How To Volunteer in New Orleans and Still Get Screwed Over By Life

If you live on the East Coast (or if you own an electronic device of any kind, not including Tamagotchis, which are still great even though they will not help you understand this story), you know or have seen firsthand the tragic effects of Hurricane Sandy. Broken homes. Flooded streets. Abandoned buildings. This monster storm (whose name is much too cutesy to us to take it seriously) wreaked havoc on the lives of New Yorkers and New Jerseyians (don’t question me) in every way possible.

There is nothing new about this super-storm business, even though every media outlet seems to become fixed on “End-of-the-World” drills whenever a lawn chair blows over. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the coasts of New Orleans, leaving many homes and communities destroyed. During that time, many people volunteered to help rebuild such communities, forswearing their prized vacation time in order to sweep debris from the streets and construct houses for those who had lost everything.

As one of those volunteers, I can vouch for the importance of such generosity. I can also vouch for how mean Life, as some sort of outside entity, truly is. Let me explain.

Our troubles began before we even left Louisiana. Thanks to Katrina, proper housing establishments in New Orleans became scarce, leaving all of the volunteers in my youth group to stay in the basement of a nearby church, which became so crowded that our sleeping bag arrangement looked more like a bad game of Tetris than it did a living space. For the most part, we didn’t care. The closeness of our quarters allowed us all to bond and become closer with one another and the warmth generated from our (basically) spooning bodies kept us toasty enough to get by. It also allowed a bug (not the cute Butterfly kind but rather, the “Let me remind myself what I had for breakfast” kind) to circulate among the group.

By the time we arrived at the airport, three people had fallen ill and our desire to get home was at its peak. So naturally, the airline chose this time to tell us that our seats had been given away and the only other flight had a 7-hour layover in some godforsaken state that we would never voluntarily choose to visit even on a normal day. (I will not disclose the name of this state, partially because I don’t know it very well so I can’t really pass judgment on it and partially because I’m afraid of getting shot.) Apparently, Louisiana did not want us to leave.

The first flight, plagued by a crying baby and loud snorers because why would we expect anything less, came and went. I marched off the plane into the monstrous airport where we would spend approximately 1 Kardashian marriage waiting for the next plane to arrive. It was not until the rest of my group, whose seats had been relocated to the back of the aircraft, wobbled out of the terminal, carrying a mysterious trash bag and one of my now greenish looking friends, did I realize what had happened. The ill count had risen to four.

With “the infected” quarantined in one corner of the terminal, the surviving members of the group huddled over a pile of food, secretly praying that natural selection weed out the other weaklings and leave everyone else alone. It was probably around this time that a pickpocketer swiped one of our wallets before leaving us to panic and cry and adopt the fetal position.

The universe was starting to get on my nerves. Between my friend screaming, “Wallet, glug glug sniffle, LIFE, glug sniffle snort snort, small plane, snort sniffle, SMALL PLANE?” (which, if you remove the tears, translates to “That wallet had my entire LIFE inside of it… and, hang on, is our plane small? How small is the plane we’re taking? I can’t ride small planes. I CAN’T!”) and the thunderstorm brewing outside, I was ready to be home, in my bed and free from volunteer work forever.

Moment laters, right on cue, Captain Liferuiner (I’m convinced this was his last name) produced the following message over the airport loudspeaker:

“Attention passengers of flight 24. I just wanted to let you all know that our flight tonight will be a bit bumpy. We are riding in a very small plane so the turbulence may be severe but we will make it through. Have a nice day.” That may not have been the exact message but I couldn’t really hear anything over the sound of my insides dying so it will have to do.

Assuming that our plane did in fact arrive in Boston and that my body is not actually on some magic island somewhere or in a coma-induced dreamland, my group of volunteers arrived at our destination and piled into the car to go home. We did not care that the businessman on the plane would not switch seats with us so we could comfort our hysterical friend. We did not care that the airline lost our luggage. We did not care that another person was feeling sick or that none of us could sleep on the plane even though we’d been awake long enough for us to be considered legally insane. All we cared about was getting home. Which is why the car battery in the van we were sitting in had to be dead. Nothing else would have made sense at that point.

Now, I’m not telling you this story to scare you away from the idea of volunteering. In fact, I encourage you to pack all of your belongings and hike up to New York or New Jersey or any other weather-torn state and help people get back on their feet because in the end, you will feel better knowing that you helped someone rebuild their life (even if that someone is a Yankees fan and it is strickly against everything you stand for). I would just urge you to remember that no good deed goes unpunished. Disaster will strike at some point or another and as long as you bring a positive attitude, everything will be okay. If you forget your positive attitude at home, at least bring a medical mask and a book to read because if Life mistakenly punishes you after a week of selfless volunteering, you’ll need some way of surviving that trip back home.

Image via ShutterStock.

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