Saturday, 3 November 2012

Life more interesting.

This year, starting 12 months ago, has been very full.  Last November, I was already in Mazatlan in a dream 150-year-old mexican house in the historical town centre.  My dogs were with me for the first time in Mazatlan.  Mike was able to spend 5 months straight there with us, working remotely.

Summer was spent in the mountain town of Canmore, AB and in our home in Okotoks, AB.  In August, Mike and I drove cross-country to New Jersey to a new 6-month work contract.  I had extended time to explore my favourite city of all time - New York.  In September, I went alone to Lake Chapala, Mexico on my first house/dog-sit for two weeks.  (That trip is another blog post on its' own). This week we experienced something very close to how it would be in a post-apocalyptic world.  Super-storm/Hurricane Sandy wiped out power, water, subways, bridges, tunnels in New York and New Jersey.

On Monday, we watched and waited, and the weather slowly worsened.  Still, no big deal we thought.  It won't be anything like the hype on TV.  My son, Tim, was with us in the apartment texting with his girlfriend, Alex, who was across two bridges and the city of NY in Queens with their friend, Riv.  It was debated whether he should go there, or they should come here, for the duration.  He decided to make his way there in the wind and rain, but the subways were still running then and he had no trouble getting there.

Mike went out to fill up the car with gas, buy water, food and flashlights in preparation.  He came back and said it was already a zoo at the gas stations and shopping parking lots - people were almost in a panic state.  

Well into the evening, until about 10:30 pm, we watched TV and browsed the internet, sipping wine and noshing on cheese, sausage and olives.  The wind was howling and the rain was blowing sideways past our window.  But, it felt kind of cosy inside.  Then, the power went out.

Okay, we were prepared for that.  On with the flashlights.  The buildings outside the window a few blocks away still had their lights on.  We decided just to go to bed and try to sleep.  An alarm sounded somewhere in the building with a recorded voice saying something.  We went to the hall and heard it say that there was a fire reported on the 4th floor and to go to the stairways to exit the building.  Ok, now we are alarmed.  Should we grab some of our things and go?  I started throwing things into a bag.  We ran around in the dark, banging into each other, trying to decide on the spot what to take.  I was just putting on my shoes and coat, when another announcement was broadcast - this one a live person.  Don't come down to the lobby - there is no fire - stay in your apartments!

Should we believe that?  What if he was wrong?  We decide to trust him and prepare to go to bed.  I looked outside and down to the streets 11 floors below and was shocked to see water everywhere - deep enough to half-submerge a car parked on the street.  A little later, we watched it deepen to totally submerge the car.  Wow, could the Hudson 6 blocks away be flooding this far in?

We go back to bed.  Just as we might have drifted off, the smoke alarm in our apartment beeped loudly.  It wasn't an alarm, it was just the low battery notice now that the power was off.  We couldn't do anything about it that night so I handed Mike earplugs and put mine in too, and we finally got to sleep.

Mike got up sometime very early in the morning while I still slept and went out to the hall with the flashlight to take a look around.  He went down the stairs, intending to go to the lobby and check conditions, but got to the 1st floor stairs and was stopped by water.  The entire first floor was under water! He went back up to the 4th floor parking garage and drove down as far as he could to the exit.  An attendant was there and told Mike that he couldn't get the garage doors open - even manually - they used electricity.

When we were both up, we immediately felt very helpless.  We have no power, no water, no way to get out of the building.  We don't know who to contact or what to do.  One of our flashlights had a built in radio so we turned it on to hear some news.  That didn't help ease our minds at all.  The news was dire all along the north east coast with widespread power outages and serious flooding.  What should we do?  I poured a bowl of cereal and milk with banana.  No coffee, just water.  I text Tim and ask how they are doing.  They are fine, amazingly no power loss in Astoria, Queens.  They had been out walking around a little taking pictures.  It was a disaster area with trees down everywhere but the power was still on.  Ok, everyone is safe, just sit tight for now.

Later that day most of the water had receded and I could see pavement again.  A few people were out wandering around.  Even a car driving around here and there.  Mike went down to the lobby and found that it had been cleared of furniture, the water was mostly gone, and a sole building attendant sat huddled on a chair wrapped in blankets with his wife.  They were cold and wet.  We found out later that he had been there all night trying as best he could to stem the tide of water that ended up rushing into the utilities room and elevators.  He had started up a back-up generator to power the hallways and common areas, and it had been wet.  It ran for a while, then started smoking and he had to turn it off.  Mike went back to the garage door and found that they had been able to manually get it open finally.

We decided to pack up some things, including Tim's things that he had left with us, and get in the car to see if we could drive over to Queens to deliver Tim's things and then look for a hotel for the night.  We had few problems getting to Queens - the bridges had been opened and there weren't too many people out driving around yet.  We got lost of course, missed a turn or two, traffic lights were out so everything was slowed to a four-way-stop situation.  We ended up driving down Central Park West somehow past all the multi-million-dollar residential buildings and hotels.  Past the dangling crane that had been broken almost in two in the wind 30 stories up on the top of a luxury residence under construction.  The area around it had been cordoned off and people were on the sidewalk pointing and taking pictures.

Finally we reach Tim, Alex and Riv who were just finishing up a meal at a diner in Astoria, and give him the rest of his things so he can be ready to go right to JFK on Thursday from there in case he isn't able to get to us or us to him in the meantime.  Good thing too.  After that day, there were very few ways of getting from Queens to Jersey City and vice-versa.  No subways, few buses, and with the increase in traffic the police were limiting cars from using bridges unless there were three or more people in the car.  Tim and friends were able to take a bus to Times Square on Wednesday and watch a sold-out Broadway show, which was amazing to me.  After that, I saw huge line-ups for buses from Queens to Manhattan on TV.  They just lucked out.  He also got very lucky on Thursday at JFK.  With all the backlog of cancelled flights for 3 days, he and Alex cruised directly through security and flew out on time.

Mike and I drove back to New Jersey and called a few hotels while in the car.  Everything was full, or the phone and power was out.  There were roadblocks and detours everywhere.  We finally find a Super 8 in North Bergen with rooms and we stay the night, enjoying a hot shower.  The cable and internet were out, but Mike was able to spin up a hotspot on his Blackberry although it went in and out.

The next day, we wonder what we should do.  Go back to the apartment and hope the power was back on?  Stay another night in the hotel?  Try to find a hotel that has internet?  We decide to drive back to the apartment and check the situation there.  It takes a long time - traffic jams and diversions - our GPS working overtime recalculating routes for us.  We drive by very long line-ups at gas stations, debris-lined streets, people hauling belongings and destroyed furniture out to the curb.  Most shops and restaurants are closed and dark.  At the apartment building we drive up to the sixth floor parking where we can walk up the stairs to the 7th floor common room which has a working internet hotspot.  The room is full of people with laptops and cell-phones, working.  It is a comfortable place with couches, tables and chairs.  We decide to hang out there for the afternoon while Mike gets in touch with his co-workers and tries to get some work done.  The office at which he usually goes to work is in Hoboken and that town got hit very hard.  There is no way to get there, and no point because the office building is shut down.  Everyone is working remotely as best they can.  Some are not affected at all, depending on where they live.  

The power comes back on in our apartment, but the water is still not working. I go down to the lobby at lunch time to see if I can find some food to bring back.  The lobby is empty of furniture still but fairly cleaned up.  People are sitting everywhere along the walls with their various electronic devices plugged in.  I ask the building attendant for an update on the situation.  He is busy talking with various types of workmen and looks really tired.  He just shrugs.  He can't tell me when everything will be working again.  I go out to the street and see that a Subway sandwich shop is open but crowded with a huge line of people.  I walk on past a bagel shop which is dark inside but I see people in there.  They are simply making coffee for sale by boiling water in pots on a gas stove and stirring in coffee then straining it out into styrofoam cups.  There is a line up of people waiting for this elixir.  The Starbucks on the corner id closed.  I walk on and find that the mexican grocery store is open.  I feel like I am back in Mazatlan!  I buy a few edibles and go back to the 7th floor.

We decide that spending the night in the apartment won't be too pleasant without water, especially in the morning, and we head out to find a hotel.  Again, it is a long time trying to navigate streets and find a hotel that is open and has a room.  We make a reservation with a central system at a Hampton a few towns away, only to get there and find that it is not open.  The central system didn't know that.  We drive by dark hotel after dark hotel, when suddenly we spot one with lights on.  Mike goes in and comes back out.  The hotel had JUST got the power on, and needed an hour or so to get things ready for guests.  They won't even let us register yet because its a computerized system.  We go to a restaurant close by that is open and have dinner.  An hour later, we go back to the hotel.  Now there is a line-up of cars and people.  Mike gets in line and is very lucky to get the LAST room!  We decide to stay 2 nights to give everything a chance to get back online at the apartment and also give Mike time to catch up on work.  Two days later, we go back to the apartment and are ecstatic that not only was the water back on, the elevators are running!

Next week I will leave New York (did I mention it is my very most favourite city in the world?) and go to Toronto to see my parents for a few days, then on to Calgary for a couple of days to do some business stuff and pick up my two very most favourite dogs, and fly to my other very most favourite city, Mazatlan.