Friday, November 2, 2012

Sandy in Jersey City

Sandy… Sandy… Sandy… all you heard about or could think about or talk about… the days before and of course in the ongoing aftermath.

Electricity went out about 9:30 Monday night. Three days/three nights – the longest I’ve been without power in Jersey City. You’re not totally isolated of course, you have the phone and the radio, but the inconvenience keeps getting more aggravating and depressing. Not just the disruption of the routines, and worries of spoiling food or dwindling paper money supply but the essentials of life – eating and cleanliness – become central activities of your day, no longer the minor chores on your way to work and love. The radio reminds you of the many, many people who have it worse than you do loss of life, loss of home. Updates on the extent of the destruction and the progress of restoration. The former still outweighs the latter.

You get on with it, you deal. Hardship is part of the human condition, but is also temporary. You may become more appreciative of simple creature comforts, but lord, moment to moment can be sad and annoying. Time becomes grueling. You wait. The unknown eventually becomes known.

Sandy – seems the media is split between tagging this Super Storm Sandy or Hurricane Sandy – I think I prefer using her sole surname –anyway, Sandy is similar to 9-11 for Jersey City in this respect: there was a before Sandy and now there’s an after Sandy. Enduring the first typhoon that ravaged territory far above the normal tropical radius of this category of weather event has created new community awareness – or perhaps, a new awareness of our community.

I moved to Jersey City in the 90s and while I have dear friends who are born and bred Jersey City folks, born and bred Jersey City folks often indulge in their own type of snobbery towards any one who grew up anywhere else. This insularity sneers with a you-are-not-from-here bias, a faux superiority. This tendency is far from being exclusive to J.C. It is typical of many places, especially those with a deep-rooted culture that has fostered several generations and families. I know people living in the south for 25 years or more and still considered “Yankees” by their neighbors. After 9 -11 though, going through that ordeal together. I just didn’t see that attitude so much anymore in Jersey City.

I did see that attitude rise up though, post 9-11, even among the non-Jersey City born and bred but who had moved here pre-gentrification and now were looking at the new comers as the carpet baggers. Didn’t help any that most of the new residents, especially in downtown, were young, a new generation with a different style. Will they and their tattoos and different ways ruin the neighborhood? Make it less affordable? Blah blah blah. Prejudice is always the same, and seems one group inevitably uses the same prejudices that were heaped upon them against the group who follows. Maybe to feel like an insider you need to disparage an outsider. A lot of it has merely to do with age, as the deeper one gets into middle age, the more apt one is to resent younger folks merely for their youth. That was at the root of what I felt 20 years ago when Jersey City became my home and it sure sounds familiar when I hear my generational peers knock the Gen Yers now amongst us.

Sandy I believe has changed that. We have survived this together and the new comers are no longer new. As Bob Dylan says, “strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.”

God help those who move to town from hereafter cause they will have to hear about Sandy. You think this is bad, you weren’t here for the Sandy! SANDY!!! Some will always grasp any reason to appear superior. But I fear Sandy is far from the last word on devastating weather events. Pollution will not end tomorrow. Having spent our national treasure on fighting wars and giving tax breaks to the wealthy, we neglected to reinvest in our infrastructure, which is now crumbling and in need of repair. But we now need an infrastructure that can withstand our new weather realities. Repairing the old is insufficient. When the infrastructure collapses, the class war begins.

Sunday things started changing. The air was as thick as a soaked sponge. Windy… Monday morning… it’s about as windy as I can remember… I walked around some, the wind intensifying as you get closer to the Hudson River… Sandy had become a malevolent entity, a personage bestowing mounting dread – make landfall at 6, 8… announcements of voluntary evacuations, preemptory closings of schools, subways, highways… dread dominates.

Seemed all your Facebook friends were on Facebook with updates and worries and even good advice (freeze bags of water).

All day the wind whistles and wails, I went outside … you could still walk, but barely… branches falling. I only made it a few blocks before the curfew. The gusts of wind shake parked cars. That was weird. The rain comes in sheets, bands they call it. During Monday night, there are periods of perfect stillness, no rain or even breeze. Then the squall returns with a vengeance, the gales roar and a million splinter-sized raindrops loudly crackle against the rattling window.
The first morning of no power is not so bad. My gas stove still functions, I can make breakfast.

Within a block or so I spot my first downed tree. First of many. Boughs and branches, tangled with wires draped between poles, now the wires are entwined with the fallen tree, sprawling on the ground.

I walk down to the river. The river surged in the middle of night, filling the streets near the bank of the Hudson, heading up several blocks, to City Hall, I heard. Intersections are lakes. Some cars pass through, others turn around. I wore boots. In some places the brown water is still a foot deep



This is further up Columbus, about a mile from the river. A friend of mine lives nearby, water filled the first level of his house. Jersey City is an isthmus, meaning lowlands. Basically, the perimeter of downtown is a flood zone. It’s just a matter of time when a Hudson River surge meets the flood zone waters. Water always seeks out other water.
Rainy, gusts of wind but nothing compared to the day before. Grim and gray. The Hudson is ugly, dark and disturbing. It seems so tamed, excavated centuries ago to make the bottom deep enough for big ships. The internationally known home of the landmark of our immigrant past – France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty beckons at the mouth of the river, which flows between the isle of Manhatto and the Jersey shoreline. River while you’re rambling you can do some work for me, sang Woody Guthrie, but that’s just an illusion. In spite of appearances, all rivers are wild rivers. Everyone – and every city –is at the mercy of Nature.
 This is the very groovy Warehouse Café, which was serving the day after the day after Sandy. See how high it is from the cobble stone street? The water rose higher than that, the owner told me, and filled the lobby area of the café.
This fish was on the sidewalk near the Warehouse Café. The surge brought depths of water sufficient to carry this fish ashore. Keep in mind, this fish lays about five blocks from the actual Hudson. It is not within flopping distance of the river.
 The area is around the waterfront – Exchange Place, our city’s“financial” district and the Powerhouse District is desolate, silt and gunk are strewn in the drenched street. Everything seems saturated, what isn’t stone or metal is muck. These blocks were flooded the night before. A brownish patina coats the lower portions of cars and buildings

Water Seeps up, like a fetid spring, through the cracks in the curb and sidewalks.

 This is what Post-Apocalypse looks like.


Everyone is shell shocked. The bad news keeps coming. Down the shore, the Atlantic ripped apart boardwalks. Subways and PATH flooded, service suspended indefinitely. We cope. We discover new supplies of patience we never knew we had. Hardly any cars on the roads, no traffic lights are working. We survey the damage. Did we survive or is this Purgatory? 
A military vehicle drives up Christopher Columbus.


Entire trees pulled out of the grown, the panels of the sidewalk torn asunder. Every block seems to have a fallen Tree or at least, large limbs.




On Tuesday Night, Helens Pizza is serving a limited menu. There’s a line outside. It’s the only place open on the utterly dark Newark Avenue.

PSE&G workers checking on one of the several gas leaks reported.

Wednesday morning I went to the Shop Rite. I’m not sure if it was running by generators or that it was part of the first section of the J.C. grid that got electricity, a corridor of energy that ran up 4thand 5th streets, fading a few houses east of Monmouth. People plugged into the outlets to charge their phones. There are outlets along the walls of the store, also around the edges of frozen food cases and amongst the thickening throngs of food shoppers, are people sitting along the walls, waiting. I recharged my phone there. A small group of people waited around the ice machine, applauded when an employee came with a cart of ice bags. I didn’t take any pictures at Shop Rite. People were tired and wiped out, hell; I was tired and wiped out.


 Electricity was beginning to return to different blocks. People found outlets and loitered as their phones charged.This cord was plugged into a street lamp post at the small concrete park on Jersey Avenue.
By Thursday the clean up began more in earnest. Garbage neatly piled; some places require a good pumping out and will be ready to go today or tomorrow, others the repair and restoration will be more extensive.


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