I'm home...enjoying the comforts of light, heat, power, phone/internet service, and a functioning transportation system. However, as I slip back into the normal routines of my life, the memories of the slightly surreal few days in New York post Hurricane Sandy seem to sit at odds for me.
Whilst in no way meant to negate the loss and discomfort experienced by many in NY and NJ over the last week, I actually had a brilliant time in New York. It was certainly a trip of two halves...
One of the main reasons for my trip to NY was to see and spend time with my old London flatmate and her new husband. However, I managed to time booking my trip with the weekend they were moving from Brooklyn Heights to Chelsea, and also a few days in which she was away in Mexico for work. Assuming that the last thing they needed during a flat move was a houseguest, I treated myself to a stay in the Library Hotel for 5 nights. I'd read about the hotel on Janelle's blog, Library of Design - and it turned out to be a brilliant recommendation. It was so well situated that I pretty much walked everywhere for the first 48 hours. Add in the benefits of a resident's reading room, and all of the library-focused details (such as room numbering based on the Dewey decimal system), it really added a small sense of luxury to my visit.
I spent the first few days exploring a few new sights, revisiting some old favourites, and of course, shopping. I also managed to squeeze in a trip to see the New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Centre which was brilliant. Then from Friday evening when I met up with my friends, the trip became more focused on catching up (albeit with a backdrop of some great restaurants and bars in Soho and the Meatpacking District).
However, by Sunday I was fairly certain that my flight back to London on Monday afternoon was going to be cancelled. This had followed over two days of increasingly hysterical news reporting tracking the path of the storm. I finally had confirmation from BA on Sunday afternoon that my flight was cancelled, and then spent a slightly anxious 90 mins on hold to a BA call centre (whilst continually trying to rebook my flight through their website), before I finally managed to speak to someone and re-book on the next available flight out of NYC (on Thursday).
So, on Monday morning (before the storm hit), I checked out of my hotel and took myself and my bags down to my friend's new flat in Chelsea. Both of them have offices downtown (one right near One World Trade Centre and the other in the Flatiron district), and both had been advised to not come in to the office that day. So while they worked remotely, I was able to put my slight OCD tendencies to use and help with finishing their unpacking and getting their flat into a semi-ordered state. We spent the day with a sense of heightened anticipation...but also a feeling that the effects of the storm may not be as severe as was thought. There were rain showers and the occasional gust of strong wind, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary.
At 8pm that evening we lost power (which we later learned was due to a generator in 14th St blowing up after it was flooded by salt water...my friends live in 16th St). There was also a fairly consistent sound of the sirens of emergency vehicles going down 7th avenue, and occasionally cruising along their street. M (my friend's husband) decided to venture out with his camera - he returned about 40 mins later to tell us that a little neighbourhood bar around the corner was open - that seemed a slightly better option than sitting in a dark flat, so we braved the 2 min walk around the corner and found ourselves sitting in an atmospheric bar, lit only by tea light candles all along the bar, with drinks in hand. In recollection,sitting in a candlelit bar in the middle of a hurricane has to have been the most surreal moment of the trip.
In the cold light of Tuesday morning we realised that despite our optimistic hoping the power wasn't going to be reconnected anytime soon. In addition to power (lighting, heating, hot-water and internet), we had also lost phone service coverage. So, for the next two days we resorted to camping like conditions. We escaped uptown during the day (above 34th st was unaffected) in order to re-charge phones and try to catch up on the news and get a sense of the scale of the storm damage, returning to the flat in the evening to sleep. The storm damage in down town NYC seemed to be extremely random. In 15th St the whole facade of a building collapsed. In 20th St we saw a large tree felled in the storm. And obviously the lower part of Manhattan was flooded. Yet in other areas there seemed to be so very little impact at all. There was a sense of the whole city hunkered down and in survival mode.
After two days of 'camping', M's boss decided that he really needed him to be able to work remotely, so arranged for them to be transplanted to a hotel in midtown - fortunately they were able to bring their UK refugee with them, and I was able to spend my final night in a warm room with lovely hot water (and reaffirmed that camping conditions and I just don't mix terribly well).
My re-booked flight was out of Newark, and I thought there would likely be some long delays getting to the airport considering the extent of the storm damage in New Jersey - but ultimately it was a smooth transfer, and a reasonably smooth check-in process (well, as smooth as one could expect given that the staff were trying to deal with 4 days worth of displaced travellers)...and in an effort to maximise the number of people on each flight, I was also granted an upgrade for my trip home...which was very welcome.
It always surprises me how quickly one resumes the patterns and rhythms of regular life when returning from a trip away. This seems to even more the case for me this time, as having to unexpectedly extend my trip means I am feeling a little behind with various tasks and responsibilities here at home, and am trying to play catch-up. After only a few days it seems hard to believe that I was in the midst of that chaos. Although most of Manhattan is getting back to normal, as the weather gets frosty here in London it keeps making me think of those people (particularly on Staten Island and in NJ) who's homes are still uninhabitable. I was very fortunate - both in terms of being able to gratefully accept the hospitality of my friends when my flight was cancelled, and that we none of us experienced any sustained or lasting storm damage.
It was certainly a trip that I'll remember - and when I get a chance I'll post some photographs (pre-storm....)