I didn’t believe the warnings. After Irene last year, which didn’t affect NYC, I assumed the politicians and media were just being alarmist. But with the subways closing, I did brave the lines at the supermarket on Sunday to stock up on food for a couple of days. I was too late to get any bread, but, despite scoffing at all the people looking for flashlights, I did pick up a box of candles.
Working from home on Sunday, it still didn’t seem like a big deal. I have a leak that comes through my living room ceiling when it rains really hard. I tried to cover the outside area where I think the leak starts with a tarp and duct tape, but it still leaked and it wasn’t even raining that hard.
The drama really didn’t start until about 8:30 when I heard a boom. The power went down briefly, and I suspected it was the Con Ed plant that’s a few blocks away. Yep, it sure was. After working a few minutes more, power cycled again, and finally my apartment and just about everything I could see went dark.
Thinking the weather was going to get worse on Tuesday, I decided to try and get out of Dodge. There was only a light drizzle at most, and I packed up a bag and headed out. I wasn’t around for the blackout of 2003, so I’d never seen the streets of New York remotely like this. Not a single light on except a couple of candles fluttering in windows and the streets eerily empty except for a few wayward souls like myself. On top of the gusting winds, what made it spookier was the police cars. Every few blocks they were slowly cruising down the street with their emergency lights flashing or would just sit parked in the intersection surveying the scene. It truly made it feel like disaster was upon us.
I got on my scooter and headed for the Williamsburg bridge. I expected a cop to tell me to go home, but they just watched in silence. Already some trees were down and there was debris including some foam mattresses littering the street. I ventured slowly, but I realized I wasn’t being too smart. If I were to get on the bridge, the wind could blow me over. So it was with some relief that I came to find three police cars were blockading the entrance to the bridge, and I turned back home. Besides the cops, I only saw a handful of other vehicles.
At home I lit up a couple of candles and started cooking everything in my fridge that was bound to spoil. I started with my intended dinner for the night, chicken massamam curry. I think adversity brings out the best in me, and it was the best I’ve done in a while. The real challenge was the rice. I love my rice cooker and it didn’t even occur to me that no power meant no rice cooker. So I had to do the rice in a pot, which I’m notoriously bad at. I was thrilled to come out with a passable batch of it. After enjoying my dinner, I cooked the sausages from the Meat Hook in my freezer and scrambled up all my eggs.
I couldn’t call out on my cellphone or send out any texts for several hours, but my aunt in California could reach me. I was so relieved when she called because I wanted to get a few messages out, and I found that when I had a line established with her I was able to do a 3-way call with whomever I needed to reach. At the end of the night I was able to call out again and even use Internet on my Verizon phone. No such luck with my iPad on AT&T. I went to sleep in peace but unsure of what the next day would bring.
I rose Tuesday morning to find no cell connection at all and no sign of power. The weather was relatively calm, however, and I sat and read on my couch for a time before I decided to check on the outside world.
Lots of people were on the street, and there were many groups of random strangers talking about their experiences of the crazy night before. I asked a couple of people if they knew when power would be restored or if the bridges were open, but noone knew. I walked over to the Con Edison plant on 14th and C, and you could see where the floodwaters had been.
There was at least a dozen press photographers taking pictures of these two cars that got washed up on the sidewalk.
I asked an officer in a police car if the Williamsburg Bridge was open, and he said I should call 311, which was decidedly unhelpful given there was no cell service. How about picking up that fancy radio in your car and asking a simple question?
Surprisingly, I ran into a couple of people from my last ultimate frisbee team who live in Stuyvesant town and we had a mini reunion. They don’t live together and they had bumped into each other as well. From their windows, they had seen the waters in the street half way up the cars, and the Sty town garages on Avenue C were completely flooded.
One deli was open and selling whatever they could. Another guy was hawking batteries out of a doorway. I picked up two AAA for $2, which was I thought was very reasonable given how desperate some people were. Percy’s Tavern on A had a generator running and was serving drinks and food.
I finally walked into a 15′ wide zone of cell service and suddenly my phone was flooded with incoming texts. After a couple of hurried calls, I was relieved to find out that my company’s datacenter was still running on generator power, our servers were up, and the bridge was open. It was time to get out of town.