Hurricane Sandy XII – Staten Island one week later

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.

Note the dried seaweed twisted around the pole four feet off the ground.

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.

This food truck handed out free waffles.

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

Note the trucks and garbage pile in the background.

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.

Hurricane Sandy XI – Egg and cheese

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.

Hurricane Sandy VII – Weird Days

I think I was a little over-detailed yesterday. It’s just that everything is so weird. I had a lot to do this week. I was going to start the final draft of My Bad Side. I had started to make notes on my next book – a trilogy about leaving for outer space! I had meetings. I had to teach. (I should also mention that my plans do not compare at all to those of my partner’s work and her amazing project coming to the Lincoln Statue next week at Union Square. (And despite everything, all of the power outages and cancelled deliveries, it is going to happen!)But these days are all weird. The first thought of the day is of course, “Is there any power?” The second thought is, “When will it come back?” (The New York TImes says tonight by midnight. Con Edison left a message with us that it would be Saturday at 11pm.) The third thought is, “I have to pee.” (And get water out of the tub to flush.)And then it’s time to walk Biba, and the weird day begins. Almost all of the little trees in this park east of Water Street are down.The truck is still underwater. And they’re still pumping water like crazy. But along with the batteries, they’re selling flowers too. We got the Spider Mums. And then I had a weird interaction with a guy that wanted money. “Hey, buddy, can I talk to you?” His eyes burned; his neck and arms were taut. “Nobody will listen down here. I don’t know what’s wrong with everybody down here. Listen, I just got out, all right? I’ve been out for two days. They gave me six years for assaulting a guy that raped my daughter, all right? And he was my fucking neighbor. And I just got out. I just need $16.25 for the bus fare, all right?” I had just bought my flowers and batteries. I gave him 85 cents. “That’s all I have.” That was true. “Thanks.” And he was gone. Things are starting to get back to normal. I think it might be time to get back to work.

Hurricane Sandy V – No Power

It’s the morning after the morning after, cool and crisp, a bit of sun, and no power still…no power where people live anyway. There does seem to be power in various empty office buildings around us, including the Helmsley Building on Broadway at Liberty, floor after floor brightly lit, and this monstrosity (the white building on the left) across from us…Note the stream of smoke coming out the side (middle of the picture, two thirds the way up), probably from their generator, keeping almost the entire building alight, with no one ever in the building…not one person through these days. (Insert profanity here.) Water is holding out well for us – at least a third of a tub full.

And food is fine. Pasta last night. Something out of the freezer tonight – probably fish – and then that’s it for the other stuff in there. I took Biba, our 13-year-old boxer, down the 13 flights. “Good girl! One more! Just one more!” It was a long slow descent. We went down to the East Side Esplanade. Same wreckage, a little boarding up, the water down a few feet in the tunnel. It’s bright and cool, water pumping out everywhere, a lot more to go. I carried Biba back up the stairs – her hind legs just don’t work – lay gasping for a minute or two and biked up into the city, through the gridlock, looking for a bike store. Our tires needed air. We made good time, easing past the blacked-out traffic lights and around a lot of impatient drivers and aggressive turns. I mentioned bad driving habits to a few. There were no bikes stores open until 80th Street across from the American Natural History Museum. I wanted to connect, charge and blog there, but it was sold out! Computers everywhere. We went back down through midtown and came back to the familiar confines of the Beer Authority. I’m charging up, watching updates and listening to the latest. Governor Cuomo had a few good words. “Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality. ” Maybe someone will listen? Ha! Good joke that one…but tomorrow is another day.

Hurricane Sandy I: The First Surge

South Ferry Station at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, 10:15am, Monday, October 29

It’s quiet in the city. The sandbags have been secured. A few windows have been taped. The police cruisers are patrolling back and forth, broadcasting over their PA for all to evacuate. Hurricane Sandy approaches.

East River Esplanade (under the FDR Parkway)
10:05am, Monday, October 29

The East River Esplanade and Battery Park are both in Zone A and were evacuated officially at 5pm yesterday. The tourists, dog walkers and ambulance chasers (who pretend to be journalists) remain.

Police and tourists at the Wall Street Bull, Bowling Green Park, 10:50am, Monday, October 29

There is little to no wind – although I can report one howling gust that sounded like a banshee coming out from the buildings. The water has barely crested the docks and walkways.

Southern tip of Battery Park, Statue of Liberty in distance, 10:30am, Monday, October 29

This morning’s high tide, at 8:30am, assisted the water’s brief and bare rise into the city. This evening’s high tide, at 8:50pm, threatens to be higher, amidst the peak of the storm. We’ll see.

Brooklyn Bridge from East River Esplanade, 10:20am, Monday, October 29