And dear Sandy, do you mind if I call you Sandy? After all, we're quite intimate now.
D-1, Sunday. It all started quite anticlimactically. Or should I say anti-climate-ally? It was not love at first sight or, more appropriately in French, un coup de foudre! I knew you were coming, but I wasn't impressed. Your friend Irene had been quite a bust and I am a New Yorker now, I don't like to have my routine uprooted (by wind or otherwise). So the Sunday before your visit, I spent two hours rollerblading in Prospect Park with a friend. Living dangerously? Not really, it was open and full of locals, and I figured I could trust the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The golden autumn leaves that they had systematically pushed to the side of the tracks were swirling in the invigorating wind. My surroundings were beautiful and quite peaceful. When we heard the subways were closing at 7 pm, that's when I really started to panic... Who wants to be stuck in Park Slope of all places ? : ) (If you don't believe me, you can read Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West and Motherland...)
D-Day, Monday. I spent the day safe and sound in my apartment in the East Village. Didn't set a foot outside. Complained out loud that the latest issue of New York Magazine hadn't been delivered by the mailman that day. Kept checking regularly on civilization, a.k.a the deli and the pub across the street, that were still open. Interacted in an almost non-confrontational way with my roommate about people walking their dogs outside in the bad weather ("New Yorkers and their pets, seriously!"). I set camp in my cosy room (I call it my kingdom). It was bright and warm, and connected to the outside world (Facebook! Skype! Netflix!) until 8.30 pm... when the power went out.
I was so ready. At my disposal I had one rose-scented candle from a fancy store in Paris, and one non-rose-scented candle, also a gift. I had saved a box of matches from the Meatball Factory—even thought I don't smoke—smart move! I had recently showered, and even washed my hair. The dishes were done. In the fridge, I had three bottles of beer and at least four liters of OJ leftover from a brunch I had hosted a few days before (oh, and yes, water). In my pantry, instant coffee, non-instant coffee, foie gras and crackers : ) A mink coat in case I got cold (long story). Anti-mosquito spray (why not?). My iPhone was fully charged. Contrary to when Irene hit, the laundromat across our building was closed so I didn't get a chance to do laundry that day. But five clean pairs of underwear should be more than enough, right? Most importantly, I had watched all two seasons of The Walking Dead on Netflix, so I had gathered a few tips on how to survive a blackout (with or without zombies hanging out in the woods). This is also a good time to mention how grateful I am to my parents who took us camping almost every summer with my brother when we were young.
I found my roommate frantic in his capharnaum of a room, holding a candle, looking for the flashlight I mentioned he should pull out five hours earlier. I decided to take charge and set up our new headquarters in the living-room. From the windows facing Second Avenue I could see that the rain and the wind were having a private party. The only source of light was from the police cars patrolling around my block to make sure no looting would happen. I couldn't even read a book because, although my roommate had lit a few more candles from his own stash, I am not Montesquieu. I usually don't feel like talking to my roommate... which maybe you can empathize with if I tell you that his stash of candles that I was just referring to dates back to when I got home after a long day at work and our apartment (but our apartment only!) had no power. He had "forgotten" to pay the electricity bill. For weeks and weeks, apparently. Con Edison restored our power after 12 hours and ever since then I had held a grudge. But this was going to be a long night, I had to talk to my roommate.
Other strange things happened:
-My iPhone was still working, magic, magic!
-The New York Times had an online article that included the following quote: "The Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Station declared an alert, the second lowest on the four-step emergency scale established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission". Reassuring, right?
-The New York Times also had an online article about "A fiery explosion at a 14th Street substation which left roughly 250,000 customers without power." So that's why!
-Some ghostly figures were walking down the streets with flashlights.
-We still had water—hot water even!—running and gas. So I made pasta for myself but ate in the same room as my roommate, which I never ever do.
-People I didn't expect to hear from texted me. My best friend didn't text me back.
-I stayed up longer than I regularly do when I have so many more options to entertain myself.
At 2 am my phone indicated "no service", something that usually only happens when you are in the subway, underground. I went to bed to the lullaby of the police sirens. I had a dream that the power had been restored.
Day 2, Tuesday. I woke up early and checked my bedside lamp and cellphone. Nothing and nothing. I woke up again later and made some coffee without using the microwave (yes, don't judge)... My roommate had been outside, far enough (one block to be precise) to bring back some fresh news, batteries and two flashlights. Mine, decorated with a leopard print, was going to allow me to get out of our apartment into the pitch dark hallway without fear of breaking a leg or being attacked. We were making some progress here. The biggest update was that Mayor Bloomberg was scheduled to speak at 11 am. Unfortunately, I had thrown out my almost properly functioning battery-powered radio a long time ago, but our neighbors, who I had never spoken to before, invited us to gather around a vintage boombox from the 1980s.
Their apartment was like Ali Baba's cave. Even in full daylight, you could barely see anything, piles and piles of... gold (just kidding, books) were blocking the view from Second Avenue. Our host, a self-proclaimed recovered hippie, introduced us to his daughter, and his tenant (?), an Asian woman who probably is in a more complicated visa-situation than me. The walls of their apartment and my apartment touch, but this felt like a parallel universe in which my roommate saved the day (with some batteries), and my neighbor kept calling him a genius. Weird, but friendly. Just like in a World War II movie, we sat around the radio, rapt. Bloomberg made his speech in English first, then to my surprise started to switch to Spanish (people of America, why don't learn the official language of your country?) ! Anyway, it was nice to hear from the outside world, basically, nothing to worry about on our end, at this point it was just the beginning of the waiting-game. Electricity fairy? Brothers Lumière? Flash Gordon? Power Rangers? When were you going to visit us again ?
Now I wanted the outside world to hear from me, so this time I entered into a scene from a 1970s New York movie and made a call from a pay-phone. Luckily, there are still lots of them in the East Village (but much less drug addicts), so I didn't even have to venture very far (we were still not supposed to go outside). There was not even a line of people waiting, however, it took me a while to figure out how to connect with France (yes I know it's 33, but it's not that easy!). I think my Mom was more puzzled to get a call from an unknown U.S. number than to hear my voice! After that I felt invincible and ready to tackle this impossible task I had put on the back burner forever: go through my pile of unread Time Out New York magazines : ) My roommate was brave (or should I say foolish?) enough to go for a walk as the night was falling. He came back a long time after dark and I was never so happy to see him. Not because I was worried about him, but because, do you realize how boring it is to sit in the dark by yourself with nothing to do? After another candle-lit dinner with my roommate ("I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"), I went to bed to the lullaby of the police sirens. I had a dream that the power had been restored.
Day 3, Wednesday. I woke up not so early and checked my bedside lamp and my cellphone. Nothing and nothing. I made some coffee without using the microwave... You know the drill. It was time for an adventure, or to put it less emphatically, to go out for a walk uptown! My roommate, you know, the genius, had thought of checking the Chrysler building on Monday night (you can see it from our windows when you bend). So we knew there was power at 42nd Street. And Mayor Bloomberg had confirmed that the dark zone extended from the tip of the island to 39th Street (we live near 4th).
The city was sunny! It was the most beautiful sight, and it was so nice to be able to stretch our legs. A few trees were blocking the sidewalks, but the real danger was crossing the streets with no green or red lights. The cars were driving slowly (relatively speaking for New York drivers) and had never been so courteous to us, pedestrians. As promised, at 40th Street exactly, civilization was waiting for us. Good old New York that never sleeps. People were gathered around power outlets like famished animals, which seemed really over the top because you could also get electricity onward north, at 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th Street... etc! Finally my phone was working and I could see who had been emailing me during Sandy... who my true friends were! (No pressure here.) The contact I had most emails from was... my gym: "We are still open". "We are planning on opening tomorrow and will keep you posted". Silence. "We are closed!". "We are still closed". "You are invited to visit our locations uptown at no extra cost!"
I also called a bunch of friends who live uptown because I was craving company, but nobody answered. Really? So I settled into a Wells Fargo bank where I could sit down in one of their puffy chairs and recharge my iPhone. A woman came to me: "Hi, do you need assistance? —Me: "No." —The Woman: "Are you a Wells Fargo customer?" —Me: "No." —The Woman: "OK!"... She probably had seen my invisible badge, the one that said "I live in the dark zone and you better be extra nice to me!" And I was wearing it proudly! Even though I really really really couldn't complain, Sandy had been nothing but a minor disturbance to my everyday life, stepping in this part of Manhattan where it was all like nothing had happened, made me bizarrely vindictive. The one email that really brushed me off was from my other roommate. She had been stranded somewhere outside of Sandy's path and was asking us "Do you have any sense of how soon things in the city will be getting back to normal?" Come on lady, why don't you read the newspaper! I felt like a Second Class passenger on the Titanic, interacting with the First Class people (especially, the Upper East and West siders) who had no clue what I was going through.
Thankfully, one of my friend was there to prove me wrong. After we met for coffee on 83th Street, almost as far as I could walk (my gym was closed but I wasn't letting my guard down), and had dinner in Marseille (the restaurant), he decided it would be a fun thing to do to voluntarily cross the line at 40th Street with me and enter the other side of the force! So we hopped into a cab to meet some friends who had had the great idea of inviting us to try one of the candle-lit bars that were open in the East Village. The taxi ride in pitch dark downtown Manhattan was quite memorable I must say. The driver wanted to drop us off at 14th Street, which would have been fine on any regular day but with no traffic lights to monitor that major intersection, I corrected him with insistence: "Sir you're stopping on the South side of 14th Street, right? The South side!!!"... I was not going to cross one of the busiest street of the city with only my little leopard flashlight to rely on!
We found our party much more easily than I expected (quick reminder: we were back to no cell reception at all) and started to venture all together towards St Marks Place, following the lead of my friend's lamp: it was much brighter than mine and so heavy that it could double as a mace. Perfect! Some people were gathered around a generator, charging their phones. Some restaurants were attempting to serve food: "Our special tonight is pizza, we also have pizza, and how about some pizza?" Conclusion: you don't need electricity to use a firewood oven.
We settled at a bar that was packed with locals and ordered some really cold beer (probably the best use of the free dry ice that the authorities had been distributing around the neighborhood!). We debated the theory that in nine months there would be a baby boom. I debated the theory that there could also be a peak in divorce rates. After all, it was my married friends' idea to go out tonight! They were probably getting tired of their evenings en tête-à-tête... I know I couldn't stand to spend that much more time with my roommate, which is why I was so excited for the following day. I had been able to get in touch with my best friend and she had invited me to escape the city and spend some time in the suburbs at her parents' house, which had been miraculously untouched by Sandy (they have lots of trees out there, believe me). We walked home under the stars, we could actually see them for once! I went to bed to the lullaby of the police sirens. I had a dream that the power had been restored.
Day 4, Thursday. After a few unproductive hours at my apartment (spent, among other things, scraping the candle wax off of the plates we would probably have to use again before the electricity went back on), I was ready to leave the Second Class. With a spring in my step I made my way uptown once again. I called my friend as soon as I reached 40th Street and we agreed to meet when she would be done with work. Yes, some people had to work! One of my friends' boss was actually being so obnoxious about it that, even though there was still no subway service, he had run all the way from Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan to prove to his employees that, really, they had no excuse to stay at home!
I had a few hours to kill so, you guessed it right, I settled into another Wells Fargo bank! Then I went for an aimless walk which happened to bring me to the corner of the Upper East Side where Ladurée had opened a boutique. I swear it was a coincidence! I decided to buy a little selection for my friend and her family who were going to host me that night. Extraordinary weather conditions call for extraordinary sweet indulgences! I knew their macarons were shipped directly from Paris so I dared to ask the sales person how fresh these were, considering airports/ports had been shut down because of the superstorm. Immediately, a man with a French accent jumped in, exclaiming "These are stored at an extremely controlled temperature!". I was relieved to find out that climate change hadn't affected the distribution of luxury French goods in Manhattan...
Me and my friend took a packed train from Grand Central to the suburbs (for free!). Contrary to Manhattan post-Sandy, the city where her parents live wasn't divided into two zones, but into a multitude of pockets of lightness and darkness. So after we got picked up at the station, we proceeded to drive to their house with every other traffic light not working. I didn't even noticed at first, I was just so happy to be there. It felt like I had been finally spotted by the Titanic rescue team. I was one of the lucky ones...
Retrospective "The Lucky Ones":
Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978)
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996)
Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)
Bring it On (Peyton Reed, 2000)
Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000)
Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002)
The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004)
127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010)