Reflecting on Sandy

by Elisha Fieldstadt

Most New Yorkers can recount exactly where they were and what they were doing a year ago, in late October, during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, I was joking with my coworkers at Terri Cafe on 23rd Street about stocking up on “storm supplies”: vodka, chips and Netflix movies. Although most businesses were letting employees go home early to make the 7 p.m. deadline when the subways were scheduled to shut down, my coworkers and I were asked to stay until closing at 9 p.m. Terri was one of the few restaurants in Flatiron that did not close during Hurricane Irene, and the owners were hoping for a similar business-boosting opportunity.

While my friends at work were trying to figure out alternative ways to get home, I thought I was lucky because I lived only blocks away from the restaurant. I soon discovered that my proximity to both work and school, at Baruch College, might not be much of an advantage; when the power went out, I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to talk to.

I spent the remainder of Sunday night underestimating the storm. I baked “hurricane sandy sandies,” cookies made from almond flour to look like sand. I finished an article and got it in by the deadline. I worked on overdue homework and reveled in the rare possibility of free time.

I watched the storm’s progress on the news and texted my friends in other states to ask them if Sandy was being sensationalized there the way it was in New York. They said “Yes, but do you think they’re exaggerating?” I did — until the news went quiet when the electricity went out.

I spent the next few days in darkness, without heat and without hot water. I rode my bike to grocery stores on the Upper West Side to buy non-perishables, since the eggs and milk that I was told to buy had gone bad. I ate dry granola and PB&J for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the next four days. I trekked uptown to try to find a vacant outlet so that I could charge my phone and text my mom to let her know I was okay. I was okay … until it got cold. On Wednesday, the storm was over, but the electricity did not come back on for four days, and the temperature was dropping.

On Thursday, the subways started running, and my boyfriend was finally able to make the trip from Astoria, Queens, to provide much-needed company and an equally-needed hot meal. We headed north toward the power, toward the Thai restaurants. Hell’s Kitchen was twice as busy as normal, since the regular Chelsea crowd had flocked to the best nightlife alternative, while blocks away the lower half of Manhattan remained in the dark.

My boyfriend slept over that night and when we woke up in the morning, he decided it was too cold for me to stay downtown without heat. He would go back to Astoria and tell his roommate that I would be coming to stay with them.

But within an hour, my one chance to get out of my frigid, silent apartment was gone. My boyfriend’s roommate is a conservative Christian and he said he was uncomfortable with me staying over, even on the couch.

With 7 percent left on my phone battery, I called my mother to let her know that, contrary to what I had texted earlier, I would be staying in Manhattan. This required explanation and as any mother would, my mother got angry and used my phone’s remaining battery life to rant and say the word “hypocrite” several times. I should have been angry too, and I knew it, but I as too exhausted to feel much of anything.

On Saturday, the power came back on. I was no longer riding my bike in the cold to buy food or standing in bank vestibules to charge my phone. I was able to take a hot shower and cook hot food. After going to bed at 9 all week, out of boredom and to escape feeling cold, I remember being most excited that I wouldn’t miss that week’s SNL. I hadn’t laughed in days.

Of course, I knew others had it much worse. Although I couldn’t watch the news, I was sure the people who lived closer to the water were flooded. I found out later that evacuation centers were full of families forced from their homes. And after seeing destruction around the city, I imagined houses on the coast must have been pummeled; they were.

As the stories and pictures started flowing through my fully-charged phone, I realized just how fortunate I had been.