As of this writing — just after midnight on Tuesday, October 30 — my New York City neighborhood still has electricity despite the Frankenstorm, aka Hurricane Sandy. The lights have blinked ominously, so I keep bracing for total darkness, but for the moment it’s okay. If the electricity stays on, I will see if any of my powerless peeps want to come over once it’s safe for them to go outdoors (if you are one of my real-life peeps and for some strange reason you see this and need help, text or email me). My parents, GeorgeB and BarbaraB, have been without power since 6 PM in New Jersey and lots of trees and branches are down, but they’re okay.
I was in New York for the big blackouts of 1977 and 2003. Both times it was sweltering, there was no running water, and, in 2003, I had to carry two terrified dogs up and down a pitch-black stairwell while they dug their claws into my flesh. But this is going to be so much worse because of the flooding. I’m worried about all the downtown-dwelling folks … and the business owners. So many small-business people have basement spaces. I hope they’re not wiped out. I’m sending dry thoughts their way.
Even in dire times, though, there can be a random funny moment so I’m reminded of a story from the 2003 blackout. I worked for Lehman Brothers on the 30th floor of a building near Times Square. (We moved there after our downtown building was damaged by the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.) When the power went out, a backup generator kicked in immediately and the lights turned back on; our new building was supposedly equipped with all kinds of great emergency options. I wondered if there was a power problem in our building only, but I looked out the window and saw the building across the street was dark. Then I called MrB downtown and said, “Is your power off?” When he said yes, I said, “Okay, we’re having a big blackout!” and hung up. I pondered what to do for a minute. I looked at my colleagues — including my boss — who were milling about, waiting for some kind of corporate direction. Like I did on 9/11, I decided I didn’t care what other people were doing. I was leaving with anyone who reported to me. The problem was that AnneMarie, my only employee in that office that day, was about eleventy-months pregnant. I wasn’t sure that walking down 30 flights of stairs was the best choice for her, especially because I’m not trained in midwifery. With the generator still working, I said, “Let’s press the elevator button and if the elevator opens immediately, we’ll get in it.” I pressed, the door opened, and we got in with quite a few other people. Mostly dudes, because Lehman was heavily dude-oriented in certain departments and jobs, but there was a petite woman in the middle of the car. We went a few floors — and stopped. The lights went out. The petite woman started to panic. The men offered her water and a space to sit down and told her, “It will be okay.” She wailed, “How do you know we’ll be okay?” Hysteria can be contagious and I felt like AnneMarie was breathing a little heavily; I was worried she was going to start hyperventilating. I thought a little black humor might be a good distraction, so I whispered in her ear, “Well, if we’re stuck here for a long time, at least we know who we should kill and eat first.” Unfortunately, it was more of a stage whisper and everyone heard. For months afterward, I was a quasi-celebrity in my elevator bank. I’d bump into guys I didn’t recognize and they would say: “Oh my God! You’re the one who said you were going to eat that woman!”
Anyway, before I could make any additional inappropriate statements, the generator kicked into gear again, the elevator reached the lobby and AnneMarie and I ran/waddled a couple of blocks to the garage where she parked. We walked right up to one of the garage guys, gave him her ticket and caught our breath. Then we looked back and there was a line of people behind us stretching to infinity. Our timing was impeccable! We stopped thinking we were dumbasses (and potential cannibals) for taking the elevator and started thinking we were geniuses. Actually, we were just lucky. We could have been trapped in that elevator for a long time if the Lehman building wasn’t so sci-fi. That said, I do think I made a well-timed exit. There are times when it’s good to follow your instincts, rather than the crowd. So, all you New Yorkers, do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. And please beware of falling branches! They’re not only a danger when there is wind and rain. A saturated, rotting branch can reach its breaking point well after a storm. It doesn’t necessarily make a cracking sound to warn you it’s coming down, and you can be hit even if you’re not directly under the tree. I know this because a murderous tree tried to take out me and another woman with a giant branch. One second we were standing, and the next second we were on the ground asking, “What happened?” We literally didn’t know what hit us because it was so fast. (This happened in 2002, a year before the blackout, so, elevator lady, don’t get all, “Serves you right,” with me.) Seriously, y’all, keep an eye out for danger from above, and let me know if you need anything.
NOTE: MrB read this and asked me, “So what are we supposed to do? Walk around staring up at the trees?” I said, “I don’t know. Just BEWARE, okay? BE! WARE!” And definitely don’t go to a park.