Like many people, we didn’t believe Sandy was going to be anything bigger than Irene, which had been so vastly hyped up—not that I had any kind of attitude about that like some people did. But nevertheless we weren’t at all prepared for what was to come. I don’t blame those people who didn’t leave their homes.
All the stores closed early Sunday night because the subway was getting shut down at 7 and the workers had to get home. The city was starting to empty out but people from around here were clearing the shelves at the grocery stores and there was a line at Alan’s Alley video that went down the block. My son and I got two movies and food to last that night and the next day.
Monday morning the streets were empty of traffic. It was crazy. My son and I walked over to the Hudson River at about four in the afternoon and took these pictures. The river was spilling out onto the walkway, spray was flying, rain was blowing like mad. We got drenched to the bone and we weren’t the only ones—there were a lot of people out taking photos.
Somewhere around 8:45 in the evening I was updating my website for my high school classes when the power popped off. We had one stubby candle and a little miniature flashlight. We immediately went outside to see what it was like and to check if I could get coffee for when I woke up, which I’m obsessed with. We went down the pitch black stairwell, something I was already familiar with from the blackout. It was so strange and eerie to see Manhattan in darkness. And the impending storm made the feeling a hundred times more intense.
The streets were so dark, with no light from any of the buildings. Curiously, the east side of 8th Avenue had power, so a store called Gardenia Deli was open on that side, and so was the Molly Wee Pub. Of course Penn Station was shut down. I got Starbucks Double Shot espresso from Gardenia Deli and we walked around a little more. Our block was just black and the wind was starting to whip up. Gusts came up that would practically take you off your feet and there were branches and leaves all over the street.
“It’s so savage out here without lights,” my son said, and I agreed. There were still a lot of people walking around in the dark. A twig flew and hit my son so hard in the mouth that his lip bled and we decided to go home. We knew people got hit by falling trees sometimes so we went back to our building and walked up the darkened stairwell. By then it was almost 10:00 and we just went to sleep.
There were even fewer cars on the street Tuesday morning but without power we had no idea how bad the hurricane had been. We went down the dark stairs again and we were surprised how many people were out walking around. It seemed there were a lot more people out than on any given day, but then again we couldn’t be sure.
We went over to the Hudson River and we were amazed the West Side highway wasn’t still flooded, as it had been the morning after Irene. But we later learned that the water had gone all the way to 10th Avenue. We saw a lot of art galleries that had been destroyed, furniture turned over and everything wet and dirty and every which way. A woman said water had risen up from the street drains, that it just kept coming and coming. The water mark on some of the walls was four feet high.
Most people probably already saw the apartment building with the entire front torn off, beds just peacefully sitting there as in some sort of museum display. Gardenia Deli on 8th Avenue took on the air of a rescue zone. It was packed all day and all night, with people buying sandwiches, beverages and coffee, and watching for the latest updates on the news.
I was all set for the power to come back on Tuesday night, I guess just because that was the way it had been with the blackout. But then people started saying it was going to be four or five days. I thought, how will we ever get by?
But it’s amazing how you get used to things, and by Wednesday morning we had some strategies in place. We bought gallon jugs of water to pour down the toilet for flushing. I washed my hair in the sink with a bottle of drinking water. We went searching around Wednesday night for candles and couldn’t find any but our neighbors gave us some. A classmate of my son's lives in Penn South, the large, federally subsidized middle-income housing development right by us and they have their own power supply. We went to his apartment and filled our water jugs and by Thursday I lost any embarrassment and took a shower there.
We were texting back and forth with our neighbors with updates and encouragement. It was so odd to go in and out of the darkened buildings and run into people you knew on the darkened streets. Duane Reade had power strips out and they were letting people sit around and charge phones and computers. We went there several times and kept seeing people we knew. The same with Starbucks. Starbucks had internet and was open by Wednesday so my son and I went there in the mornings.
Thursday morning was cold and Friday morning was cold. As I habitually wake up early I read a book by candlelight—not romantic. I had to hold the book so close to the candle I thought I was going to set it on fire. It was so good just to see it get light out.
But in a weird way I had a nice time with my son, going here, going there, getting our water and candles, establishing our strategies and routines. We had the whole week off together and we were dealing with life—we laughed and joked a lot and were also at each other’s throats. It was just life.
We rode the free, curiously empty subway on Friday to go to my high school in the Bronx and when our power came back on at home that afternoon at about 6 a cheer went up on the street that you could hear through the closed windows—almost as loudly as the one inside our own apartment.