MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Much of the coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has focused on the storm's heavy toll on poor New Orleanians. There are, of course, thousands of middle-class professionals who've also been left with little or nothing. NPR's Richard Gonzales spoke with a young New Orleans lawyer who evacuated to California and is trying to put his life back together.
RICHARD GONZALES reporting:
While tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents are spread out over several states looking for shelter, 39-year-old Brandon Merry(ph) finds himself in a leafy cul-de-sac in affluent Marin County, where he's still trying to process the events of the past three weeks.
Mr. BRANDON MERRY (Attorney): I feel we're the lucky ones. We're blessed, blessed because of family, blessed because of our faith. And you know, there's some guilt associated with that because I try not to watch the news right now, but you see so many different stories.
GONZALES: Merry's story is that of a man who had just about everything going for him: a young family, a comfortable four-bedroom home near Tulane University and a thriving law practice. When Katrina struck, he hit the road with his wife Melissa(ph), two young daughters, a change of clothes and an 80-pound Doberman. He assumed that they would soon return home.
Mr. MERRY: We then saw on Tuesday the levee problem, and then we knew we were in bad shape.
GONZALES: Merry learned immediately that many friends and professional associates were headed to Baton Rouge and Houston. But his wife's brother, who lives in San Rafael, California, offered them the vacant home of a neighbor. The trip west took five and a half days. All the while, Melissa drove while Merry worked the cell phone, trying to stitch together a plan for the next few months.
Mr. MERRY: What's going through my mind and I guess what's coming out of my mouth during that time were two different things going through my mind, a lot of worry, a lot of self-doubt on trying to come out to a new place that I've only visited once and think that I could restart my life. And unfortunately I did not have then and still do not have the luxury to wallow in what is the misery of this disaster. We're just trying to make some lemonade because Lord knows we've got a lot of lemons.
No. Man, see, you're choking me up.
GONZALES: His house reportedly suffered minor flooding, but the stench makes it uninhabitable. His law practice is a bigger question mark because he knows that it will be a long time before any of his flooded-out victims are back in business. But in California he's already lined up a job and found a school for his six-year-old daughter. His family has a place to live for free until November, and there's no shortage of kindness from strangers, including the homeless man who begged a dollar.
Mr. MERRY: And I gave him the dollar and I told him my wife would probably kill me because we really don't have much right now and here; we're from New Orleans; we had evacuated. And he still took the dollar, but he said, `Wow, New Orleans, that was bad.' And I said, `Yeah, I'm keeping my chin up.' And I said, `But we're going to do OK. In fact, I'm actually walking right now to pick up my new business cards with my new contacts so I can land a good job out here in California.' And he didn't miss a beat. He said, `Brother, let me tell you, if that job thing doesn't work out, you come see me. I'll show you the best places to panhandle around here.' So, you know, we've been blessed out here and we're getting help from the top and the bottom.
GONZALES: Richard Gonzales, NPR News.
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