“They used to go ahead and put my lunch in that liquid nitrogen [at NASA] and freeze it.”

John is definitely one of the badasses in my life.  I met him five years ago during my second term in the National Civilian Community Corps, stationed in Chalmette, LA, for Katrina recovery support.  John is the self-appointed tour guide for all volunteers that set boots in St. Bernard Parish.  He came into Camp Hope (the volunteer camp) each week with a box of doughnuts or a bag of kumquats from his tree to give to the latest group, and invited them on a five hour tour of the area.  The first time I went on one of his tours, I apprehensively wondered how might we fill a full five hours.  Would we get bored?  But John has the gumption of a thousand men, and we soon found ourselves laughing and enthralled in his stories.

John Wilkes Booth, Jr., was born February 17, 1942 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Upon giving birth, his mother developed a blood clot in her leg which made care taking difficult, so John was raised by his grandmother and aunt on an island in Chef Menteur Bayou.  She didn’t pass at that time, but later in life the clot came back in a sudden way.  In his words:

John was always a sort of prodigy to me.  It seemed like he’d done everything there was to experience in life.  He explained growing up with the land and sea as his teacher and friend outside from school.  He passed time fishing, crabbing, hunting, trapping, and anything else he could do.  In High School he worked for Beaux Brothers building roads in the Parish.

John was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War as a mechanic, which he excelled at.  He started with one plane in his care, and ended his career with two rows of 20.  That job gave him the experience he needed to work with Boeing after his discharge.  There he worked on the NASA Saturn V as the Pneumatic and Cryogenic Technician – that’s the rocket that took our men to the moon.

He finished his career as the Car Knocker at the railroad.  He coupled the cars when they came into the yard as well as had opportunities at other jobs there such as manning the crane.  Here, he tells all this in his own words.  He had me laughing when he talked about playing with liquid Nitrogen at NASA.

In all, John worries about technology and how it’s been affecting our culture.  One thing he highlighted is the things we’ve done with weapons – the plus side of splitting the atom with the power we’ve achieved, but the sheer danger of the weapons it enabled.  He believes that children are smarter today, based on the number of books he sees kids carrying to school.  But he sees them staring into their cell phones, even when spending time together, and feels the loss of the closeness people once had.  He admits, however, that science really has come far.  Here he explains both:


John is a card.  At the end of his interview, we started talking about colors.  I hope you enjoy listening to our wind down.