I wandered uptown yesterday. At several locations along the way, businesses that weren’t really open but had power (or generators) had set up recharging stations – just a couple of power strips usually, where you could fill up your cell phone. They’re our lifelines now.
I found myself charging up (very slowly) next to three kids who’d flown in from the suburbs of London. Yes, England. I said ‘Didn’t somebody tell you you were crazy?’ and they laughed and said they weren’t going to miss seeing New York.
When they left, the kid who took their place turned out to be from Ukraine. He arrived yesterday (!) and because his flight was pushed back because of the hurricane, his lease didn’t go through so he’s staying in Chinatown temporarily in a place with no power. He hiked uptown from Chinatown to 36th Street three times a day to charge up his phone in hopes of hearing from his prospective landlord. He seemed cheerful enough under the circumstances. If I knew anything about landlord rights, I would have offered to help, but it felt like he might be one of those people who get taught the harsh side of life in New York. I hope not.
The radio kept saying they were trying to get the power on in Lower Manhattan by tonight and Brooklyn in the morning. But as evening fell, I wandered past the Flatiron Building at 23rd St and 5th Ave and the buildings and street lights were all still black. I asked a cop about the lights and he said “They’re trying but they keep going in and out.” So I didn’t expect much.
I made it as far as 23rd and 2nd and texted Smitty (who was actually working uptown) that it was still dark. Then I heard a shout and looked up and the lights were on all around me. Street lights, lights in apartment building windows, skyscrapers stretching downtown.
The tricky thing about the moment was that it felt so normal – I had to look twice to remind myself it wasn’t like that a moment earlier or for the last several days. People on the streets, in cars and on bicycles (!) started cheering and clapping, waving thumbs-up out the windows. It was exhilarating and a huge relief – life was back to normal, whatever that means. I read this morning there were no murders in NYC during the blackout – but now that’ll change, surely, because we’re back to normal (great).
What’s hitting home now that I have access to the Internet and television again is the situation in New Jersey and Staten Island, my home, where I’m finally heading tonight.
There’s always been a sense in the outer boroughs, under Giuliani and even more so under Bloomberg, that if New York City is the center of the universe (as any good New Yorker will maintain), Manhattan is the hub and Staten Island the farthest spoke. We have the oldest buses, the sparsest rapid transit, the lowest incomes and the lowest visibility in the consciousness of outsiders.
I’m hearing now from friends who’ve lost their homes, their businesses and in a very few cases, their friends. They are Staten Islanders – they know it’ll be a struggle to get anyone to notice or certainly to do anything about it. But they’re also New Yorkers, so they’ll punch their way through whatever they have to.
Hopefully, this is all I have to say about the hurricane, but somehow I doubt it.