One week ago, this city, New York, started to be lashed by Hurricane Sandy. I spent this last week at the hotel I work at, trapped by the lack of transportation in the aftermath of the storm. My employers gave me a room to stay in because they wanted someone to be there to staff the place, most people unable to come in. I worked an insane amount of hours this past week and also partied an insane amount of hours.
The place I work at was very lucky and was just above the powerless zone by only three blocks to the south and by only one block to the east. It could have been a lot more stressful a week. Throughout the week, I heard from friends who work at other hotels, ones in the powerless zone, what a nightmare their weeks were without power, heat, or running water, and having to figure out what to do with a hotel full of people.
The annoyances I dealt with, mainly entitled Europeans who couldn’t grasp why Bergdorf’s was closed, were so slight in comparison to a lot of the people in this region who lost their lives, their homes, or their businesses. I had power throughout the week, internet, cell phone service, and the company of really fantastic people.
A lot of the staff from the restaurant and the hotel were all forced to stay in the hotel for this past week, and once people were done working, they would start partying. We made constant runs to the booze store to buy six-packs of cheap beer, bottles of whiskey, bottles of wine. A bunch of people were bunked up in the biggest suite and we all hung out there, partying most nights, having dance parties, smoking on the room’s rooftop terrace. It was a very, very bizarre week. I formed very close connections with many of my co-workers through the experience though and for that I am really, really grateful.
Monday night, once most of the storm had passed, I walked down to Madison Square Park, which was dark, the building below it and around it all without power. It was very, very creepy. The winds were still crazy and when a big gust blew against me, I ran back to the safety of my hotel, afraid some dangerous debris flying about would injure me. But that sensation of seeing a darkened Manhattan and feeling the dangerous winds blowing around is one that I will always care with me.
Halloween, Wednesday night, some of us ventured down into the West Village, walking through streets without power, totally in darkness, the few people out, being led by the glow of their flashlights ahead of them. I had heard Stonewall was still open without power. They were closed and so we went to the Monster across the street, which was lit by candles. There was a piano player providing the soundtrack to the bar, patrons of the bar gathered around singing along to the songs. It was such an insanely beautiful experience that really made me love New York City, the perseverance that New Yorkers have. That these people, these bar owners and customers, were not about to let the lack of flowing electricity stop them from living. This was how bars operated for centuries and it was really nice to experience this again.
I had experienced similar moments when the last blackout hit New York nearly a decade ago. I remembered those magical moments hanging out at bars that were lit by candlelight only and I wanted to experience that again.
The next night, I wandered through the East Village, amazed by all the bars that were open there. I was really inspired and wowed by what I saw. It’s all such an amazing treat to get to see the night sky from neighborhoods in Manhattan, something that you can only really experience during the rare occurrence of a blackout.
I hurried back from the East Village back to my hotel to go to a rooftop party that the restaurant was throwing for the staff who had all been working through this hurricane. The week was a blur of these moments of fun, of drinking with all of my co-workers, talking about life and New York, and it was all so beautiful. There were many stories I heard from people who had wandered up to our hotel, right above the line of power, desperately seeking a room with water or power, desperate to charge their phones and get cell phone service. I watched the news a lot in the afternoons, once I got off work, once my hangover caught up with me, and I lied in bed, taking in the serious destruction this storm wrought, which I was so insanely lucky to have missed the worst of. A woman was either jumped or pushed from the building a block away from ours. Her body laid in the street for a couple of hours before it was taken away, a crime scene that the police had to investigate. One of my co-workers told me how someone tried to mug him in the powerless area as he was walking from his house.
I witnessed real acts of generosity, of people stepping up and stepping in to offer help to others. I saw a woman run out into oncoming traffic to wave her flashlight at cars to prevent a blind man from being mowed down who was trying to cross 23rd Street, a street without power or traffic lights.
I finally left the hotel to head back home yesterday afternoon. Carlos and I got a ride from this driver I have given a lot of business. He offered to drive us back to Bushwick for free. I was so relieved to have gotten this ride. We passed insane crowds of people on Delancey Street all waiting for the bus to take them back to Brooklyn. We passed gas lines that snaked down block after block, gas lines that were six or seven blocks along, absolutely astounding stuff that I had heard about on the news, seen images of, but it’s such a different thing to see this happening at gas stations in your neighborhood, to actually witness this in person.
I don’t have internet in my apartment. My train that takes me into the city is still not running and probably won’t be for a while. But I am alive and my house is still standing and I have dear friends. I also learned a lot of things this week. I have learned so much about gratitude, about kindness, and about the fragility of our place on this planet, that we have to live as much as possible, to take nothing for granted.