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Published: June 21st 2016
margaret's La Caja China Cooker
I have to make me one of these!
**My apologies, I haven't published a blog entry in a few days, I've written them but somehow they didn't publish. I'll resume below.**
Greetings from Baton Rouge, LA. No riding today, just taking some time to hang out with old friends. Before I get into what we did today, let me relate to you the tale of how I came to know these particular friends and how I came to live in Baton Rouge back then as well as how I have the career that I have now as it is all intertwined. Grab a beer and get comfortable because I've never written this whole story down before and it's going to take a while to relate.
Many many years ago, I was offered the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps National Rapid Response Corps (NRRC) member with the American Red Cross here in Baton Rouge. For those of you who don't know, AmeriCorps is, very basically, an American version of the Peace Corps. It is a service based organization that provides people of all ages the opportunity to serve their communities by pairing them with organizations that help to enrich the communities in which they are
based. Each program has a different term of service. Mine was 10-1/2 months. At the end of a members term of service, they are given a small education award which can only be used to pay for that members education. If you have the ability to do this or know someone who does, I highly recommend it.
I didn't know anything about Louisiana or the Red Cross at the time but I did know that I wanted to be a high school history teacher and the education award would go a long way toward making that happen. So, I quit my job in Los Angeles, loaded my motorcycle (not the Mothership, she came later) in the back of my truck and with a Uhaul trailer full of my belongings, bid goodbye to my family and friends. I drove to Louisiana and rented a small Section 8 apartment for $247.00 per month, settled in and headed to work to meet my two teammates.
Margaret was a Louisiana native, just moving back from Florida, who had done a stint in the Navy, held multiple degrees and was very close to completing her Masters in Emergency Management. Travis was a recent college graduate and a Marine Corps Reservist who was planning to go to medical school following his AmeriCorps term. Then there was me, the failed English major/truck driver/EMT who really wanted to be a writer but was willing to settle for being a high school history teacher.
Margaret quickly became a cultural advisor to Travis and I, as we were experiencing "fish out of water" syndrome in a place so different from our native Southern California. She advised us on matters of etiquette that we were unaware of, such as saying "Yes" instead of "Yeah" as that was seen as disrespectful especially by older people.
We were sent to Camp Frettered, Maryland for a week to complete our PreService Training (PST). This was where the three of us gelled as a team, though not as the folks in charge would have liked us to. At this training there were a lot of trust fall, build a string square, talk about your feelings sort of activities, designed to bring members closer together as a team.. Without really discussing it, Margaret, Travis and I decided that we were not going to participate in any of that nonsense. We were a little older than most of the other members and we really just wanted to go have a beer. The PST leader Dav, was not amused by our unwillingness to participate in what he felt were essential exercises and frequently shot dirty looks our way. During one of his morning speeches, he mentioned that a mangy fox had been spotted in the camp and warned all of the members not to touch it. "The nasty fox is not your friend", he said shooting me a particularly dirty look. Later that evening, I drew up a logo of a battered and bruised fox, Encircling the fox were the words "Team Nasty Fox, We're not your friends." From that point forward, the three of us were Team Nasty Fox. So, PST did, in fact, bring us together as a team and a close one, just not the way it was intended to. Sorry Dav.
We returned to Baton Rouge a team with a rudimentary understanding of what it was that the Red Cross did in relation to disasters. About two weeks later, the fecal matter contacted the fan. The Emergency Services Director, as well as the CEO and many other staff members were let go. Our direct supervisor, while a great person who we liked immensely, was not a disaster person. The entire Emergency Services department of our chapter now consisted of three people who knew nothing of the organization, two of whom didn't know the area either.
No one would have blamed us for leaving. Travis and I could have returned to California and Margaret could have moved on to another job. Alternately, we could have contacted our AmeriCorps rep and asked to be reassigned to another chapter. We didn't leave though. I don't even remember us discussing it. We just soldiered on. We quickly fell into roles (again not discussed, it just happened naturally). Since Margaret was the one who was studying Emergency Management and who wanted to work for the Red Cross, she became our leader and took over the admin, paperwork and meeting side of keeping the department going as well as working with other chapters, national headquarters and local government to find out what we should be doing. I became the field expert, handling the boots on the ground aspect of disaster response in our 10 Parish (County) jurisdiction. Travis floated in between, doing what Travis does. Team Nasty Fox was in full effect.
Around this time, through Margaret, I met Paula. Paula was a photojournalist and a one of a kind person. Whip smart, bitingly sarcastic, unflinchingly honest and gleefully subversive, I liked her immediately. The four of us quickly became fast friends, with Paula becoming the only honorary member of Team Nasty Fox.
We worked hard and played harder. Many many nights at my apartment were spent cooking all manner of meats, including raccoon and the drinking of much beer and tequila followed. Once, when Margaret and Travis had already passed out, Paula and I wanted just one more margarita. I was out of margarita mix though. Well and truly drunk, we reasoned that anything sweet would work. We filled my blender with tequila and Hershey's syrup and the Chocorita was born (Copyright Paula and Scott). I can not stress enough how much I do not recommend this concoction. Just don't do it.
A few months later, A new CEO and Emergency Services Director were hired and things settled down a bit. Shortly thereafter, our supervisor left and, recognizing the work that Margaret had done to keep things together in the absence of official leadership, the new Director offered to hire Margaret as a full time employee. Although this was what she wanted, it wasn't an easy decision for her as it presented her with two major stumbling blocks. One, if she left her AmeriCorps position before her term of service was complete, she would not receive the education award and two, if she accepted this position, she would go from being teammates with Travis and I to being our direct supervisor. I'm not sure what conversations Margaret and Travis had about this but Margaret and I took a long car ride and discussed it at length. She told me that she wouldn't be able to treat me any differently than anyone else at work just because we were friends and I told her that I would never take advantage of our friendship by putting her in that position. Problem solved, Margaret became our boss.
Right around this time, Travis decided that it would be hilarious to tell Margaret that I was in love with her. It wasn't true and I had no idea that this had taken place. Margaret was creeped out (justifiably) and pulled away from our friendship almost completely. Not being aware of what was going on, I was angry and confused. It seemed that we weren't friends anymore and I didn't know why. We barely spoke outside of work for a couple of months. At work, our conversations were cold at best. I went from wondering what was wrong to just being angry with her and being angry with Louisiana and just wanting to go home. One day, she screamed at me that I was creeping her out.
Hurt, confused and angry, I took two weeks off and drove back to California. I really was not planning to go back to Louisiana to complete my term of service since the friendship was clearly over and the environment felt hostile. I contacted my old boss in Los Angeles and set up an interview about getting my old job back. During a series of emails with Margaret and Travis, I learned what Travis had told her and made it clear to her that while I did love her as a friend, I was not in love with her, never had been and she had no reason to feel weird around me. This eased the tension considerably and although things were never quite the same after that, at Margaret's urging, I decided to return to Baton Rouge to complete my AmeriCorps term. I don't think Travis did that to be cruel. He's a nice guy. I think he thought it would cause a huge commotion and be really funny. It wasn't. At all.
A few months later, Travis and I completed our term of service and we both returned to California. While back home, I received a telephone call from Margaret and our Disaster Director offering me the full time staff position of Emergency Operations Specialist. I didn't say yes right away. I was happy to be home and I never intended to actually live in Louisiana long term. On the other hand, I had lost interest in teaching and had developed a deep connection to disaster relief in general and the Red Cross in particular. After hemming and hawing for about an hour, I called them back and accepted. I went back to Baton Rouge, where I was able to keep my same apartment and went to work as a full time Red Cross staff member.
Margaret and I again had a conversation about our friendship vs our working relationship. I told her that if our work ever got in the way of our friendship, I would leave.
I remained in Baton Rouge, working for Margaret for a few years. During that time, I learned all that I could about the organization and Margaret served as a mentor and advisor to me as it had become clear that Emergency Management was the career for me. She set me up with FEMA classes and turned me on to a distance learning Emergency Management program through Jacksonville State University.
Prior to joining the Red Cross, I was never particularly ambitious professionally. However, by this time, that had changed. I wanted to move up in the organization and it didn't seem like anyone above me was anywhere near leaving so I began to look for other opportunities. After a few interviews, I was offered the position of Emergency Services Director in Vero Beach Florida. I accepted the position and left Baton Rouge.
After that, Margaret, Paula and I stayed in touch by phone and email. In 2008, Margaret, Paula and Travis all attended my wedding in Los Angeles. It was the first time we had all been together in years. My wife and I made it out to Louisiana in 2009 to visit Margaret and Paula but I haven't been back since. Until yesterday afternoon that is. You can tell from all the history above that there was no way I was going to travel across the country and not point the Mothership's front wheel South to see my friends.
That brings us to today. After arriving at Margaret and Paula's last night and taking a much needed shower, I was finally able to meet their son, who is awesome! After my first really good sleep in over a week and a lot of catching up, Margaret began to cook. Now Margaret can cook! She can throw down some great food and today was no exception. She used what is called a La Caja China cooker. It's a plywood box that is lined with metal. It's designed for roasting whole pigs. The meat goes inside the box and the coals go on top. This emulated the way pigs and other animals are roasted in the ground. I need to build one! Margaret did ribs, chicken thighs, sausage and corn. It was EXCELLENT! It was all washed down with Margaret's home brewed beer "Nasty Fox Pilsner.". Awesome! I got to see another old friend today, Renee, who is very cool people and I got to meet some new friends as well.
In the evening, Margaret and I got Travis on the phone and got the old team back together in spirit, at least for a few minutes. Much like the night of the Chocoritas (copyright Paula and Scott), after everyone else had gone to bed, Paula and I stayed up for several hours just talking about life. Very enjoyable, I had forgotten how easy Paula is to talk to. This makes me regret the social media age even more than I did already. Although we've kept in touch via Facebook, today was the first time I had actually heard my friends' voices in many years. There is nothing that social media has to offer that can take the place of sitting around a table with a belly full of home cooked food home brewed beer catching up with a cherished friend.
Stay Tuned - Tomorrow, Ferriday, LA
See you on the road.
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