Crossing Over

Tuesday Evening, October 30, 2012

I made my way back through Little Italy, reaching my apartment around noon and eating cereal for breakfast.  I hoped to work through the milk as quickly as possible before it spoiled.  Looking for ways to pass the time, I spent the next few hours getting through the bulk of the James Bond novel, Casino Royale, I'd been listening to on my Ipod, and then I decided to save the last two chapters, heading to NYU to see if I could recharge my nearly dead phone.

Walking up all ten floors of The Kimmel Center, I could not find a place to sit and charge up.  I found a spot on the 8th floor, but then I was told they were at least temporarily clearing out that floor because some faculty had been sleeping there the over last few nights.  On 9 I found another spot with two outlets, but when I asked the student sitting next to them if I could sit there, she informed me they weren't working.  It was a futile cause.  I probably could have hung around, walking up, down, and about through every hallway for the next few hours, pouncing on an outlet when someone finally got up, but I didn't feel so desperate. 

Power strips were currency there.  If you had one, and I saw many people carrying them, you could find a place to join in.  I personally had little desire to spend the subsequent two hours after I found a spot sitting on the ground with a bunch of power-hungry NYU students, being passed by countless others who could not find a spot and depressingly stormed the halls to find a place where they might be able to reconnect with Facebook and whatever other pointless pursuits waited for them on the internet.  It felt like a low priority given the consequences of the storm, and the atmosphere the student center and library bred was one I tried to avoid even when things were normal.

Not sure what else to do, I walked back down the ten flights and headed north, which, like the Hunger Games series, seemed like the mythic place not controlled by the evil central government —I'm sorry, that had electricity.  I was living in The Dark Zone, an otherworldly place of modern culture and technology but lacking in electricity, which seemed straight out of a fantasy novel.

Along the way, I saw a bodega or two open with generators running outside, allowing people to recharge their devices.  Some fifteen people huddled around each one, like a hunting party trying to keep warm around a winter campfire, desperately trying to charge up in one of the six slots available.

Sure enough, as I headed north and reached 26th and Broadway, the traffic lights were working, and north of there were lit buildings, some of them even open for business.  Around 28th Street a crowd of people gathered around the few outlets ringing the side of a restaurant.  I think I noticed another set of outlets there that wasn't being used, but I didn't bother to become part of the mob.  This felt little better than NYU, and without warmth.

In one of the strangest sights, I saw a mass of people hovering outside a closed Starbucks a few blocks later.  These people weren't after power but looking to tap into the wi-fi network provided at the coffee shop.  Like moths drawn to a flame, these would-be patrons had their faces and devices (both phones and laptops) pressed to the windows of the dark store.

As I reached 34th Street, things seemed almost back to normal.  Stores that could open were.  Both foot and car traffic were bustling.  Only the Broadway theaters were closed at Times Square, which was as lit up as ever.  You have to love that we can keep all of the video billboards in Times Square lit while Lower Manhattan goes devoid of power.

As notable as anything was the shift in demeanor between people in the dark and light zones.  Those stuck on the lower part of the island seemed to have purpose.  Their actions were much more primal, walking with focus and direction, seeking sustenance in the form of warmth, food, water, or electricity.  Uptown residents were much more lazy, strolling aimlessly like tourists, enjoying their "snow day" and complaining about minor nuisances, such as the closing of museums.

I eventually found a building at 52nd and 7th with unused outlets along the exterior, and I took a comfortable seat there in the cold, charging up my dead phone for about 90 minutes, checking in with family and friends, and beginning to work on a new song in my notebook.  Eventually, I got a text from my friend Susan, who I met this summer on my trip to Israel and coincidentally lived on my block downtown.  She wanted to know how things were going in our neighborhood, and she invited me to come join her at a friend's apartment on the Upper East Side.  Having walked so far uptown already, the remaining distance was much shorter than going home, and I could finish recharging in the warmth and among company.

On the way, I passed the under-construction midtown skyscraper with a suspended crane (top) and stopped by a patisserie, buying a delicious apple-cinnamon pastry loaf and a pumpkin eclair, which Susan and her friends Val and Carolina helped me devour.  Val, whose apartment the other two were staying at, was working as a resident at a hospital, and she'd been held for much longer hours the previous evening after NYU's Langone Hospital generators failed and many patients were transferred—apparently NYU was not impenetrable, and really dropped the ball in terms of not testing their generators at the hospital in advance of the storm.  Being extremely tired, Val slept till close to 9:00, and the rest of us went out for a quick drink before we reunited for dinner.

The southeast corner of Central Park.

As the Upper East Side went largely unaffected by the storm, most of the restaurants on 2nd Avenue were open but packed to the gills with New Yorkers recovering from cabin fever and eager to drink.  We eventually gave up on trying to find a quiet place to sit and ended up snagging a table at a rowdy barbecue joint.

When we returned to the apartment, Val was still asleep, and we had to wake her up so we could order dinner.  Even though we had power, cell service was pretty spotty, and we had a mess of a time trying to order from a local Mexican restaurant.  At one point, Susan got a call from California from the online service that provided the restaurant's internet menu.  Eventually, we just headed back out and ordered the food in-house to take back and eat with Val, who had no desire to leave the apartment.

By 11:00 I was recharged and ready to head back The Dark Zone.  Busses were supposed to be running on a partial service akin to their Sunday schedule, but I grabbed a rare taxi—for me—back home.  Zipping down a largely empty 5th Avenue, I noticed the lights went out at 30th Street, although a few of the traffic lights before were also malfunctioning. 

I finished listening to my James Bond novel that night and went to sleep shortly after midnight, not knowing what else to do the next day, let alone the following three during which we were also predicted to be without power.

NYU's Bobst Library remained lit by night.

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