Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh, Sandy.

At first, the notion of the Halloween "Frankenstorm," a hybrid of tropical storm, hurricane and Nor'easter, with wind, rain and even a freak snow storm, was somewhat of a joke. But not funny as in ha ha. As it pushed ever closer to the Tri-State Area by the weekend, the news agencies quit their Frankenstorm coverage, and focused on Sandy - a colossal, slow-moving hurricane that had the potential to be one of the most powerful to hit the East Coast since... well, since the last time the news agencies hyped a major storm a year ago with Irene. Except this one was different. Sandy was badass. Hitting at the full moon and highest tides, lusty and gusty, she wasn't taking any prisoners. Sure, people still made the jokes. But we got it. Take precautions. This one is for real.

You could physically see it coming.

SUNDAY October 28th: My dear friend Stephanie, who is moving back to Texas in a matter of days, came to stay with me once the precautionary MTA shutdown was announced. We were supposed to have a farewell wine dinner with my parents and friends that night. Instead I went into Manhattan earlier to see them, and they generously sent me home with a ration of short ribs and some excellent vino. While the ribs slowly baked to deliciousness, we had time to visit Tim at Jakewalk, who introduced me to my first Palo Cortado sherry. 

They were open for drinks, but no food. Like the MTA, many restaurants and bars were starting their own shutdowns, with only a handful of brave businesses, like our friends at Ward III in Tribeca, willing to ride it out for the duration using whatever supplies and resources would be available. 

The ribs came out perfectly. The wine was delicious. The Riders of the Storm would begin this ordeal all classy like and civilized, and rather cozy. By bedtime, the wind had picked up, but still no rain. 

MONDAY October 29th: Awoke to a spritzy rain and stronger wind, but nothing too dramatic. Last-minute rations could still be obtained by businesses that were still open (most with dedicated staff who were driven in by managers.) We watched Steve McQueen in his seductive prime in the Cincinatti Kid and made fresh popcorn made with the popper I still had dating back to freshman year at NYU. 

We would take storm update breaks during movie-watching. The wind was picking up. Reports of a flooded Battery Park and rising waters in Alphabet City. Texts and Facebook/Twitter posts from friends who were warned Con Ed might be shutting off their power downtown. An evacuated Red Hook was also reportedly flooding badly, as was the Gowanus. In Cobble Hill, the lights barely flickered. As the chili simmered, we watched Beautiful Girls to satisfy our rom com cravings.

A last call to my parents, who still hadn't quite taken the threat of an outage too seriously. I got them to fill the bathtub, gather the flashlights and few candles they had. I guess if things got dire, they would finally consume the bouillon cubes they'd kept since the Nixon administration and moved with at least three times. I scolded them for not preparing better. 

The wind would lash, the lights would flicker more often, the cable and wi-fi went out but we still had power. We listened to music. Busted out the Kosherland (land me on the Milk/Meat pass, bitch!). Got bored of that and learned Gin Rummy all over again, killing two of my Scotches that were down to a few fingers each - the Cadenhead's Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 23 year and Longmorn 12 Year. The lights stayed on as Neko Case's angel-throated voice played in the background. We were up drinking Scotch and playing cards till 3:30 like a couple of biddies. 

TUESDAY October 30th: Spritzy out, but the worst of it is over. Subways are flooded and won't be back up for days, schools are closed till further notice. Downtown south of 34th St. is in total darkness. A few blocks north, lights are on, businesses are regrouping. South of that it's like the stark aftermath of a modern visigoth invasion, people desperate for more supplies and device-charging stations. Widespread damage in CT and NJ. Governor Christie concerned, authoritative and brilliant in his press conference. Mayor Bloomberg and his hardworking sign translator up next (as was the obligatory statement in what passed for Spanish.) The striking images  and blackout theories were hitting the interwebs. The news agencies shifted from "weather experts" out in the elements to aftermath, cleanup and "devastation." (You could play a drinking game based on that word in the media this week.) The horrendous true stories of freak storm-related accidents were streaming in. Sandy was a mean one. 

In Cobble Hill, Tuesday is the new Saturday, and cabin fever has set in. Everyone is out for a stroll looking for food, drink and community. We meet up with Emily at the Waterfront Ale house on Atlantic. The wonderful Mary holding down the fort behind the bar till their chef Ralph arrives to fire up the kitchen. Neighborhood families and friends were filling up the place. Hours later, food is finally served. Best pulled pork sandwich ever. 

We go home to nap and recharge, then set out again. Jeff's at Char No. 4, and Julia joins our little group. We sit at the window watching Smith Street de-Sandyfy. Texts from Jason, who is in the blackout zone, and wants to join the fun, not to mention camp out with power and hot water. We head down the street to Clover Club, where proprietor Julie Reiner herself is bussing tables and pitching in. A quick hello to Caitlin of Becoming Brooklyn at the bar. Jason and Julia's husband, Nick, join us at our table up front. Time for some Harvest Punch. 

We go back to my place and play more Kosherland, ushering in Halloween with Jason's playlist, bust out the cards for Feudal Wars. More fun and late night storm-induced silliness.

No word from my parents all day, which is odd. These are people who would borrow a cell phone on a normal day to tell me about a play they'd just seen or a good piece of steak. I begin to worry a little and regret scolding them so harshly. 

A little after 2 am, I receive a text from a man I'd been seeing for a while who has become a good friend. We had heard the terrible story of a young woman and her boyfriend who were killed by a fallen tree in Ditmas Park while walking their dog in the storm. It turns out my friend had gotten to know Jessie Streich-Kest over the past few months, and just learned she had been the one in the accident. My friend had likely been the last one to text her,  even warning her to be careful of the trees. 

The world can be a cruel place elsewhere when you're having fun. 

WEDNESDAY, October 31st: With Flatbush Avenue and all routes into Manhattan at a standstill, looks like my storm refugees are around another day. We go down to Lobo to see Janell and get some breakfast. It's busy and chaotic. None of the staff has had a chance to eat or get coffee since they can't tie up the kitchen who need to churn out grub for customers. I ran out to get Janell a bacon, egg and cheese and coffee for anyone who wanted it. Rude, impatient customers are giving people a hard time. Come on. Really? Everyone needs to work at least one day in a service industry and understand what it's like. Especially in the event of natural distasters and holidays.

I finally hear from my dad in the afternoon, after he purchased a new cell phone that worked. Hard to stay in touch since service is spotty and he doesn't yet have the hang of it, but we can communicate eventually. At this point, I had terrible images of them cramped on the floor with food poisoning, so happy to hear they are alive and well and made dinner reservations for days to come.

It's not exactly a zombie apocalypse outside, but the streets are teaming with slow-moving walkers. Because Halloween wasn't canceled in Cobble Hill after all. Trick or treat!

THURSDAY, November 1st: Subway service is running at a limited capacity for free. No trains into Manhattan, but within Brooklyn and shuttle buses doing the rest. Finally have some time to myself to work out, eat healthier food, do some writing.

I keep thinking about my friend who lost someone in the storm. Everyone who has been bucking up under the circumstances. People rushing to help others, donate, volunteer, clean up. While some things don't make sense (they couldn't postpone the NY Marathon and leave streets open to the buses, cars and pedestrians that are already backed up as it is???), it's been heartening to see this city come together so beautifully and so quickly.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to live where I do, in a zone that was hardly affected and rife with community spirit and hardworking local staffers everywhere. I was so happy to have a comfortable home where friends could stay, and plenty of supplies for eating, drinking and entertainment. Life is good, y'all. Things have been a whole lot worse.


Please consider donating to the Jessie Streich-Kest Fund in her memory by following this link

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