We were very lucky in Downtown Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy. All we lost was cable and Internet for a few hours.
However, after navigating downtown Manhattan in darkness and witnessing the devastation in Rockaway, I wanted to share some of what it was like.
View of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6. The lit buildings seen on the left are in Jersey City.
New York's newest neighborhood is No Power, the many blocks of downtown that lost power for days following the storm. Sandy hit on Monday and because the subways were flooded, I didn't make it in to work in New Jersey until Thursday. That day, ten of the Brooklyn contingent of my coworkers caught a specially-commissioned Brooklyn shuttle to CNBC at 6:30 am, with a single return shuttle scheduled for 6:30 pm.
Feeling overwhelmed by numerous events of recent weeks and reluctant to sit in traffic on the way back, I got on the 5:10 pm Manhattan shuttle and planned to walk the rest of the way home over the Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted to see what New York City was like without power. The driver wasn't planning to go down to 14th, as he would barely make it back to their HQ on his remaining gas, but he did. I think what I'll remember about the few weeks leading up to the election is that every new development or piece of news (now, maybe we'll run out of gas--and next, maybe there will be a gas panic!) seemed to add another layer of anxiety.
As soon as we drove south of 30th street or so, there were no working traffic lights.
After getting dropped off, I walked from 14th through the West Village, where the streets zag off at all angles and it's easy to get turned around in the best-lit of times. I aimed for the east, with its more predictable grid of streets and avenues. Light was already going.
It was oddly peaceful, but also unsettling and post-apocalyptic. I passed two dark newsstands with their doors open, seemingly unattended. Some restaurants and bars had candles lit to show they were at least partially open. At one lunch counter-type eatery, doors open to the sidewalk and unseasonably nice weather, people ate in silence. The only sound was forks clinking on plates.
I passed halal street meat carts running on generators like usual and the occasional cop directing traffic at intersections.
I didn't take into account how dark it would get, how fast. And how that would be scary.
As twilight became night, lower Manhattan felt like a darkening canyon.
I speak from experience: in a 1999 Kane Kaper™ impending nightfall took me by surprise when I was exploring a canyon by myself in the Nevada desert. I was able to scramble back up the boulders to my rental Mustang before a deadly snake or the ghost of an old prospector got me.
Now, the usual methods of urban orientation were not available-- that is, looking at street signs and landmarks or consulting the map on my phone. So I looked to the sky, where you could still make out outlines of buildings, searching for familiar shapes --"there's the Woolworth building!"
It made sense to stick to the avenues cars were using both for light, and also because of a new concern I almost never have in New York: safety. The side streets were pitch black. I was an illuminated iPhone screen bobbing along for the mugging. It was my only light.
And then: City Hall in darkness.
Once on the bridge, walking along with many other "commuters", it was still creepy, but I felt home free. Here's a view looking back at the southernmost part of Manhattan from the bridge.
The half of the bridge closest to Manhattan was dark.
Soon enough, I was back on the light side of the bridge, then back to the safety and electricity, running water, steam heat, cable and sometimes even Internet of the apartment in Downtown Brooklyn. It turns out putting yourself in danger is temporarily quite effective at taking your mind off other terrible things.
"Looters will be Crucified" and [on cross] "YOU GO HERE"
On the Sunday after the storm, my friend Rosy and I loaded up her car's trunk with cleaning supplies, power strips, baby stuff, and pet stuff, and aimed for the Rockaways. Her friend Ann had put out a call for help on Facebook.
As we approached the peninsula on Cross Bay Boulevard, cars, even boats were strewn everywhere at the roadside. They must have been carried by the water and left, then pushed to the side of the road so cars could go through.
As we turned onto the peninsula, a McDonald's was boarded up with spray painted signs telling potential looters it was too late-- there was nothing left. Ann's street was full of people milling around, locals in paper suits, work gloves, and boots, young presumably Occupy Sandy folks with a clipboard, a couple of guys manning a cookout station, with grills full of hot dogs and chicken.
There seemed to be plenty of help already on this street, but as we unloaded the trunk we had a mini- run on supplies. It felt great to have someone ask "Do you have bleach?" and be able to hand them a bottle of bleach. Want some Ajax too? Yeah? Great. The people we talked to seemed surprised we were there, but grateful.
In Ann's post on Facebook about their experience (I don't think it's up anymore) she said they felt ignored by the Red Cross and everybody else, especically when information about their area was nil on the radio, and then they heard the marathon was still maybe going to happen. She had nothing but praise for Occupy Sandy, who she characterized as the same hipsters that had recently descended on her home beach and made it their new summer playground with their admittedly delicious taco stand and their everything else. "I'll never make fun of a hipster again."
Ann's basement had filled all the way to the ceiling with water. She described her Sandy experience, watching the clock as the water rose almost to their first floor, which was several feet above ground level, watching the clock and counting the minutes until high tide was over, then watching it recede.
Here's the ceiling of the basement with legos stuck in it from the high water.
Ann's husband was bringing the basement's soaked contents out into the driveway. It was our task to bag up the soaked stuff into construction-grade trash bags and shlep them to the curb.
Here's Ms. Rosy learning how to use a wheelbarrow, a skill she did not pick up growing up in L.A.
The above still life is one reason I'm not the best person to clear out someone's flooded basement or probably any basement. I physically could not bring myself to throw away this antique Coca-Cola yellow wooden crate, this homemade wooden tool caddy, and the blue glass jar. I think I successfully made the case to keep these antique goods, since Ann said she'd use the wood items for plants outside but wouldn't bring them back in the house again.
Never mind the piles of basement-filling sitting at each home's curb, no doubt rich with repurpose-able old doors and windows, beautifully aged wood, etc. Never mind the anxiety that lapped at the edges of my mind about all this new waste heading for the landfills. This was not about me and my compulsion to waste not. This was about other people and their need to have liveable homes.
When going through a hurricane, it's impossible to not think of Louisiana.
In the driveway where we spent much of the day, I spotted what looked like a big silver boiling kettle full of colander-like holes. "Is that for boils?" I asked without thinking. Right, for those famous crawfish boils everybody throws in the Rockaways! No, it was the drum from Ann's ruined washing machine, which they might use for a future fire pit.
Here's Rosy, looking all Viet Cong, defending her daughter Plum, her hot dog (from the cookout on the street), and Hello Kitty. This bb gun went to the curb double-bagged so as not to be found by miscreants. There was a tougher -posed photo but I couldn't resist Plum in this one.
Here are some wholesome Mormons helping out.
In less heartwarming news, one neighbor who'd gone in search of gas reported a Connecticut gas station charging $15/gallon.
Wee four-year-old Plum was trying to understand what happened, and as we walked to the beach over sandy streets, Rosy launched into an explanation about the tides, and how the full moon made everything worse, and...
"Are you still talking to me Mama?"
The term that kept coming up during 9/11 was "surreal." This time I'd say it was "Apocalyptic" and "third world." This sand-covered street about a block in from the beach looked third world.
The boardwalk shown above took a beating, and in the photo below, it's just gone.
Above, this was one of the most nuts views to comprehend: a pile of cars.
As we said our goodbyes, I was sent away with a road soda, as they say in Louisiana, disguised in a coffee cup, which was given to me by a cop. Legally, I could not have refused this mandate.
As you can see in the final photos, we left at the magic hour, keenly aware that we had to get out of there, and it also felt like we were leaving everyone here behind. They had to get back inside, before the sun went down. Look at how close we are, in this massive Metropolis, from being ruled by sunset again.
These people have boats, boardwalk beams, car piles, sand, and the contents of homes in their streets. There's going to be a lot of work to do for months.
But as Ann said, "We'll have tacos next summer again."