Let me start this post by stipulating that I am one of those only minorly inconvenienced by Hurricane Sandy. Family is safe. No property destroyed. Really the entirety of it for me is that my apartment and office have been without electricity since Monday evening. A pretty big hassle in the context of workaday life but trivial in comparison to what people are dealing with in the flooded parts of New York City and New Jersey.But it has given me a sense of time and experience start to dilate in a disaster zone. I was two days in my apartment with no electricity, then I found a hotel room where I could work. And I had lots of immediate experience with this mess. But it also became clear to me that I was much more out of the loop about the ‘story’ of the storm than people in almost any part of the country.
I know Staten Island is utterly devastated. And I can’t get out of my mind this crushing story of the young mother who had her 2 and 4 year old sons washed out of her grasp by the sea. But I don’t know too much more than that. Partly because I haven’t seen much TV but also because I haven’t been in one place long enough to really take stock of it.
I’m also hearing stories about long lines for gas and water and other supplies. But again, not much more than that or where these lines are or what the story is behind them.
One of the minor curiosities about the week for me is how my ability to focus to write has been slowly disrupted by a mix of unaccustomed surroundings and unpredictability.
I live and work in the same little slice of Manhattan — in the middle of the island in the 20s. When the power went out — the dividing line between power and no power is just a couple blocks from where I live — one of the saving graces was that we still had cell phone service. So as long as you could keep your device charged and you had a smartphone you really weren’t all that cut off. You could talk to people, send email. I even had two charges on my iPad. So I could have a full multimedia experience in my pitch black bedroom.
Because of that and because I obviously hadn’t really given it much thought I assumed that cell coverage was dispersed enough that people who were in the black out zone could still make calls and get some information. That was until I went down to see someone in SoHo yesterday. No power. No cell service. The people I talked to down there seemed totally out of the loop on even the most basic information on what was happening, holed away in their dark apartments. Almost like caves. I said that ConEdison said it was confident lower Manhattan would have power restored by the end of Saturday. They were overjoyed to hear it. Like I was the bearer of such happy news.
None of this is surprising when you think about it. It makes sense. But it’s one of the surrealities of the experience. The folks at the center of the ‘story’ know so little about it.
We live on electricity. And are hard pressed to live without it.