Three Days With Sandy

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I was sitting in my apartment in Greenwich Village on Monday night talking to some friends about the hurricane and joking about losing power. First my lights dimmed, and the power reset itself. Then I heard wind whipping against my building, but nothing else too major (granted my apartment doesn’t face the street so it’s often hard to tell how hard rain is falling). The lights then dimmed again, and just as I got off the phone with Matt, the power went out. I really wasn’t expecting this.

It’s funny because I should have expected it. I had heard about this “frankenstorm” that was 4x as big as Irene for the past few days. I went to the deli to get some milk and cereal, expecting stores to be closed in Manhattan, but no major outages. My “oh shit” moment was when Battery Park was flooding on the news, and Sandy hadn’t hit landfall yet. Between images of that, and Hoboken terminal in disarray around 5:30 pm, I started to wish I had bought a flashlight and prepared a bit more.

When the power went out I heard girls screaming and dogs barking throughout my 96-unit apartment building, but I still wasn’t really worried. I figured power would be out for the night, ConEd had mentioned shutting it off for lower Manhattan so there wouldn’t be major damage from the salt water, and once the storm was mostly over the next day, they’d flip a switch back on. As I write this I realize how naive this thought process was, but honestly, I feel like a lot of those of us in Manhattan were pretty naive about this storm.

Following the loss of power I called my friend Julian who lives a block from me, and eventually sprinted over there mid-hurricane. I remember walking outside and experiencing complete darkness. Being in a constant stream of lights whether from computer screens, 24 hour stores, or the neon signs of bars and restaurants plastered around Bleecker, I hadn’t experienced this kind of darkness in years. My eyes needed time to adjust, and even after hours in the darkness, I still was having trouble seeing.

Once I got to Julian’s the only logical thing to do was enjoy the night; so we played candelit board games, and drank. We settled on the Settlers of Catan, a strategy board game where each player attempts to build and develop settlements while bartering for important resources. I had been telling Julian I didn’t want to play this game for over two years, it was now or never. 

Eventually around midnight Julian, his roommate Victor, and I decided to venture outside to figure out exactly what was going on. We saw that a bar was open and posted up in there for half an hour, but quickly realized we didn’t need to drink anymore, and wanted to explore the Village instead. The deli a block over was open and was serving at that point terrible day-old sandwiches that our drunchies made us try.

We continued to walk around the for-the-first-time-ever eerie streets of Greenwich Village. Between the 3 of us we only had one small flashlight so light wasn’t exactly accessible. There were other people walking around, but everyone seemed pretty on edge. We were spotlighted by flashlights any time we made a noise loud enough to be heard, and then followed down the street by the lights until we were far enough away from the person for them to move on to a new subject. I’ve never seen The Walking Dead, but the overall vibe felt very post-apocalyptic and was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The sketchy spotlights, along with seeing small groups of people with flashlights going car to car to look for things to steal had us becoming slightly less enchanted with walking around, so we decided to head back to our respective apartments around 2 am.

Tuesday morning I woke up almost expecting there to be power as we had only heard rumors around the street ranging from “tomorrow” to “a week” in terms of the length of the power outage a few hours earlier. After quickly realizing there was no power or heat, I turned on my phone, only to not have a cell phone signal at all. I got dressed and decided I would head out to see what was open, how much damage there was, and what else was going on downtown. I ran into a woman in my building who had a similar idea, so we walked together to check out how things were.

Upon approaching the west side highway we regained spotty cell phone service and I made the typical calls to loved ones. We continued to walk down through the financial district to examine just how much pain Sandy had inflicted. The last image I had seen down there was the previously mentioned reporter standing in a few feet of water in Battery Park, before the storm had even made landfall.

Among the things we saw downtown were: A Bentley with a broken window and rocks/mud/dirt/etc. inside of it, interior completely destroyed. Various flooded buildings, rocks and other debris from the water scattered throughout the streets, and the most shocking of all, the battery park tunnel completely flooded (image below)

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To say I was surprised was an understatement. I quickly began strategizing potential exits, only to have a variety of options shut down. Eventually I reached out to a friend of mine who lived just above Manhattan’s newest neighborhood SoPo. He offered me refuge, and I told him I would get back to him later in the day once I had heard more. I preferred to not sleep on someone’s floor when my grossly overpriced apartment that I’m paying for could have power within hours.

I made it back to Greenwich Village around 1pm and headed over to Julian’s apartment unannounced. I managed to get in after waiting a few minutes for someone to come out. The usage of buzzers in NYC was incredibly underrated until now. Julian was pretty shocked to see me, but he had heard that NYU’s Kimmel had power, so we walked a block to see if my expired NYU ID would work, and if we could charge up there. We were greeted with good news as my ID was fine, however with all of the NYU dorms’ power being out, it was crowded to say the least. Finally, seven stories up a fire staircase we found a spot with outlets where we could assess the damage of the hurricane according to the internet.

After five hours or so of reading/surfing/talking/complaining, we noticed the sun was starting to set, and it was time to make a move for food. I was recovering from a bad cold and desperately craved a warm meal. We knew we would have to walk uptown to enjoy such a luxury. After a major disappointment when the hostess at a packed Hill Country Barbecue told us they were only seating those with reservations, we found ourselves at Pho 32 for that warm meal I was in search of. Our experience there was unlike one I had ever seen at a restaurant.

Because of the power outage there were long lines at most restaurants, so you would get a menu while you waited in line to be seated, then the moment you sat down they asked what you wanted for food/drink. After your meal, within 30 seconds of having your bill paid for they basically told you to leave so that others could come and eat. I didn’t mind it, but just found it very interesting.

In this long-winded post you may have lost a sense of time. After dinner it was now 8pm on October 30th. This was the night I had been anticipating for months; the Celtics were opening the NBA season against Lebron and the Heat. Even though Julian and his girlfriend aren’t the biggest basketball fans, they were troopers and accompanied me to a shitty midtown bar to watch the game. Despite the disappointment in the results, we found solace in the well-lit and warm bar.

By the time the Celtics had finished mailing it in against the Heat, it was 11 pm and we hopped in a cab back downtown to suffer one more night, leaving the light behind us.

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Tuesday night followed the same blueprint we had previously laid out. It was a combination of candle light, Settlers of Catan, alcohol, and walking outside. Overall it was much less eventful than the night before, as we were all a little tired, cold, and depressed due to knowing we would be without power for 4 more days.

The next morning I woke up early, determined to get out of NYC. I had spoken with work and confirmed that heading back home to Boston for the remainder of the week would make much more sense and be more productive than bumming around Manhattan. I made plans with Carolyn, who was stranded in Hoboken to take the now operational ferry over to Manhattan, and get on a bus with me back to Boston.Hoboken, NJ

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After ironing out the details, clearing out my fridge, and cleaning up my disastrous apartment, we eventually made it on a bus at 6 pm out of the city. Despite 90 minutes of traffic from 31st to 120th, and an NYU student throwing up behind me, it was 100% worth it.

Going through the first 3 days of the effects of Hurricane Sandy truly were a life experience that I am glad to have had. It opened my eyes to a lot of things about both myself and the way our society works. It is terrible what has happened other places, and I feel very lucky to have been completely unharmed by the storm. I think it is because of my good fortune that I have a positive life-experience outlook on the whole thing, and not one of disdain and anger like so many others understandably do.

Lessons From Hurricane Sandy

  • The importance of having cash isn’t emphasized enough as a disaster necessity.
  • Quarters also become very important.
  • People really do bond together in times of adversity.
  • The amount that ambient light effects your mood and life is greater than you think.
  • Technology is great, but there is such a thing as becoming too dependent on it.
  • Always keep a pad of paper and a pen around your apartment.
  • Pizza and alcohol fueled Greenwich Village once the power went out.
  • Board games that make you think and strategize against others are better than any video game could ever be.

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