We had just landed and were about to find out where we'd be living. Turns out, we managed to get music tour busses -
off the Ozzfest tour!!
Because any hotel rooms rightfully went to the victims, those working the response had to get creative with their own housing and someone, somehow, got several busses, some of which did in fact come from that tour. I was simultaneously feeling awesome and scared of STDs all at the same time.
And here's where one of my favorite "Internal Homing Device" moments occur. Since I frequently run into people randomly connected to my life, it shouldn't surprise me too much when it happens. But this one was extra random. The bus I ended up living on was driven by a man who I started talking to one day.
I was in charge of a lot of the logistics for federal staff so one of the many things I did down there was organize sleeping arrangements for folks, including coordinating when our "homes" -- aka these giant busses -- could go get gas, where they should park, etc. I also put multiple rental cars on my credit card in the heat of the moment just to get staff moving before I later found out the government has a fleet of cars at much easier disposal. You can't say I'm not mission-oriented and resourceful. But you can say people need to tell me these things beforehand!! Ahem. Not that I still have resentment or anything....So I'm talking to this driver about logistics and of course I have to mention that this is not my first rodeo when it comes to living on a tour bus. I told him my friends are musicians and I ran off with them briefly once and slept on the top bunk and sold merch at their shows.
And he knows! them!
He blurts out the name of the band and I'm like "YES! How do you know them?!" Because this band is from a tiny town in Tennessee and they play bluegrass -- not exactly the same as saying "yeah, NSYNC - you've heard of them too?!"
And he pulls out his cell phone and shows me that in his contacts is the driver of my friends' tour bus -- the driver who I used to go to church with. The driver who is the uncle of one of my ex boyfriends.
Small. Freaking. World. I tell ya.
Anyway, moving on to other funny connections. During Katrina I was still working in a political position and when you're doing anything that involves politicals, you end up running into people you know, even though you are now in a totally different part of the country than usual. And the same goes for the disaster response community. A year or so before Katrina, I helped in response efforts for a series of hurricanes that hit Florida. So I met people "in the field" during that who I would see again running around the joint field office (JFO) in Louisiana a year or so later.
But the politicals were funny. Because people were getting sent left and right down there to do jobs they normally don't do from all different types of federal agencies. And some were self-deploying without orders so they'd just show up and be like "what do you need me to do?" while they bedded down at night on the floor in the JFO. And they'd ask me what to do. These guys were Assistant Secretaries of the Departments of Important Things and they were asking Me, a girl who felt barely out of college still.
Upside down world.
But it was cool to see these powerful people ready to do whatever was needed and to see everyone's compassion and intensity. I distinctly remember the day I landed and walked into the "Red October" (the name for one of FEMA's "mobile operational command vehicles" that I spent a lot of time in. It's basically a semi-truck that turns into a command center with computers and stuff - very cool.) to find one of my friends whose normal job was to communicate things to congressional staffers but he had been in Louisiana since the storm hit - and he was clearly running on pure adrenaline. He raced through telling me how he couldn't sleep at night because he would think about the people who might have water up to their chests, and how if he goes to sleep, will they have water up to their necks? And he wasn't a first responder so his work didn't directly affect anyone being flooded but he felt that responsibility nonetheless. And that set the tone for what I continued to see around me.
People were high on adrenaline, urgently searching for anything to do to help, fear and sadness behind their eyes. I remember thinking about the national guard units who got back from Iraq only to turn around and have to defend their own community from the mahem that was ensuing among their neighbors. How policeman and fireman had to focus on the job at hand not knowing whether or not their own families were alive. I remember the first-hand accounts from my coworkers who went into the Superdome and how they needed professional counseling as a result of what they experienced inside. Completely unfathomable that this all could happen so quickly in a major U.S. city. So incredible.
But I promised not to get in too deep with these posts. So back to my lighter experiences.
We were in and out of mobile units, JFOs, and emergency ops centers (EOCs) that basically all looked like this:
It was a frenzied mix of first responders, civilian staff, media, military, the Mayor, the Governor, and the occasional cabinet secretary or the President himself. I started running into people I had worked with (or dated...) before. My days were so unpredictable that one minute I was getting a Hep A shot in the back of a tractor trailer, the next I was driving down streets in Baton Rouge getting Subway sandwiches for then FEMA director Mike Brown. The next minute I was giving the shoes off my feet to a coworker who was spontaneously about to take a helicoptor tour of New Orleans and she needed closed-toed shoes to confront whatever disease-ridden waters they might land in.
I barely ever left the compound we were working in, until the one evening I did --
and ended up in the back of a police car.