Downtown Manhattan has been under invasion for three weeks now. I’m not talking about the wind and tidal surge…but rather the vehicles and machines that followed. It started sensibly, almost innocently, with the official Disaster Response vehicles in tandem with the water pumping trucks and fuel tankers. There were also the portable generators and tractor trailers. But then, the vehicles became ominous and strange.The streets began to look less like Manhattan and more like Terry Gilliam’s dystopic film Brazil. And so I began to ask myself: Just what are these daemonic vehicles and contraptions? Are they taking over? The answer wasn’t as mysterious as I had imagined. After a pittance of research, I learned that these imposing, brooding machines are generally one of three things. They are either mobile – albeit massive – generators, mobile – albeit massive – boilers,
One of the neighborhoods subjected to the most devastation by Hurricane Sandy is the Rockaways, in southern Queens. I rented a car and went to the Occupy Sandy Hub in Brooklyn to ferry supplies and volunteers. We loaded the car with food, diapers, cleaning supplies before heading out through the traffic and confusion. The Rockaways is a very long peninsula, spanning some 180 streets; many of the houses have been badly damaged by flooding; power remains out at most intersections; and the sand and detritus is everywhere. We drove slowly through the streets – slowed by emergency vehicles and construction equipment everywhere – and made our delivery at Inglesia Pentacostal Rehoboth.There was a gas station with no lines across the street, however I had rented a car with a license plate ending in zero (which counts as an even number in the current gas rationing system) and therefore was not supposed to have access to gas today. (The rule is odd number plates on odd number days). I thought about this and the fact there were not only no lines, but there were absolutely no cars either. It seemed like a good rule to break. I left my volunteers at the St. Gertrude Parish.
I returned to the Occupy Sandy hub for more supplies. I re-stocked with blankets, batteries and volunteers – three moderately hip 20-somethings from Brooklyn – and was directed out to Coney Island.
Coney Island, a geographical neighbor to the Rockaways and yet separated by many miles of roads and traffic, appears to be doing better than the Rockaways, but is still struggling with a lack of power and an excess of sand
and muck. We delivered food to a small apartment building, climbing the cold dark staircase, knocking on doors and doing our best to communicate with the mostly Russian inhabitants. I was brought into the apartment of an elderly Russian lady who showed me how she has cleaned up after the six inches of flood water. She didn’t need food or water. She had been provided with those. She needed her power to be turned back on. I couldn’t do that. We hugged instead.
It was cold and ugly last night: a mix of freezing rain, snow and wind, all in all, utterly lousy.
It was just a storm like so many others, not that bad, but I went to sleep with a feeling of dread, thinking about the people in Staten Island, the Rockaways, along the Jersey shore, everyone hit so hard. This was anything but just another storm for them.
It was cold this morning, but the wind and rain were no more. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. Battery Park was quiet and peaceful. And people were pouring back into the city. The tourists were here too.
Everything seemed the same, like this storm had never happened, like it was just another hyped event, just more news to cover. But it did happen. It really did. And so now what? What do we actually do? There’s a mountain ahead, overwhelming, almost impossible…but perhaps we might follow Governor Christie‘s advice (via his mother): “Do the job you have in front of you and the rest will follow.” I know that I’ve got to get back to my book. It’s time for the final edit.
The problem with us humans is that we tend to forget. And most of what we like to forget is all the bad things that we’ve done. This planet is in trouble and we are to blame. There is no doubt about any of that.
Sadly, we have stacked the cards badly against ourselves and it doesn’t look good…but at least we can try. And today there is a choice for American voters. Barack Obama on climate change: “The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we’re contributing to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return.”
Mitt Romney on climate change: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
It is true that Obama has a long way to go on this issue, but he is the only option…unless we’re thinking of taking a starship to another planet so we can fuck that one up too.
Before today, I had not visited Staten Island properly – only a couple of times on the final leg of the popular Five Boro Bike Tour in the spring. The truth is that Staten Island does not get much positive hype in New York from the other four boroughs. It’s often derided as the weakest link, if it’s even acknowledged as a borough at all. But the news is dire from there. NY1, New York City’s much-loved 24-hour news station ran a story about an emergency relief center at Miller Field (marked as New Dorp Beach above) and they needed volunteers. I knew I could do something and took the Staten Island Ferry this morning. It was another cold crisp day, perfect for pictures of the city. I biked south on a rolling road, past brick houses and closed gas stations before going under the Verrazano Bridge and arriving at the northeastern shore of the island, the area that has been most severely hit. The wreckage is absolutely overwhelming: poles, stairwells, signs twisted and broken,entire sidewalks and yards vanished, remarkably neat rows of debris piled in front of house after house after house, and the trees and debris piled in parking lots, the abandoned cars, and the garbage piled together along the shore.
I came to Miller Field, driftwood dotting the landscape, and went to the emergency center. I found a woman in charge who told me to work in the clothing tent. I was asked to make sure that people didn’t leave clothes on the ground, that they collected only one bag each and stayed no more than 15 minutes. I wasn’t very good at that and sort of wandered around instead and picked up the loose clothes and shoes and then finally got into what I’m good at: consolidating. (My mother ingrained this into me at a young age. ) I went at the piles of boxes and garbage bags and moved the coats and blankets outside, piled the boys and girls clothes separately as neatly as I could and got the garbage outside. There were quite a few of us there – another seven or eight volunteers just in this one tent – and we soon had the area in much better shape. The people were incredibly focused, direct and hard-working. This wasn’t about being nice and pleasant; this was about getting something done. I got stupidly emotional thinking about what wonderful people they were and how I was such an ass for participating in the bad-mouthing of this, the distant borough.
I had pizza and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and worked for another couple of hours. Someone called out, “If there are any extra volunteers, the blanket lady needs help!” Somebody else arrived and announced, “Any volunteers out there? We got to move a boat out of a living room.” But I had to get going and beat the dark. I biked along the beach, much of which has been moved further into shore
and is wind-swept and oddly littered. The ride was easy, and it was cold going back to Manhattan. I stood on the bow of the ferry and imagined that I was the surge of last week’s storm, that I was coming at the city like that, relentless, constant, unstoppable. I actually spooked myself thinking like that, focusing on what it might be like to be an unconscious force that just goes on and on until it is spent…and then thought about this week’s forecast of a storm moving in, the dreaded Nor’easter, and wondered what the people of Staten Island would be doing to prepare for that.
There were only a few people in the streets of Lower Manhattan last night, nothing compared to the crowds in Brooklyn. We went to see the the BAM Opera House to see the Brazilian dance troupe, Grupo Corpo.The performance was very enjoyable, most invigorating really and enthusiastically received by the packed house. And then we had our cold walk home through Brooklyn, around the long lines for shuttle buses and across the Brooklyn Bridge – 41 degrees now – back into Manhattan, many of the buildings on the lower end still dark. We returned to Ward III in Tribeca, our refuge after the storm, to see what it would be like with power and lights. It was still dark, bu it wasn’t the same. It was loud – both the music and the people – and crowded. Our drinks were great, but the Narragansett was now in a glass and the Negroni had ice. We were still content and waxed sentimental about the Days of the Surge before going home to watch Saturday Night Live’s parody of Bloomberg’s press conference, all very amusing, especially the jokes on Bloomberg’s mastery of the Spanish language.
It is cold and bright again today and much of the wreckage remains.The Con Edison trucks are everywhere. As are the emergency relief vehicles, the used hoses and sandbags. But Leo’s Bagels is open again! Amazingly, the line is not yet out the door. And that is most definitely something. Egg and cheese, please.
It’s cold today, bright and cold on Saturday, November 3.We have our power back in the building; however that’s not the case for many of those to the east and south of us. Generators are still the norm.There isn’t so much water being pumped out now. The level is going down in the Battery Park underpass as well. Some stores are trying to open…if only half. And I’m happy to report that there was finally another animal at the Dog Run.
There are shades of normalcy coming back to the neighborhood, so much so that we have decided to venture out tonight, across the Brooklyn Bridge, to see Grupo Corpo at BAM. It will be a long, cold walk, perhaps something worth reporting.
We got our power back at 7:30 last night. I was actually writing my previous post (Sandy IX) in a deli while it happened. Oh well, missed the moment. We did have the salmon and shrimp and then played Scrabble by candlelight – and waxed nostalgic over the recent dark days.
I read The New York Times on-line later, and there are a lot of depressing numbers: casualties, those without power, percentage of operational gas stations, etc. It’s overwhelming. Here are my numbers, hopefully a little less daunting: 95 hours without power; 264 floors (ascended & descended) for Biba walks; 7 locations visited for connecting/powering up; 5 meetings cancelled; 3 buildings sighted with full power and no occupants throughout the week; 3 movies viewed (at $27 per visit!); 2 Negronis consumed ($12 per); 1 new bike lock purchased ($119!)…and 10 blogs posted. (By the way, the number of floors for Biba walks does not compare to people we were told about who lived on the 53rd and walked their dog three times a day. They eventually moved to a hotel.)
It was still dark to the east and south of us; not everyone around here has their power back just yet. I took Biba out for her late-night walk before going to bed. The elevator is a marvelous thing.
This has all been quite mentally wearing, more so than I would have thought. I mean, it really hasn’t been that bad for us. It’s true that we didn’t have power or running water, and climbing the stairs has been exhausting – especially with old Biba! But we really did have everything we needed – food, shelter and each other. (It’s true.) One of the best aspects of these past days has been planning our journeys of escape – uptown and to Battery Park City. The films have been a definite highlight. It’s a wonder what a couple of hours in the dark of a theater can do for your mindset – taken away to a different reality. That said, whatever you do, don’t see Looper. It’s not only stupidly violent; it’s also completely stupid. (And he kills himself in the end, so I’ve just ruined it for you.) Flight, on the other hand, is something to consider. It wasn’t what I expected. Interestingly enough, it has much in common with Zemickis’ previous hit, Castaway. There were some good moments and others not so much, but this film -and the others – have been about getting away from the dark…in the dark. Is that irony? I don’t know.
Being without electricity has been all right. Actually it’s been more than that. It’s been something; it’s been important and quiet – generators withstanding; it’s been still and dramatic. As the oft-quoted Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” And we do. And it’s hard to process…because storms aren’t this: They are nothing more than this… and this… and this…
I have felt like a tourist – an intruder – through it all. I have gone to look. I have gone to take pictures of the most dramatic (worst) things I could find. I have recorded the little things I have seen.
One day I might know what they mean to me. In the meantime, Con Edison has called to confirm the story in The New York Times: we are supposed to get our power back at midnight tonight. And we are going to celebrate. We’ve opened the freezer. We’re going to have salmon and shrimp. We’ll play Scrabble and toast the return of the Electronic Age with Double Cross vodka and Moroccan Mint herbal tea…but we will miss the dark, as weird as that sounds. I’m just happy that it is now (almost) in the past.
Last night was very good. We learned that Battery Park City had power, and so we went to see Ben Affleck’s Argos. We got there an hour early and sat in the deserted corridor, eating candy – Sours, Skittles, and Peanut M&Ms – all terrible and good. The credits from the previous showing were still rolling when we moved into the theater, after which we listened to Taylor Swift explain her new song Red: “It’s an interesting color because it represents so many emotions: love, obsession, jealousy and anger.” There were previews for so many films for which I suddenly became very excited Gangster Squad, Lincoln and Flight. I’m going to see them all. The opening of Argos was great, laid out in a storyboard, and there were some good moments throughout, including some Canadian-proud moments with Ken Taylor and sharp lines delivered by Alan Arkin. Since it was Halloween, we decided to search out a bar in candlelight. The streets were completely dark, eerie, almost threatening. We turned home only to happen upon Ward III, exactly what we had hoped for: candlelit, like-minded people huddled in the dark and cold drinks.
We walked home under the full moon. I read over the New York Post‘s coverage in bed: Despair. The stories were all just that, not a good read before going to sleep. The next morning was clear and crisp. I carried Biba out for her morning tour. The tree was off the car. The pumps were gushing everywhere. We went to the Dog Run, which was empty; Biba was sad about that. A taxi passed by with the thickly-bearded driver gesticulating dramatically, indicating the surge flooding over the seawall to his passengers, three very big men, suited and earnest, in the back. It was a beautiful scene, to be honest, and I got stupidly emotional until I got to the bypass to the Battery Tunnel (still flooded) and was yelled at by a very grumpy policeman. A barge has arrived at Battery Park, I don’t know what for, but it’s the kind of thing that impressive machines come out of. I came home to a wonderful breakfast of cheese, bread, asparagus, tuna and kiwis before returning to Battery Park City for the charge up and connection time. We stopped at a deli – for matches, paper plates, batteries and a pesto sauce – and the woman serving us was gruff; she threw a couple of packs of matches into the bag and said she had no batteries. And then she suddenly realized we were from the ‘dark city’ (as cited by today’s New York Times) and dropped another handful of match packs in and asked her delivery guy to check all of the boxes for D batteries. They didn’t have them. And her manner never changed. She didn’t even acknowledge our thank you. But there her sudden awareness and desire to help was most touching. It wasn’t a show. It wasn’t an automated email, asking if I was doing well. It was something she consciously did. I thought about that and got all emotional when we arrived at the World Financial Center; we found a spot under the escalator. A cleaning man came by and said I wasn’t supposed to be there, but he said not to bother moving. “I didn’t see you.” And he left. And I wrote about all of this, until I was kicked out by security and moved on to Cosi, which is most accommodating – flatbread pizza, kind people, plugs and connectivity – and, yes, I got all emotional about that too. Maybe I need more sleep.