Katrina Airstreams With a Future

ACORN Louisiana Recovery Rebuild New Orleans

P1010001New Orleans Eventually you have to admit Katrina has passed over, even if the city and its people still bear the raw scars of four years ago as if yesterday.  So with as much resignation as relief, it was clear to me that finally I had to move my Airstreams off the back lot of the old office in the Faubourg Marigny between Frenchman and Elysian Fields.

In the aftermath of the storm when FEMA wasn’t producing trailers with any speed and organizers, volunteers, and recovery workers were desperate for housing to get back to ACORN and the work, we all just did what we thought had to be done, the devil take the hindmost.  In my case that meant seeing an ad for an old Airstream in Bogalusa, 70 miles away across the lake that a Caterpillar contractor from Texas had to get rid of quickly, because he had to move with the work and now had this old trailer and a slightly newer one his wife had brought over when his stay turned more indefinite.

I’d always like the look and idea of Airstreams as our family had driven or walked by them with some envy on cold or wet days and nights camping when we were younger, but I didn’t know anything about them.  This one was a 1971 International and 31 feet long.  If  the trailer had been more expensive or another time rather than post-Katrina, I probably would have walked away but neither of those things was true.  It was getting towards nightfall and I was being egged on by Scott Hagy from Wyoming who was running our recovery crews, and Ross Fitzgerald from Colorado, who was working with me on labor organizing contracts at the time.  Three fellas who still had pieces of their hearts and histories in the West and could all imagine this beat up trailer, spruced up and parked off a back mountain trail with a lake in the background or a creek bubbling not far away, were not going to drive away without hitching something to the back of my Suburban.  Before nightfall I had a title in my hand, and he had a check in his, and in the darkness Scott jerryrigged the lights, and we were rolling.

Six months later I bought another 1971 edition 23 foot Airstream Safari that looked in a bit better condition.  Mike Shea, who ran our housing corporation, drove this one down from Michigan.  His mom had spent many a season and many a dollar keeping this one rolling running from the Upper Peninsula to someplace warmer, but whether Katrina or too many seasons, had decided to sell this one to me so we could add to the fleet.

For years my two Airstreams and two FEMA trailers housed many a person working to rebuild.  Eventually FEMA picked up their rollers this last spring.  The City had looked the other way for a long time, but time was running out.

My two brothers-in-law answered the call and rolled in from Little Rock close to midnight on Friday to help with the chore.  A big, tall nephew showed up closer to 3 AM, but had signed up to tow one of these back.

Luckily, Gary Butler can pretty much fix and build anything, so all of us knew we would need all of this skills to make sure after 3 to 4 years that we could get these babies on the road and moving, safely and securely again.  Jimmy and I were happy to be helpers and knew we were both going to learn way more than we could remember.

Somehow by 8PM Saturday night all of the equipment was parked in front of our house.  We still didn’t have running or brake lights yet.  There looked to me a flat tire on the International that might take some time.  There was plenty of sunburn and 930 PM was as long as I could stay awake, but we had the trailers up and running again.

After Katrina service both of these two silver babies of mine need to be put into more joyful pastures.  The nephew has talked me into taking the big one to Colorado to strike out on his own somewhere around Denver in this bad economy.  If it helps him, I’m happy, especially because our friend, Secky Fascione, has said the International could find a home on a parcel she has 14 miles east of Missoula and another close to an hour up a dirty road near Rock Creek, which is a blue ribbon stream around there.  CJ would get the trailer half way out west this year and maybe next summer Chaco and I can get the rest of the way to Montana.  We can use to finally have a base in the West again, and Secky can have a piece of metal over her head whenever she wants to get off the grid for a while, too.  Win-win.

The other trailer will go in Gary-rehab for a longer spell.  I would like to see it end up either in Arkansas as a place where we could stay when we have to run from the next hurricane.   Maybe there’s some friend who has a place in the Southwest, just like Secky had in Montana.  Some place in Arizona or, even better, in New Mexico, where we could put it in the desert have the sunsets reflect off the silver of “airabella” as Mike’s mom used to call the baby trailer.  The Katrina nightmare could fade away in a daydream about a week or two in winter in one trailer in the desert and another couple of weeks in the summer wetting a line in Montana with the big trailer, tents, fires, and family all around.

I like that thought, but for now there’s more work to get these bad boys on the road and up to Arkansas for the next leg in their future.