For the last four nights, I have been living in ‘The Dead Zone’ below 39th street (although it seems to vary depending on where you are east to west). My apartment is on Third Avenue between 13th and 14th and I conveniently only live on the 6th floor. While I don’t have any real camping skills, I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic movies. And with ‘civilization’ only 25 blocks away and lots of friends willing to let me shower in their homes during the day, I did what any illogical person would do and elected to stay put in my humble abode.
Armed to the teeth with fully charged gadgets and enough candles to run a wine bar, I knew that I could endure this ‘minor’ inconvenience and get to experience a week of life that millions of people around the world are only reading about in disbelief. But alas. I am 29, I have a bike that can get me around the island with ease and I am very healthy. I had enough foresight to stock up on non-perishables and I have enough cash to ride through another week if necessary. The only person that I need to worry about is myself, but unfortunately that is not the case for the majority of people that head back into the dead zone at night.
My building has 150 apartments, and when I spoke to my superintendent, Dan, last night he told me that between 20-30% of the residents have decided to stay (mostly people on the lower floors). Some of those remaining residents are elderly and are at this point stuck in their apartments, some 10-17 floors up. The only way to get them out of the building would be to descend a near pitch-black staircase, which for many is an impossibility.
In lieu of getting them out, Dan decided to keep them in with remarkable results. Every morning he and whichever staff members aren’t sleeping go to the roof and pull water from the water tower. They then go from apartment to apartment and put fresh water in the toilets of the elderly so that they can flush. (It is incredible to think how something we all take for granted is so serious in a situation like this.) Bagels are distributed for breakfast and later in the day a hot meal is brought in from Queens. All in all, it is very likely that Dan and his team climb 50 to 100 flights of stairs each day, it could even be more than that.
If you walked into my building’s dark lobby today (Friday), you would think it was business as usual (assuming business didn’t require power). Our doormen are still at the front desk, only in street clothes and with bigger smiles on. Our handyman, Mario, was sweeping leaves off the street as I left this morning, despite not having been home in five days. And Dan has managed to be in the lobby every single time I have come and gone (I’m honestly wondering if he is sleeping at all).
But what is life like for me? It’s actually not that different from usual. For the last few days I have woken up with the sun instead of an alarm clock (typically around ~8am). Cell service is wildly spotty below 39th street, so I leave my phone on airplane mode and instead turn on my iPad so I can blast some music through my Jambox Bluetooth speaker. The building still has gas, fortunately, so I start my day with a cup of coffee and a pop tart. As my instant coffee brews, I put aside an extra cup of hot water to use for my ‘shower’. Once it has cooled I do my best to wash and style my hair. Knowing that I’ll probably get a real shower later in the day, I don’t have to worry about completely bathing every morning. That and I’m generally not a very smelly person, which REALLY helps.
The city has seriously upgraded the bus shuttles throughout Lower Manhattan over the last few days, but I realized on day one that getting around by bike was the best way to go. While far from an inconvenience, the bike room is in the basement, so that means 7 flights down and 1 flight up with a bike. The hallways and basement are completely dark, but thanks to my trusty camping headlamp, I can navigate the building with ease. Once on the street, I have near unfettered access to the city at around 12mph.
When I get to my office, I pull out my gadgets and power strip so that they can all charge throughout the day. Then I spend about 20 minutes trying to catch up on what has happened during the night. For the rest of the day it is business as usual, although a lot of people that I need to speak with are still without power and cell service, so I can’t get too much done just yet.
As I mentioned above, by 5pm I have either gone to my parents house or a friends house to shower, typically followed by a hot meal before I head back into the dead zone.
During the day, life is slightly crippled in Lower Manhattan, but it still continues on. Once it goes dark though it’s a completely different story. The last two nights I’ve had to bike back home without street lights. Since most people are trying to avoid driving at all downtown because of the safety issues, car traffic is limited and that means less ambient light. I went down a side street yesterday on 17th between 5th and 6th Avenue and all I could see was darkness. Never in my life have I seen it so dark in Manhattan. Even with multiple lights on my bike, I could barely make out 10 feet in front of me. And as I passed multiple people I only knew they were there because I could hear them.
I haven’t walked around in the dark, but from my bike it would appear that everyone has a flashlight, partly for seeing and partly for helping other people see them. At every intersection pedestrians flash their lights wildly in order to cross in safety, and judging by the driving pace, that is remarkably wise.
Yesterday was the first time that I needed to flush my toilet. While there is still water on the top of the building, it would also turn out that we have clean water from the standpipe in the basement too (although the hose has been brought up to the ground level to make life a little easier). Much like getting my bike, in order to get a bucket of water I would have to go down 6 flights and then back up with a 25lb bucket. And when I wanted to make sure I could flush it again in the morning, I got another bucket. In total, I had to walk up and down 36 flights of stairs to flush my toilet twice. I don’t believe that all buildings have access to a standpipe though, and if that was the case I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay in my apartment.
Nighttime is surprisingly fun, believe it or not. I have so many shows on my iPad that I could be entertained for days on end, and I always have the ability to add new shows while at work. If I’m hungry, I can cook something on the stove or eat the dry food I have. Before I go to bed every night I make a hot cup of tea. The view from my window is of 14th and Third, and the stream of buses provides a decent amount of light in addition to a few strategically placed candles. Because we still don’t have heat I have doubled up on down comforters and the added warmth puts me to sleep in a heartbeat… And then I’ll do it all again the next day.
Yes, I am technically roughing it, but at the end of the day, I am seriously having a blast. I would consider myself to be a best-case scenario for Sandy, and that is NOT the case for most people. The NYPD, FDNY and Con Edison have been working non-stop and in only a few days I would say that they have absolutely restored Lower Manhattan to something that resembles civilization. Buses are running, and yes, it may take some additional time to get you somewhere, but you will get there. Food is being given out for free by lots of food trucks and tons of similar acts of generosity are taking place all over the city. Additionally, the twitter updates that I have been getting from Coned, FEMA, Gov. Cuomo, Gothamist and the NYC Mayor’s Office have been incredible. I only get them when I come uptown, but they are all extremely helpful at figuring out when we will be out of this mess and how we can help in the mean time.
There is no question that Sandy has devastated Manhattan and numerous other areas along the east coast. But the one thing that will not be devastated is our drive and desire to get our city back online. I <3 NY!