October 2012 Archives

Gridlock Wednesday

New York, NY, USA -- 31 October 2012 | Permalink
3 pictures

09:30 The Lower East Side is all queues this morning. The Fine Fare off Grand St has opened and the staff are letting in the shoppers a few at a time. Further down towards the East River, people from the projects are queuing at a hydrant to fill buckets with water. It's a reminder that there are worse things than being without power for a few days.

10:20 As we cross the Bowery, a woman in a white BMV SUV comes racing north at unnecessary speed, weaving around the other vehicles. The sight of pedestrians in the road ahead of her doesn't make her slow down, so we have to jump out of her way. So much for drivers being respectful to pedestrians.

10:25 We join a queue waiting for a bus just north of Cooper Union. Most of the buses running uptown are completely packed.

10:45 An Asian man in a red car pulls up, and offers anyone who wants a ride to 63rd and 3rd. Three people take him up on his offer.

11:00 The bus arrives and we all squeeze on board. Standing room only.

11:30 The streets are totally grid-locked. The signals aren't working, and there seem to be traffic cops only at every other intersection. People who failed to get on the bus at the last stop are walking alongside, in most cases moving faster than we are.

12:00 M., looking out the window, spots Governor Cuomo walking on the sidewalk, trailed by his Secret Service escort. A line of black Town Cars and SUVs, presumably his motorcade, is trying to catch up with him, snarling the grid-locked traffic still further.

12:30 The bus driver keeps asking us to move towards the back of the bus to let more people aboard. A Hispanic man calls back "I've moved as far down as I can. If I go any further, I think these people are going to slap me."

13:00 We get off at 106th Street. We've gone a hundred blocks in two hours.

13:20 Our friends K. and H. have power. And hot water.

17:00 H. and I go out to get some food. Central Park is closed off, and you can see downed trees from outside.

17:15 On Madison, there are children in Halloween costumes and a man with a cleaver stuck in his head. The stores are brightly-lit, and there are no owners standing by the door with flashlights to let customers in one at a time. It is all implausibly normal.



New York, NY, USA -- 30 October 2012 | Permalink
10 pictures

08:00 Still no power, and cell service has gone too. People on the street stop to exchange what little they know, a mixture of news snippets and outright rumors. I remember this from the 2003 blackout - everyone wants to know what's going on, no one knows anything definite.

09:30 Lower New York is covered with fallen leaves and broken twigs. Here and there are fallen tree limbs or whole trees that were uprooted by the storm. A few shops are open. The owners stand at the door, allowing shoppers to enter the darkened stores one at a time to get what they need.

09:45 A small fleet of ConEd trucks is parked at the north end of Union Square. They don't seem to be doing much, but the infrastructure may have taken damage that can't be fixed with just a few trucks.

10:00 The streets are full of emergency vehicles. All the police cars have their lights on all the time, giving them priority at intersections where the signals are out and drivers have to cautiously negotiate their way across. Amongst the cruisers are an astonishing number of unmarked police vehicles, now revealed by their flashing lights. At times it seems as if one in ten of the ostensibly civilian cars on the road are actually police vehicles.

10:30 57th Street is blocked off with metal barriers and caution tape. It is raining fitfully, and the unfinished spike of One57 towers over the wet, empty streets. The damaged crane clings to its side, the broken boom dangling perilously. The wind has dropped, but occasional gusts still make the boom swing back and forth.

11:15 Times Square is packed with tourists, and the lights are on. Adverts play on the giant screens, the stores all have power. It feels like being in a different world.

12:30 In the thirties on the West Side, two men are sweeping up the remains of a giant window that seems to have exploded, scattering fragments of laminated glass over the cobbles of the street. A block further south, on a street lined with art galleries, the owners are pumping water out of their galleries using diesel pumps.

13:00 On the west side, the power comes down as far as 26th Street. You can look up the avenues and see exactly where the cutoff point is, marked by working traffic signals and lighted storefronts. On the east side, power starts north of 39th Street. There are no traffic signals below that, and drivers are engaged in a hesitant game of chicken. Crossing the avenues is more than a little frightening, although most of the drivers are respectful of pedestrians. There are many more cars and pedestrians on the streets now.

14:00 On E 10th Street, a young tree has been completely uprooted. A young guy passing tells me "Hurricane Sandy did that. You know, the hurricane we had last night?" I am momentarily tempted to feign ignorance: "Really, there was a hurricane? When did that happen?.

14:05 On Avenue B, a bodega owner sells me his last four candles for $2. None of the store owners I've seen so far seems to have yielded to the temptation to inflate their prices. Aside from the fact that all business is transacted at the door of the shop, and usually in whole numbers of dollars, it's very much business as usual.

19:15 The Lower East Side is utterly dark. A few candles show in the windows of the houses, but otherwise the only lights belong to a few cars driving through the darkened streets. The sky overhead is a strange pale-green-gray color, the low cloudbase lit from beneath by the parts of New York City that still have power.

19:30 M. and I go for a walk in the dark, staying close to home because crossing the bigger streets is even more intimidating in total darkness than during daylight. On Delancey, an Asian couple have set up a table in front of the shuttered Burger King and are selling flashlights and batteries. Again, the prices are entirely reasonable. They are entrepreneurs, not profiteers.

19:35 Motor City on Ludlow is open. They have candles, and ice, and bottled beer, and even a battery-powered boombox playing music. Everything is refreshingly normal. The bar is no darker than it normally is, the music is fine, and the beers are large and cold. The barman mixes the tail end of three or four bottles of spirits and pours everyone a free shot.

21:00 Police cars cruise down Ludlow, bathing the dark interior of the bar in blue and red light. One stops outside, and a cop comes in. "You have to close by ten," he tells the barman. "Last orders at nine-thirty. I don't want anyone stumbling out of here at one. There've been gunpoint robberies - people taking advantage of the no lights."

21:45 We walk home. The neighborhood is dark and silent. No one robs us.



New York, NY, USA -- 29 October 2012 | Permalink
8 pictures

21:30 Drinking wine with F. and his roommate. F.'s young son is bored of sitting in the dark, and wants to play videogames on his phone. F. explains that he needs to keep the phone charged. The boy looks affronted.

20:35 The lights go out and stay out. F., our neighbor, says that he was outside and saw the clouds overhead lit green briefly before the power cut out.

20:25 Going to drink soup. And possibly something stronger as well. Hand my roommate a flashlight, saying "Here, you'll need this if they cut the power." He looks unconvinced.

20:10 Strange low sound from outside. Lights dim. Internet connection dies.

20:05 Weather service reporting 70-90mph gusts; 100mph gust recorded uptown. Nearby wind sounds are getting louder.

17:25 Getting noisy out there again.

18:51 Probably not. Apparently, hurricanes can have lightning, but rarely do. I now worry that it might have been my lights flickering, in anticipation of ConEd making good on their threat to cut us off.

18:50 Was that lightning?

18:10 As I get home, the building manager is taking his dog out for a walk. If he puts a leash on it, he'll be able to fly it like a kite.

18:05 The gusts are now strong enough that I actually stagger when they hit me. If the wind picks up much more, it'll start knocking people over.

18:00 The entrance to East River Park is closed off with caution tape and the trees along the roadway are swaying and creaking. My guess is that some of them aren't going to last the hour, let alone the night.

17:50 On Baruch Drive, two NYPD ESU are cutting up a fallen tree with a chainsaw and a Sawzall. The tree has landed across the hood of a car and is blocking most of the road. "You guys wanna give us a hand?" says one of the cops, so I spend the next five minutes helping drag cut-up branches out of the road.

17:40 Half a tree has come down outside a building on Houston Street. A girl in a red sweatshirt stares at it. "How the fuck'm I gonna get in the house?" she says. "Chainsaw?" I suggest, not too helpfully.

17:20 Lots of sirens outside, and lots of wind. At times it's hard to tell the sirens from the noise of the wind.

16:30 Powerful gusts. Trees swaying, sound of objects being blown about outside.

14:50 Robocall from ConEd, saying that they may need to turn off power to our area, due to damage caused by flooding.

14:20 The wind is visibly picking up, trees outside my window thrashing back and forth. Gusts of wind push the puddles of water on the flat roof of the schoolhouse around.

10:50 First casualty of Hurricane Sandy: a woman's baseball cap blows off her head and into the East River.

10:30 Battery Park is full of news crews, apparently there to do stand-ups against the backdrop of the choppy grey waters of New York Harbor and mist-wrapped Liberty Island. The walkway by the water's edge is under an inch or two of water, and every minute or so a wave sends more water foaming up the steps.

10:20 Another police car pulls onto South Street, siren and lights on. The driver's voice comes over the loudspeakers. "The waterfront is closed. Move away from the water. The waterfront is closed."

10:10 Under the FDR, two police cars are pulled up close to the water, lights flashing. The cops are all outside, taking pictures of the East River with their iPhones. The river is about six inches below the walkway here; a little further on, waves are breaking against the railings, sending up sheets of spray.

07:15 Light rain. The air smells fresh, and there are gusts of wind. There's very little traffic on Clinton Street: the usual long line of cars turning off the Williamsburg Bridge and heading north up Clinton is absent this morning. Trash cans on the street have been emptied and turned upside down. There's still plenty of other stuff that's going to fly around if a big wind hits, though.

06:45 No sign of any storm yet. The streets are dry, and the air is calm.


Gloom before the storm

New York, NY, USA -- 28 October 2012 | Permalink
1 picture

My neighborhood, much of which is nominally at least in Evacuation Zone C, is oddly calm. The lines are a little longer at the supermarket. Closer to the East River, in Zone A, the very old and the very young are being loaded into cars. Otherwise, it could be just another cold Sunday evening in the fall.

From time to time, though, the weather gives a hint that something bigger is on the way. The wind, which has been blowing fitfully all day, will suddenly strengthen, gusting just enough that you actually have to push forward against it. There's real power in these sudden gusts, enough to remind you that this isn't just another blustery fall day. It feels as if the wind is flexing its muscles, getting ready for its big day tomorrow.