Hurricane Sandy struck the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast the evening of October 29th.  What happened in my New York City in the aftermath could be called A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times in some areas and the worst of times in others.

Below 30th Street Manhattan turned into a dark desert island. Power was out; streets were flooded; people were walking around in a daze. All night flashing police cars patrolled the streets in the eerie dark. After the force of storm ended, the wind blew softly, and a light drizzle fell off and on. Inside my apartment it was dark – even in the daylight- with a spooky silence.  My husband was safe and warm at our house two hours north in the Hudson Valley where thankfully we still had power. It was just me and my small dog, Sazerac, sitting in the dark, with the candles and my headlight. It made me feel on edge. I don’t mind be alone. I mind being alone in the sticky dark stillness with no power not knowing what was happening elsewhere.

Outside during the gray day people took to the streets walking north like nomads in the desert seeking an oasis. Wearing backpacks and carrying bags of computers and clothes they were looking for working electrical outlets as well as water to drink and food to eat and shelter with light and warmth and water. A group of Hari Krishna members were singing and dancing in front of Madison Square Park. Lines  formed outside Duane Reade, Walgreen’s and 7-11 for batteries, food, water and supplies. I actually tasted my first 7-11 chicken tenders (spicy coating and dry tough white meat) as I learned news of the devastation from the man serving a small group of us street-walkers fresh brewed welcoming cups of coffee.  Tourists were taking pictures of the dark buildings and near empty streets.  It was one part spectacle and one part debacle by Nature.  Was this My Manhattan?

After walking here and there to plug in my phones and trying to find a hotel room but being turned away – “No rooms! No dogs!” -I took a price gauging $40 taxicab uptown to stay at a friend’s apartment in the East 90s to escape from the dark and the silence.

North of 40th Street it was like going to another city. Times Square lights flashed brilliantly. Apartments glowed with comforting shelter. Restaurants and bars were packed. Traffic lights functioned in an orderly fashion. Tourists were taking photos of each other in front of lighted monuments and landmarks.   Yes, the parks were closed and trees were down here and there. But life was still functional. Downtown and in areas like Staten Island, The Rockaways and elsewhere in NYC it was Life Interrupted.

When you emailed people or call them, your first words are “How are you doing? How did you weather the storm?”   I don’t remember feeling this level of heightened sensitivity and sense of loss since September 11, 2001. Thankfully fewer lives were lost  with Hurricane Sandy. But so many homes and livelihoods were washed away in such a large geographic area. Homes with families and generations and stories now with an abrupt ending.

Uptown,  people were leaving their homes to enjoy evenings out not to find electricity and batteries. Uptown, people did not have to wear headlamps and carry flashlights to walk up dark flights of stairs to get into their apartments. Uptown, they had heat and water and light- things we usually take for granted. I am not being critical; I am happy for those unaffected.  I am just observing how strange it is to see a vibrant city like New York splintered in two between light and dark, have and have not, functional homes and displacement. And feeling helpless to do anything about it.

A colleague old me that uptown some actually complained about the disruption Hurricane Sandy was doing to her life. She couldn’t get her usual food delivery and, OMG!, there was no rum available in her liquor store.   

Downtown it was more about not having heat and light and food that people were facing.

Further south on Staten Island and in Brooklyn and neighboring New Jersey it was about not having a home to go to anymore.

The city was split form the North with “Oh please! No rum! No food deliveries!” to South: “Please help! No roof over my head anymore! No food to eat!”

 A New York City split in two between the affected and disaffected.  And in true intrepid New York style, residents took to the streets and the stairs to help those unable to get down or get out. Friends and colleagues opened their homes to take in families.  Collection and cleanup volunteer efforts started immediately.

A city divided by light and dark, heat and cold, function and disfunction, have and have nots became One Again to help each other out.

It was the best of times and the worst of times. And a time we will all never forget where we were when it happened and how we worked as One to become whole again.