Friday, November 9, 2012

Dark and Sandy

Hurricane Sandy hit New York on October 27th and we prepared ourselves by stocking up on food, wine, flashlights, and batteries. When it was time for the actual storm, we felt some very strong wind, barely any rain, and the power in our building flickered ever so slightly at 9:30PM. The next morning, we went outside and the street was basically fine except for a few downed trees. All in all, it was not a very dramatic event for me, my family, and my fellow residents of Fort Greene Brooklyn. As the week progressed, we stayed home from work, and we heard reports of the devastation in New Jersey, Manhattan, and other parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Rockaways. As the week progressed, it became clearer and clearer that we had dodged a bullet, as we saw the devastation caused by this massive storm.
On the 29th,  I drove down to my studio in Dumbo, and was surprised to see that there was not a drop of water anywhere, even though I had been warned there would be major flooding. My basement studio was dry as a bone, even as buildings just forty feet west of it were flooded up to three feet above the first floor. Again, I got the eerie feeling that I had been spared a catastrophe of Biblical proportions by just a few feet.

So where was all this devastation? On Thursday, November 1st, I drove my Vespa to Manhattan to go to work at the Plaza Hotel On my way there, I stopped at the apartment of Bill and Laurie, Chelsea's aunt and uncle, on 10th Street and Avenue C. What I saw there completely changed my experience. Lower Manhattan was a complete ghost town. I drove through Manhattan from the south to the north in the afternoon, during daylight hours. There was not a single traffic light functioning. Police directed traffic, and the usually cutthroat traffic was subdued as vehicles negotiated busy intersections, using only whatever philosophy they thought would save them from destruction. It occurred to me that society is a series of constructs and shared, accepted truths. The fact that human beings stop their speeding cars at red lights and wait for them to turn green seemed miraculous to me, as I edged my scooter through intersections next to bewildered drivers of all persuasions.  

After work, at midnight, as I drove south from Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, I could see that the city was completely dark below 39th Street in the distance. I drove down through midtown, Gramercy, Chelsea, the east Village, Soho, Tribeca, and Chinatown, in a complete daze. I fell into a reverie in the quiet streets. This is what Manhattan was like one hundred and fifty years ago, vefore electricity, when the Dutch, British and French vied for dominance and all above Canal Street was farmland. This is what it was like two, three, five hundred years ago when the natives who lived here ran and fished and hunted and camped. It was deeply moving and beautiful. It made me sad for the over-lit, over-exposed, over-stimulated and stimulating state of my crazy city. Why do we need so many damn lights on all the time? It was so peaceful without all those insipid advertisements and honking horns and blaring music. Don't get me wrong, I feel terrible for all of those who lost property and life in the storm, and who went without heat and water for over a week. But would it kill us to turn some lights off once in a while?

 On Wednesday, I drove my car to Rockaway beach, filled with water bottles to donate to those without water. What I saw there can't really be described. This is still happening, and it seems the best thing to do is to donate to the Rede Cross. Here's the link to donate