Spaceman

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Image hosted by Photobucket.comBill Lee, my driver on ERV 1166, is a great team leader. He’s about 55 and is from Seattle. He’s sort of a Red Cross veteran, having worked with his wife on Hurricane Dennis in Florida. He loves being an ERV driver, and is also very conscious of the safety and comfort of the support people in back. He yells out every turn and bump before they happen, and always jumps in the back to help prep meals when we get slammed with people. (As I wrote about earlier, he also knows where all the blue-water Port-a-Potties are scattered throughout the route. Bless him.) He’s relentlessly positive and just has a great attitude.

At this point, after two weeks together, we’ve developed a real rapport. We have almost perfect division of labor, with him handling the driving and condition of the ERV and me running the back area. He lets me train new support people and basically follows my lead in that arena. The larger decisions about the route and ending the day’s run are left to Bill. We work well together.

I like his style on the loudspeaker too. As we drive through the neighborhood, he calls out the menu, adding little flourishes to make it entertaining. The other night we had ham and sweet potatoes, so his riff went something like this: “American Red Cross with your free Dr. Seuss hot lunch today. We’ve got ham and yams served in a clam by hand by two guys named Sam in the back of a van. So come as quick as you can!” Corny, yes, but any bit of humor helps keep the day moving.

Bill flirts shamelessly with all our female clients over 40 — he’s the opposite of a dirty old man — and keeps up a constant patter with the neighborhood folks. One of his favorites is when someone asks him how he’s doing. “I’m feeling so darn perfect, if I was feeling any better I’d have to be twins!” (One of our clients than replied, “Well, it’s a good thing you ain’t twins, then!” Good for her!)

Another favorite of his, when asked how he’s feeling, is “Finer than frog’s hairs on a Sunday morning,” Recently, Tony gave him a new variation: “Finer than frog’s hairs split four ways, sanded and greased. That’s mighty fine.”

He’s also got one about using the Port-a-Potty. Something about how the “soap” in the “sink” in there “just doesn’t lather up.” You have to be as intimately familiar with the Port-a-Potties as we are to get it. And then there’s the one he’s told about his day off and how he got thrown off a public beach for wearing his thong bathing suit the wrong way. And of course he never passes up the chance to remark — whenever we have a woman as our third team member — that she has us out-numbered, “one to two.” What a riot!

After the tenth time you hear Bill make the same joke, it starts to drive you crazy. After the 50th time, it becomes as soothing and familiar as a bedtime lullabye.

Bill and I are different in background, age, musical tastes, religion (he seems to be a pretty devout Christian, and I’m… nothing), and many other things, but we get along great. He’s been a terrific partner on this disaster, and we have a good time on our runs. Most importantly, he seems as motivated towards our customers as I am, making sure everyone gets fed and not getting caught up in making it home exactly on time. (Surprisingly, there are many people here whose main motivation seems to be getting back to SeaBee base promptly every day. They seem to forget the whole reason we’re here is to help the victims of the worst hurricane the U.S. has ever experienced.)

Anyway, I can truthfully say Bill has made every day here easier to get through, and I’m thankful we ended up together on the same ERV.

Long Beach C

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Image hosted by Photobucket.comAfter four different routes, I’ve settled into ERV 1166 on Long Beach C. We’re part of the five-ERV contingent which serves Long Beach, a working-class community adjacent to Gulfport. It’s on the other side of the tracks (literally) from the devastation on the beachfront, but still suffered a lot of destruction. There wasn’t much flooding, but many homes are badly damaged, with fallen trees, crushed porches, holes in roofs, etc. Some homes are abandoned, some have been condemned by the authorities, and many people are living in FEMA trailers or tents — often in their own front yards.

My driver Bill and I have been together on this route going on ten days or so. For some reason we have not been able to hold on to a second support person. It’s been kind of amazing how many different folks have passed through our ERV: Ron, Jen, Marty, David, Etta, Mark, Patty, and now Steven, whose last work day is Friday, so I’ll have at least one more person to train before my deployment is done. We’ve had people get sick, we’ve had folks on their last day, we’ve had people from HQ who wanted to ride on an ERV (she got car-sick riding around in the back)—we even had an a-hole who I requested get transferred off.

Driving With ERV

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DSCN8067Get the 8 a.m. shuttle to the kitchen. Go to the board; look for your name and the route. Find the vehicle; find your teammates. Stock the ERV: ice, snacks, drinks, cutlery, plastic bags. Attach garbage bag to inner door. Prepare snack packs. Back the ERV into the loading area. Put the chocks on the wheels. Load the ERV with clamshells and lunch Cambros— in the correct order and sequence for serving. Also any extras the kitchen provides, like fresh fruit and boxes of chips. Strap ’em in. Prepare more snack packs. Remove wheel chocks and head out. Arrive in the area. Sound the horn and announce our presence — and the menu — over the loudspeaker. Open Cambros. Prepare meals. Greet clients, offer and serve meals. Offer drinks. Break down boxes. Try to get ahead with extra meals and snack packs. Move and serve. Brace for turns and bumps. Keep your balance! Snack packs. Break down boxes. Repeat. Serve all your meals. Head back to the Kitchen. Call in your numbers. Pull into the trash/cleaning area. Chock the wheels. Collect the dripping, empty food bags and double-bag them. Throw away the garbage and the flattened-out boxes. Remove the empty Cambros and bring them to “Camp Cambro.” Wash the Cambros. Sweep, mop, and wipe down the ERV. Move the ERV to the staging area. Chock the wheels. Load the ERV with clamshells (if needed) and dinner Cambros. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

ERV!

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Man, you gotta move fast around here. After orientation, I was assigned (as feared) to work in a shelter. That would have meant moving all my stuff out of the SeaBee base and into the shelter in Long Beach, MS, with the evacuees. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t looking forward to the assignment. So, I took the initiative and asked the Sheltering supervisor if I could transfer to ERV. As they happened to need people right then, she said yes!

I’m assigned to “Kitchen 35” with Lou, two ERV driver girls named Allison & Tieg, and four other folks. I feel like I escaped from some kind of hell. Now I’ll get to work directly in the affected communities, and maybe even climb my way up to ERV driver. Psych!!!

It may be very difficult for me to post to LJ for the next bit of time as I don’t expect to come back to HQ. Still sussing out my connectivity options.

We leave for our Kitchen in an hour, where we’ll be taught the ropes.