Thursday, November 1, 2012
I slept in a bit longer on Thursday, till about 10:00, and then I walked over to The Kimmel Center to see if there was any space open to charge up my computer and write. What I found was a large crowd of people sitting on the grand entrance stairs being addressed by what appeared to be an NYU faculty member. I wasn't sure if they were clearing people out or enforcing new rules, but either way, it looked like the building was a full as ever.
I headed back home, took another cold shower, and got back to work on the song I'd started a few days prior. I continued to eat cereal for breakfast, but I cooked up some more burritos too. In fact, I was pleased—though not altogether surprised—to find that steaming my already cooked rice came out much better than when I do it in the microwave. I'll have to continue that practice in the future. In addition to cooking my meal, I also figured a way to better preserve the eggs, boiling them, and making egg salad, which I would eat later.
I was much savvier lighting the stove as well. Anna had a standard Bic lighter, which is meant to be held up when used. Lighting the stove with it was a bit dangerous as it had to be held at a downward angle so the flame came back up by your finger, which would normally be out of the way when held correctly. In addition, using the lighter right to the gas put your finger up next to the stovetop flame, which I think we both found most frightening. During our great cook-in the day before, we lit two burners and kept alternating new pots and pans over them so we wouldn't have to relight the stove, which was a bit of a burden. I realized on Thursday that I ought to light something else first with the lighter and then hold the flame to the stove. This intermediary device came in the form of a chopstick. Coincidentally, I'd recently been wondering whether it was worth saving the few pairs of disposable chopsticks we'd collected from Chinese restaurants as I now had my own nicer ones. The unlacquered chopstick worked brilliantly, and lighting the stove was no longer problematic.
After lunch, I set off on another great walk, this time up the west side. I headed through Washington Square Park, which was reopened for the first time since the storm, and then up 6th Avenue. I was without destination at first, simply walking for the sake of getting out, and then I caught a view of The Highline down 19th Street, and made my way towards it, figuring that would be a lovely place to walk. As I reached the re-landscaped former railroad it became apparent it was still closed for repair after the storm. Having headed so far west, I decided to continue my journey all the way to the Hudson.
In the block or two just east of the river were many old industrial buildings pumping water out from their basements. Apparently they were still inundated, and I heard some galleries in the area lost art in the flooding. I walked out Pier 64, another re-landscaped former industrial site on The Hudson River, and sat there for a bit taking in the great views of Manhattan and New Jersey up and down the river. There was still very little boat traffic out on the usually busy waterway, and then I made my way back into town.
By The Javits Center there was restored electricity, with the first traffic lights I saw functioning at 31st and 11th Avenue. Figuring I might meet up with Susan, Carolina, and Val again, I started walking northeast across the city, stopping through Times Square once more, and finding every Starbucks packed with computer-wielding patrons. At 57th Street I saw people coming out of the F Train subway stop. I hadn't realized service had resumed, but a sign over the entrance detailed what lines were again up and running. Every line was on local service, and nothing ran to Lower Manhattan or under the rivers, but passage was free for the next two days. I thought, if nothing else, I might take the train back down as far as it went that evening before waling the rest of the way home.
For a period I thought I might hike through Central Park, but that too was closed. Instead, I sat on a bench along the side of the park, continuing to write in my notebook for a short while. From there, I went east to 2nd Avenue, having found there were more small businesses like coffee shops on it the other day. While I didn't set out with a destination, my feet were becoming tired, and I more urgently sought a warm place to sit down and perhaps charge my computer and phone, which had been all but dead since the morning.
I passed at least three cafes on my walk north along 2nd, and each was full of customers. I couldn't spot a place to even sit down. I'd heard that Barnes & Noble also had some outlets to charge at, so I continued up to 86th and Lexington, where my department used to host the NYU Jazz Interview Series. I was able to use the bathroom, but I did not spot a single outlet, and, all across the giant store, the floors, let alone chairs, were littered with people reading and typing away on their computers.
On the way over, I'd spotted two movie theaters, and I thought I might actually catch up on some of the prestige autumn films that I'd yet to see. Unfortunately, neither of them was screening anything for the next two hours. At that point, I felt a bit like the world was conspiring against me. My feet were now very cramped, my pace slowed, and a woman even notified me that my backpack was hanging open. How long had it been that way? Since Central Park? My adventure was starting to grow tiring, but as I walked back down 2nd Avenue, I noticed an open seat at the window in a Starbucks and strolled in, hoping to simply rest my legs.
I got my notebook out and wrote for the next hour and a half, scratching out meandering thoughts that mostly led nowhere. I mostly tried to keep myself entertained and cover for the fact that I wanted a place to sit inside. I was amazed to receive a call on my phone, which I'd thought was long dead, having showed less than 10% power that morning. The call came from an unknown number, and I ignored it, not wanting to waste what battery I had left. Realizing it was still functioning though, I texted Susan, and we planned to meet at another cafe nearby in about ninety minutes.
Before meeting up, I felt rejuvenated enough to continue my walk for a bit, and I thought I'd complete my journey by heading out to The East River, hitting both sides of the island on one day's stroll. As I slowly put my jacket on, a few people hovered over me, waiting to pounce on my seat as soon as as I got up, taking my spot before I'd even reached the door. I looked out over the river at 72nd Street, where a series of gorgeous homes sat up on a perch above the FDR Highway and Roosevelt Island, again getting my view as the sun set behind the clouds.
I found a spot to sit and charge up my devices at Caffe Noi, where I was to meet Susan, and I listened through to the message I'd ignored earlier on my phone. It was from Con Edison estimating that power would be restored to my area on Saturday by 11PM. It seemed my surreal experience would last another two and a half days, but at least there was an end in sight.
Val and Carolina stopped in before Susan, spotting me, not knowing I had come to meet them, and we waited there till Susan finally showed. Then we all went to a local pizza place for dinner. As with two nights earlier, every restaurant was packed. It seemed the storm had left people worn and needing to relax, even uptown.
After dinner we returned to Val's apartment, where I continued to charge my devices and got into writing the blog in more depth outside of the bullet points I'd been taking. Around 9:30, the girls prepared for bed, and I took off back for The Dark Zone. Seeing as how cramped my feet felt, I intended to take the bus back to The Village, but as I got to 2nd Avenue I just continued heading south. At first I thought I might find another cafe to continue charging and finish up some of the thoughts I'd left unwritten, but as I crossed 57th Street, I realized I wasn't stopping.
During the walk I listened to Prince's Dirty Mind on my ipod, and like clockwork, the song "Uptown" came on just as I crossed over into The Dark Zone at 40th Street. As the lyrics so appropriately noted, "Everybody's going uptown: it's where I want to be/Uptown: set your mind free/Uptown: got my body hot/Get down: I don't want to stop." The song uncannily articulated the divide between the post-Sandy uptown and downtown of Manhattan, albeit with a very different context given in the verse.
On the walk home, I called my buddy Sam to find out if we might meet up in Brooklyn the following day, seeing as I'd spent enough time walking around Manhattan. Curiously, he likened his experience to being in a space station, cloistered in Crown Heights, while the rest of the world soldiered on without him. I found the space reference fascinating, as it lined up nicely with my metaphorical dark side of the moon in Lower Manhattan. He was at least connected through technology to the outside world, while I felt a bit like Michael Collins, sitting alone in the Apollo 11 capsule, waiting to pop out on the other side and reconnect with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the rest of humanity. (Isn't hyperbole fun?)
At 33rd Street, looking towards The Empire State Building, I headed west, searching for the next divide between the light and dark zones. I found it at Madison Avenue, where opposite sides of the famous boulevard faced different electrical predicaments. I continued down Madison, where the trend seemed to continue up till Madison Square Park. At Union Square, Con Edison was working as hard as ever to restore electricity to the southern end of the island, with a sizable workforce assisted by powerful generators. It seems they decided to get the giant 14th Street Whole Foods up and running as well, giving the neighborhood a fresh source of sustenance.
Unlike on the grand avenues of midtown, University Place, the main north-south street from Union Square to Washington Square, there were no traffic cops out or flairs to mark the intersections. It was a nearly black walk back to NYU's impenetrable bright campus. As had become customary for me by this point, I let my flashlight dangle from my left hand, announcing my presence to oncoming foot and vehicle traffic.
On a lark, I decided to check in at The Kimmel Center to see if it was still open to students, and I was amazed to not only get in but find a spot to plop down, continue charging my devices, and keep working on the blog, taking a seat on a comfortable couch in a sparsely populated second floor lounge. My initial goal of walking to a place where I could write seemed to work out after all.
As I arrived back at my dark apartment that evening a little after midnight, it started to set in that this odd, at times trying, week without electricity was coming to a close. The adjustment back to regular life and its obligations would be equally difficult. I'd come to enjoy my days of long walks, observation and minimal commitment. When it finally ended, I would miss the "simpler" days I'd been having. Like Thoreau going at Walden Pond, I briefly escaped the incessant drive of city life, and yet, that experience was so near at hand as to be touched when desired. I was not destitute but rather lacking purpose. I was freed from the constraints of everyday life and allowed to roam aimlessly. I found reason in my actions, but they were much more raw. My goals became eating and entertaining myself through the company of others and the journeys to reach those ends. Power would soon return, and so would my normal life, but while this one lasted, I hoped to savor every drop of its pleasure.