My guess is that there will be only one thing that each day will have in common for the foreseeable future. With the current realities unlike anything we are used to, my guess is I will see something every day that I’ve never seen before. Since today I went back to work for the first time since last Friday, for me this began when I stepped down into the subway station in Columbus Circle.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t like getting on the NY City Subway for free. Since the Governor announced that all public transportation in NY City would be free until Friday night, my commute today would end up costing me nothing. Although the reasons for the free transportation were anything but amusing, watching people at a subway station struggle with the concept of free entry was some welcome comic relief. The announcement on the subway platform was somewhat surreal, giving a list of suspended lines and explaining how there would be no service into Brooklyn or Queens. It felt somewhat like a bad dream, until I once again stopped and remembered how much better my reality is right now than so many others.
I arrived at Penn Station, normally a bustling hub, and found it alarmingly quiet. Exits and entrances were closed off, police were patrolling with dogs, and the Amtrak and New Jersey Transit sections were completely shut down. The Long Island Railroad(LIRR), the train service I would normally use was limited to 3 lines. Two went into Long Island and one to Jamaica, Queens, one of the main hubs of the LIRR. Since my line was not working, I was stuck waiting close to an hour for the Jamaica train where I would be able to switch to a bus that would take me into Long Island.
A little over 2 hours after leaving home I was finally on the bus, the bus that normally would take approximately 45 minutes to go to my destination. On this bus I met two sisters who were nervous because they were not sure if they were on the right bus because normally they would have driven into Long Island but could not today because their car had been submerged in water. I also met a guy who was with 2 other girls carrying 2 containers each which they intended to fill with gasoline. Once in Long Island, where traffic was bumper to bumper, there were lines down avenues and around corners to get gasoline. Over the course of the day I would learn that the gasoline situation was turning into one of the most dangerous situations in the tri- state area with people turning violent and resulting to theft in some instances to get what they needed. It reminded me a little of the movie Mad Max except without the mutants and that lunatic anti-Semitic movie star.
I arrived in my office after my 3 hour trip where I observed, listened, and spoke with my co-workers, the majority of which live in Long Island. Everyone had lost power. A woman who lives in Long Beach looked devastated as she referred to her beloved neighborhood as a war zone. One other woman I work with was not there but called in to let us know that her house was under 6 feet of water. While I was there a report was sent through email to the Long Island residents about a sewage plant that had exploded with a list of instructions on how to avoid contamination. A little later a few of the same residents received a phone call stating that everything was fine with the sewage plant and that there was no cause for concern. It was hard to determine whether they had repaired the plant, the story was a rumor, or the follow-up phone call was to avoid an impending panic.
The picture I have put up for this piece is a picture I took in front of my office. You see the people in line in the gas station across the street, with an Army vehicle in the forefront, a vehicle that most likely had come from Long Beach being that the street heads in the general direction of the devastated area. Once the woman who lives in Long Beach secured a ride home she left the office, since her car was one of thousands destroyed in the storm.
I began my trip home by waiting approximately 45 minutes for a bus while watching the worst traffic I had ever seen in the neighborhood which included an Army convoy. My commute home was a little over 2 hours, so I had nothing to complain about there. I did some minor grocery shopping and after finding a break in the barriers to my street got yelled at and chased down by police who wanted to know why I had gone through the barrier. I displayed proof of my residence at which point the officer asked me to be careful, not go in and out too much, and almost apologetically explained that they needed to be cautious due to the crane. I told her I had been following it for days, totally understood, and thanked her. I urge all New Yorkers to take a moment and thank any police officer or fireman that you come in contact with. Sure there are bad apples in every basket, but this group of people may end up once again being the difference in this city. Give moral support to the police because after what I saw today, and the tensions that are so palpable, the crisis is far from over. All it appears to be doing at the moment is morphing into a different one.