The store is running out of things like bread and water. People stand in line holding cases of beer and itching at a dulled panic. Our instincts tell us to be prepared. Our arrogance tells us not worry. This is New York; nothing happens here, nothing happens to us. But on the news they’re saying that it could. My friend — who is working on a show about global warming and has been in daily talks with the hurricane control center — assures me that it will.
“Make sure you’re ready,” she says. “Buy food.”
Bloomberg’s waited to announce the severity of the storm, letting the weekend pass with its Halloween festivities, allowing us to get drunk and dance and dress up like bloodied homecoming queens and spandexed superheroes, unworried about impending doom. Now, with a day left to go, everyone is scrambling.
I’ve stocked up on a whole mess of useless, perishable things, incapable of imagining the worst case scenarios: stuck in my apartment, surrounded by water for weeks, with only wilted kale and room temperature hummus to sustain myself. Dutifully, I buy my cans of beans, a couple boxed soups. What a depressing series of meals that would be.
Today, everyone just prepares and waits. The clouds that have been hanging over the city for the past four days are still there, gray and omnipresent. The wind has started to pick up. It doesn’t rain. At 7 p.m. they close the subways.
Cops are patrolling the neighborhoods closest to the river, telling people they need to evacuate right away. I am on the border of Zone A and Zone B. When I try to walk towards the pier to get a look at the city before we are all extinguished, a cop flashes his lights and tells me to “move it along.”
I sneak down the next street where the police cars driving past are not so militant. The East River is already rising, well over three feet higher than normal and just beneath the pier. It’s noon and the hurricane hasn’t even made landfall. The wind is blowing hard. I go home for fear of falling trees and things that generally kill stupid people who never listened to their mothers.
The day progresses and sometimes it rains but mostly it’s the wind. It finds its way through the tiny spaces between the wall and the windowpanes and whistles through my apartment. Outside, it howls like an army of screaming men, strong and bellowing. Green leaves are wrenched off of boughs and sent floating through the air – not simply down, but around – yanked across the sky sideways.
With each unrelenting gust, the trees outside twist painfully, seemingly as pliable as strings of rubber – one bough goes this way and another goes that.
Before the power shuts off, I make dinner and take a shower, not wanting to do either by candlelight. The lights have been flickering for the past hour. Around 8 p.m., against my better judgment, I put on clothes and go down to the water, walking down the middle of the street with all the other storm chasers so that we’re not so exposed to the trees hanging over the sidewalk.
The air is sticky and warm, wet with mist. Red lights from a parked ambulance glow on black pavement. There are a surprising number of people here to see what’s going on — boys and girls in rain slickers and boots, hoods over their heads. The cops aren’t telling us to go away anymore because what idiot would go further; the East River has already breached the edge and made it up a whole block. To the left, where the road slopes ever so slightly, cars are half-submerged in water. We stand at the edge, the river making an impromptu shore of the asphalt, and wonder how much worse it is going to get.
Gusts of wind come harder, pushing at the back of my legs. The corrugated metal fence wrapped around an empty lot bangs angrily against itself, the wind peeling it back at an opening like the lid of a tuna can. You can hear heavy things being blow around and slamming into walls. The sound of sirens screaming somewhere distant.
It’s going to hit us soon.
I run home and Jared calls with an update from South Williamsburg. He and Lisa have been watching green lights flashing over the boroughs. “Looks like laser beams!” Lisa yells in the background.
We’re talking about Halloween parties and rave music and people being too messed up for after parties when the sky outside my bedroom windows flashes lime green, flaring up to the skies above.
Jared saw it, too.
That was a big one.
When I call Serena three minutes later, she is walking through the East Village in a panic. “ We just saw the ConEd building, like, blow up. I gotta go.” After she hangs up, the lower part of Manhattan loses power and cell reception. I won’t hear from her again until late the next day.
By this time, the Internet has gone out. I have no idea what’s going on in the real world, or how far the river has moved up my block. All I’m left with are slow-loading Instagram photos and Facebook posts, mostly from people updating in other cities. From what I can tell it looks bad. Lief sends me a picture of his part of Brooklyn, where the street grids between low-lying industrial buildings are flooded with about three or so feet of water. Cars are covered, trash bags float. They’ve run out of booze. Things are looking grim.
I fall asleep with four more hours of the storm to go, the power still running, the wind still wailing.
The sky is gray but the wind has mellowed. I miss the noise, the frenzied rustle. I pull on sneakers and a coat and head outside to see the damage. There are a few fallen trees, the sidewalks covered in a thick carpet of wet leaves and twigs. The water has receded, taking back with it garbage and leaving the remainder scattered in the middle of the streets. All of the wooden fences are down, separated and strewn about.
All of lower Manhattan is without power and cell phone reception. The subways are flooded, the bridges are closed. The only way in and out of the city are through two tunnels that the mayor doesn’t want anyone using.
The Internet is back on and I can see the damage: the waterfalls of seawater pouring into the World Trade Center, the surging tide surrounding the carousel along the Brooklyn waterfront, the security cam photo from the inside of a flooded PATH station. Manhattan is a disaster.
But it’s business as usually in Brooklyn. I walk around with friends, work from home with my electricity that works, eat from a fridge that’s still running. I meet my friend for dinner and then head home, passing lit-up Halloween decorations and glowing patios.
Before I go back inside, I walk towards the waterfront to see the blackout from a distance.
Manhattan sits there, hulking and useless, half of it just a series of boxy shadows. It is bizarrely silent, save a solitary honk from a semi truck. The restlessness we are known for – the go go go go that never stops, never sleeps – has grinded to a halt, reluctantly.
A tranquilized giant.
Sparse strings of headlights and taillights pass along the mostly empty FDR. Cop cars dot the highway, evident by their blinking blue and red.
This reminds me of what the Titanic must have looked like right before it sank – eerily still and massive, all of the lights off, silent and agreeable, bound to its fate. It is such a strange thing standing here, seeing New York City like this.
I walk along the darkened pier, listening to the lapping of water, the rustling of plastic bags trapped in the metal fence. Trash clings to it: empty bottles, cardboard containers for Bud Light, dead sea grass. The unfinished parts of the pier have been upended and scattered.
Standing here, you get the real sense that we are just going to extinguish ourselves off of the face of this earth. We will be gone but our buildings will stand, and the wilderness will overtake it because the wilderness is paramount. But until that time comes, no one will do anything. We will just keep building our buildings and flying our planes, making money off of ransacking this planet, scooping out nonrenewable resources as though it were an all-you-can-eat buffet for which we will not have to pay.
I look out at a black Manhattan and turn to leave just as the old Polish men come out with their fishing poles and battery-powered lanterns, hooking bait and coughing loudly.
Business as usual.