Thursday, November 1, 2012

Man-half-tan: A Creepy Walk Between Two Cities After Sandy

lone deli serving tea by open flame, Fifth Ave bet 13th and 14th (A Fine)
14th Street + Fourth Ave (A Fine)
Union Square Park, tree down (A Fine)
Con Ed trucks, Union Square North (A Fine)
wifi lifeline, W Hotel (A Fine)
Nat'l Guard, 24th and Lex (A Fine)
I had an elderly client to check in on yesterday in Greenwich Village, and the contrast between Uptown and Downtown could be no less extreme. The comforts of the Upper East Side- power, light, hot water, stocked delis and packed bars are so easily taken for granted.

I crossed the border to what I would later refer to as "Zombieville" on the Fifth Avenue bus. Starting at 39th Street nearly every light was out, but I had a cheerleader of sorts, a chortle throated New Yorker pointing out every light that was randomly on through the 30's. "There is hope, there is hope, the lights are coming back on. I have faith, faith that the lights will be on come tonight." His hopes were brought down to reality by a French woman who corrected him- "those lights were there yesterday, they are the same." By the time I reached the upper 20's, all traffic lights were out, and the bus proceeded cautiously with sudden jerks to avoid unchecked crossing traffic. Aside from 14th Street, there were no traffic agents to organise the chaos. But, traffic was light, and the streets, suddenly, very dark. As I made the decent into the darkness on this gray, gloomy afternoon, the visuals were surreal. A dark Flatiron building, dark stores up and down Fifth Avenue. The usually teeming streets were virtually deserted, a ghost town. The usually gorgeous prewar facades of the district were suddenly transformed to haunting, lifeless masses.

I got off the bus at 14th Street and was struck by another sensation- silence. Yes, there was the occasional honk and the few drivers down there seemed impatient, but I have never heard the city so quiet. City folk joke how it is hard to sleep in the country, that they need noise to sleep, so it wouldn't be surprising that the few remaining residents there were indeed losing sleep. I reached for my phone, and Twitter app to record what I was thinking, seeing, and hearing. Ah, that's right, no cell service, no mobile internet, a comfort stripped. I managed to find my client safe and sound and delivered an unsolicited warm meal and jug of water. I wasn't looking to stay long. The light of day was fleeting, her apartment getting dark. I was eager to just get the hell out of ZombieVille! Why call it ZombieVille? That is exactly what it seemed like as I ventured north up Fourth Avenue and past Union Square Park. There were very few on the streets, and the homeless and methadone zombies suddenly made up a near majority of those who were. Passing the Union Square W there was a sign of normalcy- hipster looking youngsters on iPads and cell phones. But, they were tightly grouped. Turned out that the W had a back-up generator and the people out front were feeding off the wifi as a lifeline to the outside world, or at least that above 39th.

Nearing the border I passed a mobilization of National Guard jeeps and humvees at 24th and Lex, an unusual site. At that point I moved on to Third Avenue to grab a bus out of there. There was no traffic downtown, but the bus was packed with East Village refugees, many with 3 or 4 bags in hand. We moved swiftly to the border, and right at it, 39th Street, the traffic was suddenly think as molasses. It took 45 minutes to get to the next stop at 42nd Street, to escape the refugee bus. Although I still had 40 some-odd blocks yet to go by foot, there was palpable liberation that I had escaped ZombieVille and I was yet again on the other, vibrant, noisy, safe side of the border.

To all my friends and colleagues on the other side, wishing you a quick return to power and vitality. If you need a hot cup of coffee, a warm meal, or a hot shower, just look me up, the Upper East Side is not that scary, at least not this week.Share B

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