Return To Normalcy (The End Of An Era)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I got up for good around 9:00, checked my email to figure out what was going on at the wine shop, and then I called my boss to let him know I'd be able to make it in at my normal time.

Over the next hour I cleaned out my fridge, pitching a number of items that hadn't made it, wiping down the interior while it was mostly empty, and returning all of the food from the fire escape to a more moderated temperature.  I took a long hot shower, still trying to warm up from the chill of the previous night.  The tile floor in the kitchen, which I'd been walking around on all morning, remained quite cold as well.

I had the remainder of the egg salad I'd made a few days prior and another bowl of cereal, nearly finishing off the milk, which had endured in the cool weather outside.  I checked in with family and friends to let everyone know I was all right, and then I got the blog going for real, establishing the site and getting my first two posts up.

My morning mostly consisted of getting things back in order, and before long, everything seemed to be back to the way it was.  Most notably, I returned to work. This seemed to bring a close to my experience that had started with leaving work in preparation for the storm nearly a week before.

On the walk there, I saw a revived Greenwich Village.  There was a tree or two fewer, and an occasional traffic light remained out, but foot and vehicle traffic was bustling as usual.  As I'd imagined, the change back to everyday circumstance was sobering.  Like the return of NYU kids to The Greenwich Village campus each August, I felt as if the crowds of "New Yorkers" were returning to a place they did not entirely belong, infecting the neighborhoods I came to feel a particular ownership over, but just as with those experiences, I fell right back into the fold, becoming one with the masses.

I heard from many customers at work who were split between staying after the storm, toughing it out, and leaving.  Some stayed for a day or two but couldn't cope, leaving when it became apparent there was no immediate change coming.  Hotels, at least in New York, were hard to come by, and some who wanted to leave weren't able to find a place to spend the few days.  Many of our Gramercy customers lost water too, and that was really the breaking point that forced those who left to get out.  One man had a newborn baby too, and he simply said, he didn't recommend trying to get through five days under those conditions.  Those with kids or on the top floors of high-rises definitely had the toughest time.

With the return to work, it seemed like life was back to normal.  One week ago, I prepared for a lazy day off of school.  What I got was an unforgettable week of walking around New York, living through a news story that captured the attention of the country and perhaps will remain in our collective consciousness for much longer.  Like Hurricane Katrina, Sandy seems to be a wakeup call for action to prevent future "once-in-a-generation" hurricanes from becoming a global-warming induced pattern.

Whether any action—like the plans outlined in The New York Times—is taken remains to be seen, but the memories of this experience will certainly stay with me.  Until another adventure finds me with reason to write, my shared observations will go on hiatus.  Thanks again to everyone for engaging with me on my adventures, and I look forward to their future continuance soon.

A pedestrian traffic light at Thompson Street and Washington Square South remains out.

Washington Square.

5th Avenue is back to its usual bustle.

So is this intersection at 14th Street and Union Square West, which I photographed lifeless, only few days before.

Con Edison remained entrenched with trucks on the northwest side of Union Square.

Broadway at 18th Street, back to its usual weekend self.

Tape remained across windows on 20th Street, no longer necessary to prevent damage during the storm.

Journey To Brooklyn

Friday, November 2, 2012

Although I'd made do with quick cold showers the previous two days, the temperature dropped a good bit overnight into Friday.  Even as I stripped down to prepare to bathe, I felt quite uncomfortable, so I took another cue from the 19th century and heated a large pot of water on the stove, which I then doused over myself little by little.  Hot liquid has rarely felt so good, and with each subsequent dump of water over my body, I felt more rejuvenated.

I had an egg salad wrap, which I fried on the stovetop for my warm breakfast.  I worked on the blog a bit more till about noon, and then I reheated the cod fish and rice for lunch.

Around 1:15, I headed off to Brooklyn on rollerblades, which both assuaged my cramped feet, that grew tired of walking long hours in the same sneakers, and allowed me to head deeper into the borough.  I went straight to The Williamsburg Bridge, across the East River, and then down under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to The Manhattan Bridge.  At both river crossings I saw police checkpoints, which were up to stop cars with fewer than three passengers from passing into Manhattan from 6AM to midnight.  It was a way to reduce traffic and save gasoline, which I'm happy Mayor Bloomberg put into action.  I only wondered why this policy wasn't maintained during other times.  Traffic is always an issue in New York, and fossil fuels are increasingly perceived as harmful by a large population.  It would put a greater emphasis on mass-transit, and seems like common sense, at least during rush hours.

I turned onto Flatbush Avenue and followed it past the new Barclays Center—home of the Brooklyn Nets, and in a few years, The New York Islanders—and out to Prospect Park.  I thought I might skate around the park loop, but it too was closed, so I headed further east, and slalomed down an empty Washington Avenue parallel to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Rather than skate back uphill, which is always a greater challenge than walking or biking, I decided to throw on my shoes and walk back through the garden.  I'd never been there before, and even though it was not in full bloom, it made for a pleasant destination.  The Japanese Garden in particular, which didn't rely so much on plants, was quite pretty.

Looking up Bowery from Delancey Street.

Heading down Delancey Street to The Williamsburg Bridge.

Rollerblading up The Williamsburg Bridge.

Wheels go left, pedestrians right.

Looking back at Manhattan from the crest of the bridge.

Looking across East River Park and The East River towards Brooklyn and Queens.

The Freedom Tower rises in the distant Financial District.

Midtown Manhattan.

The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges span The East River, connecting Brooklyn, at left, with Lower Manhattan.

Police inspect cars to make sure they each have at least three passengers before crossing the bridge.  It appears the Audi on the left didn't make the cut.

Orthodox Jews walk around Williamsburg.  I imagined the constraints from the hurricane were less damaging to the community, which already puts many constraints on themselves to begin with.

The Empire State Building just peaks out over the top of a warehouse in Brooklyn, seen here from under The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

 Electric signage inform drivers of the three passenger policy crossing for The Manhattan Bridge.

New residential towers line Flatbush Avenue leading towards The Barclays Center at the heart of Brooklyn.

Looking down Livingston Street towards Downtown Brooklyn.

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, perhaps the most distinctive building in Brooklyn.

The brand-new Barclays Center.

A self-portrait in the reflective windows of The Barclays Center.

Grand Army Plaza at the northwest corner of Prospect Park.

The cobblestones and leaves in the plaza were treacherous to skate across, and I ended up falling once.

It appeared that airplanes were back flying routes to LaGuardia.

The Brooklyn Museum, on the north side of Prospect Park and The Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The above-ground tracks to MTA's quirky Brooklyn Shuttle line, a 7-minute ride uphill through Crown Heights, past The Botanic Garden, leftover from a more industrial past.  I considered taking the train because mass transit was still free, it would get me back up the hill, and it seemed like something curious to do.

Instead, I took the more scenic walk through The Botanic Garden.

The Rock Garden is constructed with boulders left here along the moraine at the edge of the great North American ice sheet from the last ice age.

Around 3:15, I headed back towards Williamsburg to meet Sam, where he was wrapping up a music rehearsal.  Our friend Mark also decided to join us, catching a bus from his job in Manhattan back to Brooklyn.  The three of us walked back over The Williamsburg bridge, which was bustling with commuter foot traffic the opposite direction into Brooklyn. 

Perhaps as a sign that my adventure was coming to a close, my camera battery gave way during our walk over The East River.  When we reached the other side, power appeared to be back on.  Sam in particular had been curious to see what Lower Manhattan looked like without electricity, but I feared my dark home was no longer around to share.  It caught me off guard, as I'd figured I had at least one more day to enjoy the simpler life I'd been leading.

As we crossed Bowery at Houston, a reporter for came up to us and asked about our feelings regarding the power coming back.  My first words were, "It's the end of an era," which, even as I said them, I knew were a bit exaggerated and selfish, but as you know by now, my experiences during the blackout were enlightening and a welcome respite from the grind of everyday life.  She snapped a picture of us and I told her I was working on a blog about my time during the hurricane, to which she asked for a link.  Of course, I didn't have one at the time because I'd been all but without internet since the storm, but I told her to visit my regular website where I would post a link.  As of this writing, I've yet to see the picture or a quote from one of us on dnainfo.

As I noted to the reporter, there were supposedly several reasons for the power outage, and electricity was supposed to come back across the lower part of the island in a staggered succession.  From where we stood, it didn't appear that things a few blocks away, in my neighborhood, were yet relit, and indeed, when we crossed Broadway, our surroundings got much darker.  Sam and Mark got to experience a bit of the darkness, I whipped out my flashlight, and we headed back to my apartment.

Midtown Manhattan can be seen all the way down Washington Avenue in the middle of Brooklyn.

Pretty Clinton Hill houses.

More fallen trees.

Looking west on Park Avenue at Sumner Avenue towards Downtown Brooklyn.

Walking down Borinquen Place towards The Williamburg Bridge.

Mark and Sam pause to check their phones before heading back to Manhattan.

I found it ironic that this place in electrified Brooklyn had a sign proclaiming it the "Dead Zone."

Sam and Mark walk towards the bridge.

Car traffic ascends the bridge, leaving Williamsburg.

I thought this statue at the foot of the bridge was curious, with the inscription "Valley Forge" on the pedestal.  We were clearly not in Valley Forge, so what was the meaning behind it?

Taking the pedestrian path back to Manhattan.

Looking south across Brooklyn towards the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower.

The Financial District on the far side of The East River.

Mark enjoys the view.

Arriving around 6:00, we each drank a beer on my stoop, waiting for Sam's girlfriend Kira to meet us there.  She'd just come back from her place in Hoboken, which she'd visited that day for the first time since the storm, and she relayed some of the goings on over there.  It seems her apartment went unaffected, but the gasoline shortage was becoming a bigger issue.  As soon as the storm subsided, people got back out onto the roads, but gas stations were hit like anything else and had trouble refilling their pumps.  As a consequence, she said many cars were abandoned along the roads, and lines at the open stations were hours long.  Emergency vehicles rightfully had priority, but they slowed down the lines even more, and some people had even been held at knife and gunpoint for a place at the pump.  From what I'd heard, it appeared the damage from the storm was greater in New Jersey and Staten Island, and the car culture in those places contributed to a greater dilemma.  I was fortunate to not witness any looting, mugging, or signs of such things in Lower Manhattan, but under more desperate circumstances, I may not have had such a pleasant experience.

Kira and Sam headed off to Lincoln Center for a concert, and Mark and I hung around The Village to grab a drink at two local bars, first in The Dark Zone, next to my apartment, and as the cold caught up with us, we headed across Broadway to a slightly warmer place.

As I went to sleep that evening, power was still out, the temperature dropped even lower, and I shivered even with three layers of blankets and two layers of clothes.  However, around 4AM, I got up to use the bathroom and noticed a glow in the apartment.  What I first thought was Anna having returned with a candle turned out to be our bathroom light.  While I'd unplugged nearly everything which used electricity in the apartment, our bathroom light is operated by a pull-chain, so I did not know whether it was off or on.  It turned out to work in my favor, and within a few hours, the heat started to kick in just enough to make sleeping more pleasant.

The power outage was over, and life would return to normal in the following hours, but with electricity back, I had new obligations in the morning, putting the apartment back together, and moving on from the fantastical experience.