Monday, July 29, 2013

One Year and Rolling at Last

We just marked our first year in New Orleans. We arrived here late on July 26, 2012.

We've had some really good times here, we've had some fun. But I won't pretend it hasn't been a rough year. We still miss the island. We're still trying to find our place here. And of course, one of the move-motivators was a family tragedy we still haven't gotten over, or even accepted. That'll never go away.

Max is the one who has settled in most happily. He had a good year at school, has friends, is looking forward to starting high school in two weeks.

Our biggest problem – in the category of "fixable problems" as opposed to "this is just how life is" – was finally resolved a week ago. We got a car.

We had a car. The Beast. I've written about it. But The Beast went the way of all things. A blown head turned it into a former car just after the first of the year. It was going to cost more to fix than we'd paid for the thing.

So for more than six months we walked everywhere. The grocery store was only half a mile away, but that required you to think while you were shopping about what you'd be able to carry home. If you bought the gallon of milk, did you also want to buy the five-pound bag of flour? And if something was out of our foot range, we either had to figure out the bus that got us closest, or we didn't go. On a few rare occasions we took taxis. Mardi Gras was one of those times, and well worth it.

Something I had been meaning to write almost when we first got here was how, on St. Croix you always knew you were on an island. There were few places where you couldn't see the Caribbean. There were some places where you could see the north shore, then turn around and see the south. It wasn't a bad thing, it was kind of cool. But you knew where you were, what the boundaries, the limits were. We even went through a period there without a car, and I could still get almost everywhere I needed to go for work or family. I actually enjoyed the taxi vans, and one of the world's most beautiful beaches was only a 10-minute walk away.

Almost as soon as we got here, I could feel the difference. Driving to the store or to pick up Tori, I could feel the continent under me, feel the road spreading out, leading everywhere. I didn't need to drive to Minneapolis or Denver or Charleston, but I could feel them there, under my wheels. Then I lost the wheels and lost that sense of connection. Unlike when we were on the island, we felt kind of trapped.

It was even harder for Tori. She was subbing in the Jefferson Parish School District, and not having wheels severely limited where she could work. It had to be a school within reasonable bike distance (we got a bike at a yard sale, five bucks. It took a week of work to make it rideable. It's not a comfortable bike but it got her there.)

Getting anywhere always took the kind of planning that landed the Allies at Normandy, and turned a 20 minute trip to and from the bank into a three-hour expedition involving two buses and some walking. We've missed lots and lots of things. Basically, if it wasn't close, we couldn't do it. Even the library was just outside our range. That was a killer.

This month we finally got a little ahead of the game. Not much, but we were able to get a cheap used car that we think will serve us for a while. Doesn't look like much, but it runs great. It's used, but it was lovingly used. It even came with a name – the guy who sold it to us said his mother called it "Linda" – pronounced the Spanish way, "leen-da" which of course is Spanish for pretty.

Now, if we want to get on the road and visit our friends in Houston, we can do that. Or escape a hurricane, or at least get into the city for a festival or a show or just dinner. Just knowing that makes you feel a little freer.

In the 10 days since we bought Linda we have been to the library twice, other grocery stores (the close by one has good prices but crappy produce,) we made it to several garage sales (good story I'll tell Wednesday.) Saturday we went looking for a farmers market – this is not apparently farmers market season down here, we struck out at three locales, but we had a nice drive.

Sunday afternoon Tori took Max and his girlfriend Lauren to a workshop for young musicians. A handful of kids got to work with a professional jazz trio from a New Orleans club, learning blues riffs, then jamming together. They had a great time and he felt like he learned a lot. We'll definitely be going back. Tori's also talking about a trip to the coast. We've been told Pensacola is only a two-hour drive. She really misses the beach.

So we've been here a year, but we've been sort of locked down for half of it. Now we're ready to spread out a little. Get back into the swing of things, get our groove back a bit.

I don't have to go to Minneapolis or South Carolina, but I can feel them again.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Birthday Odds and Ends Were Odder than Usual

 Yesterday was Max's birthday and it was an unusual day. I think I was more excited than he was in the build up to "Now open your presents."

We'd been looking for an acoustic guitar for him and hadn't found anything in our price range. I figured in New Orleans you ought to be able to find a lot of good used guitars in the pawn shops and music store, and you can, but the owners are not fools. They know a good guitar when they see it, and price it accordingly. Finally we looked online and found a really nice one. An Epiphone, spruce top, mahogany back and sides with a mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard. And it was half price! We could actually afford it! When it was delivered (in only four days!) Tori and I got it out of the box and it was beautiful. It just sat there and glowed at us. We could barely contain ourselves until his birthday.

So the afternoon of his birthday, July 3, we planned to go down to the park where there was a pre-Fourth concert/fireworks show, have a picnic with the kids, watch the fireworks, then come home for cake and presents. We were getting ready to go when the lights went out.

Or more accurately, half the power went out in the house. Living room was still on. Kitchen out except the refrigerator was still running. Two of the three bedrooms were out. One of the two bathrooms (which are side by side) lost power. A/C out. Dryer still worked. Nothing wrong in the breaker box. It was just weird.

At this point I'm thinking, well, at least the guitar is acoustic. 

So I called the power company and they sent a guy out. He showed up right as we were ready to leave for the park, picnic dinner packed. He was a really nice guy; he and Tori chatted for a while about growing tomatoes, and he told us about a great website for enthusiasts – Totally Tomatoes. Their catalog is apparently spectacular. Then he checked the breaker box, checked the meter, then pointed to the line coming in from the transformer. I'm not kidding – a squirrel had chewed through the insulation, shorting out one of the two lines! 

I guess the squirrels are in cahoots with the hawk. 

Another guy was going to have to come out to replace the line, and someone had to wait for him. So Tori and Max and his girlfriend Lauren and two of their other friends went down to the park and I waited.

Max and 'Caroline'
And waited. And waited. The guy finally showed up around 7, a sort of taciturn young guy who didn't want to talk, just got busy. It took kind of forever, but he got it done, all the power came back at 8:30. I shook his hand and lit out for the park. Got there just before the fireworks started.

The fireworks were spectacular, one of the better shows I've seen. I caught up with Tori and the kids – Max and three of his friends – halfway through the show. Even in the dark it was easy to spot them. Tori and the kids "conduct" the fireworks, pointing to the sky and waving their arms as if personally responsible for the show, which I believe they are. Anyway, they created a grand finale. Then we turned around and walked home.

A block from the house, we ran into two girls, one of whom knew Max from school, so Tori invited them over for cake. You know Tori, she picks up stray kids like some people pick up stray cats. Our house has always been full of teens who have trouble at home but respond to her. So we ended up with rather a largish gathering in the living room. It was fun. It was LOUD. 14/15 year old girls and all. 

Max loved the guitar – he's named it Caroline because it sounds sort of classy and French. He spent a good hour noodling with it before remembering he also got an Xbox game. He was up until god knows when playing that. I was asleep.

Tonight there's a fireworks display at the end of the Zephyrs game, so we'll just walk up to the end of the block to watch that and that will be our Fourth of July.

Monday, July 1, 2013

From The Wild Blue Yonder

That was more exciting than I'd anticipated.

Our potted tomato plants have been growing robustly and we needed to rig a system for supporting them. We came up with a plan Saturday and threw a coat of white paint on the lumber to give it a little protection from the rain. Sunday afternoon we built it.

The uprights angle up from the ground to the edge of the carport, and though they fit snugly and almost didn't need any attachment, we decided to angle in a screw at the top of each just to be sure they stay in place. I went up the ladder with a drill, making a pilot hole and then putting in a zap screw.

The first attack had happened earlier in the day when I was standing in the area. It's about six feet between the edge of the carport and the neighbor's wall. I was just standing there when – whoosh! – something flew by my head, something biggish. I spun around and saw a bird swooping away. Couldn't get a good look at him, he was pretty fast and I was pretty surprised.

That was odd, I thought. It's a narrow space, so why did it choose to fly through there? Birds! What are you gonna do?

Now I was up on the ladder, Tori standing below handing me things as I needed them. I had snugged down the first upright, then the second, and had just drilled the pilot hole for the third. I was swapping the drill bit for the Phillips head bit when – WHOOSH! – I was buzzed again, this time even closer. What the hell!

My head shot up and I saw him. He was pulling up from his power dive, wings outstretched as he played off his speed against the wind, then – Oh lord! – wheeled around and headed straight back for another pass at me! He was greyish white, broader in the shoulders than I'd have thought, and his compact body looked sleek, every feather streamlined to hasten his passage through the air. I got a nice view of him head on from about 20 feet – the small, hooked beak and piercing black eyes in his flat, almost owllike face, coming straight at me – then I was down the ladder and under the carport as he whooshed by again. The hawk was beautfully agile in the air, but I like to think I was pretty nimble for an older guy as I got down that ladder and under cover.

Tori grabbed the binoculars and found him, now lazily circling above. We went in and looked it up online and we're pretty sure he was a marsh hawk, or Norhtern Harrier. Except they got the size wrong. According to the reference, the marsh hawl is a medium sized bird. From my vantage point he was gigantic, with a wingson of, oh, I don't know, 30 feet or so, with 18-inch long razor-sharp talons and a mood to match.

Tori thought he might have been attracted to (or offended by) my shirt. I was wearing one of my more colorful Hawaiian shirts. I went in and change to a drab brown T-shirt. When I went back out, there were two hawks riding the thermals high above the neighborhood. Word apparently gets around quickly in bird circles. So Tori, instead of watching my display of power tool machismo on the ladder, kept an eye on the sky. It took only a few more minutes on the ladder, even if my attention was only partly on the work and partly above. When I got down, Tori noted that one of the two hawks was definitely circling lower, but he stayed away long enough for us to finish. The other was probably just there because it was funny, from a bird's perspective.

Now we just have to thread the string through the uprights and the tomatoes are good to grow.

As long as a hawk doesn't decide to nest in them.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING – In life, as in comedy, timing is everything. Thursday Tori added some ladybugs and caterpillars to the tree she is painting on the picnic table. She had set her water bottle on the table, and noted that the beads of water running off it had streaked the paint a little. She decided it needed to be sealed soon.

Friday she came inside and said she'd sprayed a sealant on it. She can still paint on it, but it gave the table just a little protection. It still needs a couple of coats of Verathane, but it had something.

Saturday morning it rained like hell, and even though the table is under the carport, it got wet, awfully wet. (The carport roof leaks.) And the surface was covered with water drops, all beaded up. The paint was completely undisturbed.

Good timing.