This afternoon, I decided it was time to leave my 8th floor encampment and venture out into the muck that Manhattan has become. It has been strangely quiet and calm here in northern Harlem, though I had to laugh that there were still some guys hanging outside the deli during the worst of the storm. Guess they weren’t around when brains and common sense were being distributed.
Ironically, Hurricane Sandy turned Manhattan into what New Yorkers think it is: an island unto itself. We’re often accused of being a bit snobbish regarding our city roots, those of us that were born and raised here especially so, but when we lose our electricity, subways, buses, airports, taxis, bridges and tunnels, many of us find ourselves bewildered. There was a flurry of facebook postings that mocked our inability to actually prepare for a natural disaster. Since Sunday evening, though, this city has slowed down–perhaps it takes a hurricane to make the city that never sleeps stop its incessant pulse.
My trusty steed, aka my mom’s steel-framed road bike from 35 years ago, and I headed downtown–all the way down to the Battery. Our neighborhood here in Harlem emerged from Sandy’s wrath relatively unscathed and I had to see the destruction for myself–afterall, I have spent the past two and a half days cooped up in an apartment only to see images on the news and hear the wind howling outside.
What I saw today, was nothing short of stunning, even moving me to tears at points. I encountered the expected: the broken crane on 57th Street and 6th Avenue, the lack of street lights down most of 9th Avenue, the gushing hoses full of water from basements working tirelessly, and the mud, dirt and piles of leaves strewn about the streets. Biking past one entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, I was immediately surprised at how dry it was. Clearly the pumps have been going and going and going.
However, when I went slightly further south to the other tube of the tunnel (there are two), I was shocked; my hand rising immediately to my mouth as I gasped. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. The tunnel was filled to the ceiling, piled with debris and barricades once placed with the best intentions. It was so sad, such an in-your-face smack from the hurricane.
Being there and seeing the aftermath actually reinforced my belief that we, every single one of us, will be called upon to make potentially drastic changes to our lives and lifestyles because our environment demands it. We have a choice, though: we can choose to respect the earth with our actions, understanding that we will perish before the mass we call our planet does. Or, we can ignore what our natural world is telling us: our planet needs help, desperately.
My eleven mile ride home was a race against the encroaching darkness (remember: no street lights!), and a good hour to digest what I had seen and how I can be of service to this world. As I biked through the streets of Battery City, a smile came across my face when I saw the families returning, many of them toting costumed children for their night of trick-or-treating. This city of mine is a tough, stubborn bi-atch at times and we will always find a way to adapt to our situation, but perhaps this adaptation calls for something more than a sheer rebuild of what previously exists. I hope that the companies involved in the rebuilding use this time to think out of the box and assess what can be done to prepare for our changing climate. Given that this is my third hurricane in the northeast in three years, I cannot believe that we are only at the beginning of a pattern which will become the norm in the future.
And through the past three days, as since October 1886, our Statue of Liberty, our beacon of light, promise and hope, stood today still guarding our harbor as the sun set. This New Yorker roamed her crown as a child, and as an adult, I was heartened by her sight, strength and courage to meet our storm head-on and with conviction, as she has so many immigrants and families–mine included. I only hope that all the communities devastated by this storm have the same conviction to find life, joy and hope in the wreckage.