What hath Sandy wrought?
Illusions of permanence
My wife's workplace in the Rockaway's neighborhood was flooded. Her office had several feet of water and all the computers were destroyed by the tumultuous salt water that hurricane Sandy had forced into the New York's and New Jersey's coastlines as it made it's sudden turbulent turn inland from what was initially expected to be a benign track out into the Atlantic Ocean. Now we are both unemployed. Her job is on hiatus -we don't know if her workplace will continue to operate at a later date or not. Thankfully, no one was hurt in this office... not so, for so many others who have lost their homes and lives to this storm's soulless rampage.
The power, cell-phones and land-line phones went out in our Oceanside house. We have to travel over into the next town of self-powered Rockville Centre, to get some warmth, food, electricity and the all important internet, to let our families know how we were. The gasoline has become scarce and the cars are lined up for long hours of waiting at the few stations that have electricity for their gas pumps. As the days of darkness pass by, civility is slowly breaking down at the gas pump lines and fights break out -aimed at those drivers who try to cut in. There are also looters taking advantage of abandoned homes. Spray painted signs of aggression that were never seen before in these otherwise calm neighborhoods are declaring in red ink: LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT!
Cabin fever and the accompanying anxiety-ridden symptom of paranoia begin to creep into the lives of those who have shut themselves up and have chosen to wait out the "bad times". My wife and I decided to go out and tour through the messy streets. We acknowledged our neighbors' deluged plights and listened to their frantic stories as we looked on at their mountains of waste that were piled onto the sidewalks as useless trash. Valuable possessions and sentimental items were now part of sad anecdotes. Each person reluctantly parting with what they hoped would be the last drenched memories of this wayward hurricane's mark on their interrupted lives.
Visiting the town of Long Beach brought my wife and I to a gaping bewilderment that is now part of our new reality. Sand was all over the streets with cars stuck in it, looking like the aftereffects of a deep-winter's snow blizzard. Going up one of the intact ramps of the boardwalk (same as we've done in the past decades) we came to a view which would drive home the realization that we would not be able to walk here again for a long time. The boardwalk itself was distorted and broken up. It looked like a standing wave frozen in time -akin to the shape of a roller coaster. One side up... another side down... splintered floor boards, broken and twisted metal railings along the entire length of this two-mile stretch of wooden walkway . Ramps that would allow you to walk down to the beach were now gone. In fact, the life-guard building in front of the Allegria Hotel was taken out to sea by the storm. Last year it crashed into the boardwalk from the onslaught of a relatively milder hurricane Irene. This time, only its pilings were sticking out of the sand, along with the conspicuous long wooden breakers which were now revealed from the previous century due to the storm's relentless effects of erosion. We took photos as we passed each piece of memory-shattering sight.
Almost at the west-end, a state trooper approached us and asked us to exit the boardwalk... everyone had to leave; it was now closed to the public as Army helicopters patrolled above the destroyed shore lines.
During these interim days of no electricity and only meager forms of communications, we visited our neighbors and commiserated with them... exchanging "war-stories" and offering what little we could, in terms of company and friendship. My neighbor next door, gave us firewood to use in our fireplace, so we could stay warm for a short while as darkness overtook our confidence and we'd go to bed at early hours. This was especially kind as a new storm arrived, one which dumped the additional insult of 3 inches of snow and created terribly frigid nights after sunset. But we managed the cold by layering our clothes under the stacked pancake of bed covers while hugging each other's bodies for warmth of various sorts.
We've learned to reflect on appreciating things we took for granted just a short time ago. And although our neighborhood was quiet for the most part, it wasn't until 11 days after the storm hit, that our town rallied in the morning at a local school and created a public ruckus to attract the media for action from our power company to get things done. By the afternoon, we had our electric power turned on! For some of us, "normalcy" began to reclaim its previous form a few days later. We started to see street lights working again. A few stores were posting "WE ARE OPEN" signs -and some people started rebuilding. For too many, there would be no power for weeks and shelter would have to be too far away from their long-time homes.
Now, after experiencing this poorly-prepared-for super-storm that affected so many in such a short period of time on such a grand scale, there is a new paradigm among us shore-dwellers: 'after all the reconstruction is done -it's always going to be just an illusion of permanence'.