The New Post-Sandy 'Normal' Sets In
Think back to last Wednesday (yes, today is Wednesday), when we were first learning that this ridiculous-sounding monster-hybrid storm with the preposterously corny name of Sandy might hit us. There have been so many emotions since then!
It has been a weird week, a really weird week. Think back to last Thursday (yes, today is Wednesday), when we were first learning that this ridiculous-sounding monster-hybrid storm with the preposterously corny name of Sandy was headed to the Northeast with a promised impact on New York City. Back then, many of us were busily laughing in the face of it, knowing what we knew (nothing) from Irene, and meteorologists were busily warning us that this thing was no joke. There have been so many emotions since then! Disbelief, defensiveness, denial, and then realization. A kind of acceptance. Frustration. Fear. Making urgent preparations just in case, hoping that the worst was not to happen. Some of us left our homes in New York and around the Northeast, told that we were in harm's way. Then we waited, waited, waited, stuck inside alone or with sudden friends or, maybe, people we knew but suddenly were about to know a whole lot better. Impatience. Anger. We listened for gusts of wind that might blow out windows; we watched the Weather Channel and local news more than we'd watched it in years, we refreshed our news sites of choice and our Twitter near constantly, keeping our laptops and phones charged at all times, though, in case the power went out. Exhaustion.
For some of us, the power did go out, and has yet to return. When the cable went out for others, we reached for our portable, battery-operated or hand-cranked radios, and tuned in to what was going on in our city. Once the storm passed, we started to assess, waking up eagerly, nervously, to find out what we could. We listened to the instructions of our city leaders, and also to the stories of courage and also tragedy, trying to figure out what we could do to help, what we should do for ourselves, trying to return to some sense of normal in a suddenly abnormal world. While for some of us the return to some form of normal was easy, for others, still living in evacuation centers or plugging into random power sources in hotel lobbies around town, waiting to get into a Starbucks for Internet, normal is still a ways off. While the immediate fear and anxiety of what might happen is now over—now, we pretty much know, we can see—the hardest part is just getting started. Coping. As New Yorkers we move quickly from phase to phase, adapting to our surroundings, but this "in transition" part of post-Sandy life is not going to keep the pace to which we are accustomed. Things are going to be slow; fixes are going to take a while, there will be much blame laid and yelling and general crankiness throughout.
There are different degrees of coping, different things we have to do based on our personal and geographical experience of the hurricane. I don't purport to know how I would cope, nor would I give advice on such to a person who has lost an entire home, or a beloved family member—the tragedy of what happened to the people who died because of Sandy is unimaginable. The photos of places nearly wiped out by the hurricane, like Breezy Point, or parts of New Jersey, are unbelievable as well; they resemble the apocalyptic scenes of movies or, yes, the worst kinds of nightmares. You can come back from that, but it's much harder to do, which means that the luxury of being able to "get back to normal" is something that should be valued in itself.
Still, inevitably, the feeling of, Whew, thank God, I didn't suffer too much damage, I still have power, my neighborhood is fine, my family is fine, I can work—even if I can't get to work—will shift to something less grateful. Others still don't have power, others are working in less-than-ideal situations, others can't get to work at all and will lose much-needed income. Commutes to the city from the outer boroughs, sans subway, are and will likely remain a tremendous pain in the butt. The subway will not be back to the normal that we knew for a long time, even as bit by bit, parts return. Large parts of the city are still in a dark, watery, powerless existence. Yet while on Monday my laptop and phone did not leave their chargers, by Tuesday I was haphazardly leaving my phone across the room, unconcerned about its battery being merely half-full. I've stopped watching the Weather Channel, or checking to see if the bodega is open just in case supplies were running low. The bathtub is no longer full of emergency water. Things are far more "normal" than they were two days ago.
New York is always kind of a logistical nightmare of some sort or another—it seems like just yesterday we were reassuring Andrew Sullivan, and others new to the city, that it does get better (even as that, too, is a matter of perspective). Things that are easy elsewhere are hard here—grocery shopping, for instance; driving; cleaning our clothes in washers and dryers in the comfort of our own homes. And things that are easy here, which are often the reasons we live here, are now harder because of Sandy. How do you access all the greatest things in the city—the culture, the businesses, the multitudes of life experiences—without a functional form of transport? And if you can't experience New York City the way you want to, in the way that made you decide to suffer all the little things for the greatness of overall life here, why are you even here? Why are you crawling at a snail's pace in a cab shared with strangers on your way into a wounded city you barely recognize; why are you unable to get a bus to take you to Midtown, where there is power, because the buses are all full? Is something so simple as electricity to be denied to you for nearly a week? It's easy to get frustrated. Since last Thursday we've been thinking about and dealing with and considering this storm; we're ready to be done, move on, process it and get back to normal. But normal is going to take a while.
Still, there's an upside: Things can be fixed, mostly, and hopefully they'll be better than before, if nothing other than because of the resilience of the spirit of New Yorkers. It's good to be reminded that we can do this. We've dealt with worse. We're tough, and courageous, and we have the potential to be very good in the things we do. Despite all the tiny pinpricks of annoyance about the many interruptions and new inconveniences in our well-wrought and somehow livable (in the ways we've made them) day-to-days, the benefit of life in a city as fluid as New York is that you tend to adapt pretty well. We're not set in our ways; we simply can't be, and there's always something new to move onto, anyway.
In some ways, a new paradigm is exciting. If we do it right—if we bond and support each other and try not to complain too much about traffic being awful or how we can't get the good bread right now. If we take this opportunity, maybe, to bike and walk a little more and take cars a little less. If we get to know our local neighborhoods and establishments and neighbors again or for the first time; if we remember that we all shared this experience and mostly got through it relatively unscathed. If we remember that a lot of us are pretty lucky—we have each other. Things are hard, but they're also surmountable. The worst thing we can do is to get bitter, and to stop thinking about everything we still have.
Last night I went out in my neighborhood in Brooklyn—a neighborhood that escaped much of the wrath of the storm (instead of feeling smug I just feel pretty lucky)—emerging for the first time in two days from the haven of my apartment, where there was, for the record, no kale. The bars and restaurants were more full than I'd seen them on a Tuesday night in perhaps ever. One had run out of burgers. Another had run out of nearly half of their beers. I took this as a great sign. In times of trouble, New Yorkers don't stay inside and recoil into their personal troubles and tragedies and fears; we go outside and engage with the broader world, facing things—with some beers and burger—head-on. Perhaps that seems insensitive or greedy, that we can do that when others are still suffering, but this resilience is key. The storm sucks, not having power sucks, not having a subway sucks, the cleanup sucks, what it's going to cost, and that it all happened, sucks. But for most of us in the New York City area, we're still O.K., we'll be O.K., and having some perspective means quite a lot right now. It could, as the old chestnut goes, have been worse.
The new normal is by no means normal, and right now it's not particularly pleasant, either. But if there is some consistency we can start to weave through it, it's a consistency of spirit. New Yorkers aren't really renowned for their enormous patience, but we should try. We should try to be positive. When that fails, when all these logistical things become overwhelmingly annoying and frustrating and bleak and scream-worthy, a beer and a burger and some conversation with someone who's going through the same thing as you—all of us are in this together, in some way or another, because we all live here together—can do wonders. And as we shift into new normals and new normals after that, we can also remember that what we have here is pretty great, regardless of all the annoyances and frustrations that we sometimes feel and are now feeling in greater extremes than ever. Maybe Sandy's one good deed was to keep us aware of that.
Inset via AP Photo/Richard Drew.