The parking lot outside a FedEx Kinko's on the southern outskirts of this sprawling city was dotted with Louisiana license plates. In the days following the storm that displaced hundreds of thousands of people, this place of computers, printers, fax machines, copiers and Internet connectivity became a de facto office for some of the wandering workers and professionals of New Orleans.
A woman with a crying baby on her hip took a seat at a computer and began typing her resume. A man walked in the door, plugged his cell phone into an open electrical outlet, and sat down to wait for his phone to power up.
People were finding their way to the Kinko's because it is in a small strip center a few doors down from a branch of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, where long lines of Hurricane Katrina victims waited for special food stamp assistance.
Some walked down to Kinko's to use the clean restrooms or check e-mail or file for individual assistance on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site.
One woman walked right up to the counter. "I'm from New Orleans," she said. "Can I use the computer for free?"
The cashier told her she would have to pay -- 20 to 30 cents per minute.
"I was here the other day, and they let me use it for free," she said.
"Well, we're not supposed to do that," the cashier replied.
The man next in line said, "I'm from New Orleans, too, and I don't mind paying."
He was Jerome J. Pellerin, who said he lost his law practice in the flooded city. It had taken him decades to build up a client list of some 70 small-business owners, franchisees, doctors and other professionals.
"I think I'm going to make a go of it here in Houston," he said. "I'm struggling because most of my clients are out of business. It will be months before they are back in business in New Orleans."
Pellerin is looking for a corporate gig. Last week he called a few Houston head hunters, who told him to send along his work history. But it had been many years since the lawyer had to circulate his curriculum vitae, a bound document of half a dozen pages.
"They want everything via the Internet and e-mail," Pellerin said. So he came to Kinko's to scan his resume into a computer.
Meanwhile, another man sat at a laptop docking station in the store. His cell phone rang furiously.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "I'm at a fax machine right now. Send me your information and you should hear from FEMA within three to seven days."
He was a FEMA representative, using Kinko's as an office like everyone else. The man, who declined to give his name because he said it was against policy to talk to the media, collected information from flooded homeowners and entered it into a federal government database on a small laptop.
"You have to keep calling until you get through. I'm getting 300 calls a day," he told one man sitting in Kinko's who wanted to know how he could get FEMA assistance too.
For hours, the Kinko's cashiers brought stacks of faxes over to the FEMA representative's desk as homeowners submitted copies of driver's licenses and other documentation for claims.
At lunchtime, the man gathered his laptop and supplies and scribbled a note on a piece of paper that marked his desk as among the most valuable real estate around.
"This station," it read, "is being used by FEMA."