New York City October 29, 2013
As soon as the word got out about Hurricane Sandy, the lines to my neighborhood bodegas started wrapping around the block. Food bouncers were stationed the front and rear doors to patrol how many people could be in the tiny 20 X 25 space. People bought everything. Not just the emergency supplies (batteries, canned goods), but the really shady Easy Mac boxes, lotto tickets, laundry detergent and my favorite the potted plants. I had seen this before, during Hurricane Irene, where all of New York retreated to their apartments, filling their showers with ice and beer, for what amounted to be a really rainy afternoon. This, I thought, was classic New Yorker overreaction.
As soon as I returned to my apartment, which I’m pretty sure had some pre-Halloween candy bars and candles, the rain started. Jodie called again to see if I was interested in waiting out the storm at her apartment—“Mom’s cooking!” Those were the magic words. Gone were the thoughts of finally finishing War & Peace (okay it was re-reading the Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken for the umpteenth time) or for actually cleaning my closet. The promise of the best vegetarian Taiwanese food was too much. I stuffed a whole bunch of spandex and rain gear into my backpack and hailed a cab uptown. This proved to be a wise move, because no sooner had I left, the ConEd power station exploded plunging my building and the rest of the 650,000 residents into complete darkness. Thanks to Jodie and her mom’s generosity, I was spared the power outages, extreme winds and tidal surges that plagued downtown. Instead, I was in a high-elevation apartment with hot water and electricity, mommy home-cooked meals, and the best company you could ask for during a natural disaster.
After the brunt of the storm had passed over the City, Jodie and I decided to walk down to my apartment. In my rush to get to good food, I had only packed a couple days worth of clothes and books, and my supplies were running dangerous low. As we walked down the ravaged streets, I couldn’t help but noticed how New Yorkers band together after disaster. Free coffee signs were posted in every coffee shop. Those who had electricity were running extension cords out of their windows for people to charge their phones. And speaking of, New Yorkers discovered that those metal boxes on the corners were not public urination facilities but public phones.
By the time, we arrived at my apartment, we had gone from extreme population – everyone it seems took the daylight hours to move uptown—to a city desert – no people, animals or movement in sight. My apartment building was completely dark. By design the only windows are in the apartments, leaving the main public spaces in cave-like circumstances. As we entered the lobby, we were forced to grope the walls in hopes that we avoided human contact and made it to the stairwell. The headlight that Jodie and I had gleefully packed was no match, and our cell phones provided us with enough light to know that we were in trouble.
Just as we were starting to regret watching that Criminal Minds marathon, our savior, my neighbor on the second floor came down the stairs. Armed with a flashlight and a candle, she took one look at us and took complete pity on us. We explained our seven-flight predicament, and she immediately offered us a candle. She had almost turned a corner, when an idea dawned on me. It was a crazy thought, but not for nothing have a grown up in a long line of eccentric engineers and rule-breaking educators.
“Elizabeth. I had a very awkward question. And please don’t hesitate to say no”
That was my brilliant start.
“ I was wondering, do you think I could use your fire escape to climb up to my window?”
Elizabeth, being the best neighbor you could ask for, didn’t blink an eye. She let us into the apartment, and after taking only five minutes to play with her adorable King Charles Spaniel, Edward, we headed up the her second floor fire escape, over the side gardens, and up to my apartment. Now this is where I have to mention, that this is why Jodie and I are friends. She not only gives me food & shelter, she also puts up with my hare-brained schemes. Climbing that creepy, potentially going to fall off at any minute, try not to look into anyone’s apartment fire scape is like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Scary but totally worth the look of extreme victory when we made it to the top, thanked my lucky stars that I had left my window unlocked (don’t worry mom, I have learnt my lesson and double lock them all the time), and made it into my apartment.
Just a day in the life of a New Yorker.
I’m publishing this in honor of Jodie’s birthday– Monday October 21. She truly is an exceptional human being.