After seeing pictures of the devastation Sandy left in her wake, my own problems seemed very small and very manageable. I bit my tongue instead of complaining about how crowded the bus was uptown and the miles I had walk from 45th in Midtown back to the Lower Eastside. To cope with the silence and the dark I lived in while I waited for power to be restored, I imagined how the early colonials might have managed the night without the technological conveniences of running water and electricity (or how some peoples do it now in Asia, Africa, and deep in the untouched jungles of South America).
If you were to walk out onto my street the day after Sandy passed, you would have had to walk to the end of the block, and then look to your right to see a downed tree. While the radio recounted stories of Sandy’s destruction of homes and other structures, it was a crisp fall day on my block. Power loss was the only impact of the storm for me, so I consider myself fortunate.
Without power, you realize how complex even the simplest, most rote act like crossing the street is. On intersections with police directing the flow of traffic, it was easy but on those streets without an officer — especially those streets with multiple lanes of traffic — at night — it became a very complex and mentally taxing act. You had to pay careful attention. In addition to the cars on the roads, there were packs of bicyclists and other pedestrians that might not see you or who you might not have seen. More than once I nearly walked into a biker or brushed by another pedestrian more closely than I wanted to.
Many people carried flashlights and waved them across the sidewalk as they proceeded into the darkness. Some wore their lights around their necks and on their heads. I wondered as I walked the avenue downtown, if the blackout were to last like in that show Revolution, what Fashion Avenue would create from the necessity of carrying lights with you. I missed my “Safety Orange” days. I went through a phase in college when I was unhealthily (from a fashion perspective) attracted to loud safety orange and neon colors. My aesthetic development occurred in the New Wave 80’s, can you blame me?
Up 1st Avenue on the M15 and down 2nd Avenue by foot, with each day more and more bodegas, delis, and bars were open. There were rumors of price gouging by some stores but I saw the opposite. Many of the businesses I passed invited people to charge their phones with the stores’ generators. There may have been the few outliers who sought to exploit Sandy’s tragedy but I want to believe that seeing is believing and that most store owners used Sandy as an opportunity to support the people in the communities who have supported them.
The power is back on now and life is falling back into its former routines. The first thing I did when the power came back was plug in my coffee grinder and make myself a pot of coffee. After that I posted on Facebook: (1) To let me friends know I was OK and (2) Because I could. Then I did all of those power-based chores that hadn’t been done since the Tuesday after the storm like laundry and vacuuming. I ended my night in front of the TV watching the last season of Psych on Netflix. It was like all those days of missed routines and habits had collected and, once the opportunity presented itself, came spilling out into the single night, last night.
I live in a small apartment. I can hear the hum of the refrigerator no matter what I am doing or who else is home or where I am. The deep constant tone of my refrigerator provides the baseline on which I build the rest of my routines. The refrigerator’s hum provides me with a safety blanket sense of normalcy. Even though it was sort of exciting to explore the city in its new post-Sandy state, the lack of that safety blanket sometimes left waking in the morning more tired than when I went to bed.
I am happy to have my hum back but I know that just because the power is on doesn’t mean the tragedy is over. There are still people in the shelters without homes and there are people without food and clean water. I saw this morning on the Bowery Boogie Facebook page that volunteers are still needed to distribute food. Friends have already included me in messaging about charities looking for donations to fund operations.