As Luck Would Have It
On the morning of October 28th 2012, I woke up in my two bedroom apartment on the corner of 7th St. and Ave. B in the Lower East Side (LES) of New York City. For the previous 48 hours the local news media began stepping up it’s coverage of the alleged Hurricane Sandy that was brewing off the coast. I checked the news, which said that there were no recent changes and went to the corner bodega to get my coffee.
When I paid the cashier he informed me that the MTA would be shutting down at 7PM that night in preparation for when this hurricane might hit. I walked back to my building to talk to my doorman Bob who had just heard the same news. He asked me if I still planned to be out of my building by that Tuesday as this was when my lease was set to expire. As of that moment, with no idea of what the storm’s winds would do to the city, it was what I had intended to do.
New York is akin almost to a human body. If one aspect of it shuts down, it can affect the whole system. Shutting down one subway train is like soldering a ventricle. Shutting down the MTA was putting the cities heart on ice and hoping it would resuscitate once this storm had passed. My improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center was still happening; however, my writing class that evening at the Magnet Theater was cancelled.
The next day I awoke and went about my normal routine of grabbing a cup of coffee at my bodega. The LES was rather busy with people stock piling goods in preparation for the storm and hustling about, trading stories with one another of the last hurricane that passed through. Few people seemed overly worried. When I returned back to my apartment, Bob asked me how my packing was going. Considering that I basically live out of a suitcase, everything was going well. I thought nothing else of it.
As the day progressed the storm winds increased evermore. By 7PM that night it was fairly dangerous to be outside. At that point I recall an evacuation order being given for three major city zones within the LES. My apartment was not within any of the zones. Moreover, most of my friends reside no where near my apartment, and since the MTA was shut down, I had no way of getting to them regardless. By 8PM the power was shut off in anticipation. Water was turned off shortly thereafter.
I was in a cold, grey building scarcely lit by candle light. There was no emergency lighting in the building. No back-up generators and no ancillary water supply. If you had to traverse the stairs you needed a flashlight or a candle. I had the latter.
The storm hit New York and passed by morning. I spent five years in the Navy, sleeping in a boat through hurricanes, tropical storms and gunfire. I slept for 10 uninterrupted hours since the sounds of the storm reminded me of those times. It was almost welcomed.
When I woke the next morning the LES was flooded. My building was fine, as was most of my neighborhood, but when you traveled East you could see all the buildings that were flooded out. I walked my area to survey the damage.
The main power transformer that was damaged during the storm was 7 blocks away from my apartment at 14th St. and Ave. C. The underground parking garage at the ConEdison building where the transformer was located looked like the largest swimming pool I had ever seen. Trees were downed and the streets were lined with garbage and some dead animals. There were cars that were in the neighborhood that had been carried by floodwaters and smashed into one another.
The Today Show was on location to speak with local residents about the damage. I was stopped by Jeff Rossen who asked if I wanted to be interviewed on TV, to which I agreed. But then Jimmy McMillan of the “Rent Is Too Damn High Party” (this is not a joke, google it) arrived in his vehicle and was interviewed instead. I was denied stage time at my own disaster.
When I walked back to my building, I told everyone in the lobby as to what I had seen. People were astonished. Mayor Bloomberg shut down all the bridges and tunnels. The MTA was going to be down for days, maybe even a week, and utilities were not due to be turned back on for at least that amount of time – if not more.
As I started to climb the stairs to my apartment, Bob yelled to me “Hey Derek, don’t forget you need to be out today by 2PM. That is what is on the lease.” I quickly turned to him and said “Surely you are joking”. A hurricane had just hit the city. People had died. The neighborhood was flooded and I was supposed to move to Queens while all means of transportation were shut down?
He said that he was not joking and there was nothing he could do. I asked him to get in contact with the management company. It was then that we discovered all the cell phone towers were down. So at this point, I had no power, no water, no heat and no cell phone service. And I needed to be out of the building by 2PM.
I told him to get me the building superintendent immediately.
The Sup came to the lobby desk and wanted to know why I was interrupting his attempts to get the water restored. I informed him of the management policy that was forcing me onto the streets and what he planned to do about it. He said there was nothing he could do since “this is what’s on the lease” and he couldn’t get a hold of the management company.
I then informed him that the Today Show was around the corner. I was going to go talk to them on national TV, give them his name and location and then detail to America how I was being kicked out of my building during a natural disaster because “that is what is on the lease”.
I received a 24 hour extension.
As the day progressed, I had sparse cell phone service. I was able to update my Facebook via text to inform my family that I was alive but calls could not be made. I couldn’t reach my current roommate, nor my new ones, much less a moving company or any form of transportation. During this time the Sup had said he was going to have the water restored in an hour.
The hour passed. There was no water still. I had half of a bath tub of water that I could use to flush the toilet but it was running low.
Each hour I would walk down the unlit stairs to check on the progress of water restoration. Each hour it was always the same response “it’ll be another hour”. Other buildings in the LES were getting their water back but ours was not. Given all the circumstances of the events thus far and based upon the responsiveness of my buildings staff, I hazard to guess it was due to property mismanagement. By 4PM that day, I did not have anymore water in my tub.
By that evening it was getting cold. I had plenty of food and drinking water but not much else. I finished two books and kept resisting to use the restroom due to the lack of water. I couldn’t fight it anymore. I was letting things that were yellow in fact mellow; however, I was at a point where I had “brown to flush down”. And no water.
I walked down the unlit stairs yet again to ascertain when we would get water since other buildings in my area had it restored already. This time the Sup didn’t even bother with the usual answer. He just shrugged his shoulders.
I grabbed the mop bucket that was sitting in the corner of the lobby, walked outside to the courtyard and filled the bucket with the rainwater that accumulated inside the fountain. I then carried this three gallon bucket up five flights of unlit stairs, gripping the bucket handle so as not to drop it and using my other hand to guide me up with the handrail and to maintain balance while I couldn’t see. I entered my apartment, dumped the bucket into the back of the toilet bowl and flushed. I then carried the bucket back to the lobby.
Essentially, when I wanted to take a shit, I had to use a bucket. I felt like a fat, hipster Davey Crockett.
Wednesday morning came and the bridges had been opened back up. I still did not have cell phone service. My roommate and I were incommunicado. Her clothes, bedding and whatnot were all packed in boxes in the living room. Building management said that I had to be out.
I packed all my things into suitcases and wrapped blankets around the stuff that I couldn’t fit in my luggage. I had planned to make a few trips with my stuff via subway but that was not going to happen with the MTA still down. I had to use cabs.
The building still had no power or water. There was no emergency lighting and no glow in the dark tape to line the stairwell. I had to move all my stuff down five flights of stairs in the dark. I couldn’t hold a candle while carrying my desk, chair or bed so I had to use my ipod while I held it in my mouth to light the way. Concurrently, I counted all the stairs and walked very slowly down – feeling each step out like someone recently blinded.
I told the doorman that he would have to watch my stuff in the lobby while I moved it and hailed a cab. I gathered armloads of items and set them on the corner hoping that no one would steal them while the cops were busy dealing with much larger problems.
It took several attempts to hail a cab each time I needed one with essentially all of my life bundled up on the corner. One cab driver even stopped, looked at my pile of stuff and asked where I was headed. When I told him Queens he said “Fuck you.” and drove off.
After three $50 cab rides from the LES to Queens, I had my stuff moved. What would probably have taken an hour to accomplish instead took twelve. I sat down on my mattress and finally received a text from my roommate which read:
“Hey! Hope you’re ok. Finally got cell phone service. Spoke to building management and we have another 24 hours to move so you can stay another night.”
I looked at the phone and couldn’t help but laugh until I fell asleep.