Guest Post: From Storm-Aftermath Central

A guest post from a good New Yorker friend of mine, Sexy Feminist co-founder Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. I asked Jennifer to give me a picture of what was happening in her neck of the woods post-storm, about who was okay and who wasn’t and what’s happening right now.

By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

It turns out that if you aren’t in absolute immediate horrible danger during a hurricane (as many people were, and that is unimaginable) … if you get through a hurricane having experienced just a power outage and a lot of howling winds from the relative privilege of your sixth-floor apartment in an all-brick building … then, the worst can still be yet to come. My boyfriend, Jesse, and I had a romantic evening the night Hurricane Sandy hit, shrugging as the second episode of Louie we’d cued up on Apple TV cut out along with our electricity. We had candles and flashlights ready, so we just switched over to cuddling on the sofa and reading Jonathan Franzen (me) and David Sedaris (him). We went to sleep early. What else did we have to do?

The next morning, we felt lucky, like we’d survived a hurricane, and relatively unscathed. (We were not impressed with Hurricane Irene last year — we prepared for days and ended up feeling almost nothing. We made chocolate fondue with a candle fondue set, even though we hadn’t lost power, just because we’d bothered to get a candle fondue set.) We headed out in the frigid rain that continued in the aftermath, just to see what was going on. We’d been out of the news loop for 12 hours. As we walked, it started to dawn on us that life was not to continue on as usual. Lines snaked outside darkened bodegas, the shop owners letting people in two at a time to prevent looting. We grabbed bread and batteries and coffee and beer. (You see our priorities.) We decided to walk north as it became clear that our part of the city — 14th Street and Avenue B, just above the East Village and the Lower East Side, a block from that exploding power plant that was all over the Internet — was without power and ostensibly shut down. (Aside from the bodegas.)

As we headed into the wind up First Avenue, Jesse lost his favorite baseball cap in a puddle. Both of our glasses misted with rain. I voiced my desire to turn around and go home — what were we expecting to get out of this? Still, we soldiered on with others from our neighborhood, people in sweats and pajamas heading north, trying to get their cell phones to function. Texts were intermittent, internet and phone capabilities down. I got a text from a friend who lives near us: “There is power north of 40th.” This kept us going. Sure enough, at 41st Street, a wine store, totally civilized, running, credit card machine functional, power outlets to spare. We bought three bottles of red wine and kept going. I don’t even know what we thought we’d find, or what we wanted. We were just so happy to see regular civilization. As others crossed 40th, you saw it over and over: “Oh my God, you guys! That place is open!” We went up a few more blocks and wandered into a Hallmark store for candles. It took a while to find unscented ones, but we got about a half dozen. Then I noticed a whole power strip in a back corner, most of its outlets brazenly open and available. We plugged our phones in for a half-hour or so while we read horribly un-clever cards and thanked god we’d never buy “bachelorette party favors.” As we left and paid for the candles, we found another godsend: a solar-powered flashlight.

We felt invigorated, ready to face this thing. We would spend the evening reading by candlelight, drinking wine! It would be relaxing, like a vacation! But when we finally returned home, tired from our 60-block round trip, another discovery: Our water service had disappeared. Apparently water needs electricity to travel upstairs. There was no hope of it returning, except perhaps intermittently with the use of tiny emergency generators.

Next plan.

We called Jesse’s mom in Pennsylvania, but she’d also lost power, and it would have been hard for us to get there anyway. We kept texting friends in the area to see who had what resources, but it was hard: Every text had to be sent three or four times before it went through. Finally, a miracle: Jesse’s friend Chris, who lived just over the bridge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had electricity, warm water, and wifi. I almost sobbed at how wonderful that suddenly sounded. We ravaged our apartment for maps to figure out how to walk there — hmm, yeah, we didn’t have those anymore. Chris managed to text us Google maps walking directions. We set out on the 3.5-mile trek, dragging our rolling suitcases in the opposite direction from where we’d gone that morning.

Here was the real dire situation. By just 3 p.m. the day after Sandy, things looked bleak throughout the East Village and Lower East Side. Awnings were toppled, a few windows were broken. Everything was dark and closed. Stoplights, of course, weren’t functioning. Bodega shelves were emptied.

When we finally crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, we entered another dimension, one even better from what was going on north of 40th Street: We were shocked to find people drinking in bars, restaurants preparing for the dinner rush, hipster vintage clothing boutiques up and running. One place was seriously selling home accessories, as if that might be what someone wanted to pick up that day. And someone did. Shoppers were inside. We joked about being offended that this could go on so normally. But it was soothing. We could see lines being drawn already: The Haves in Brooklyn and North of 40; the Have-Nots in Lower Manhattan.

We’re still at Chris’ place two days later, bless his heart. He even gave us his bed and slept in his living room. He has warm water that comes out of the faucet any time you want. He has internet, clearly. We’ve been enjoying pretending to live in Williamsburg, which, if you don’t know, is the hipster capital of the universe. We hit the local American Apparel for underwear, socks, and T-shirts to get us through a few more days. I hit an overwhelmingly packed yoga class full of gorgeous, skinny people with oversized glasses and aggressively cool haircuts. We’re obsessing over the news. I loved seeing Chris Christie defending Obama and sticking it to Fox News. Hell, I just loved seeing Chris Christie, windblown and wearing his custom “Chris Christie, Governor” fleece.

Things are still really shitty back home in our complex; we live in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, where 20,000 people are now heading into their third day of trying to survive with no power or water. (If you want to see some serious drama, check out the management’s Facebook page right now.) We’re going back there tomorrow to check on things, and ConEd swears the whole city will be powered by Saturday. Suddenly, in a city where people are now rationing bread, waiting in hours-long lines for buses, and flashing cash on the street to get cabbies to stop, that feels unthinkably, uncomfortably luxurious.

We’re hoping for the best, and we know how lucky we are.

5 thoughts on “Guest Post: From Storm-Aftermath Central

  1. adrastos says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. End of kumbaya moment.

  2. MichaelF says:

    We tend to take a lot of stuff for granted until it’s gone, clean water (hot and cold) and electricity being right at the top of the list.
    Good to hear you had a friend who was able to help, and hope you’re back up and running asap.
    By the way, while I’m guessing a portable generator is probably not permitted in a large development like Stuyvesant Town, down here I keep a couple of smaller emergency power supplies like these
    http://www.sears.com/diehard-platinum-portable-power-1150-with-jump-starter-dc-ac-usb/p-02871988000P
    constantly charged. While they’re too small for a lot of stuff, they powered a room lamp (using a 13W CFC) for about 16 hours, which meant enough light for reading two straight nights, and I probably could have gotten a third night if necessary…but fortunately the power came back on…
    And thank heavens the water’s not tied to the electric. My mother and sister both are in that situation, and require emergency generators, though they’re in a rural area and can run them without a problem…

  3. BlackSheep0ne says:

    The water being tied to the electric is pretty common on farms …
    We all need to do some serious thinking about what we take for granted.
    I, forex, being a farm kid, am constantly amazed that the Internet is just … here.
    Unless the power goes out. Which takes the TV down too and makes all the clocks nuts.
    Now, if the *city* loses power, I can lose water. Or get a boil-water notice (had one
    during the summer. Now many cafes & so on are suing the city for lost revenue ’cause
    guess what: you cannot run a soda machine during boil-water conditions).
    If I lived in NYC and my building did not have a rooftop water tank and solar panel,
    I’d raise hell …

  4. MapleStreet says:

    So much shows how interconnected the various delivery systems are. You have to harden all of them. News was showing the evac of one major hospital (wanting to say it was Belleview)that had generators on an upper floor but the fuel was stored in an area which was below water.

  5. Diana says:

    thanks for the report on Stuytown. I live on East 3rd street, and we went out to marvel at the storm surge lapping at avenue B. We didn’t lose water, but our boiler is of course fired by electricity, and wouldn’t give hot water or heat. The first two nights were a candle-lit party, but once the cold weather set in everyone discovered they had friends uptown.
    I came back every day to feed the furry one, and one point I’d like to make is that I’ve seen idiots in Brooklyn and Queens complain that there were cops directing traffic by hand at every intersection in darkened Manhattan. Well, what they were seeing were cops making sure that the interborough bus channels – set up to allow buses to get from the lit section of Manhattan to the bridges without having to stop for errant motorists cruising the unlit streets — actually got people from midtown to Brooklyn and Queens and back. There were no traffic cops anywhere else!
    But if you were on a bus to one of the bridges, and you didn’t realize that you were part of what was basically a bus convey, you *could* form the opinion that every darkened intersection in Manhattan had a traffic cop. However, you would be wrong. So if anyone chimes in and says this, please correct them!!!

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