Friday, July 27, 2007

Louisiana on the Front Lines

Things here have been good. We are in Lafayette tonight. The show at 307 went really well and the place was really nice too. Lafayette is interesting because it's apparently much more Cajun, (historically lower-class, more recently-arrived French-Canadian outcasts) and less Creole (like upper-class New Orleans French). We met a guy, Devon, who grew up down on the Bayous south of here and he gave us a tour of Grand Isle and the rest of the swampland. Devon told us that Grand Isle used to be a mile away from the water, but since the Mississippi River was damned in the 50s coastal errosion has brought the Gulf of Mexico within 100 yards of town. Someday, he said, the water will overtake the town.

Then we had dinner with his dad who fixed us a boiled shrimp dinner. It consisted of 20lbs of shrimp and vegetables boiled in a ten gallon pot over an open propane torch in a garage. He stirred it with a wooden boat paddle and it was served straight onto a newspaper-covered folding table. Very authentic and very delicious.

Before that we were in New Orleans and the guy who ran the RV Park we stayed at, Corry, lived in a parish just outside the Ninth Ward. He took us around to see the devastation. At first it didn't look too bad. Most of the houses were still standing in his neighborhood. But then you looked closer and you could see most of the houses were completely vacant, with very few people returning. Every one had an X spray painted on the front of it. Corry told us that the X meant that rescue workers had searched the house for bodies and then there were other marks that meant they had found someone or not, or if they had found pets, etc. Then we drove over to where the levee broke and there were only cement staircases with tall grasses for blocks and blocks. The experience was profound and I hope it transfers over into the film.

All told, Louisiana is, as Kate has said before, the front lines of industry and the economic trade-offs we've made in bringing petrolium into our lives here in this country. Almost everyone here lives off oil money, yet oil has been cause for some of the worst problems the state faces.

How to Lose an ExxonMobil Security Guard in 10 Minutes

After a long day of driving and touring around Louisiana with our gracious and informative tourguide, Devon, The Break Free Project convinced me that driving to Baton Rouge at midnight would be worth it because we'd get great shots of the oil refineries there. I tried to get a good attitude about it after David, Devon's dad, treated us to a feast of a shrimp boil and veggie-oiled it to the second biggest city in LA.

As we approached the city an hour and a half later, we saw what looked like the Magic Kingdom over the Mississippi. These lights, however, outlines tower after tower of oil refinery engineering. It was a sight to behold. So much so, that we decided we wanted a closer look! Forgetting that it was probably 2:30 AM by that time, we turned down a street that gave us a great shot of the place on either side, only to notice another vehicle with, uh oh, red and blue lights shining like a cop car!

Turns out, we weren't really supposed to be there and we spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how to NOT get our vehicle searched and avoid an interrogation from an "intelligence officer." We quickly discovered, though, that by chumming it up with these hospitable southern security personnel about their families, the oil business, Katrina, and the weather, we were limited to getting our IDs xeroxed and sent on our way with a friendly wave.

I just wish that Mavi caught on camera the main security guy saying "you can't mess with Mother Nature" as the steam poured out from the refinery behind him. Luckily she did manage to catch me asking if she was taking pictures with it (on his behalf), as well as her own response: "Oh no! I'm just looking at the pictures I took today!" This, of course, took place while she held the camera directly at him. Just another day for the Ladyhawke, who consumed that veggie-oil like I consumed Po-Boys for the last week! More from Texas and New Mexico soon!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

US Highway 90 West

Jeff, here, riding shotgun as we cruise down the coal black stretch of US Highway 90 West through rural Southern Louisiana at night. The Ladyhawke is bound for Lafayette tonight for our next show tomorrow at a club known as 307.

It’s about 9:30pm right now and we’re running late as usual. This time it was a clogged pre-filter and it hit us at a bad time too. We had just fueled ourselves to the gills on beautiful amber-clear grease from the back of the world-famous CafĂ© Du Monde and we expected smooth sailing and the faint smell of beignet-scented exhaust so we set out late in the evening – about seven.

Everything seemed peachy for about an hour when the telltale lethargy of a clogged fuel line overcame the Ladyhawke’s engine. We changed the main filter, as we had always done. No good. Kate poked her head back under the Ladyhawke’s rear end and discovered that the normally clear pre-filter was dark and cloudy. The only problem was we didn’t have a replacement and the stores would all be closed soon.

Frantically calling all the phone numbers my Google Maps would give me, we finally found an O’Reilly Auto Part in Houma, Louisiana and Kate sweet talked the old man that answered into staying open a few minutes later than he normally would. Of course we then realized that Houma is about twenty minutes south of the main highway, so we had to bust our ass to get down there before the old man gave up on us.

All this frustrated me something fierce, but what could we do? All of our pockets feel a little too light after a few nights in the French Quarter so we didn’t want to just run on diesel for the next 120 miles.

The store was open when we got there (thanks, old man). I decided not hide behind the camera this time, so I got under the Ladyhawke myself. Sure enough, there sat the fuel line with it’s clogged pre-filter looking like a garden snake if it had eaten a small rat. It came out easily enough and we popped the new one in. I didn’t even get a face-full of vegetable oil like I’d expected.

By now it was 8:30. I should know by this stage of the tour to expect antics like this every time we set out for a destination in our little grease-powered gordita, but it still gets to me.

Oh well. The air is cool as we barrel down the road and with the tilt and sway of the Ladyhawke as she listens to Clifton Chenier from our boom box and with the blackness of the Louisiana night to keep me company I’m doing just fine.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cultural Textbook

We are shocked by just how perfect the Southern states are for the purposes of this documentary and our own enlightenment. We are so glad that we chose to come to the South for the following reasons:
1) The landscapes and the people are beautiful. Traditions and community investment are deep and strong. The people we've met are kind, generous, hospitable, natural storytellers and very interested in the multidimensional health of their communities.

2) People are eager to talk to us and are enthusiastic about where they come from. Diversity is high.

3) Many people here are already way ahead of the curve when it comes to biofuels, vegetable oil conversions and sustainable living. Some of the nations leading experts and best environmental minds are living in the South. As just one example, check out . This Atlanta company has already done over 1500 veggie oil conversions.

4) Lots of fried food=Lots of GREASE!
5) Hot temperatures= nice thin grease= good viscosity=good veggie oil engine performance

6) Agriculture VS Industry, Agriculture AS Industry, Agriculture AND Industry.
The South, like all regions in the nation, continues to redefine itself based on balancing each economic force. We are seeing oil and gas refineries right next to shrimp boats and sugar cane fields which border Polymer factories. Agriculture IS industry because industrial plants and factories are sharing land and water with agriculture.

With former chef and our hero Joseph Petit who raises his own chickens, veggies, rabbits, herbs etc. etc. the old fashioned way (with tons and tons of hard work and attention rather than pesticides)

There are 100 people...

When we pulled off into the French Quarter RV resort yesterday for our first night in New Orleans, we were greeted by a Cory Cosse, a 9th Ward-raised, Louisiana-loving, trout-fishing, RV resort-attending, father and grandfather whose friendly smile and personality was detectable immediately. He had survived Hurricane Katrina in St. Bernard's, a port just outside of the New Orleans city proper and agreed to let us document his story of the storm through a personalized tour under one condition upon which WE insisted: that we could take him out to lunch (my recent exception of fish into my usually vegetarian diet could not resist another oyster po' boy).

Jeff filmed his account, so I won't elaborate all that he shared with us in this blog, but I will say this: anyone who can survive being bitten by hundreds of fireants, shivering through hypothermia, and navigating a fishing boat through 160 mph winds and 30 foot tidal crashes AND save upwards of 100 lives and call it "what anyone else would do" is exceptional. Incidentally, New Orleans is the only place he says he'll ever want to live.

And his recommendation of Tony's restaurant in St. Bernard's was just as exceptional. Altogether, just another example of what I love about humanity. And you'd better believe I'm coming back--he promised me a day of fishing.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Jackson MS-Music in the Air

Below are a few pictures of our time in Jackson, Mississippi where we made so many new friends and experienced the unique flavor of the city.
Here's Julia in the studio with our multitalented entrepreneur/musician, youth pastor and new friend, B2wice (aka Juan Wilson) and Wendell, sound engineer extaordinaire.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Jackson and want to thank Juan and our new friends Adam and Jackie Hammack (pictured below with Jeff, Mavi and Julia who gifted us with the DELICIOUS homemade pickles) and EVERYONE at the Rainbow Grocery- especially Jenny, Josh, Daniel, Bart and Charlotte (from Computer CO-OP) who showed us so much kindness

Jeff shows us all why we pay him the big bucks. Gaffer, camera-op, chief cook and bottle washer -not to mention booking agent and google map wizard- We just couldn't do this without Jeff Larson!
Kate and Mavi onstage at the impromtu Rainbow Grocery show
Julia and Kate at The Rainbow Grocery- Jackson MS
Julia and Mavi change a filter...again
Jeff greases the gasket

On the road again

Near Rocky Springs, the abandoned town that Adam showed us.

On the Natchez-Trace Parkway

Thank you Mississippi for the delicious food and the amazing hospitality. We loved Mississippi!

Spanish moss out the church window

Mavi thinks she's a real jokester with Brandon as they squish a mushroom at the RV park

according the Adam, most of Mississippi is forested

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This Blog Needs that Masculine Touch

Does this apple and cookie platter make me look too girlie?

Hey all,

Jeff here, the documentarian on tour with the Break Free Project girls. I’ve been silent here on the blog until now, but it isn’t out of protest, I’ve just had my hands full. Full of mini-dv tape to be precise. If you are reading this and you live in New York City and you would like to spend hours and hours watching raw footage, most of which is going to be completely boring, and you don’t even want to get paid for it – GIVE ME A CALL. I am going to be up to my neck in footage when I get back and start the Sisyphean task of editing this project.

Enough shop talk! The readers want to know how it is out here on the road. Let me tell you about it.

Jackson roads are giving us a tilt-a-whirl ride, but as long as we don't bottom out too much everything is okay. The Ladyhawke continues to fly with a slight tilt to the right!

Lots of politics in the air down here in Jackson. It seems everywhere you go you see ads for this or that local candidate. I personally like Robert Schuller Smith for Mississippi District Attorney. We met him the other day and he’s a real stand up kind of a guy. Really interested in developing the poorer southern parts of Jackson in Hinds County.

Its fun to live with three girls in extremely close proximity! Surprisingly peaceful. I think I’ve absorbed more estrogen than is healthy for me lately. I’ll be lactating soon if I’m not careful. Either that or all the great food has caught up to me. Look! I’m already talking about how overweight I am. I have been around girls too much.

I’ll hopefully be posting here again sooner rather than latter. Until then I’ve got to start watching some college sports and visiting a nearby gym or whatever it is real dudes do to boost their testosterone levels.

tell me church, where are your citizens?

After we feasted at the local Rainbow co-op for free (courtesy of an incredibly supportive and friendly staff), the BFP headed out of town for the afternoon with Adam Hammack, a Morrisey-loving, yellowjacket-fearing, Monte-Carlo-driving, soda-pop-prescribing, enthusiastic musician from Jackson who took it upon himself to introduce us to a town called Rocky Springs. As we passed through the thick woods and interspersed corn fields of the Mississippi outskirts on the way to this abandoned town from the 19th century, the BFP was treated to Adam's first album: an electronica interpretive 40 minutes that takes synthesizers and recording technology to its limit through a self-admitted drug-induced musical trip. He mentioned something about peyote, if I recall, but concluded that the synthetic drugs (much like his music) were preferable in his mind. Adam's generosity of spirit and expertise on the area gave us a much better idea about the state. Notably, he told us that Mississippi leads the country in statistics for teen pregnancy, crime, and segregation, but was also careful to mention that it is also the #1 state for charitable contributions per capita--turns out, it truly is "the hospitality state."
(Adam and his lovely wife Jackie)
When we arrived at the abandoned town of Rocky Springs, whose remains include no more than a church, cemetary, and a few artifacts, Adam brought us to a historical recording that described what happened in the area through a Garrison Keillor-esque inquiry to the church itself asking questions of the building like, "tell me church on the hill, where are your citizens? Are they sleeping?" Seeing as how the church could not answer save for standing silently above the recording machine, we decided to go up and take a look around. I think the church would have probably responded with "I don't really care about where the citizens are or if they're sleeping, as long as I'm here to provide a sanctuary to all passersby."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If You Give a Mouse a Benadryl...

The arrival into Jackson, Mississippi was full of beautiful back country roads, fragrant night air, and stars that appears to pop off of the sky. It was also full of podiatric agitation as the fire ant that had attack my right foot the day before caused my foot to swell well beyond its normal size. Gina Allgood took the role of Dr. Mom the night before, however, giving me three Benadryls: one for that evening, and two more for the next two days. Unfortunately, the romance of the South distracted me and I accidentally wolfed down all three at once! This left me in a strange stupor that made the sunsets we saw driving into MS all the more spectacular, although I was comforted to know that the rest of The Break Free Project found them beautiful as well. Here I am a few days later in Jackson, feeling fully recovered and pleased as punch to be allergen medicine-free.

Action Jackson

We've made it to Jackson and had some studio time with our Jackson Ambassador, B2wice aka Juan Wilson. The catfish is delicious, Fenians pub open mic was a great time and we've even spoken to the (we're sure he's going to be) future District Attorney, Robert Shuler Smith.
Stay tuned for more pictures and stories from our time in Mississippi!

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's Allgood...

We were always taught that when someone opens their home to you, that you should take it with grace and gratitude. But what happens when someone not only gives you a place to sleep, coffee every morning, dinners of shrimp and wine, tours of the Bama Theater and countryside, and songs to sing along to on their porch on your last night in town because you've insisted that they continue to entertain you? If you have any ideas, please let us know immediately, or contact David and Gina Allgood. They live in Northport Alabama, and you'll recognize their house by the beautiful porch that winds around the front and side, their backyard oasis full of heirloom tomatoes and beautiful flowers and the grey water drain tank system that David has installed in the backyard that irrigates all this lovliness even in a drought and without wasting water from the city. Thank you David and Gina for your warm hospitality and for showing us the best of Tuscaloosa and this country!

Who Revived the Electric Car?

Tuscaloosa, Alabama-

James Pearce and his son Johnston know diesels. They have been working with diesel engines for years and after gas prices became prohibitively high, their knowledge of diesel mechanics intersected with their sincere desire to be innovative, frugal, cutting edge and environmentally conscious. Our Tuscaloosa guides and goodwill ambassadors, David and Gina Allgood (more about them above!) drove us out to Hubert and his wife Madeleine's property in the beautiful country outside of Tuscaloosa. There we were shown so many amazing examples of good old fashioned American ingenuity it made our heads swim!James and Johnston collect waste veggie oil and their friends and neighbors bring them their used motor oil for recycling. They run their trucks on the biodiesel that they make from the WVO and recycle the engine oil into heating fuel. Processing the oil is done in the shop using a system that the Pearces have perfected which is very energy efficient by relying on gravity to move the oil from tank to tank. We were nothing short of blown away by James and Johnston's expertise at recycloing waste oil, but it turned out that we hadn't even seen the most marvelous machine yet...the Electric Jeep that this father and son have been envisioning and working on since seeing the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car".
This electric blue, electric powered beauty has been outfitted by parts ordered from a New Hampshire company and before long will be ready to drive this busy family in even the hottest of Alabama summers. The Pearces are going to need reliable transportation as this is the year that Johnston leaves for Warren Wilson college in Asheville NC- the recipient of a well deserved scholarship-and their daughter Julia will enter boarding school an hour away near Birmingham. Thanks a million James, Madeleine, Johnston and Julia for showing us what is possible with alternative fuels and electic cars.

Here are a few of the pictures from our time in Tuscaloosa. We will always remember the beauty and kindness that we've seen here in Alabama and have so enjoyed making new friends and being inspired by the people we've met. Alabama is a beautiful state indeed!

Gina's teacher friend Alice shows us her beautiful backyard flowers

Mavi gets the shot- Birmingham, AL

Kate in Europa Antiques, Birmingham Alabama

More of Kenneth Easterling and his son Kenyon's delicious, worth-their-weight-in-gold peaches

Tree climbing at the University of Alabama Arboretum

Erin Jones of The Left Hand Handmade Soap Company displays her typical altruism

An oil well outside of Tuscaloosa

With our new friends at the Bama Theater balcony
David and Gina Allgood, Mavi and Jeff, Kate, Barbie, Catherine and Jeff

Gina and a lovely sunset! Now we're sitting in the parking lot of The Cleansing Tide Laundromat (everything has something to do with the Crimson Tide here in Tuscaloosa), filtering the grease that we collected from Keqin Pan, an owner of a local Chinese resataurant and heading off to Jackson Mississippi.