Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fishin in the Gulf and Cruising St. Bernard

I was able to sandwich a fishing trip with a couple of drives through St. Bernard Parish this weekend. Fishing was fun, but getting up at 1:30 AM was not, although it is all worth it at the end of the day when you come home with a cooler full of good eats. A friend took me out on his boat from Pass Christian in Mississippi with a couple of his oldest friends for a 12 hour day on the water. If you are a novice fisherman or just trying to get out for a weekend, I highly recommend finding someone with experience to take you out. The details and minutiae can be overwhelming if you are unprepared, but when these guys have a hook for each type of fish, the pliers to pry, squeeze and pull anything from a crab, to a stingray and a seagull off of your line, fried chicken for breakfast, a cooler of water, the right weights to accommodate the water depth and fish, a battery charger for the boat, ad nauseum...really turn a possible calamity-filled adventure into a relaxing day on a boat. Not that we experienced any difficulties, but I had nary a stressful moment, unless you count reeling in and pulling a bonnethead shark out of the water.

My Catch:
4 Crabs - thrown back due to lack of value and materials for proper storage
1 Eel - head was cut and body thrown back, don't let the venomous bastards bite you
1 Seagull - these pricks kept diving after our baits when we cast it out, this one got my bait, but he got his just desserts when we had to pull the hook out of his beak. We let him fly away, although the message was sent and they left us alone after that.
2 Speckled Trout - One was too small for MS legal limits so we threw back, but the other was a massive piece of steak waiting for my grill.
1 Bonnethead Shark - A real fighter, these guys are not large, less than a meter, but they are feisty bastards. We immediately gut him and hung him over the side of the boat to let the urea out - apparently they piss through their skin and it creates an acidic flavor if you don't wash it out immediately.

Boat Catch:
7 Speckled Trout
1 Flounder
1 BonnetHead
2 White Trout
A bevy of catfish, stingray, eel, and crab that all got thrown back.

Once we got home we celebrated with a Fish Fry, which easily explains the 59 year average lifespan of Gulf residents. I love seeing normally healthy vegetables like broccoli, squash and zucchini getting battered, crumbed and deep fried en masse. When I opened the fridge and saw Cheese Dip I had a moment of clarity and made the obvious connection that broccoli dipped in cheese should not go unfried. So I think I will stay away from fried foods at least until after some angioplasty, and try to stick with some fruits and vegetables all week. Except of course when I blacken that shark, and cedar grill that speckled trout.

On my way home I drove down south a bit once I got into East New Orleans to drive back through Chalmette and Arabi on Judge Perez Dr. Those neighborhoods are still pretty skeletal, lots of trailers, vacant home lots, waterlines above the first floor, rotting buildings and few souls in sight. 3 years later, these neighborhoods have barely begun to recover. At this point I am not sure if that's a problem of FEMA, the state, the local governments, or the residents themselves. I heard an interesting viewpoint from a resident saying that when the previous residents got their FEMA checks they saw it as their first opportunity to get out of the city. That explains the mass exodus to nearby cities like Houston and also why almost half never returned. These neighborhoods that recieved some of the worst destruction and damage were also where most of the impoverished citizens lived. I think the neighborhoods themselves are a large part of the system and culture that keep the successive generations living below the poverty line. I do believe in the great American myth that anyone can pick up their bootstraps and break into a successful life, but these neighborhoods are feeding grounds for failure. We cannot take for granted the simple tools and habitats for success that can make a stark difference in the way we approach life that might be missing elsewhere. Good schools, healthy food, safe neighborhoods, open minds, extra-curricular activities, community involvement, caring citizens, even public transportation and quality healthcare. So I ask you, if you lived in a neighborhood like the 9th Ward before the storm and you got a fat check - would you rebuild your house behind a Category 3 Levee(1)? Or would you take that check and move to a decent part of Houston or Atlanta or DC or Chicago? Maybe these neighborhoods will never come back, and if they do I hope that city planners learn a lesson and apply it to the rebuilding process.

(1) The levees were rebuilt to their previous levels and can supposedly withstand a category 3+ hurricane - although Katrina was a category 3 hurricane and we saw how fast they broke down then.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Investing in Yourself

Do you ever feel like you are just not doing enough with your talents? Sometimes I feel totally secure with where I am at and what I am doing, but others I really feel like I am just wasting away. It's not that terrible, but there are so many great people out there doing great things and there are so many great things to be done, I tend to get a little hard on myself when I spend an entire evening sitting around my living room browsing the InterWeb. You wake up early for work, you work all day, you cook and eat dinner, maybe some physical activity, and before you know it the cycle is ready to begin again. I remember complaining when I first got to Louisiana that I had no time for the basics since we were working so often. Now that we have dropped to a mere 40-45 hour week, I still am having a hard time investing in myself a little bit and just checking things off my list. I still haven't even bought bread this week! Let's get this web page up, let's study for the GRE, let's invest my money better, let's buy a house. It's like if I was just a tad more productive or efficient I could already have all of these activities on some schedule or even completed.


Well I had a great weekend and I would like to thank the Kronengold's for entertaining the whole crew, and putting up with my very special brand of shenanigans. It was nice to see some of the old crowd. I also found some of the best cinnamon raisin bread I have ever experienced at a place called Sweet and Savory in Wilmington, NC. Apparently it has some humble beginnings as a bakery, but has expanded to be a full-service breakfast/lunch/dinner establishment. Great Brunswick stew and crab cakes, and my friends all had seconds on their Bloody Mary's. I am going to try to put together a Brunswick stew sometime for these cajun folk, it seems to be right up their alley. This weekend is dedicated to smoking, not the grass but the meat. I am going to try to get my ECB (El Cheapo Brinkman) up to snuff and get some ribs, salmon and pork shoulder on the grill.

All are welcome to attend...