I was staying down in Soho with Henry after we returned to the city, having decided to cut short our weekend tour of Amish, coal, and hydrofracking sites in Pennsylvania. On the road back from Western PA, there were already caravans of electrical and tree cutting vehicles from as far as Missouri and Indiana, all headed for Delaware, New York, New Jersey…the disaster chasers.
As we approached the Holland Tunnel, there were many signs warning that a “State of Emergency was in effect,” and back in Soho, we could taste that pre-hurricane air, the low pressure before a great storm.
On the night of, we got a full view of the storm across the skyline. We saw the Freedom Tower go dark (we were already in the dark by then), and on the other side of the building, we thought we saw the big greenish flash that was the explosion at 14th Street. We lost power and cell service, which was especially weird because the next morning, everyone else was going on as though all was normal and wondered why we weren’t calling back. At least that’s how it seemed when we did finally manage to get a single text to come through, which became an event as significant as a channeling from the great beyond, like holy words from some oracle that only spoke when you had positioned yourself just right to receive the message, having naturally spent the day preparing the appropriate burnt offerings. Soon, we were boiling pots of water for steam heat.
By daylight, the streets of Soho were empty and boarded up, and people were throwing themselves at any cars that came through. Henry’s car was in an underground electric parking lot, which is a really cool place to keep your car…until there’s no power and you can’t get your car out.
After a couple of days, we were able to come uptown, where we found everything to be surprisingly normal. On the ride up from Soho, working traffic lights marked off the return to civilization. I was able to contact my sister in Northern New Jersey and my parents on the Jersey Shore. My parents lost a pear tree, and everyone seemed to lose power, cell and land-line service, but from a garbled message I gathered that they were cooking on the grill and bundling up for warmth and were ok.
The boardwalk in Seaside Heights, just across the bridge from my hometown, was not so lucky. I keep seeing these images on the news of the completely destroyed Funtown Pier and the amusement park rides that are now in the ocean. It’s really sad to think about because even when they build it up new it won’t have those familiar boardwalk signs and painted booths, some of which had probably been there since the 1970’s. There’s no travel over the bridge into Seaside now, but I hear that looters have been coming by boat. While I’ve lost little in the storm—nothing but a few days of power—looking at the sunken Jersey Shore reminds me that I’ve actually lost so many of the places I used to go. The wreckage along the coastline, where land meets sea, civilization meets nature…that is where my propensity for nostalgia meets my intuition about the future that mankind has created for itself. You can only greet this with acceptance.
(Photos of the boardwalk in Seaside Heights are from when my sister, Connie Raymond, and I were visiting this past summer. Who knew that it would be the last time we would see our boardwalk just this way?)