Hurricane Katrina: New York Restaurant Manager Recalls Evacuation

By Thursday morning, the water had not receded. Mullen pulled a boat carrying his family through neck-high water to a local hospital, where the group was transported to another part of Louisiana. They later boarded FEMA buses, eventually arriving in a church shelter in Tyler, Texas.

"For me, personally, I was not used to this," he said. "I was waiting tables in New Orleans. This was surreal. I felt like I just came from a nuclear battle."

For a couple of days, Mullen and his family slept on cots in the church shelter and received food from volunteers, one of whom, Fred Haberle, offered to pay for a new apartment for Mullen and his family in town. Haberle even lent Mullen his truck to help him get his driver's license and find a job.

"We saw with Katrina, big time, that people wanted to help and open up their homes," said Joel Lesser, the president and owner of Hurricane Housing Search, a private, not-for-profit Web site that helps hurricane evacuees find temporary housing across the country by searching through a database of volunteer listings.

Of his site's approximate 10,000 listings, between 20 and 30 percent of the host listings also offer employment for evacuees, he said.

Lesser said he did not know of any similar government-operated Web sites, though FEMA provided many victims with trailers as temporary housing.

For Mullen, however, finding a job in Texas proved to be a tough task. Using the now-defunct HurricaneHousing.org, a service operated by MoveOn.org, Mullen inquired about relocating to Brewster, N.Y., north of New York City. He believed Brewster was the home of his father, who he hadn't seen in 16 years.

From there, Mullen was connected with the owner of a software company, Eric Gewirtz, who offered to let him stay in his pool house.

Leaving his daughter with her mother in Texas, Mullen flew to New York Oct. 3, 2005, with less than $250 in his pockets.

"That night, I said, 'I'm ready to work,'" Mullen remembered, adding that he typed up a resume his first night in New York. "If I don't work, then I'm going to go nuts."

Finding Work

After three days of walking door-to-door to "the nicest restaurants in Manhattan," Mullen landed a job as a food runner at V Steakhouse. After the restaurant closed in December 2005, Mullen found a string of jobs at restaurants, starting first with seasonal work as a waiter at the Oyster Bar, then at the Ono restaurant in the Gansevoort Hotel, and eventually at a newly opened restaurant, Pier 2110, in Harlem, where, after one and a half months, he was promoted to manager.

"I had to learn to curb my arrogance," Mullen said of his managerial experience. "I had been trained to be a good server from bad experiences. I had been trained to come to work 30 minutes early before my actual call time. I had trained myself to be faster, and more accurate, and more precise, and a better salesperson than anyone that I worked with."

When the Harlem restaurant closed after eight months, Mullen found himself working odd jobs in public relations.

"It was a horrible winter. Sometimes money would get really low and run out," he said. "Sometimes, I felt like giving up and going back to New Orleans. I would say, 'I don't know why I'm doing this to myself. I don't have to live like that.'"

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