TWO STORMS FOR FROST AND CALDERA
The first storm came for them by sea, hitting land with winds whipping faster than 150 miles per hour. Samuel Frost had gotten the warning to clear out of New Orleans the Saturday before last at 4:00pm local time. This was the city he'd lived in for all his 21 years; his fondest memory is running as a boy up Monkey Hill, the highest point of the Big Easy, and when he got to the top, rolling down the side like a lunatic. And unlike all the city storm warnings that had come before, for "this one we sensed we had to leave." He was out the door and heading out of New Orleans by 4:30pm.
"It was odd in that no one else was leaving and we were able to leave quickly," he remembers now. "We were out two days before the storm hit."
In another Louisiana parish, Vampira Caldera and her family made a similar frantic escape, as Katrina kept closing in. After the evacuation orders hit, they left with nothing but the clothes they currently wore, and even then, their exit strategy was slapdash at best. "She thought it was very temporary," a friend tells me afterward. "Left her purse at home... Her son's shorts were falling down to his ankles. He did not take a belt; go figure. So many little things we don't think about."
So in later days, after Katrina had descended on the region at full gale, they were able to watch from relative safe distance their homes being lost to the rage. Samuel did so from a friend's home in upstate Louisiana. Vampira learned of it from a Mississipi trucker motel that she shared with her two children and four other evacuees. The power in the motel flickered with the storm, so television was sporadic. Instead, she read the same book twice, found the room's Gideon Bible and read that, wrote a country ballad about the storm for her daughter to sing. Her son, austistic and deprived of his medicine (since that was left at home in their rush to flee) was racked by fits of agitation. Outside, they watched Katrina rip a nearby roof off.
This would be their home for 7 days.
And for a time there, it looked like it'd be their only home, since returning to New Orleans looked more and more like an impossibility; and if they did, what would there be for them to come back to, anyway?
That was the first storm to hit Frost and Caldera. But a second storm-- subtle, electronic, and encompassing the entire globe-- was quickly gathering around them.
In the days after Katrina's worst devastation, some of the Residents who knew them best and knew they were in New Orleans began reaching out to them. Vampira's friend Eos Zander, for example, sent her an Instant Message, and getting no reply (since after all, Vampira was currently at that truck stop without electricity, let alone a computer), also IM'd her in-world boyfriend, the charmingly-named MrTorture Whiplash. And since they were now a couple in real life as well, Whiplash was able to give her the hotel phone number to reach her at. (Samuel's in-world girlfriend Raven Pennyfeather also made similar inquiries after Frost.)
What happened next is an ongoing, inexplicable paradox of online worlds. Because once the needs were established, dozens if not hundreds of people around the globe began working separately and in concert to provide immediate, substantial real world assistance to two individuals that most of them had never met in person. Events were planned, benefits were raised, fees were collected. A Resident in Florida contacted Samuel, and offered him a place to live for awhile. "Will be starting out from scratch," Samuel tells me, via a phone call to Raven, who paraphrases for him. "Trying to get a job, car, and ultimately my independence once again."
After discerning the plight of Vampira Caldera and her family, Eos Zander sent out alerts to her Second Life friends, then set up donation boxes and planned a fundraising event at Wolf Castle with her friend Pepper Curie. The Linden Dollars began arriving from everywhere. They even came from Residents who didn't go to the event, but just read the announcements on the Forum bulletin board. "My posts in the Forums had people just giving me money even when I was offline-- 20K, 30K." It just kept coming.
By the first day, they'd raised the Linden Dollar equivalent of $300. More benefits followed, some planned by them, others arranged impromptu by friends or friends of friends. By late today, that sum had come to $700.
"We loved her actually," Pepper Curie tells me, when I ask about her interactions with Vampira. "She always came to our events and was a lot of fun and enjoyed SL very much... fun, spunky, quick wit, friendly." The description seems a little out of place for Vampira Caldera, given her fangs and skin as pale as death, and a poem in her profile that reads in part, "let the blackness roll on/mothers cold reptilian womb/ain't so cold tonight/my fingers trace the exit wound/my graveyard light."
But Pepper Curie just laughs when I point out the contrast. "Of course," she says. "We have friendly vampires here, you know. That is the fun of Second Life, people can express themselves in different ways." (And for that matter, what's New Orleans without vampires?)
Beyond the in-world benefits she'd spurred, Eos also found a place in Indiana where Vampira and her family could stay, for the time being. Then she rode with her real life husband to the border of Kentucky, to meet a minister who had driven Vampira and her children there from the motel.
So they met for the first time in the flesh on the state border. Eos had an observation for Vampira, when she got out of the car.
"I mentioned to her that she did not have fangs," Eos tells me.
Then they were hugging.
"HUGE HUG," says Eos. "Like we had known each other forever, just not seen each other for a long time. You know that feeling? We kept hugging each other."
She took them to their temporary home, a place where the needs of Vampira's autistic boy could be cared for. From there they'll go to a children's hospital to get his medications, and later, Eos will drive her around to government agencies. "Then we start work on getting documentation for her other necessities," Eos continues. "She may have a lead on two small single homes in the town where she is staying."
Of course, there was all that money she'd raised to account for, too. "Yesterday I gave her $400," says Eos. "I have another $200 here for her today." And because Vampira had left her ID and her bank card to the mercies of Katrina in New Orleans, this money transfer was cold hard cash on the barrel.
"Her eyes kind of bugged out but I think she was also a bit embarrassed," Eos Zander tells me. "I should have put it in an envelope. Not thinking," she adds, upbraiding herself. Then she grins. "She knew I was raising money, though."
When Vampira gets settled, her man Mr. Whiplash will be making the trip from Canada to visit her. (They've met in real life before, and were planning a meeting when Katrina imposed on their plans.)
"I wanna go there and help her out," Whiplash tells me. "I don't got lots of money. What I got is to get there."
For Eos Zander's part, I ask her why she's devoted so much time to help someone who was at most just a friendly acquaintance in Second Life, someone she found "to be very bright and witty, so enjoyed having her attend my events." It's also worth mentioning at this point that Eos has a chronic illness, and is prone to pain and exhaustion. (She almost had to cut our interview short for this very reason.)
"I have been an optimist all my life," she explains. "Don't dwell on myself. And if you're doing for others you're not obsessing about your illness."
Once he's settled with his friends in Florida, Samuel Frost will get back into Second Life-- the plan is to do so this Friday.
As for Vampira, says Eos, "She's DYING to get to a computer. Once she has her kids settled in school I will have her over here."