Hurricanes, Snow and Liquid Nitrogen: 10 Days in New York

After four years of faffing about, half-made plans and half-arsed delays, after three passports, two visa interviews and one hurricane, I have finally made it to New York. Years of pop culture had instilled in me a lot of expectations: hectic masses of people, roaming crews of cameramen getting external shots for apartment sets in L.A. and groups of plucky white 20-somethings just trying to make it in the big city.

 As well as people who are, in fact, walkin’ here.

Being the genius traveler that I am, I decided that my smartest bet was to fly into New York at the same time a little lady called Sandy was visiting. I ended up getting routed through Boston, but it did give me a chance to experience a little bit of Americana called the Greyhound bus. I was terribly, unduly, irrationally excited for the experience. I had been promised so much by others who had taken the Grey: the whiskey soured ex-strippers, the odourous and the deranged, the dotty old ladies knitting and their 12 grandchildren that they can’t wait to tell you about, the sugar-addled four year olds screaming at midnight. I was thrilled at the thought of joining such illustrious companions that it almost made the Sandy-disruptions worthwhile. I got my ticket. I got to the station. And they put me on a Peter Pan bus. A Peter Pan bus. No junkies and funkies, no surreal stories to tell. Just me hanging out with a guy who insists that it’s fine if he hangs out with young children forever.

The result was I ended up having a pleasant, undisturbed bus ride to New York. What a waste. New York City, on the other hand, got to work right way giving me the show I was waiting for. And like all good places, no matter how much you think you’re familiar with them through pop culture, they’ll always have a few surprises for you. I arrived in the middle of a city I didn’t know near midnight (as I mentioned earlier: genius traveler . On the way to where I was staying, I got a few of the things I had been expecting to check off on my New York bingo: the homeless folks; the loud preachers proclaiming a religion you’re fairly sure doesn’t exist. The canisters of leaking liquid nitrogen dumped on the sidewalk did, er, throw me a little.

“Hey, what’cha doin’?” “Oh, y’know, just chillin’.”
(I’m sorry.)

 

Sandy and New York

According to most major news outlets, by Monday night, Manhattan had basically been turned into Waterworld, except not as expensive a disaster. So it was with a somewhat morbid interest that, as soon as I could, I hurried down to Lower Manhattan to pay homage to our new dolphin overlords. But Mother Nature’s attempt to turn Manhattan into the Venice of America had dried up, leaving in its wake quiet streets, damp carpets and miles of yellow tape.

The streets were quiet. Most of the people out and about were other idiot tourists like myself, come to gawp. The New Yorkers who had ventured out, however, seemed to be taking everything in their stride. The street vendors were out en masse, helping each other and giving out supplies; members of NYPD on a majority of intersections directing the (fairly little) traffic. Elsewhere, generators provided much needed power to vital buildings like hospit—nah, they’re charging phones.

Most places, however, were still and quiet, rows of shops left in the dark. Not least amongst them was this place:

Poor devils, how will they cope without electricity?

Closer to the southern tip of Manhattan, the destruction of Sandy became more apparent, wrecking shop fronts and flooding basements.

And down by the waterfront, the flooding was still a major threat:

Oh the humanity!
L: I think that water’s supposed to be there.
Really? Aw. Nuts.
L: How’s the photojournalism going?
Pretty good, thanks.

The actual damage caused by Sandy ranged from the broad and devastating, to the bizarrely specific:

 

“I really hate the douche who works in that office.” – Sandy

 Overall, I found Manhattan to be a quaint, quiet place that had a sort of serenity. It had an Irish-esque charm to it.

L: Irish-esque?
Yes.
L: So, Manhattan reminded you of nothing so much as Ballyshannon?
Yep.
L: I don’t think you’re doing America right.

Sandy Recovery

Spending the next few days out in Queens, I got to see repair crews tackling the massive undertaking of restoring power to everyone who lost it. They had to compete with dozens of fallen trees, downed pylons and people doing Acme solutions that probably don’t pass safety inspections:

The scale of the destruction, even in areas that were relatively unaffected, is impressive. Of course, because the storm happened to have a woman’s name, some commentators have taken the opportunity to say several derogatory and sexist things. Obviously this is crass and immature. Although, Sandy was probably a lesbian given how much she hated wood:

Born to Run

Beyond the monumental destruction of houses along the shores, one of the surprisingly persistent results of Sandy has been the fuel shortages. Cars are queuing for blocks and blocks, hours and hours, in the hopes of getting some gas (even though many of these cars still have half a tankful). They’re queuing in front of closed stations and in front of stations that actively tell people they have no gas. It’s stirring up a bit of madness, too: when a station does receive fuel, the cops are called in to control the situation.

This isn’t traffic, this is just the queue that hasn’t moved in hours.

It gets somewhat surreal. My cousin and I visited a station to go to the store, we pulled onto the forecourt, well away from the pumps and from giving any indication that there might be some gas available. A few seconds later, an inquisitive car swung through, looked forlornly at the pumps and headed off. I thought this scout might be the only visitor, but our arrival had put blood in the water. Over the next few minutes, a dozen cars pull in, nose around, pull away. Some stop by the pumps, some then begin queuing up behind them. A driver gets out, goes to the store and asks if there’s gas. Being denied, they return to their car and leave. The car behind stops, the driver gets out. This driver assumes that the last one was – I have no idea, asking for a burrito? – and goes up to the store to ask if there’s gas. They just keep swarming like a zombie horde.

They hunger.

Now, you could make a comment about the dependency on fuel or the unnecessary suburban gas guzzlers that exacerbate the problem, but instead I’d like to say that this has shown me that America operates on an underlying hopefulness: there was an interview with a young woman outside a closed gas station in the middle of the night. The reporter asked why the driver was there. She replied that she “hoped they’d get gas at 10pm”. That was it. She didn’t know there was a delivery, hell, even the gas station owners don’t know when the deliveries are coming. There was no reason to think that they’d be gas here, but here she was. For hours. Hope springs eternal.

Don’t Blame it On the Weatherman

You may have noticed in the last pictures of the recovery and queues that there was a glorious blue sky, bright sunshine, so at least people can queue and rebuild in good weather. Well, nearly.

Central Park, still closed from the storm, now covered in snow.

This followed a couple of days later by a bright, sunny day with temperatures reaching 15C (59F). It was about this stage I thought I’d better head on from New York before there was a sandstorm or it started raining cauliflowers.

Although Central Park was closed, I did manage to find some nature in the form of a park with this helpful inventory posted next to it:

Really, with *five* trees, you’re just spoiling us.

Before I head on, though, I have to stop for a moment and ask the lingering question from my time in NY: what’s with the tiny dogs and the massive SUVs?

I really don’t get it, but every street is littered with huge SUVs for a not-so-huge and thoroughly urban environment, as well as hordes of these little yappy things. I mean, look at them. Aw…– wait, stop looking at them, I’m being angry at them. They’re tiny and pointless. Get a proper dog. You can keep him in your car that is bigger than my first house.

I head out now to see the rest of the US (and come back and see NY once it’s less serene), and I don’t want to spoil anything, but:

I’m looking forward to southern fried penguin.

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