After the Adventure

By Tyler Currie
Sunday, November 27, 2005

For almost two years, the Magazine has chronicled the everyday dramas of ordinary people in a series called The Adventures of . . . Now we catch up with six of our characters -- a women's basketball coach, a restaurateur, a deejay/dog walker, a comedy show producer, a paralegal and a charter school principal -- and learn where their lives have taken them


From restaurateur to evacuee

Previously: With no experience running a business, free-spirited Frank Connell sank every penny he had into opening a Tex-Mex and Cajun restaurant in Mount Pleasant. He and his cousin Mike Clements struggled for months to keep the Red Bean from folding, straining their friendship and leaving Frank physically and emotionally exhausted.

Frank Connell holds a manila folder stuffed with papers, including a letter from FEMA saying that he's ineligible for disaster assistance. "They probably think I'm trying to scam them," Frank says.

He takes a seat in a nearly empty waiting area at D.C. General Hospital, where the Red Cross and FEMA have set up a makeshift office to help people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Frank, 45, sets down the green knapsack that he calls his jiggy bag. Its usual contents include a worn passport, a change of clothes, water, a first-aid kit, some rope and a green plastic wand for scratching his back. For years Frank has kept the jiggy bag close at hand in case he needs to skip town on a moment's notice, arguing that doomsday events can strike with little warning. If his jiggy bag once indicated a minor case of paranoia, it now suggests a Boy Scout-like prescience.

Frank had moved to New Orleans after he and his cousin Mike Clements were forced to close their Tex-Mex and Cajun restaurant, the Red Bean, in January. They had missed months of rent payments before the landlord pulled the plug. On the cousins' last night in business, it seemed that every lively soul in Washington was crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the small dining room in Mount Pleasant, partying with the doomed restaurateurs. Frank made the rounds, wearing his trademark black leather cowboy hat, and he confessed a bit of relief that his flirtation with responsibility was over.

Soon Frank was back in Louisiana, where his debts from the Red Bean forced him to file for bankruptcy, he says. He went to work for a friend who owned several small restaurants, including the one advertised on Frank's mesh baseball cap, Juan's Flying Burrito. Frank, who grew up in Alexandria, has lived in the Big Easy on and off for much of his adult life. At Juan's Flying Burrito, his job as a host-busboy-office clerk brought him more satisfaction, he says, than he'd felt for a long time: It was a steady paycheck with no threat of real responsibility.

Unfortunately, Katrina rained on that parade. At least Frank was ready. He grabbed his jiggy bag before the storm hit land and eventually made his way back to Washington. For a while, he slept on the couch of cousin Mike, who is now a bartender in Columbia Heights. After a few weeks, Frank moved across the river to his mother's house in Alexandria.

Now his mother has sold the house and is getting ready to move to Hawaii. Frank isn't sure where he's going to stay after that. But he's heard that the Red Cross will put him up in a hotel, which is why he has arrived at this makeshift disaster relief center. He also wants to figure out why FEMA declared him ineligible for a cash benefit.

A Red Cross worker becomes available and calls out to Frank, who shows the man his final pay stub from Juan's Flying Burrito and a copy of the lease on his New Orleans apartment. These documents, the man says, prove that Frank qualifies for a hotel room. Soon Frank is booked at a Motel 6 on Georgia Avenue NW. His eyes sparkle, and he whispers, "I love Motel 6."

Next Frank sits across from a FEMA bureaucrat, holding out the letter from the federal agency that declares him ineligible for disaster relief. The man looks over the paperwork, including a printout of Frank's online relief application. "You filled out question 17 incorrectly," says the FEMA man.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company