In another time I'd have just packed him up to the bus station and plucked down my credit card for his bus ticket to New Orleans myself. BTW, I talk to people, including street people all the time.
Wyatt's different. He went into denial when Katrina hit. He was touring around on the road, playing music in Humboldt, CA when it hit.
I got the long version of story, he's very cool, very much at a turning point where he can face the loss of everything he'd known in Nola and is ready to go back and rebuild and contribute. He's got a great attitude considering, and he manages to score a roof over his head more often than not and makes a little money playing guitar on the street; so he pretty clean.
"To this day I still never reached 95% of the people on my phone list. And the people I cared about the most I only knew from their first names, that's the scene I'm in we only know first names, like Math from "I Hate God" [band]."
He was telling me about the 1964 Beatles mixing console that's gone forever ("the recording studio was on the edge of the Ninth Ward").
He's a musician, recording engineer, and seems to be a bit of a geek -- knows how to code a bit in C++ and Java and HTML and his nickname is "Wire".
Funny thing, now I think about it, that the most vitally interesting part of the story of 'disaster' and 'loss' is the aftermath, the wake, the recovery. Nearly no one asks me about that myself, mostly people want to hear about the very day of the tsunami.
Thankfully I was in no position myself to hand him a bus ticket (he never asked, it was what I would have wanted to do) or even a quarter. I hunched down to ground level to chat with him and look directly into his peacock blue eyes:
"So are you from Palo Alto?" "Naw. Stranded. I'm from New Orleans. A woman in Belmont gave me a roof last night, dropped me off here."
So instead I came up with a better idea that is a social media experiment...and relies on what Larry Harvey, Burning Man founder, calls connective transactions.
"The great efficiency of the modern marketplace depends on the fluidity of value as it flows in one form of commodity to another. If I should buy something from you, no relationship and no moral connection is left to relate us to one another. The value of the money I have spent speeds on to take new form as further goods and services. This is the fuel that powers our economy and produces a flow of never-ending capital around the world.
But what this transaction does not necessarily produce is connections between people. It does not produce what Robert Putnam and other writers have described as "social capital." Social capital is a very different concept. Social capital represents the sum of human connection that holds a society together, and it is fostered by networks of personal relationship. It is social capital that a culture is made of." - "Viva Las Xmas", transcript of speech by Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, April 25, 2002
Wyatt is an articulate and handsome 30-something and would be great on camera. I just pitched the idea to PodTech folks like the Scobles forgetting they are in Europe right now. Brian Oberkirch who did the Slidell LA Katrina blog just pinged me back and said he'd pitch in to help.
Part of my idea involves getting bloggers and the like to videoblog him each day as he wends his way back to Nola in a "connective" manner.
And maybe we'd help him get to the next leg on his journey using online tools (whether Craigslist to score a ride to Austin, or MySpace to post his music and get a small audience following him on the road, or CouchSurfing.com for a place to crash, etc etc).
Few people know what it's like to have everything you know pulled out from under you, and then go through the stages of denial, anger, resolution, etc. He admits he spent too long in denial, but he also seems to see it retrospectively as a growth opportunity. And getting back on his own to Nola is like a test, like an odyssey, for him.
"So why can't your recording studio boss just get you a ticket home? You said he wanted you back to help rebuild it."
"It's kinda a test."
"He's testing you? Or you testing yourself?"
"Little of both."
I have his cell and email...and I don't know how long he'll be in Palo Alto (I live about 25 miles south, just happened to be there yesterday for an IDEO author talk, Made to Stick:Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die), he's trying to head south as soon as possible. I figure if he can pull together bus fare, he can stay at my place tonight.
"So what do you think was mixed on that Beatles console?" I ask Wyatt.
"Hmmm, 1964." He stops for a minute reflecting. "All You Need is Love, I bet."
p.s. This social media experiment in connective transactions just hatched. I absolutely cannot do this alone. Please pass along, leave suggestions especially how you'd like to participate, trackbacks, etc. Thanks! Blessings! My phone is 408.513.7324 and my email is crossroadsdispatches =at= gmail *dot* com.