Day 3, Tuesday-Kristin

November 13, 2008

The day started off with a cafe au lait and a beignet at Café Du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans. 

 p1000028

We continued our day with a tour of the French Quarter and a historical account of New Orleans.  The architecture in the French Quarter was very beautiful.  In this case I think a picture is worth a thousand words.  What I found interesting is that the French Quarter is along the Mississippi River, but was one of the regions not affected by the flooding that destroyed much of the other parts of the city.

 

After being introduced to the historical region of New Orleans largely untouched by the massive flooding, we returned into our van to view the massive devastation that hurricane Katrina caused.  I have to take a moment to mention that we actually fit about 16 people into a 16 passenger van.  Times are tight, especially in the back seat and when Tom goes over a few bumps.

 p1000040

 

The devastation that was caused by hurricane Katrina can still be observed 3 years later.  It is also clear that many residents began to rebuild.  What is difficult to comprehend is the reasons why people rebuild.  Beautiful homes were rebuilt next to several lots of land that only had a concrete slab.  There were also homes that were flooded and not repaired in the same neighborhood.  Also in many cases the infrastructure that previously existed in these neighborhoods was gone.  The grocery store and elementary school were shut down.  More importantly and more controversial: why would people want to rebuild in a region that is subject to flooding?  The answer to that question is much more complicated.  Could Boston decide what areas to rebuild in the event of a coastal disaster?  Would residents of South Boston and Charlestown agree on where to rebuild and why?  I think it is highly unlikely that everyone would agree  I think most people in New Orleans believe that there are risks associated with living anywhere in the United States (or anywhere in the world for that matter) and they are tied to the culture and community in which they lived.  There are certain restrictions on rebuilding.  The building has to be three feet above the ground.  There were also homes that were built much higher off the ground and with more energy efficient products such as solar panels.  Residents also have the option to buy neighboring property to extend their current homes. 

 

The second half of the day was filled with meeting clients.  Charlotte, Jim and I assisted one client with interpreting a loan from the road home project and the potential impact on taxes.

 

Dinner was at Crescent Hill Brewery.  The seafood was excellent as it tends to be in New Orleans.  Bed was in store for me. 

Day 3 – Charlotte

November 12, 2008

We started out the morning with breakfast and coffee at the historic Cafe du Monde. Many of us got our first taste of the sugary fried goodness at are beignets. Ed from North Carolina generously got each of us a hat to wear.

Beignets

Beignets

The Team in Our Hats

The Team in Our Hats

After breakfast, we met up with Bill Norris who gave us an enlightening walking tour of the city and told us some interesting stories. We heard about the search for gold and the area changing hands from the French to the Spanish and the Americans. In terms of architecture, he pointed out the different types of buildings and their functions, the prevention of devastation from fires spreading like the historic New Orleans fire etc. Bill also told us the soap opera like story of Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba who was responsible for building a lot of the area around Jackson Square. The story is one of an entrepreneurial baroness stuck in a marriage to the gold-digging Pontalba family. http://www.frenchquarter.com/history/BaronessPontalba.php 

After the tour of the french quarter, we piled in the van and took a trip out to the ninth ward and St. Bernard Parish and saw some of the areas hit the hardest by Katrina. Some people have rebuilt but their neighborhoods are still filled with those in a state of great disrepair that are completely uninhabitable. Moreover, there are many properties that used to have homes on them but now just have a set of front steps and a shut off gas line springing from the middle of the lot. Bill explained the significance of the circular markings written on the buildings by the rescue teams that came in after Katrina showing the number of people and animals found inside, many that did not survive.

Home in the 9th Ward

Home in the 9th Ward with Markings

One very encouraging thing that we saw was an example of the homes that Brad Pitt is building with the Make it Right Foundation. The homes are raised, have modern design and are more “green.”

Make it Right Home

Make it Right Home

After lunch, we met with a few clients each. One of the client’s I met with was applying for a grant to expand his barber school as well as his salon and spa. There was extensive documentation required in the application for the grant and so Gayle (from NC) and I assisted him with creating the three year projection he needed to include. It was extremely gratifying to be able to help him in a project that will so benefit the community. Not only would expansion of his business help him and create new jobs but the school (the only one in the area) would help others to get into a lucrative profession. 

After our client meetings we went to dinner at Crescent City Brew House. Many tried a sampler of all their different brews. A few of us chose to hit the Harrah’s casino afterwards, some with more luck than others.

Amy from New York with Sampler

Amy from New York with Sampler

Tuesday – Geoff is a zombie CPA

November 12, 2008

Well yes, it was difficult to raise myself this morning, but we have to help people and drink coffee.  We set out back into the French Quarter for breakfast at the Café du Monde.  The world famous beignets and coffee helped make the sunshine feel even nicer.  We were guided expertly through the Quarter by Bill Norris, tour guide and resident.  His enthusiasm and knowledge was brilliant – the area become more than a simple postcard.  We were also able to tour the areas, such as the 9th Ward, where there was extensive destruction.

 

It’s difficult to encapsulate what was in front of us – grids of cement foundations, half rebuilt residences once glorious depictions of Creole architecture, boarded up two stories looking vacantly at the sun, modern marvels developed by Brad Pitt’s team and simple empty lots with burnt out grass covering the graves of a once vital neighborhood.   In a way it felt like the people were tending a dead garden, still, three years after Katrina.  The expectation is that it could be a ten year project to fully rebuild.  Unfortunately, where people have done a great job of rebuilding in sparse patches, across the street is their neighbor’s house boarded up and rotting.  You can only imagine the negative motivation of watching life around you rot.

 

As we drove by one house there was a fellow sitting on the front stoop just waiting.  It’s uncertain to me whether he was waiting for the boarded up house to fall down or for someone to walk down the street with hammer and nails.  We’re privileged to work with and learn about Operation Hope.  All these free resources available to small businesses and so many stand on the sidelines waiting for their opportunity to pass by.

 

Collectively, as a group, we were really churning out great meetings with clients.  Tom Pender, our esteemed leader from North Carolina describes this as a non-linear mission; The Horror.  Accountants that work in paths like this get deep into the jungle and don’t come back.  You know what, though?  When you’re not concerned about billable hours, the blood of our public accounting existence, it becomes easier to just listen to your client’s story and propose one improvement.  We can’t fix all of the problems that these people bring in their dusty boxes.  For the most part we’ve found clients who are on the right track; we just need to be a sounding board and bring them some focus.  The most difficult part, from my perspective, is showing up in the morning not knowing who you’re going to meet with or what problems may need to be resolved.  Non-linear. 

 

When I was starting out in public accounting I prayed for the day when I could get past doing input work and looking everything up and I could just answer a client question with a clear, concise answer.  That took a while to get to that point, but now with experience it gets better every time.  An opportunity like this stretches your abilities, but it’s a great feeling.  There is a whole team of people here stretching at the same time and the synergies are pretty awesome.

 

Speaking of great, we got back out into the city for dinner to the Crescent City Brew House.  It was a long day where I pushed my body and mind enough to deserve an early cash out.  Some folks went to the casinos to further their “stretching,” but I was satisfied that my bed sufficiently missed me.

Day 2 – Charlotte

November 12, 2008

We started out day two with an orientation in which Tom and Oliver introduced us to the history of the project and Operation Hope as well as what to expect during the week in terms of scheduling and client questions. We also had a review of what each of us has to offer in terms of expertise so we can properly assign people to meet client needs. Oliver took some pictures of the ladies in front of Operation Hope’s sign and we joked that he was going to make a promotional calendar out of us.

Sarah from Indiana

Sarah from Indiana

Meeting with our first clients, it was amazing to see the passion the small business people have for their particular undertakings and how much they care about doing the right thing. Each person just needs a point in the right direction. While we did not meet with too many clients the first day, we did get a taste of what to expect for the week: southern hospitality, motivation and personal passion.

Our Lounge

Our Lounge

The Group

The Group

After our one on one sessions ended, we had a chance to clean up and relax before dinner. Dinner was at Acme Oyster House and many enjoyed the traditional Monday night red beans and rice. Several of us chose to hit up Bourbon street last night and enjoyed the chance to unwind and see the sites.
Acme Oyster House

Acme Oyster House

Day 2, Monday-Kristin

November 11, 2008

Day 2 was what we like to call nonlinear.  Nonlinear is a term that our leader, Tom, likes to use to describe the New Orleans experience.  As accountants, we are like to know what to expect.  We often fear the unknown and are risk adverse or in other words, linear.  Since it was our first day of work, we were all a little apprehensive.  What are they going to ask us?  Will we have the right answer?  I think it is safe to say we all found out that collectively we could solve any problem that came through the door.  It is also good to be nonlinear, so you do not miss out on life’s experiences. 

Classroom

 

We learned from a resident CPA how to deal with certain tax provisions that are specific to this area; the GO Zone accelerated depreciation, the Road Home Act, and disaster relief provisions within the law.

 

We also identified our individual talents and matched them up with the clients for the day.  We got off to a slow start, but collectively we successfully assisted 17 clients.

 

The night consisted of dinner at the Acme Oyster House.  Acme Oyster House specializes in New Orleans seafood.  I had the New Orleans special, which was excellent (gumbo, jambalaya, rice and beans(apparently a monday night special across all restaurants)).  Everyone had such a great time that we decided it would be a great idea to venture to the French Quarter.  However, not everyone headed out athough Massachusetts had a 100% attendance rate. 

Monday – Geoff sees action

November 11, 2008

Monday morning we made the trek across the parking lot to our headquarters at the University of Phoenix.  We were nourished with the accounting centric specialties of coffee and pastries.  We talked about the expectations of the project and got a nice crash course in local accounting concerns by Jerry Schreiber.  Jerry put a specific emphasis not just on what troubled the clients, but also the difficulties met by professionals in the area post the storms.

 

The afternoon was dry.  We knew that clients could be sparse, but I could only do so much puttering around on the internet.  I was able to find a bit on the client that I was to see and the preparation helped.  Jim McCoy from North Carolina and I saw our client for close to an hour and a half in a very relaxed meeting.  He was a business coach just looking to make sure his business approach was reasonable and had a few specific needs on an accounting system and other ways to streamline his processes.  He was certainly ahead of the curve and had a good plan already in place so it was a pleasure to sit down and just brainstorm how to make it better.  I think he was satisfied with our service and we felt good about the meeting.

 

Our work was done about 7:00 so it was a long first day.  We were happy to relax at dinner at Acme Seafood in Metairie.  I gave the red beans and rice with fried catfish a go and it was good.  After dinner the group split up, but wouldn’t you know it the Mass 5 were ready to hit Bourbon Street along with a few of our colleagues.  We outsourced our entertainment needs to cover bands and bartenders as well as the general soul of the area.  You may note, if you’re that intrepid, that new studies from the American Heart Association may credit Bon Jovi or Salt n’ Peppa with a positive impact on heart health.  You’ll see it in the Journal of Medicine.  We attempted to refute any empirical evidence on the Karaoke floor, but were summarily dismissed in what can only be considered pandering to the tone deaf majority.  We’ll get those doctors.  It’s only 40,000 to 15, but  I’ve seen what a little accounting can do.

Day 1 – Charlotte

November 10, 2008

I was sitting next to a very nice man from Montreal on the flight who is in town for the American Heart Association conference and the time flew by. We had a bit of a wait for a shuttle to the hotel and saw the coolest limo painted with green flames. When we got to the hotel our rooms weren’t ready to check in so we took a wander down the street to find food but unfortunately found that the restaurants were closed. We returned to the hotel and had a good lunch in the restaurant. It turned out to be perfect timing since our rooms were ready when we finished and we met participants from the other states (Indiana, New York and North Carolina) as they arrived. We each went to our rooms and took much needed naps. We loaded into the van about 6 and headed into town to the Norris’ house which was amazing. Dinner was fantastic with arugula salad topped with pomegranate seeds from the Norris’ own garden. It was a great opportunity to get to know the group we’ll be working with as well as hear some stories about the city. A lovely woman named Angela told me to look for Prospect 1 which is a series of contemporary art installations around the city. I slept like a baby last night with a heart full of excitement and red wine.

Waiting at the airport for

Waiting for the shuttle

The Norris Kitchen

The Norris Kitchen

Ms Norris' Art Collection

Ms Norris's Art Collection

Day one – Sunday, Geoff’s View

November 10, 2008

On the flight down to New Orleans I had the odd opportunity to watch a college field hockey game on the TV.  While I was completely attentive, I soon realized that if no one had told me the rules I could watch for ten years and never figure out what was happening.  All I knew was that one team put the ball in the back of the net more than the other team.  While we as professional accountants don’t like to realize it, we own a very complicated and important set of knowledge.  Most people see our work the same way in which I viewed the field hockey; they know what the tax bill is at the end of the game, but they can’t start to conceptualize those little plays we make to ensure a positive outcome.

 

If there is nothing else that we can do on this trip, our goal should be to allay the concerns that these people may have in trying to get their accounting in order.  We don’t have the time to do a formal dissection of records, but we can communicate to them as business friends that there is great opportunity in the little details.

 

We got here just after noon and arranged for a shuttle to our hotel.  We watched van after van pass by, we even saw a limo with green flames and a Jack in the Box logo, but it was of little consequence for your hungry, weary travelers.  Our van finally arrived 15 minutes late.  Perhaps this “New Orleans time” theory would be accurate.  It was beautiful and sunny and we had picked up an hour having traveled from Boston so all was well.

Day 1 (Dinner with the Team)

November 10, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. Noris's home

Mr. and Mrs. Noris graciously hosted a dinner for the entire team.  We had cheese grits, shrimp, and salad.  I have to say it was my first time having grits and it was a pleasant experience.  Although, I was told that no one dislikes cheesy grits (emphasis on the cheese).

The home was an authentic New Orleans home near the heart of the city.  There was a wonderful deck and courtyard that were popular places to congregate, especially since the weather was cooperating (and should be all week). 

Dinner was also an opportunity to get to know the other team members, especially those that were not from Massachusetts.  It was clear that there were many people from very different backgrounds.  Some at the end of their accounting careers and some at the beginning.  Given our differences, it was also evident that everyone shared the common goal of teaching financial literacy and a passion for the accounting profession .  We discussed state society happenings, the economy, New Orleans redevelopment, and our plans for the days to come.

Day 1 (Rest and relaxation)

November 10, 2008

After a long trip, we finally checked into our hotel room.  The hotel rooms were very accomadating and were a nice place to relax after a long travel day.