THE AFTERMATH CONTINUES
Thursday November 1:
“What day is it anyway?” This is the question on everyone’s lips. This week has blended together into one excruciatingly tedious day of waiting for something to happen. Yesterday, fatigue overwhelmed me. Today, I’m getting fucking angry.
Still NO cell service. Searching, searching, searching. Useless. I hate feeling this disconnected. I’m craving news. I need to know what the hell is going on! The NYSE has power, but not the rest of Lower Manhattan? Undoubtedly, it’s important to send a message to the world that we’re not totally crippled here, but this is another perfect example of the divide between “the haves” and “the have nots” in this city. If you bear witness to the state of affairs above and below 39th Street, it’s impossible to ignore this disparity.
A whole world of electricity, information, warmth, and comfort exists above the power divide at 39th. People are going about their daily lives – talk/text/email, work, dine, shop, bathe – all the things in life that we typically take for granted. Downtown, it’s an entirely different story. News is being delivered through word of mouth. People are hungry and cold. Some have lost everything they own, others are trying to salvage what’s left. It looks like a war zone. People are in survival mode.
There are fewer cars parked on my block today. Clearly more people have left. There’s a big moving truck idling in the street below. It’s the first of the month and someone’s moving out. Was that planned in advance or did they just decide to get the fuck out of here?
I admit, seeing that truck is planting a similar seed in my head, although things should eventually “return to normal”. But how long will that take? When will the grocery stores around here have food again? When will the shops and restaurants re-open? Am I gonna have to keep trekking Uptown every day? I really want to leave, but where would I go? This is not just a Manhattan problem, this is an East Coast problem. Honestly, if I had to make a choice today, I’d pack everything up and go back to Los Angeles tout de suite. Not that I can even get there! JFK and La Guardia are closed, their runways still under several feet of floodwater. No subway, no trains, no car. Grounded.
I should get outside, go for a walk, take the ‘hood’s pulse. Or maybe I should head back Uptown again. Let people know I’m alright. I doubt they’re too worried. I just feel so cut off from everything. I go Uptown, check in/charge up, get that media fix; I’m so grateful for that opportunity and my friend’s hospitality, but I just want to be at home. Being alone through all of this is no fun either. If I thought I was sick of being single before, I’m really over it now.
There’s this sweet Frenchman from Brooklyn that I met on OKC who’s been concerned about me throughout this ordeal. I want to meet him, but I’m not exactly in a dating frame of mind right now. I need take a shower first! He’s been so kind, texting to see how I’m doing, trying to keep my spirits up. It’s weird to be so intimate during a disaster with someone you don’t even know. Strange how you think about certain people in your life, and make every effort to keep in contact with them, and not others. Emergencies really test your relationships, put things in perspective. You learn where you truly stand. It’s fascinating to watch how people conduct themselves in trying situations. Some rise to the occasion, find extraordinary strength, stay positive in the face of adversity; others unravel at the seams. Under these circumstances, both reactions seem equally appropriate.
Guess I’m in a weird headspace today. I mean, last night wasn’t so bad, I made the best of it, but seriously, how long can this possibly go on? No one seems to have any answers. Having no power SUCKS! I’m trying to stay optimistic, but I’m pissed off! Life is basically par for the course Uptown, but here in The Dark Zone, we just fucking WAIT. Worrying, wondering, hoping. We’re living in limbo. Hello? Mayor Bloomberg! What are you doing about this? People need help on the Lower East Side!
The buses are so damn packed you can’t even get on them. It’s ridiculous. I just keep walking north until I find a couple that’s willing to share a cab with me. I show up unannounced, again, on Kristen’s doorstep and am welcomed with a big hug. I swear, what would I’ve done without her? They have hot water again, so I take one of the longest showers of my life. Heavenly! Almost better than post-Burning Man.
If I’m gonna go home again, I need to do it before sunset. It’s not safe to walk through the pitch-black streets of the East Village by myself. Can’t say I’m crazy about the idea of spending another night in the dark alone. Uptown it is.
Kristen offers to treat Matthew and me to dinner at a Brazilian restaurant and drinks at The Algonquin Hotel, to temporarily take our minds of things and have a little fun. I’m excited to enjoy a night out with my friends, but as we walk through Midtown, I feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Taxis honk, whizzing through the streets. All the neon signs are brightly lit. People are browsing stores, carrying shopping bags, chatting on cell phones. Life appears normal up here. But it’s not. NOT in The Dark Zone. Not even close! Does anyone have a clue what’s really going on below 39th Street? Do they even care?
It feels so lovely, going to dinner and being served; having a fancy cocktail with the ghosts of Dorothy Parker and The Vicious Circle; acting civilized for a spell. But I must confess, I feel guilty. I’m so grateful for the escape, but most are not so fortunate. As I curl up in Kristen’s heated guest room under a heap of warm blankets, I can’t sleep, thinking about my neighbors spending yet another night in the cold darkness, and all the souls who lost their lives Monday night.
Friday November 2:
ConEd just announced that we’ll get power back in Lower Manhattan today? Please, please, please!
We take the dog for a walk and hit up Starbucks again. People no longer line the sidewalks, charging their cell phones and laptops. Word on the street is, the city cut power to these outlets to prevent “loitering”.
Today there are 2 food trucks, NYC Sweetery and Mexico Food, parked on the corner of E 7th & Ave A. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many people around. I’m struck by this wave of nausea as I walk by, so I decide to get a croissant. I ask how much I owe the lady, but she says, “No charge, courtesy of JetBlue.” (Thank you.)
I knock on the door of my neighbor who lives in the building next to mine. He’s the super there and I hope I can talk to him about re-lighting the boiler pilot so we can get some hot water going again. Do you need electricity for that too? I’m not sure. I’ve yet to see my landlady all week or I’d ask her. His mother answers and tells me he’s taking a nap. Good. I know he hasn’t slept in days. I tell her about the food trucks parked on the corner, but she doesn’t want any. “Other people need it more than I do”, she says.
Back in my apartment, there’s a knock at my door. My downstairs neighbor asks if I can boil a pot of water for her. She tells me she has no gas, no more food. She just wants to wash up. Of course, it’s the least I can do. She brings me a pot and while it boils, I clean out my cupboard, packing up all the food I have for her. I can easily get more. She’s living on social security and food stamps. When she returns, she’s so grateful she’s in tears. I tell her about the food trucks too, but she doesn’t want to partake either. “There’s someone who needs it more than I do”, is what everyone says. It humbles me to the core.
There’s a few hours of daylight left, so I’m going for a walk. I’m curious to see which businesses in the neighborhood might be up and running again. I’ll make a list and report my findings on FaceBook – residents need to know what’s available nearby, restaurants need the business. They’ve lost thousands of dollars this week alone. I’ll head towards that WiFi hotspot in Union Square that I heard about…
I wander the blocks between Avenue A and 1st, my beloved East Village streets, checking in with the locals to see how they’re faring, if they’ll be open tonight. When I get to Union Square, at least 100 telecom vehicles from all over the country are parked there. Cell reception is still super spotty. I try to type my neighborhood report into a status update, but it keeps crashing and I get frustrated. It’s getting cold, communicating is again proving futile, so I decide to just head home, feeling a little defeated.
I’m walking along 14th Street, when I suddenly see signal lights pop on at Union Square East. LIGHTS! I spin around, searching for a glimmer of recognition from other people on the street. Have they noticed? I yell, “STREET LIGHTS!” and point excitedly. I walk briskly east. No lights on 3rd Avenue. I have a few bars on my cell phone though, so I stop to post the news. As I look up, all the street lights simultaneously power on, in a wave down 3rd Avenue towards Houston. I run across 13th Street, happy dancing, singing, “POWER, POWER, POWER!”
Please, tell me the lights on 2nd Avenue are on. YES! I run to 1st Avenue. Green signal lights as far as my eye can see! Lights are on in buildings! Just like you’d expect of New Yorkers, some are happily chanting, “POWER!” at the top of their lungs, others are totally un-phased. I keep stopping to post updates. It quickly becomes my personal mission to spread joy. I smile at everyone, singing “my power song”, skipping through the streets. Most people smile back, yell in solidarity, and continue spreading the joy in my wake. It feels like – a miracle has descended from above!
I dart down Avenue A and see the lamps in Tompkins Square Park glowing that beautiful amber color. Skipping down the south side of the park, I encounter an excited little dog. I mimic the dog’s happy dance, cooing “we have POWER!” as I pet her affectionately. Her owner laughs and joins in.
I bust through my front door and discover all the lights are ON. Hallelujah! I walk through my place, expressing gratitude for every lamp, outlet, and gadget. I flip every light switch on and off, talk on the phone, fire up the computer, turn on the TV. Rapture! I whip up a celebratory hot dinner and watch friends’ joyful status updates pour in on FaceBook. Everyone is elated! But some are still without. We revel, but not too much, not wanting to rub it in. All night long, I have a new appreciation for every.little.thing. We’re back, New York City!
Postscript: As monumental as it was to “get our power back”, the truth of the matter is, New York will never truly be back, in quite the same way, ever again. The story of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath was far from over after Manhattan’s Dark Zone regained most of its power on November 2, 2012. People continued to suffer without electricity, heat, hot water, garbage collection, and basic necessities, within just a few short blocks of my home, for weeks afterwards. Some people regained certain services, but not others, and there was simply no rhyme or reason to its restoration. In many places, particularly in the housing projects along Avenue D, the situation would get considerably worse before it got a little better.
The Lower East Side felt forgotten, and perhaps it was, because attention soon shifted to Staten Island and The Rockaways, and rightly so, I suppose. Watching that part of this tragedy unfold became a whole other heartbreak of epic proportions in the weeks and months following. And though that grief might’ve been briefly tempered by the bright spot of President Obama’s re-election on November 6, the Election Night energy of renewal and optimism was soon replaced by extraordinary anger and unbearable pain again, as many of New York and New Jersey’s coastal communities began feeling abandoned and insulted by the city/state/government response to their most urgent plight. Surprisingly, grassroots organizations like Occupy Sandy, powered purely by compassionate citizens and lacking in copious bureaucratic red tape, stepped up to lead a momentous recovery effort that Mayor Bloomberg’s office, FEMA, The Red Cross, and insurance companies seemed unable or unwilling to manage as successfully. The extraordinary efforts of The Occupy Movement and small, local community organizations gave people a glimmer of hope that they so desperately needed at the time, but sadly, even today, the devastation that Hurricane Sandy wielded continues, seemingly with no end in sight…
Where you on The East Coast during Hurricane Sandy? What was your experience? I’d love to hear your story, so please leave a comment below. If this post resonates with you, share with a friend, and be sure to SUBSCRIBE (in the top right hand corner of this page) so you can receive all my freshly pressed posts directly to your inbox when they go live every week!
Coming up next week: Part 3 of My Hurricane Sandy Diaries - the post-storm revelations that altered the course (and location) of my life…
Here are a few other poignant articles you may be interested in reading:
Outrage In The Powerless Zone: A Dispatch from Lower Manhattan by Christopher Robbins
The People Who Were Killed By Hurricane Sandy by Whitney Hess