The lights flickered, on and off, on and off, throughout Monday morning as Hurricane Sandy approached the shores of central Long Island. By 4 p.m. the lights left for good and the house fell silent. The hum of the refrigerator, the click of the floor heaters and the frequency of the television disappeared, allowing for the howling winds outside to take center stage. The sun hid behind vast gray skies, covering its eyes from Mother Nature’s impending destruction of thousands of northeastern homes.
The temperamental generator managed to keep food from spoiling but kept us in the information dark. A 21st century family reliant on digital cable and Internet, they threw out any old battery-operated radio they might have owned years ago. My mother sent the occasional text message, 160 characters filled with a panic-stricken news update from North Carolina, when the cell towers chose to transmit her byte of data. Any phone applications requiring Wi-Fi or 3G access froze in time: Monday at 4 p.m.
Ninety-six hours passed before we could view any aftermath news from a television screen. Heading down to the local Mexican restaurant where my boyfriend bartends for a little side cash, I sat along a row of barstools occupied by locals bundled up from head to toe in their winter gear. Temperatures began to drop after the blunt of the storm subsided, leaving thousands in the area cold and with few avenues to do something about it. People lined the perimeter of Lowes six hours prior to the incoming shipment of emergency generators, and three quarters of them would return home empty handed.
Those who failed to gather resources before Sunday but refused to sit cold and hungry in the darkness of their homes joined me at this bar, powered by three generators in the rear parking lot. The generators lent power to the kitchen cooktops heating the room as well as the food, a few ceiling lights, and two televisions tuned into local and national news channels. The talking heads on the screen quickly confirmed the rumors that I had heard throughout town days earlier as we searched for any remaining gas and groceries in the area. House fires in Queens due to flooding… hospital evacuations due to failed generators… widespread suspended public transportation due to the storm’s destruction… the list went on and on.
I did everything in my power to force selfish thoughts of class assignments and deadlines from my mind as I viewed images of Sandy’s destruction throughout the Jersey Shore, Far Rockaway, and Long Beach from this glowing hive in a town of darkness. After being stranded for the week, I itched to return to my apartment on the Upper East Side and some semblance of normalcy. The New York City Marathon was only 36 hours away, and I was supposed to be standing at that finish line to snap a photograph of Katie Lesko, a dedicated runner from my hometown I was profiling for a class assignment. I couldn’t get in touch with her. I couldn’t get into Manhattan. I couldn’t do anything except sit with my new friends in this line of barstools and follow the moving images on the television screen.
By 5 p.m. the news of the marathon cancellation broke across all news channels. The bar boys, jaded by the endless, depressing news coverage, flipped one television to ESPN. But they couldn’t escape. News of the cancellation tracked across the monitor in bold letters, commenting on the controversial decision that had been left until the last minute by the mayor and race officials. An NBA basketball game served as the backdrop of the information stream. I don’t think I ever considered what teams were playing that night. I just sat on my barstool and stared at the scrolling headlines in front of me, knowing that I would not be going anywhere for a while.
Originally written for my graduate “Storied New York” seminar