped when this girl on the passenger side climbed out the window and maneuvered her way to the truck bed. She then handed an Igloo lunch box to the driver through his window, returning to the cab the same way she got out all at 35 mph. We had incredulous stories to tell at the church when we all met there over that incident.

This type of day is getting to be routine now for me. I totally forgot to get a team picture. I need to make up check list now!

I got cleaned up and was running just a little bit late when Gary stopped by to give me a ride to Paul and Mike’s party. This proved to be a most welcome respite to be able to laugh and be lighthearted. The weather had turned cold. I ended up wearing a sweat shirt of Em’s and a ski hat of Paul’s to compliment my newest Utilikilt!

It was Mexican food tonight. I made up three huge Frittatas during the course of dinner.

Sunday was a slow catch-up morning trying to balance my check book with no success! As long as the checks don’t go bouncing I’ll be OK! A few loads of laundry were washed up and hung on the line. It was cool and gray all day. I called Buck to see if I could come down and dig up the Rain Trees he had to move. http://www.rosevilletrees.org/trees/golden_rain.html The original seeds came from our friend Ernie who died of Pancreatic Cancer back in 1999. Ernie was so good with plants. He gave me the Chinese Lacquer tree and ferns which grace my yard.

Buck knows his stuff. We were able to easily dig up the trees. I got three good ones. We enjoyed coffee on his front porch after getting the root balls wrapped in plastic and the trees packed away on my truck.

Heading back to my house I saw a turtle trying to cross the highway. By the time I was able to get back to him, he had been hit and killed. I felt so terrible: The poor little guy.

I stopped at Blowe’s and got peat moss. Buck told me to mix that real well with the dirt when I plant the trees. The roots need good soft soil to grow into. Checking out in the garden center I was behind a woman telling her tornado story to the clerk. When I check out I remarked how she was doing a service listening to the customers. She replied telling me some of the losses her family suffered.

These interchanges remind me of the book “Gone With the Wind”. Margaret Mitchell based much of history behind the book from the stories she learned on front porches growing up. In GWTW, after the war, families gathered in the evenings on Melanie’s front porch to relive the days of the siege of Atlanta. Similarly, people here will be reliving the tornado for years down the road.

It was so good to work in my yard for a change. I used the pick axe to dig up a good sized hole for the first Raintree in the front corner of my house. The peat moss was mixed with the dirt dug up and the tree settled into it’s new home. I just tried to take a picture of the tree, but at 5:00 a.m. things are still too dark.

One of the smaller trees was planted in the back in the same manner. There is one last tree to go which is now in a bucket of water till I can get to it.

Debbie will be here to walk the neighborhood in a bit. It is sweat suit weather again. If anything, the plants love this cool weather. My ferns are growing like crazy!

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About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.