Zombies come to mind. When the lights went out and the world seemed to shut down, as it did in my neighborhood near the East River in lower Manhattan, I automatically began thinking about the dozens of zombie flicks I grew up watching. But The Walking Dead this is not; instead, the source of my troubles is a Frankenstorm named Sandy.
Before the power went out on my 11th-floor apartment around 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, I thought of Sandy like many of the hurricanes I encountered as a child in Central Florida.
My approach has always been to prepare for the worst, but not be shocked when a storm blew right over. The bathtub filled, battery-powered lanterns and enough food and water stocked up for at least 3 days without electricity, I was ready. My go bag is always prepped – packed for potential zombie apocalypse, according to tips from the CDC and Zombie Research Society – and I was set up with even a few amenities like beer, chips, comic books, novels and handheld video games. And as someone who has played in the paranormal world for a few years now, I always have a dozen flashlights and more than enough batteries.
Then Sandy flexed her meteorological muscles and the power cut out. As much as I take comfort in the pitch dark of camping in the wilderness, I will never adjust to seeing New York City without juice. I don’t enjoy the eeriness that set in when the lights went out and all the windows in the buildings across from me became vaguely illuminated with candles and electric torches. It was around this time I became vaguely aware that I was missing a new episode of Revolution – the NBC science fiction drama about a world without electricity.
During the darkness, I read, watched a little of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein on my iPad, and went to bed around 11 p.m. After dozing to the sounds of crashing, cracking and whipping winds, I woke to find that my water joined the electricity in evacuating my apartment. It would come back on sporadically, but running water has not been a guarantee.
The first scene I encountered following a 13-floor (11 floors and 2 basement landings) darkened stairwell descent was an uprooted large tree right outside my apartment. Many more trees were snapped in half. Cars once neatly parked in parallel formation on the street were lifted by rising waters and reorganized into zigzags. A black Mustang was relocated to the middle of an access road, and a massive plank from the East River’s breakers had taken flight and landed on the hood and windshield. The Mustang took it from the other end as well from a yellow Mini-Cooper that was moved and crunched into its backside.
The whole East Side of Manhattan south of 34th Street (or so it seemed) was without juice, and the area looked like it was on the losing end of an ugly brawl. As New Yorkers emerged from their safe havens, there were a lot of exchanged glances — not unlike the ones shared by people waking up with a hangover after blacking out the night before.
“What happened, what’s the news?” Everyone was transformed into a news reporter, trading information for facts about the night before and the storm’s aftermath. Cell service was non-existent and no one had Web access. Without social media or television news, we relied on neighbors, cops and Consolidated Edison utility workers for our info.
The news wasn’t as good as we’d hoped, nor as bad as it could have been. The power would be out for days and subway service might be gone for even longer – but injuries and reported deaths weren’t widespread.
With a bag packed full of supplies, I hit the road like a Manhattan Mad Max and went uptown. The damage decreased the further West I went towards Sixth Avenue, and the traffic lights were back on further north. It was even further before restaurants started showing signs of life, but seeing pedestrians with hot cups of coffee was itself a sign of hope.
Without any destination beyond an open electrical outlet, I randomly made my way into the Irish Gastropub The Long Room near Times Square. Crowds of powerless New Yorkers and stranded tourists had the same idea as I to grab grub and juice up their phones. In a rare moment, more people were competing for access to the electrical outlets than for bar access – although there was no shortage of spirits being imbibed.
It was only less than a day since the power had gone out, but the steak and frites ranked as some of the best food I’ve ever had. When you can’t have hot food at any moment, hot food suddenly becomes decadent. The pints of Guinness also helped the time pass as I watched endless images of storm damage on the televisions above the bar.
For a moment in the crowded pub, I was almost able to forget that this was my problem as well. For a moment, it seemed like I was watching reports from a faraway locale. Then my neighborhood appeared on the news coverage, blended with scenes of destroyed homes, and boats stacked atop one another in New Jersey.
More Guinness was in order.
With a full belly, charged phone and a hot coffee in my hand, I began the trip back downtown to my apartment. There was no ignoring the stark shift in scenery from a crowded bar to relatively empty Gramercy and East Village streets. I was back in the zombie movie. Overall, the vibe was a hybrid of exasperated and relieved – but everything remained quiet. Candles again lit windows, and clusters of residents with flashlights lit the streets. It was creepy, fairly empty and just weird. I half-expected to see Norman Reedus walking down First Avenue with a crossbow. Still, some people made the best of the situation, and created mini-street parties.
Back in the apartment, it was my “hygiene by candelight” time. Wash up, floss and brush my teeth – and do it all without running water. More reading – I was appropriately deep in a volume of “Eerie” horror comics, compiled by Dark Horse – and an iPad viewing of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Then another early night.
As I write this, it is Halloween in New York City, but no one seems to care. It is still early, but there have been no sightings of adult or child ghosts and ghouls. There is more interest in the dangling crane 75 stories over West 57th Street than in trick-or-treating, although some people are planning to go ahead with the candy quest tonight. I’ve found a Starbucks at 59th Street and 9th Avenue to hole up in, and am drinking far too many Pumpkin Spice Lattes to rationalize my use of the outlets.
What happens next? The power in my neighborhood is supposed to be out until Saturday – at the earliest. The bus system has resumed to some degree, but with the subways down until Thursday, every passing bus is packed to the brim. I won’t say people aren’t exasperated here, but New Yorkers are a resilient bunch, and the mood reflects that.
Personally, I’ve a flight to Colorado tomorrow evening, and am keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t be canceled. If I make it, I’ll be hiking and enjoying a Fat Tire beer in less than 2 days. If I don’t? Well, I expect more early nights. We suffered some, but not nearly as bad as other areas, and things will return to normal sooner than later.
To borrow from Barry Manilow – and I swear this is the first time I ever have — I made it through the rain, and so did the rest of the city.