Friday, November 7, 2008

An Update

Hello, Hello! As I am sure you have all guessed from my absence in posting, life happened. I have some photos and stories to share but while I have a few minutes this morning, I’ll give a little update about me.

As far as school is concerned, I am in the home stretch. We only have four weeks left of classes and a test about every other day it seems. It is a great thing that I do my best work under pressure. I started the semester off with a flying leap and when I hit the ground, I decided to watch the clouds a little too long. I’m optimistic all will turn out okay because like I said, deadlines are good friends of mine. : )

I love my job, for most of the week it is a piece of cake. I work at a casino in Tunica, Mississippi. I never thought I would like the entertainment industry especially one that caters to drunkenness and encourages people to lose their money. I don’t give the crazy people any attention, coworkers and customers, I’m just there to enjoy myself and make money, not lose it. I cherish every penny with the economy the way it is. They are laying people off like crazy at the casinos. I work in the finance department and they run a skeleton crew on the graveyard shift most of the week. As long as I skate under the radar, I should be fine.

With working forty hours and trying to survive school, it does not leave much time for a social life. Despite the challenges of time, I’m making friends and taking time to smell the air of the mighty Mississippi. By friends I mean beyond the cockroaches that have decided to take up residence in my apartment. I really have a hard time killing things but you better believe that underneath the sink there is enough Raid for the whole building! : )

I'm hoping it will work out so I can make a trip home after classes are done. I miss everyone like crazy and my little Henry too. I can't believe he was only ten pounds when I left and this week he weighed in at sixty-three pounds! I do feel bad for my Mother in that regard. When both dogs run through the house, it must feel like a stampede. I'm waiting for the phone call that will inform me that my aquarium is no more. : )

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Test of Time

The Exchange Building was constructed in 1910, making it 98 years old; a place that has certainly stood the test of time especially considering its location. This building is in walking distance to the infamous Peabody Hotel and Beale Street that is home to W.C. Handy, B.B King, and Louis Armstrong among many others. The Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated is just a few blocks beyond that. Three blocks to the west is the Mississippi River. A few blocks north and east are many notable landmarks from the Civil War Era as well as the Civil Rights Movement. The bricks of this building have seen it all.

Being Sunday and a nice day I woke up early and planned my day over breakfast. I was going to do my laundry and housework in the morning/early afternoon and then go to campus to finish schoolwork and go to the gym. In my many trips to the 19th floor laundry room there was this peculiar smell. Every time someone got on to the elevator they would ask, “Doesn’t it smell like something is burning?” I responded, “Sure does, I’m just hoping someone burnt breakfast.”

Thirty minutes goes by and the smell keeps getting stronger and stronger most notably in the elevator shafts. As I’m getting my dryer sheets to go upstairs, I hear this army of fire trucks. It didn’t seem to faze me seeing how I only live a couple blocks from the Engine 5 firehouse and they go out all of the time. This time the sirens didn’t dissipate into the wind. Weird I thought. I took the elevator up to the 19th floor to finish my laundry.

As I was putting my clothes in the dryer I saw all these firemen running around and into the building with their fire hoses. Certainly if we needed to evacuate they would sound the alarms. Before the thought even finished in my mind the alarms sounded with the nice public service announcement that the elevators were no longer in service. You have got to be kidding me I thought. After a pause I snapped back into reality and started down the stairs.

When I got to the fourteenth floor I stopped off to my apartment to grab my tennis shoes. Maybe not the smartest move; however, there was no way I was going to make it 14 more flights of stairs in old flip-flops. I changed my shoes and kept running. I was winded and my legs burned and that is when I looked behind me and saw two mothers carrying their toddler children. All of a sudden my legs didn’t hurt that bad and I kept going.

After nearly an hour outside we were told we could go back in. There are 202 units and certainly not that many people were outside. More so I know there are at least a half dozen handicapped people in the building and I only saw two of them. I am still not sure what the smell was or why the firemen sounded the alarms. Altogether it was a minor scare, a lot of exercise, and a valuable lesson learned. Even though the building has stood the test of time, you have horrible luck so go get some renters insurance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cashing In

 I am happy to report that I have successfully hosted my first visitor from the North. We had a wonderful time and much to celebrate, her upcoming wedding and my new full time job. From the airport we inevitable headed south to Tunica, an epicenter for blackjack enthusiastic like ourselves. However as the tale usually goes, we lost, and then lost some more.  After our “free” dinner we headed North to Memphis.

 As we were approaching the city, the sun was sitting over the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. We stopped at the shore and walked for a while.  It was very refreshing to see a familiar face and to be able to talk with someone who you knew. In our reminiscing, she told of a once in a lifetime chance encounter.

 After a morning of flying Sarah prompted a conversation with the gentleman next to her. He asked what she was doing heading to Memphis.  She had told him she was visiting a friend. More so she mentioned how I had a passion for traveling and how she followed along on vacations and through various stories. She told him of our adventures in Atlantic City, the trip to South Africa and then to Washington DC. He loved the stories and must have enjoyed her because he made a few phone calls on our behalf.

 The story goes that the gentleman on the airplane had inherited a historic church pew that was bought in an auction. When he was moving away from Memphis, he couldn’t take the pew with him and needed a place to donate it. He had made a few calls and found a blues nightclub that gladly accepted his donation. In giving the pew, the owner promised free ribs and beer for a night. Seeing how he had never collected, it was up to Sarah and I to cash in.

 We went to the Ground Zero Blues Club as our newly found friend requested. The manager who made the promise no longer worked there but a man named Oliver was running the place. We introduced ourselves and asked to see the pew. He showed us and told us to pick a table someone would be with us. It did not take long for us to realize that Oliver and his staff were less than impressed to have to pay on a promise a former employee made. The ribs were wonderful, the beer was good, the people not so hot. Nonetheless we were still excited about our chance encounter. How many times in your life could you walk into a place and get free ribs and beer? Seriously. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Beginning

 Memphis. I have been here a solid three weeks and have settled in very nicely. I am slowly finding my grove; it will all come in time. Classes at the University of Memphis are a little intense but that is to be expected. At this point I am sure most of you are wondering the million-dollar question, what am I studying. In time my friends, in time. As many of you would guess I do have something up my sleeve. When everything is solidified I will let you all in on it. Until then enjoy the suspense and the rest of my travels. I will try to post often. 

I think of everyone a lot and I must apologize to those who I did not get to see before I left. I remember a spring, the beginning of the summer, the middle gets a little fuzzy, and then no recollection of the last few weeks.  The way the year is going, the holiday season will be here before we all know it. Until then, hopefully this will be a medium where we can keep in touch! 

Top: View From The 19th Floor Laundry Room

 The Exchange Building

  My 14th Floor Apartment

The First 48

When I was working at the Red Cross shelters and the police would stop by to check in, many evacuees would ask if they knew certain detectives. I finally asked why that seemed to be the question of the century. The response was Emily, you don’t watch The First 48. I said no. The people from Memphis started laughing and told me not to watch it, I would want to go back North. Curiosity won, I watched my first episode last night.

  For those who have never seen it, the show is about detectives who try and solve murders within the first 48 hours. Well the case I saw was of a University of Memphis football player who was murdered in his hometown, Memphis. The scary part wasn’t realizing that I currently live four blocks away from the homicide headquarters, but I knew of the restaurants and intersections they were talking about.

  So none of you worry, the murder wasn’t random. The gentleman killed had recently won an $8,000 jackpot. Turns out an old high school rival whom he had recent run-ins with got wind of his new fortune. His enemy then commissioned three of his buddies to rob the football player. The robbery went bad and the football player was slain. Now all four of the men are awaiting their day in court. The murder is a truly sad but common story in the big cities.

I have to laugh every time I think about how crazy this world is. If I don’t laugh, I think I would be a very scared person. After watching this first episode I almost said, what did I get myself into? Not yet, I haven’t said it yet!  : ) 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Untold Gustav Story

Living out the hurricane season in the South is much different than the North. When Katrina hit New Orleans three years ago I was in South Africa. While there, it was very difficult to conceptualize the magnitude of what had happened and the botched efforts of the US Government.

On Saturday when I was coming back from Tunica, the Amtrak train with evacuees had arrived. It was surreal to see the train unloading, countless city busses, and officials trying to direct people. When I woke up Sunday I turned on the news and logged on to the Red Cross. They needed volunteers to help at the shelters so I jumped at the opportunity.

In Memphis, it is estimated there are currently 30,000 evacuees between the shelters and all of the local hotels. In regards to shelters there are two types. Those sponsored by FEMA that are for mandatory evacuees that were brought by the train. Secondly those sponsored by the Red Cross that are for self-evacuees who brought themselves.

The first night I worked at a FEMA shelter in Whitehaven. Whitehaven is a community center in South Memphis very close to Graceland. They were having trouble getting volunteers for this shelter and desperately needed someone to work the graveyard shift. Memphis police stayed at most of the shelters around the city to ensure there were no problems for the evacuees. Still that didn’t help a little old lady who couldn’t sleep and stepped outside to get some fresh air and had her purse stolen.

Whitehaven has approximately 146 evacuees of all age ranges. FEMA provided very nice cots, blankets, and pillows. There were no showers at this community center and from what we saw limited or no organized activities during the first day of their stay. Portable showers were to suppose to be on there way. Memphis City Schools provided meals and the Department of Human Services, Parks and Recreation, and the Red Cross provided support.

From talking with people throughout the night, my Red Cross co-worker and I learned of an interesting tale. Being mandatory evacuees, the National Guard and Louisiana Police swept their neighborhoods and forced them to go to the train stations. Everyone said they were told they would only be gone a couple days. Why they were given a time frame, I don’t know. Some people had nothing but the clothes on their backs. It is unknown if they had nothing prior to coming, if they thought they were only going to be a couple days, they didn’t prepare or if they didn’t have time to prepare.

The six-hour train ride turned into 12 hours. On the train ride up, there were branches covering the tracks which stalled the train for three hours in one spot. More so there were two medical emergencies, a lady who was delivering her baby and a man who was having chest pain. Again it is unclear why someone who was so close to delivering was put on a train to go so far north instead of somewhere closer. According to one evacuee the train also took a wrong turn and had to back up three miles at a snails pace. There was limited food aboard because it was supposed to be only a short ride.

Interestingly when they arrived in Memphis the Memphis police made everyone go through a metal detector. Seeing how there were no security checks prior to boarding, the Memphis police now have a huge collection of guns and knives. In saying that, luckily everyone survived the train ride. With tensions and anxiety elevated, high heat and humidity, lack of food, close quarters and numerous weapons nothing happened.

One the first day, the most troubling to me was the food situation. Most everyone was wide awake between 5am and 6:30am. There were only a couple bottles of water left when our shift started. We tried to put it into cups so we did not have to give people tap water. Who was supposed to be bringing or where the FEMA bought water was, was not figured out in my stay at shelter. Memphis Schools didn’t deliver breakfast until 7:30. They brought semi-warm milk, juice that was frozen, and muffins that were partly thawed. There was still some off brand breakfast cereals from the day before.

As I was handing out the food, one of the day volunteers decided to warm up the 30 or so ham and cheese sandwiches that were left over. That is great however all 146 people wanted something hot. Guess who got to hear the aftermath of that? When I had to tell everyone there were no more hot meals and we only had cereal people were mad. I would have been irate myself. Don’t get me wrong there were many understanding people but on the same token some were angry.

It was a very eye opening experience especially after working at the Red Cross sponsored shelter. At that shelter, there was more food than they could eat, toiletries, and any type of supplies one could think of. Cots were provided, although not as nice but there were games, organized activities, and a definite chain of command when supplies were needed. When we needed some Ensure at Whitehaven, it was a frustrating disaster. Finally my co-worker went to the store and bought some himself.

On my third day of volunteering I was glad to see many improvements at all of the shelters. The City of Memphis had stationed at least one paramedic at each shelter as well as at least two officers. Furthermore the Memphis CIty Schools started serving hot breakfast. Also, the portable showers arrived, which were very nice.

I would like to close with two points. I found it interesting that at 3 am on Sunday another train of 1,000 evacuees was to arrive in Memphis. When the train pulled up, there were only 100 and some people aboard. However, there were 1,000 meals prepared and delivered by FEMA. The Red Cross got wind of this and intercepted the delivery to insure the 800 and some meals did not get thrown out. It makes me wonder how much tax payer money FEMA could have better spent.

Finally the most disturbing story of all. In every shelter I worked and with the volunteers I compared stories it was all the same. Many people believe with every ounce that is in them, when Katrina hit New Orleans, the poorer neighborhoods were flooded on purpose to save the French Quarter. I can't even wrap my mind around that. Someone from the Government would purposely kill many Americans and destroy whole neighborhoods to save a tourist hot spot? Indeed. Those who you ask that have been to New Orleans many times but are not from there can not understand how the French Quarter could be so lightly damaged due to its location and the location of the flood walls. After some thinking it would make sense. Those neighborhoods that were supposedly flooded on purpose, they are the ones the Government is neglecting to rebuild. The places and people they are ignoring, the low-income and predominately black.