05 November 2012

After the Storm

After the storm. My flat was in the blackout area. Photo: Iwan Baan for New York Magazine.
Hurricane Sandy. Those two words will forever be associated in my mind with one of the strangest weeks of my life. On the Saturday before the storm, I went up to Central Park to take in the last fall colours before enjoying an exhibit at the nearby New York Historical Society while on Sunday I did laundry, cleaned my flat, and stocked up on supplies. And then Monday, while I was home watching the news, all hell broke loose. A substation on 14th Street exploded and with it Manhattan below 31st Street on the West Side, including my neighbourhood, and below 39th Street on the East Side, was plunged into darkness. I was now without power, hot water, or heat.

The next four days were spent walking uptown in search of heat and a place to charge my phone and laptop. I tried to stay out as long as I could before heading back to my flat that grew colder each day. On my second day without a shower, I visited a hair salon and got my hair washed and blow-dried, which made me feel half-human. On the third day I went to the movies (time of crisis? Call on Liam Neeson). Every day ended with the return to the black hole that was the bottom half of Manhattan. Flashlight in hand, I walked from bright lights into nothing. Back at home, I huddled under the covers with my cat, Poe, trying to stay warm. I had no cell service so I would watch a DVD on my laptop before going to sleep.

Meanwhile Uptown the lights were blazing in Times Square. Photo: Michele.

It quickly became apparent that my city had been divided into two: the city of haves and the city of have-nots. Downtown, the streets were quiet save for the sound of the occasional generator and the wail of sirens. Cars drove by slowly (none of the street lights worked) and everywhere people looked cold and tired. If anything, this storm showed us how dependent we all are on our phones; there was an overwhelming need to stay connected with family, friends, and the world. In the cafes that had power just north of the blacked-out area strangers shared tables and exchanged stories, always asking the number one question on everyone’s minds—when was the power coming back on?

Uptown was a different story. Locals and tourists were shopping, taking photos, dining in restaurants—everything was normal. Here and there, I would spot a fellow refuge with the ever-telling phone and power cord in hand and a slightly dazed look on his/her face. I met many kind people like the woman at the Apple store who found me a chair and an outlet and told me to stay as long as I wanted. I have since heard stories of rudeness, of indifference. I hope these were far and few between.

Friday morning a colleague who lives on the Upper East Side offered me a hot shower, which I greedily accepted. It’s amazing how being clean can make everything seem better. On my way home, I walked by the Frick and stopped to look at the flowers in the garden—a nice spot of colour on a grey day. Later that evening, walking back to my place, I noticed that there seemed to be light. I crossed my fingers and picked up the pace. Turning on my block, I saw the lights on in my building and practically shouted. Upstairs, I found the heat already kicking on. I never knew how much I could love the sound of my hissing radiator.

This building lost its front and appeared like a dollhouse whose rooms you could look right into. Photo: Michele.

My neighbourhood was fortunate. It didn’t suffer too much damage save for a building on Eighth Avenue that lost its front. Further south it’s a different manner. South Street Seaport was inundated with water. Just a few weeks ago I was there, taking photos, which I am so happy I did. The lovely Bowne & Co. was flooded and restaurants that have been there for decades were wrecked. I don’t even know what became of the ships. My subway lines were flooded and my office building in Soho had no power, resulting in a week of no work.

Leaves on the ground in Chelsea were one of the reminders that a storm had passed through. Photo: Michele

I am one of the lucky ones. My power came back on in less than a week. There are thousands of others who are still suffering and have no heat. The nights are only getting colder and now a nor'easter is headed our way. Let's pray the lights come back on for them soon.For updates on the Hurricane aftermath, visit this New York Times page here. Want to help with the relief effort? Here's one good way.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...