Five days since she was here, there's still a lot to be concerned about with regard to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Power's still out, but coming back (fingers crossed!) in at least parts of Lower Manhattan today. The marathon is an issue of huge contention, of course, as is how we continue to be sensitive to the needs of those hit hardest by the storm (Breezy Point, Queens; New Jersey) while also dealing with the "normalcies" of life that are slowly but surely returning. Yesterday I was reminded by a friend of how "nice" people in the city became following another disaster, albeit a very different one, with far more deaths—after 9/11, she said, people were just good to each other for almost a year. How long would we be nice to each other after Sandy? Are we being nice to each other as we speak?
There are definitely kindnesses to be seen, for example, the many offers I'm seeing and hearing from people willing to share their homes and food and power to people without. People are volunteering and donating to help evacuees, ravaged businesses, and those who bore the brunt of the hurricane more than they did. And people are retweeting and reposting those things, hoping to spread the word via social media. But also, practically speaking, it's hard to know what to do. If you have power and warmth and running hot water in Brooklyn, but your friends in Manhattan without can't get to you—and it's hard to communicate with them, anyway, given the lack of phone service, what do you do? If you are working 8-hour or 10-hour days, perhaps you can drop off clothing donations, but volunteering at a shelter may be more difficult. A lot of us in Brooklyn, and a lot of people above the great divide between Upper and Lower Manhattan (i.e., where things go dark, below 40th Street), can't possibly understand and don't fully know what everyone else is dealing with, even as we try to find out and try to help. Maybe, though, if we all do a little bit, whatever we can, that is precisely the right thing.
At the same time, there are those who haven't learned anything about generosity ever, and aren't even trying, maybe don't even care. In a piece in The New York Times by Sharon Otterman which highlighted the strange divide between those with light and those without in Manhattan, came this troubling line: "Some people said they had been turned away from hotel lobbies, other banks and cafes near 40th Street when they asked to charge their phones." Nearby, a Chase Bank branch on Third Avenue was letting people come in to charge phones, use the bathroom, use the Internet, have free water or coffee—and, weirdly, maybe cluelessly rather than cruelly, tourists were taking photos of these strange refugees. So, like much of humanity, some people are good, some people are bad. You can't expect everyone to become kind just because there's been a natural disaster. Unfortunately.
But there are uplifting stories to balance out the statement of Gabrielle Sonam, who, "near tears," told Otterman, “I’m not traumatized by the storm; I’m traumatized by the indifference." Kevin Fasick writes in the New York Post today of the Upper East Siders who took in their across-the-street neighbors (many of whom are elderly) who had no power after their basement was flooded. Mike Traub, 74, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, was carried downstairs from his 9th floor apartment by the building's porter, Luis Cortes:
“I knocked on the door and said you need to get out, but he said he couldn’t walk. I said no problem, and carried him down nine flights. It was difficult, but I did what I had to do” said Cortes, 53.
Of their new across-the-street hosts, "Traub’s wife, Bonnie, said, 'They were super wonderful. They put little chocolates on our pillows and they made us an incredible breakfast. New Yorkers are the greatest people in the world.'" Elsewhere on the Internet, a Reuters piece today addresses the influx of guests that Upper Manhattanites have generously opened their apartments to embrace:
AJ Feld, 24, found the sleek two-bedroom apartment he owns on 78th Street and West End Avenue overflowing on Monday night. Three young women - only one of whom Feld knew well from his days at Duke University - were sleeping in his bed. Three more of his friends were on the wraparound sectional couch in his living room and he was on the floor of his second bedroom, having been elbowed out of bed by the seventh refugee-friend.
The age-old urban question soon begins, though, how long until the guests can leave? (Per Reuters, in this vein, Equinox members recently got an email from their gym telling them they couldn't bring guests to the club for showers, which had initially been an option.) "As the days without power continue, both hosts and refugees are wondering how long is too long before the guests outstay their welcome," write Jessica Toonkel and Katya Wachtel and Emily Flitter. Let's hope we can be patient a little bit longer.
Maybe the most widely presumed cruelty of all right now, though, is the decision to hold the New York City marathon while people are still in the early stages of recovery (and still homeless in some parts of the city) in our area. The marathon has become one of the most polarizing post-Sandy issues, with people arguing on either side—this is a show of strength, to hold it anyway; this is just a show, and a show of the corporate interests involved; this is just wrong for us right now. The race organizers, the New York Road Runners, are donating $1 million to Sandy relief and dedicating the race "to the lives that were lost and helping the city recover." But you can't help wondering if it wouldn't be better just to postpone the race, what with Staten Island devastated; what with power still not even back in Manhattan; with some of those buildings downtown in apparently quite dire states; with transport snarled; with "gas wars" on. The New York Post adds that the generators powering a Marathon media tent in Central Park (private generators owned by the NYRR) would be far better used to give power to those without.
Whether you agree the marathon should go on our not, it's hard to make sense of a "fun" activity like a race and what happened just days ago. Even those of us who waited things out on higher ground and were lucky enough not to lose power are just tired, and we're still getting our own lives back together—trying to commute; trying to find a car that still has gas to take us to the airport for a flight made pre-Sandy; trying to find out if our offices in Manhattan have power or are workable yet. It's hard to imagine mustering the energy to go out and cheer for something on Sunday. Would that cheering make us feel better? Would we still feel better, knowing that not everyone can go out and cheer?
It would be nice if we could ultimately look back at Sandy as a bonding rather than a divisive force of nature among New Yorkers, but right now, we have stories of goodnesses and stories of badnesses, rather like that dividing line between darkness and light, though less geographically hewn. I hope that when the power comes back and as things are restored we veer into more goodnesses, though. Otherwise we'll have learned nothing from all of this, and that's a pretty dark thought.