Stranded by Sandy

Dangling crane at One57, East 57th Street, Manhattan

I consider myself lucky in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  My apartment wasn’t flooded and I have power and running water again.  I lost nothing valuable.  I thought about not writing about my experience last week since it’s nothing like what people in the Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook, Staten Island, the Jersey Shore or Long Island are going through but it was something nonetheless.

A week ago Sunday we were warned about Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in a part of the U.S. that should not get hurricanes.  Frigid temperatures, snow, rain, heat and humidity but surely not hurricanes.  Growing up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the late 80s through 1996 I saw my fair share of tropical storms and hurricanes.  Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was the most memorable.  My family chose to evacuate to a hospital about 1-2 hours inland (Myrtle Beach is essentially an island created when they built the Intracoastal Waterway).  We filled up the bathtubs with water to flush the toilets and made sure we had flashlights, drinking water, candles and non-perishable food.  After Hugo hit we drove back to the Beach only to be stopped by the National Guard who didn’t care if my stepdad was an emergency medicine physician who could help people.  Eventually, after 1 hour of negotiation, they let us through and we made our way back home.  Since we lived in a cul-de-sac the neighbors dragged out their charcoal and gas grills and for a few days of fun cookouts.  Then came the peanut butter and jelly.  With all the downed power lines, fallen trees and debris I think it took a week for us to regain power.  My parents vowed never to evacuate again if another hurricane threatened us.  We never had to.  They’ve had other bad storms since, nothing quite like Hugo, but a curious thing has happened in the weather pattern which I’ll get to.

So I was sitting in my NY apartment watching everyone on TV go on about this Hurricane Sandy.  I was planning on riding out the storm at my bf’s place in the Financial District, Lower Manhattan.  I wasn’t really concerned about Sandy.  It’s New York.  Sandy is only a Category 1 so how bad can it be?  Plus I wasn’t sure who to believe because every storm gets elevated to world ending leaving me unsure how to evaluate these things.  Leave it to my parents to change my thinking.  As I was calmly getting my things organized they called to tell me that I needed to move all my things to higher ground.   I chuckled incredulously at their suggestion that my apartment would get flooded.  Not me, not here.  Their concern of me staying at my bf’s 38th floor apartment for this incoming storm didn’t sink in.  Well it did in the end.  I hung up the phone crying out of panic because now I was really confused about what was coming.  I called the super of my building and he said we wouldn’t get flooded.  I checked the NYC Evacuation Zone map and since I was in Zone C I felt reassured.  I grabbed my bag and headed downtown.

Despite his lack of hurricane experience my bf had filled up a bathtub with water, purchased bottles of water and had some food stocked for the next few days.  I was proud of his efforts.  He was proud of the selection of artisanal sausages he had picked up at the New Amsterdam Market from Brooklyn Cured: Cotechino (Italian style pork sausage usually eaten New Year’s Eve with lentils.  The lentils represent coins, good fortune), wild boar sausage with porcini mushrooms and curried goat sausage.  Sunday night was like any other Sunday night, calm with only mild concern about Sandy so we had the cotechino with Riesling-Braised Sauerkraut and Apples (excellent recipe from Gourmet, October 2002.  And yes we had all the ingredients needed minus the juniper berries because we had planned on having sauerkraut and sausages.)

Monday morning was overcast and you could tell something was on its way.  ConEd called to warn us they may shut off power at some point during the day but we weren’t overly concerned.  Since we still had power we decided to have a fun lunch of wild boar sausage with sautéed potatoes and salad.  The afternoon dragged on into evening.  We watched two movies: “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky”  (I read the book.  The movie and actors are beautiful but it was slow at times) and “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” (fun Bollywood movie with handsome Hrithik Roshan!  3 friends on a bachelor party trip through Spain, what’s not to love?  Lovely scenery and good songs.  We even tried to recreate the dances).  Around 7:30 the building management pushed a note under the door stating that ConEd may turn off the power, and 5 minutes later they really did.  Reality set in.  Yes the winds and rains outside were getting stronger as the day went on, hitting the windows with an alarming force, but the loss of power took away our distractions.  Now Sandy was real.

Looking outside there were other buildings with power still like One Chase Manhattan Plaza.  I couldn’t understand why they would turn off the power in a residential building yet keep it on in a commercial one.  We lit small votive candles, the only candles we had (fail in the candle preparedness department).  It was strangely romantic as we looked out the north facing windows and watched the storm as it pummeled the city.  About 1 hour later we saw an otherworldly display of green, orange and yellow light reflected in the clouds towards the East River.  Something had definitely exploded or caught on fire.  Later we learned it was the ConEd substation at 14th Street.  The lights in the buildings around us went out.  To see the city in darkness was surreal.

We went to bed around 10:30 for lack of anything else to do.  The rain continued to whip onto the building as the wind shrieked at the windows.  I felt scared but I tried to push my fear out of my head as I didn’t want to dwell on thoughts of the building getting damaged and something happening to us.  Tuesday morning was cloudy and quiet.  Looking down onto the streets below we could see people on the sidewalks.  Who were they and what were they doing?  I wanted to be them!  Another fail in our hurricane preparedness program was securing a radio.  Bf has an iPod Nano so we listened to updates on the Sandy aftermath.  It did not sound good.  Best case scenario was that there would be power at the end of the week so we accepted that and started the day.

Luckily the stove was gas so with the aid of a match we were able to start it and cook the slowly rotting things in the fridge.  Our day revolved around reading, eating, napping and talking about things other than our situation.  I introduced the phrase “If it’s yellow let it mellow, and if it’s brown flush it down,” in regards to our bathroom routine.  With 2 people it’s not so bad.  I hadn’t lived in my pajamas this long since high school.  My mom, brother, sister and I would see how long we could live in our PJs over the weekend.  Friday night to Monday morning, hurrah!  At some point on Tuesday the doormen from the building knocked on the door to check on us and other tenets on the floor.  Yes, we’re alive!  The hallway was pitch black except for a little light coming in the window at the end of the hall.

It wasn’t that we didn’t want to leave.  When we inspected the 2 stairwells we found no emergency lighting.  The thought of walking down 38 flights of stairs in the dark was not a happy prospect.  In our optimism we hoped that we would have power before we had to leave so we hung on through Tuesday and into Wednesday.  It was only when bf received a text message from a fellow co-worker that we were expected to work on Thursday did we begin to consider the idea of leaving our pioneer days.  There was promise of power and a regular flushing toilet at the gallery on 57th Street so maybe it was time.  All of a sudden we had something to look forward to.  The restlessness would cease.  I went to sleep excited by our next adventure.  We decided that going down 38 floors was one thing but to climb up something else so we packed 3 days worth of underwear and socks.  If my apartment in the East Village had power we would sleep there but I only have a stall shower and no means of keeping water so a usable toilet was not an option there.  Hopefully the friends who had offered a place to stay on the Upper West Side wouldn’t change their minds.

Thursday morning had purpose.  We ate breakfast, had a sponge bath, got dressed and readied ourselves for the climb down.  We had one small flashlight to light the darkened stairwell.  I emphasized the need to go slowly so we wouldn’t trip and hurt ourselves.  In the rush bf forgot a warm jacket only bringing a blazer and a scarf.  From floor 38 to 25 it was bizarre.  The building had left a few glow sticks on the stairs but thank goodness for our flashlight.  If it failed I had a lighter in my back pocket.  When we got to 18 things seemed easy.  Around the 12th floor we ran into other people.  Those must be the people I saw on the street!  People who lived from the 12th floor and down could easily make it down to the street and go outside.  I envied them.  Finally we got to the lobby of the building, slightly winded and dazed.  First we would check on my apartment to make sure it wasn’t under 3 feet of water like my parents predicted and then, depending on the situation, we would go to the gallery.  We knew the subway and buses weren’t the best option so we hunted for a cab.  As we rode along the FDR we saw several beautiful, old plane trees that use to line the East River Park down and broken.  The road wasn’t flooded which gave me hope.  As we got to my block everything looked okay.  I was so happy when I opened the door to my apartment and everything looked just as I left it on Sunday.  It was clear I had no power so onto the gallery.

Coming into Midtown Manhattan we saw some trees down here and there but things looked normal.  Walking west on 57th Street we got a clear view of the crane that had crumpled at One57 on West 57th Street.  A nice reminder how powerful Mother Nature can be.  Surprisingly though the cranes that sit on top of the Freedom Tower waiting to install the radio antenna didn’t move an inch the entire storm and they’re on the 100th floor or so.  I plugged in my phone and it came to life with a few text messages and voicemails.  I alerted my family I was okay and secured a place to stay for the next 2 nights.

Being back at the gallery reminded me of the days just after 9/11.  Yes something terrible and life-changing had happened but here I was back at work being forced to move on.  There is little time to dwell on things when you’re expected to carry on about your regular work day and perhaps that’s a good thing.  Your focus is less on what has happened and more on what is to come.  If my home was buried under 2 feet of sand or burnt to the ground I’m sure my perspective would have been different but it wasn’t so I was dealing with my reality.

We were at the gallery Thursday, Friday and Saturday putting back together our work week.  My friend on the Upper West Side was happy to have us stay so we showered for the first time in 5 days and Sandy seemed far behind.  Her effects though were not easy to forget.  Having been news deprived for 3 days I looked at everything I could stand on Thursday, all the unreal pictures from NY and NJ.  All I could think of was South Carolina and how these things don’t happen up North.  Now they do I guess.  Oh yeah, that weather pattern thing I mentioned earlier.  When I went to college a funny thing happened to the hurricane season: it shifted from moving right into the Eastern Seaboard of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and into the Gulf of Mexico.  Tropical storms and hurricanes were now hitting Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast of Florida.  Hurricane Katrina?  In the early 90s that would have headed straight for the East Coast but instead it devastated the Gulf Coast.  Is it global warming?  I have to say yes.  Mother Nature is being affected by a change in the atmosphere and it’s not related to politics or economics.  I’ve even noticed a change in the seasons here in NY.  There are no distinct seasons anymore.  Summer lasts forever and rolls right into Winter.  Tornadoes happen in Brooklyn now.  Where did those come from?

I had grand plans of updating my blog last week with more pictures from Croatia but without power it’s not so easy.  It’s time to move forward now.  Of course I think about all the people without homes, heat and their possessions.  I am grateful that I survived another disaster.  I wish that these things wouldn’t happen but they do so we can only prepare for them and do the best we can.

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