After a quick breakfast, I was down to the Talley Student Center at State by 7:30 to meet our group who is going to Thibodaux, LA over spring break to do post-Katrina Habitat work as part of NC State's Alternative Spring Break program.
We had an all-day retreat today, consisting of:
- Three hours working out at a local Habitat site to prepare those who had never done Habitat work before—as well as those of us who have—for the kind of thing we'll be doing in Thibodaux in March, and
- A couple of hours in a group meeting to: reflect on our day, fill out a bunch of required paperwork, an do another team-building exercise in the vein of continuing to get to know each other better before we travel together.
We arrived a little bit early at the Habitat site, which was a "deconstruction site." I've done Habitat a couple of times before, and had never heard of this aspect of their operation, which salvages materials from construction sites, and sells them at their re-stores, with the profits being funneled back into Habitat.
A (big ass, North Raleigh, fancy-schmancy) house was being razed, and our job for the day was to remove nails from 6- to 10-foot 2x4s and then stack them on a pallet. There were two main tasks involved in this job, the main one being shooting the nails out of the boards with pneumatic nail remover guns, which 13 of our 15 folks did, and then separating 2x4s that were nailed together—most times two boards, but sometimes three and four.
After receiving a welcome and an overview of what was going on at this site, our goals for this morning's work, and a "can't stress enough" to be careful about the boards with nails sticking up out of them around the site, we headed to the tool trailer, where we each grabbed a pair of protective eye wear and some gloves.
I grabbed my gloves, only slightly stressed out that I couldn't find two matching ones—or more accurately that the only two matching ones I could find were both left hands—and exited to the right only to trip over a guy wire, which I totally didn't realize was there, to go falling face down on the ground catching myself with my hands and scraping my right knee in such a way that there was mostly flaps of skin hanging about, but only a little bloody area where it was scraped a little harder. Ominous start to the day with that and the nose scrape already encountered this morning.
Amanda and I started off on board-separating duty, and one of the Habitat people, Sarah, showed us the technique, which involved two (quite heavy) tools used as follows:
- With the joined 2x4s on their side so that the crevice between them faced up, take the slide hammer and position the speared head at the crevice. Slam the slide down, which pushes the head between the boards and separates them enough to get a crowbar between them.
- Take two crowbars and put them into the space between the boards, one facing one way and the other facing the other, and then do a scissor-type movement splaying the two boards the rest of the way apart, sliding down the length of the entire boards until they come completely apart.
I ended up staying on board-separating duty the entire three hours. After about an hour-and-a-half, I'd say, Amanda decided to switch over to nail removal, swapping with Katherine. I think the tools were a little too heavy for Katherine, and after a short stint, Matt replaced her, and stood on board-removal duty with me the rest of the time.
At one point, we finished removing nails on all of the boards in the area in which we were set up, and as a group, we moved all the sawhorses on which the nail removal was being done to another section of the site. In the new location, a couple of sawhorses were set up and then a volunteer suggested we angle them differently to accommodate taking boards on and off them more easily, and so they were re-angled.
Shortly after that, one of the Habitat folks came over and suggested we turn them yet another way, and after a little defending of the way they were, I said, "In the spirit of the reading we did for today, why don't we serve instead of fix or help?"
At this point, I had been board-separating for about two hours, and my arms were like rubber. Did I mention those tools were heavy? From that point on, I was a "runner," searching through the huge piles of boards for ones that were stuck together, and then carrying them over to Matt, who at 30 years younger than me, was still going strong.
While walking back and forth at one point, I had to step around a very long board that Nicole and Shaniguel were de-nailing, and in the process I stepped down on a board with nails sticking up out of it. Fortunately, I didn't feel any pain under my foot, so I figured it hadn't gone in very far. However, when I bent over to pull the board out, I couldn't get it out. It came out about a half-inch and then a guy behind me reached down and angled it out for me. That nail had gone at least three inches into my shoe, and evidently right alongside the arch of my foot.
That could have been quite drastic, and I was so thankful it wasn't. It made me think about when I had my last tetanus shot, which was in 2000. I remember being glad that I was getting it at the turn of the century as that would make it easy to remember, and here it is 2010 already—and time to get another one.
Before we left, I did take a turn using the pneumatic nail remover gun, just so I could put it on my "resume." That thing is cool.
Some pics from the day:
Sawhorses on which we removed nails.
Boards with nails sticking up out of them in the lower left.
Boards to be separted in the lower right.
Gotta love how those glasses are sitting crooked on my face and that gash on my nose.
Sans moi—I'm taking the picture, and Mark is missing as he had to be out of town this weekend
We caravaned to Tierza's (the other advisor's) house, stopping on the way to pick up several pizzas from Pizza Hut, which we had for lunch along with soda, chips, pretzels, and lemon cake and brownies for dessert.
After lunch, the group filled out three tedious forms, and after that we went around the room each saying our name (we're still all learning each others' names) and mentioned any story that might be associated with how we were named, and then each showed a "culturally significant artifact" that we'd brought with us.
Finally, we reflected on a reading called, In the Service of Life by Rachel Naomi Remen, by:
- With a partner, discuss your reactions to this article. Identify your favorite quote and why you agree or disagree with the statement.
- Share about a time that you fixed/helped someone.
- Share about a time that you served someone.
- How is the message of this article relevant to the work that we did today and will be doing in New Orleans?
I didn't pick an exact quote, but articulated that being a lover of words, their connotations, and choosing a more precise one when it is available, I loved the differentiation in the article of the connotations of fix, help, and serve, which this article posits are:
- Fixing carries with it a sense of ego. You know something is "broken" and you're going to "fix" it.
- Helping has a notion of debt associated with it. If I help you there is some sense that someday I might want help back. That's why when there isn't, we clarify with something like, "no strings attached," or "I don't want anything in return."
- Service is mutual; both parties get something out of it and it strengthens both parties.
The article was all about framing what we did today here at Habitat, and what we're going to do in Thibodaux in March. I'm not going to arrive there thinking, "What can I fix for you?" or even "How can I help you?" Instead, I'm going to arrive saying, "I'm here to serve. What can I do that would be of service to you?"
Arriving home after a long day, I found a card from Casey sitting on my computer. The outside said, "A note to thank you for your kindness," with this note inside:
Thank you again for your gracious hospitality. I always enjoy your company and look forward to my infrequent trips out this direction.
If you're ever out in Denver, I would be honored to return the favor.
I hope to see you again soon—but either way, I'll see you online!
I took a two-hour nap, and then met Joe at The Borough, where we were early enough to get a table before it got jam-packed in there. Just before ordering a second round of drinks, our server brought us another round and before we could articulate how presumptuous that was, she said, "Someone sent these drinks to you."
In total shock, we graciously accepted them, and immediately began looking around the place to see who might have been so kind. We guessed that it was Rob and Rip sitting at the bar and it did indeed turn out to be them, well Rip, who sent them. How sweet.
They said goodbye and we ordered one more round after they'd left. When our server brought us our bill, it was for one drink each. Rip had paid for two rounds before he left. Very generous, although somewhat perplexing as we've known him forever and he's never bought us a drink at Flex before. Very, very kind nonetheless.
We went over to Flex for a while, where we spent most of the time there avoiding the "talent" (some calendar guy named Dru Bruin) there tonight, and talking with Phil, Alex, and Bill.