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New Orleans Evacuee Sorts Out Life in Memphis


We spoke with a man named Randy Adams two weeks ago. He's a lifelong resident of the New Orleans area who long before Katrina had planned an evacuation strategy with his wife in the event of a major storm. When Katrina came roaring in, Mr. Adams and his wife, her uncle and his father, headed four hours north to Memphis, and they have been living at the downtown Red Roof Inn ever since. Randy Adams joins us now from member station WKNO in Memphis.

Mr. Adams, welcome back.

Mr. RANDY ADAMS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And how you doing?

Mr. ADAMS: We doing very well physically. All our physical needs have been addressed. And just a bit jagged on the edges mentally; I mean, we've been in a hotel for an extended period of time and a lot of quality time together. And it gets a little rough sometimes, but we're hanging in. Everyone's doing well.

SIMON: Have any idea what your house and the houses that belonged to other family members are like right now?

Mr. ADAMS: My house was still erect. The roof was gone, is my understanding, and the fences are down. My daughter, who is now up here, has lost everything. Her entire dwelling is gone. They only own now what is in their pickup truck and in their motel room.

SIMON: What is it like to live day to day at this point, or are you? Have you just decided, `Well, Memphis is our home for the next month, the next two months'?

Mr. ADAMS: Originally, it was minute by minute, hour by hour. It was just immediate survival; address the needs that we will have for today, attempt to address the needs we will have for tomorrow, and lay out a plan where we would go the next day to approach aid--the Red Cross, Salvation Army, contact FEMA; my wife had to contact unemployment; I contacted unemployment--and secure meals. Many people in Memphis have reached out to us tremendously. Various church groups fed us; different public donations. Finally, FEMA came through and agreed to pay the hotel for two weeks, and I think also the Red Cross will pick up two weeks. It has escalated now to the point where my daughter, my son-in-law and my grandchildren will be taking up permanent residence in Memphis. They've all been on job interviews and it looks very good that they both will secure a job, which then says my grandchildren will be in Memphis.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: Which has now led my wife to say, `Perhaps I want to be in Memphis as well.' And New Orleans is my home.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: I love it dearly. I promised myself I would never live anywhere else, bar a catastrophic event...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: ...and now we are in the discussion: Do we go back? Do we stay? She's very strongly inclined to stay and set up residence here.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: I want with all my heart to go back to my hometown. (Struggling with emotion) Excuse me.

SIMON: That's all right.

Mr. ADAMS: And now it becomes much more difficult long-term decisions...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: ...that my plan did not go perhaps that deep.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: But now we're at that level and I have to approach it and we have to deal with it.

SIMON: Mr. Adams, you sound like a very wise man. You know, men torn between wanting to be with--where your grandchildren are and the home you love--that's just a difficult decision for anyone.

Mr. ADAMS: It is. It is indeed. I wouldn't wish it on no one, and I think about it every evening and we discuss it every evening, and I say, `Well, we have more urgent needs to address now,' and we address those needs tomorrow. Survival--and but every night when it's quiet we talk about it. It's getting to the point where it's going to have to become a decision.

SIMON: Just day to day, what do you miss most about home?

Mr. ADAMS: On Monday in New Orleans, in the metropolitan New Orleans area, we serve a lunch called red beans and rice. I would run home on foot to get it again. We have po-boys--shrimp po-boys on Friday. We would all go to a place...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: ...pick up my dad, and work allow and situation would allow, we would all join for lunch and have shrimp po-boys or roast beef po-boys and a Barq's root beer. It's a big New Orleans tradition as well.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: Just small, subtle things that you took for granted when they were part of your everyday life, and you miss 'em with all your heart when you can't see 'em: mowing my yard, working in the garden; telling my son he's gotta put out the garbage four times before it gets put out. Just home.

SIMON: I'm so glad you've opened your life to us this way. Thank you very much.

Mr. ADAMS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Randy Adams, speaking with us from member station WKNO in Memphis, Tennessee.

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.