2010: Frequent Flyer Cartoonist


As the year draws to a close, the experiences that stand out the most for me were all the amazing travel opportunities I was afforded. Not only did I hit American locales like Manchester, NH; Philadelphia, PA; Dudley, MA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Chestnut Hill, MA; Madison, WI; and of course, New Orleans, LA; but I had some incredibly memorable foreign excursions as well: Burma, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, and Israel/Palestine. (I was also invited to Ravenna, Italy, for a comics festival, but had to turn it down because it conflicted with another, previously scheduled, trip.) That’s enough for a lifetime — and this was just one calendar year!

To this day, my backpacking adventures of 1992-1993 remain the most formative experiences of my "adult" life. I learned so much about myself and, of course, different places and cultures. When I was first began doing alternative comics, chronicling my backpacking experiences in Keyhole, The Vagabonds, and A Few Perfect Hours, I always held out hope that my work would get me noticed in a way that would enable more travel. Unfortunately, that never really happened.

Yet, somehow, thanks to A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, and a few lucky breaks, my long-ago wish is now coming true. A.D. has led to invitations to literary festivals (viz. the trip to Australia), academic conferences (Chicago), and college visits (Manchester, Dudley, Madison). And the book played a big part in my new part-time role as a State Dept. "comics ambassador" (Burma, the Middle East). It’s all too incredible for me to really process.

Besides getting to visit some really fascinating places, I’ve sharpened my skills as a presenter and workshop leader, met some really cool people, and most of all, been able to continue spreading the word about the people of New Orleans, post-Katrina. This is a story which continues to unfold, and will for many years to come. (Just today, I heard the news that the City of New Orleans is starting to crack down on residents who still have FEMA trailers parked in front of their homes.)

Next year I already know I’ll be visiting Atlanta, GA; Vancouver, WA; and Little Rock, AR; and if conditions are right, I hope to do another "ambassadorial" trip. I’m already excited about the places I’ll be visiting in 2011.

Happy New Year, everyone — and Happy Trails.

That’s my bro!


Congrats to my half-bro, moviethinker, for his admission into MCNY’s Masters Program in Public Administration in Emergency and Disaster Management! The 16-month program, which starts in January, includes a ten-day visit to Isreal to study with the IMI Academy for Advanced Security. Ultimately, it could lead to a position with the Red Cross, FEMA, or the NYC Office of Emergency Management. Kudos to Jake for his pursuit of such a pro-active, altruistic career path.

A Day With the Red Cross


Today Sari and I volunteered at the Red Cross of Greater New York. I had phoned them about volunteering and they called me last night to see if I could work this weekend. They needed people to answer phones at their local call center. I offered to come in today and Sari volunteered her services as well. So we set our alarms for 7 a.m. and staggered into the Amsterdam Avenue office bright and early.

Well, seems our names hadn’t been posted and the call center was full, but there turned out to be plenty to do nonetheless. People from New Orleans and Mississippi were starting to arrive: over 250 had come in on Friday and probably another 150 or so came through while we were there today. Sari was put to work processing the paperwork involved with issuing debit cards to the evacuees: $360 for an individual, $650 for a family of two, and so on up to $1500 or so. This money was in addition to the $2000 the government is promising folks via FEMA.

I was put to work in the intake room, where evacuees sat and waited to meet with a social worker and get started on their paperwork (and hopefully some short-term food and shelter). They were given meals and provided with four computers with Internet access. I set up the computers with a list of links to various resources: food, housing, employment info; and I helped people with their online FEMA applications. Many people had only the merest shred of a connection to New York; one couple I helped said the only free bus they could catch from the shelter in Texas they’d been in three days ago was headed here.

FEMA’s online application is very extensive and in some parts rather tricky. Plus, true to form, the FEMA website was completely overwhelmed and their server kept going down. The whole time I was there, I was only able to successfully process ONE application; two others pooped out in the middle of the process and one never got started because the server wouldn’t respond. It was impossible to get through to FEMA on the phone: all you got was a long-winded message. Rumor was that it may be possible to reach a real person between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Great!

It was heartbreaking seeing these bedraggled people, most of them still in shock after their ordeal, as they came to the Red Cross for help. Everybody had an unbelievable story of survival to tell, and you had to wonder about these folks and how they’d get by in our big, crazy circus of a city. Besides helping folks with their applications, I was able to assist them with other Internet-related paperwork, such as getting phone and utility bills for proof-of-address and the like. I was incredibly impressed with how patient and good-natured everybody was, and how much dignity they retained despite their circumstances. Most of them have been wearing the same clothes for a week to ten days. Imagine that!

Working there today was a powerful experience. It really showed me what an incredible job organizations like the Red Cross do for victims on the scene. And it made me think very seriously about volunteering for an extended stretch down in the affected region. I got the number of the local volunteer training coordinator and I think I will call her Monday to see about a three-week assignment. I was told it is “hardship duty” right now, but I may be ready for some of that. Anything that can help.