Riding out the storm

DATELINE: Greenwich Village, New York, Thursday, November 1, 2012

It is now three days since Hurricane Sandy, and three days since the lights went out. I am wriiting this post by candlelight, which isn’t as horrible as it may seem. It’s actually rather pleasant. Any writer who’s never written this way is missing a marvelous opportunity to imagine she or he is Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, and what writer wouldn’t want to be one of them?

The storm has come and gone, and we are only now beginning to learn the extent of the damage. The death toll is rising hourly, and entire shorefront communities in the city, Long Island, and New Jersey have been all but wiped out. Lower Manhattan, where I am, is still without power, and buses and subways in the city are just getting started again. Gasoline for vehicles is the most precious commodity in the tri-state area at the moment, and some bridges and tunnels are not open. The grave voices of the WCBS newscasters on my transistor radio are constantly updating the awful facts and figures. The WCBS station is five blocks south of me, and it’s in darkness, but they keep broadcasting the news. A lot of heroic people are working around the clock to get us through this: police, firefighters, transit workers, doctors, nurses, electricians–the list goes on. The devastation is overwhelming.

And yet…

candle I’m writing this by candlelight. I already said that, but it bears repeating. I’m sitting here in my dark, cold apartment, and it is sound–no flooding, no wind or rain damage, nothing but a temporary problem with the heat and the wiring. That’s all. And there’s more: I have my original phone of forty years, a land line, and it may be the only working phone in my building (Take that, cellphone worshipers!). A couple of neighbors have been in to use it, to contact relatives and friends, and one elderly neighbor’s out-of-state daughter is calling me regularly for progress reports on her dad. If the cold in the building continues, she wants to put him in a hotel, and I can help with that. Another downstairs neighbor, a very polite young man, is going from door to door in our seven story building, top to bottom, checking on everyone and asking if they need anything. Everybody’s talking to everybody. Until yesterday, I didn’t know the name of the young woman who recently moved in next door to me, but I know it now.

Outside in the neighborhood, the good cheer continues. People are out and about, smiling and exchanging storm stories, scavenging for candles and batteries and cans of soup in the few shops that are open (CASH ONLY!). Local restaurants are serving simple meals by candlelight, selling their meat and produce before it spoils, and they’re all doing a brisk business (CASH ONLY!). I pass several upscale eateries, looking through the windows at the huddled diners, laughing and chatting and drinking lots of wine. But for the cold and the dark (and the CASH ONLY!), you’d almost think it was an ordinary evening.

My sister in the Virgin Islands has called several times. Sandy visited them before it reached us, so she knows what we’re going through here. And yesterday, the second day of the blackout, a writer friend here in the Village called and invited me over for tea. Yes, tea. We sat in her apartment, a few blocks north of mine, drinking tea and chatting, just as we do all the time when the lights are on. She insisted that I come over: she wasn’t going to let Sandy interrupt her life. Or mine.

The power will be restored soon, and the water will recede. The houses will be rebuilt, the heroes celebrated, the dead mourned, the displaced reinstated. Perhaps even a few idiotic holdouts will finally come to their senses and realize that Global Warming is very, very real. It’s more than real, folks: it’s here. But, whatever the changes, it’s nice to know–as I write this by candlelight, dreaming that I’m Charles Dickens–that some things will stay the same. Things like kindness. And courtesy. And afternoon tea. And laughter in the dark.