After the no-show that was last year's Irene, which left us stranded for four extra days in Cancun, we thought, pinches gringos, how they exaggerate. However, since the images of the great eye of the storm in the sky were pretty dramatic, this time we decided to play it safe and calmly follow the panic. Here's the report.
The supermarket downstairs is in pre-apocalyptic mode. I have never seen so many people stocking up, including in 9/11. Bread is gone, water almost gone, but most importantly, supplies of potato chips and Doritos, etc. have vanished off the shelves. I guess this is what people understand by non-perishables. Being totally unversed in the arts of post-apocalyptic survival, (despite experiencing the 1985 earthquake in Mexico, 9/11 and the 2003 blackout), instead of buying unappetizing canned goods, I buy the fresh ingredients for a spaghetti carbonara, asparagus and shallots and every single supermarket item that is sure to perish in the event of a blackout. See, being a denizen of chic downtown, I am convinced that power outages are reserved for the unhip. Serves me right.
We are smugly following the dramatic non-reports as yet from wind battered TV reporters, all appliances working at full speed, when we see a huge blue aura come from about where the transformer of 14th Street is, the lights dip, and pop, we are without power. Being from nations like Mexico, where there are frequent power and water outages, we have learned one thing: power outages are extremely infrequent in the United States, but when they happen, they last forever. Basically, we're screwed. Soon we run out of water, since we live on the 13th floor and the pump doesn't get this far without electricity. Our building does not have a generator. So candlelights and wine it is. Also, pasta with broccoli and anchovies that I managed to cook before lights went out. So far so good. I feel like we're in Barry Lyndon and I am Marisa Berenson.
Outside our window, it looks like everyone is in darkness except for people above 34th St. What we can see of Soho, the West Village and the L.E.S is pitch black. But lo and behold, in the first extraordinary feat of surrealism (there are more to follow), the two NYU buildings next to us are awash in light, TVs glowing, stereos playing, water flowing. NYU has power. No one else does. Typical.
|A room without a view.|
Throughout the night, the wind shakes our windows, which the super has informed me, are shatterproof. The building creaks. Soon we learn that the big tree that gave shade to our backyard is down like a house of cards. It broke the sturdy iron garden fence and collapsed on Houston St. It could have killed someone.
|Our fallen gentle giant.|
All of lower Manhattan is in utter darkness and silence. No cars, few sirens, no noise. Eerie.
Against all sensible advice, Magnificent Arepa wants to snoop around. So down we go through thirteen flights of pitch black stairs, with our flashlights and Petra in tow.
The streets are empty, everything is closed, the wind has scattered tree branches everywhere, some windows are broken and some street signs are askew. Tourists roam around like Jews in the desert, with nothing better to do. Downtown hotels are in darkness. We go all the way down to Battery Park, with the winds still howling, and sure enough, the water has receded but I have never seen it so high. It is lapping at the level of the promenade. This is super scary. It looks like a Michael Bay movie.
We wonder if Joe's Shanghai, which never closes, is open (soup dumplings and scallion pancake would certainly restore our spirits right about now). You know that you are in deep doodoo if Joe's Shanghai is closed. My cell phone has no signal and I rue the day when I let the fucking cable company convince me to relinquish my land line. I also can't find the transistor radio that helped me miss the party at the 2003 blackout. I heeded Bloomberg's advice and stayed home while everybody had a ball on the streets.
We are effectively incommunicado. I don't mind so much living in darkness, the respite from internet is actually nice in a way, but no water is not fun. The weather has been balmy up to now (surely the reason for the storm in the first place -- global warming central), but now it's getting chilly, and no heat, no water and no power up 13 flights of stairs becomes challenging.
We go to our friends in the NYU building next door (luckily they just happened to move there), for a shower and to charge phones that don't work and go on internet. They are on the 26th floor, and the view of lights above 34th St and a black nothingness below is amazing. It is so reassuring and lovely to suddenly find out that dozens of friends are inquiring about us, some offering shelter. At this point we are seriously considering relocating, because what we hear on the streets is not good: it could take "days" to restore power. We get a godsend message from a friend who offers his apartment uptown. And we take it.
We go for a fast recon mission on the streets before trudging up the stairway. Our neighborhood and beyond are in the darkest dark, but NYU students are roaming about and the Korean delis on Broadway are open. The cashier tells me they will be open all night and selling breakfast in the morning. Two Koreans and a Mexican helper with three flashlights, and they feel safe enough to do it.
People are charging their equipment outside the NYU library and student center. Wicked Willy's, a bar on Bleecker, happens to be open, and it's doing brisk business, an oasis of light and booze in the darkness.
Through our walks during the day and at night we marvel (as we did during 9/11 and the blackout) at the civilization of New York City. I've seen one or two aimless people perhaps looking to steal something (or maybe I'm just paranoid) but other than that, that tourists and citizens feel safe enough to walk around with children and pets in tow is a testament to the safety and the greatness of this city.
Coming down in darkness with Petra and our bags and computers in tow, we find a bunch of neighbors huddled in the lobby eating pizza. Suddenly, I get pangs of survivor's guilt. Here we are, abandoning ship, while there are people in our building that have nowhere to go. A lot of elderly people cannot leave their apartments. Luckily, our building is a solid community and I know that neighbors keep an eye on each other. I tell myself that we are helping the building by not straining its resources even further. The no water situation in a 30-story building with 180 apartments is not to be taken lightly.
We are lucky to get a cab (they are scarce downtown) and a cabdriver who does not object taking us uptown and who did not gauge us. All of a sudden, as if there was a thin, invisible line demarcating the damaged from the untouched, on 26th Street there are lights, stores are open, people are going places. Frantic Manhattan as usual. It's surreal.
The trip from Houston St to 66th St, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes, took almost an hour and a half and cost $35. Mainly because of this:
|Cranes are flying.|
Uptown, it's as if nothing ever happened. It's Halloween. Adults and kids are in disguise (so not hip), the cineplex is open (praise the Lord!), restaurants are crammed. The only sign of something askew is that the supermarket has run out of fresh garlic. Meanwhile, this is the first time that we watch on TV the horrifying footage of the damage inflicted by Sandy in New Jersey, Staten Island and other places. We can't believe it. As is usual, no word whatsoever on TV about the devastating effects of Sandy on other, even less fortunate countries, like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, etc.
But there is a silver lining:
• The Halloween parade has been canceled, which gives me no small amount of glee. I hate this holiday and in particular this parade. Sorry lovers, I'm a hater.
• This storm effectively put a lid on the media obsession with the election and those stupid polls (which I am convinced are fabricated), and derailed the campaigns. This election will arrive at its home stretch with less of the incessant, polluting noise of punditry, and more of the real choice that is staring us all in the face. Sandy certainly puts in perspective the callousness of the Romney/Republican philosophy. The storm affected mostly blue states and the federal government's help will be very welcome. Obama has reacted how a president reacts. He may have severe failings, but he is a decent human being, not a robber baron. When the shit hits the fan, I'm sure all those people who clamor for less government may think twice if it it is them that have to be rescued by federal aid, by working infrastructure, by first responders, by a working government. When the shit hits the fan, are we going to vote for an experienced, serious president, or for a sleazy, indifferent corporate buffoon?
I wish safety and a speedy recovery to all those who are struggling through these difficult times.