Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Hurricane Experience: I Got Lucky...

It's been two weeks since Hurricane Sandy swept in and people in the New Jersey and New York area are still reeling from the after effects. No power, No house, and no running water. Myself? I didn't fare too badly. However, At the time I didn't think I had it good. Here's a day by day account of what I went through in  Union, New Jersey.

Sunday October 28, 2012: The weather reports about a "super storm" Sandy are relentless. They call it a "Frankenstorm". Ahhhh, because it's near Halloween. Anyway, I'm at work at the airport. It's a bit busy with anticipation of the coming storm. A lot of flights are leaving early but the checkpoint I work at is not really affected. People are coming in early and no flights are canceled for Sunday. My supervisor didn't make it in because he lives at the shore. We have a good view of the skies outside. the skies look the same as they have for 5 days. Completely white-grey. The wind is mild. I'm thinking the storm is going to be mild in our area. However, We were told that the airport is going to be closed on Monday. Towards the end of my shift. The flight crew from Singapore Airlines arrives signalling the end of my shift is near.

Monday October 29, 2012: The day starts with storm anticipation. The airport is closed and we're allowed to call-out and not penalized. I did. I wandered around most of the day. The skies were getting dark for much of the day and the winds were starting to pick up. I didn't think it was too bad. But then again I thought that the storm was going to hit already. I decided to do nothing during the day. Not even constructive things. Well, I vacuumed a bit, and washed my dishes. I buy a six pack of beer. I drank some while watching movies on TCM. I stayed on facebook a lot to hear what everyone who are on the path of the storm were up to while drinking more beer.

The evening comes and now I'm hearing stories. News about bridge closings in the area. The shore is being hit hard. I turn to News 12 New Jersey and I'm getting great stories. I buy a second six pack of beer. I call my mom to see how she's doing, She was fine. I call my brother when I was well beyond feeling the buzz. The playset he built for his son Sean got smashed by a falling tree. It was a harbinger of things to come in the area. I got off the phone with him noticeably drunk. I grabbed a tenth bottle of beer, dropped it on the floor, crudely swept up the pieces and grabbed another beer. I staggered to my chair looked at the screen and lights went out. Damn my place gets dark. I really wasn't noticing the wind outside. I did notice that there wasn't much rain. Last year with Irene, the rain was the real problem. Nearby towns got flooded big time. So I'm thinking that Hurricane Sandy ain't gonna be too bad. Anyway, with the lights going out before 9PM, there was no point in staying awake. I plopped down to bed and quickly fell asleep in a somewhat drunken stupor.

Tuesday October 30, 2012: I woke up at 8AM feeling pretty good but needing to pee. I go to the bathroom but I am unable to turn on the light. That's not unusual because I have a convoluted light switch. I went to the fridge to grab some water and saw that it was dark. Riiiiiiiiight, the lights went out. Anyway, It's my day off so I grabbed my coffee cup to get some coffee at Quick-Chek. That's when I noticed the whole neighborhood was dark, the traffic light were out and all stores were out of power including the Quick-Chek.

Bummer. So, what to do? Well, the usual. I'll take a walk around the neighborhood and see what's up. That's when I saw the trees. Last year, the hurricane knocked down a lot of branches, this time it knocked down whole trees! I mean big trees. Many that were 80 plus years old with a trunk diameter of more than 18". And the damage they did! Whole streets were closed due to the collapse of these trees. Many electrical and telephone wires were knocked down. Cars and pick up trucks were destroyed. I get home after the walk around the neighborhood. I was reading the book "Ayn Rand Nation" by Gary Weiss and got angry and needed to take another walk. I walked towards Elizabeth. I decided not to drive because I foolishly left my car near empty. The debris on the ground made bike riding a risky venture. So I walked on Morris Avenue towards Elizabeth. Nothing was open. No power in any store. The diners were closed, No coffee for me.

I went home, read some more and continued to get annoyed by the book I was reading. I took another walk. Went by the local Stop and Shop and got briefly excited to see the traffic light at work. Ahh, Damn it, It's running on a generator. The Stop and Shop is opened but in limited capacity. None of the refrigeration is working and the rest of the products are being swept off the shops. It's looking a bit desperate but I buy some Halloween candy for tomorrow. My cell phone isn't able to get through to several people I needed to talk to. I was finally able to contact a friend via texting near the end of the day to let him know I wasn't able to get my Tuesday sing-on. I took another walk around right around darktime in hopes that the electric power will come back on when I got back. It didn't. I made "fajitas" with the meat I had in the fridge before it got spoiled. I didn't lose my gas but needed a match to light my stove. I didn't dare light my oven. It was an adventure because my kitchen is dark even in the daytime and completely dark at night. Id didn't want to waste flashlight power in cooking. I ate and  I started reading a few of my old comic books with a flashlight. It was then I decided to go to sleep. It was 8PM.

Wednesday October 31, 2012: I woke up very early. It was 4AM, The time I used to get up for my job. The streets were extremely dark. No lights anywhere, It was scary. No cars out on the road either except for a police car who shined his spotlight on me but moved on. I must have had the right look to have him not confront me. Anyway, I took to walking the side streets so's not to attract more attention. I was reminded by an article I read recently talking about superstitions in the days before artificial light. the darkness was so complete at times. It was scary but thrilling. Still I went home to rest and read.

It didn't last long. I already had a full eight hours sleep. That's two more hours than I usually get. So I got restless again and took another walk. It was 6:30AM and the lights were still out but the full moon was shining spectacularly bright.  I was able to see stars in a way I haven't seen for years. Cars were out on the road as the first steps to normalcy began. I walked towards Millburn to see how they made out. I only made it as far as the bridge over I-78. Huge knocked down trees destroyed telephone poles and utility wires as it blocked Vaux Hall Road on the way to Millburn. I wandered around until dawn arose and it was quite nice. The skies were clear for the first time in more than a week. I came home to a house that still had no power. I read some more but I grew restless and went for a bike ride west on Rt. 22 to see if anyone, anyone had power. A scattering of businesses were opened including a Burger King but the gas stations were either shut down or out of gas. This was a harbinger of the next crisis in the area.

When I got home I read some, got bored and took a walk. I was wondering if any gas stations on the Garden State Parkway were open. The Sunoco by me was opened but it was apparent that a crisis was afoot. the lines were ridiculously long, Reminiscent of the 1970s gas crisis. I saw a much shorter line of people with gas cans getting gas. I thought that was a good idea. I wanted to go out to O'Haras for Halloween in costume to sing devil related songs. I was looking very forward to it. But I needed gas to get to Jersey City. I have no idea how badly they got hit so I had to make sure I had enough. I didn't have my own gas can but there was a Lowes nearby so hoping against hope I went there to get a gas can. No such luck.

I walked home again but it soon be apparent I would not make it to JC. The power hadn't come on in the neighborhood so I wouldn't be able to take advantage of the local gas stations who couldn't sell gas without power. I became sad, I resigned to my no Halloween fate. It was getting dark I had some vegan chili in my fridge that would go bad soon so I ate a whole lot of it on my porch. I then dressed up in my devil cape with my Guy Fawkes mask waiting to see if any kids would come by trick or treating. They didn't. I took in the darkness in the somewhat warm weather until I got too bored. The noise of some people's generators started to annoy me. I went in my car to charge my phone and listened to the news on the radio. I heard Chris Christie speak and was somewhat impressed. He mentioned much of the damage that occurred and made common sense in what people needed to do. Mind you I won't vote for him ever. But if he somehow got past the Republican presidential primary of 2016 and beats the Democratic candidate, It won't be devastating. I talked to my mom finally and texted my brother and two friends.  I then went inside and went to bed. It was 9PM.

Thursday November 1, 2012: I woke up, no power. My boredom was getting out of hand. Walking around was getting old and Stop and Shop was getting depressing with most of the products off the shelf. I had enough food but it was cereal, popcorn and other non perishables. There was one newly revived sign of life. The buses were finally running. I had promised an old friend who was visiting fro the Marathon. I would meet her in the city but I didn't have her number. Still, I needed something to do so I took the bus into the city. Actually it was my only option. I couldn't drive in with my lack of gas and the fact cars were restricted from going in the city. I couldn't go to Jersey City because the PATH trains weren't running. So I bought a ticket in a small market and bought a Star-Ledger to read on the way in. I wasn't able to buy newspapers the two days before. That's what finally made me aware of what Hurricane Sandy did. Yeah, I make jokes about how my ex named Sandy(i) was more scary that the Hurricane but so many shore towns including hers got hit VERY hard so the joke is lame. I lost power but many people lost their homes. And it wasn't  just second homes. Many of the humble towns on the Bayshore area on the south side of Raritan Bay in New Jersey.

Ahh, Let's get to the city. It was the first signs of civilization I saw in three days. I stopped at an outlet at the Port Authority to charge my phone. I then ate at Popeyes and took a long walk around in the hours I was to meet up with my friend. It didn't at first seem like New York City suffered much. I walked to the east side and saw the same kind of tree damage that my area got. Mature trees fallen over. The east side of Manhattan in the Mid-town area was out of power east of 3rd Avenue. I also kinda took in some of the area that was mentioned in the Ayn Rand book. I wanted to take in what environment the Randians were exposed to that inspired their weird views. I walked westward to Jim Hanley's comic book store and bided my time before I hopefully run into my friend or friends at Foley's on 33rd street. I saw TV for the first time in days. Silent CNN was on one of the TVs and it focused on Staten Island and what damage happened there. I had a few beers waiting and enjoying comfort before it got dark. My friend wasn't able to make it, Understood. I was mildly disappointed but she would get more disappointed in the coming days when the Marathon she was to run in was cancelled. I headed back to the bus station.

Meanwhile I spent more time charging my phone in the Port Authority while I called my mom at her place. She only lost power for a few hours on Monday, Before I did as a matter of fact. I called my dad at the hospital where he was doing therapy after a mild stroke. By the time I got done my phone was fully charged. I purposely waited until dark before I left so I can get a panoramic view of who got their power back. The bus I took was not the usual one. The 114 is usually packed when I go into the city. It was near empty. So New Jersey Transit consolidated service and I rode the 117 which would drop me off a longer walking distance from my house. I saw some lights on and I wasn't hearing generators. This could be good news! It was! Some people go their power back! When I approached downtown Union, It was official. Most of the power was back on and some businesses were running at near full force. I stopped at the newly re-opened Quick-Chek to have my first cup of coffee in three days. It was okay because I had to settle fro non-dairy creamer. The place was crazy crowded with a slew of people hanging out outside. I left drinking my coffee, however when I got closer to my house it was apparent my street hasn't gotten their power back including my house. It was dark and I sat outside on my porch smoking a cigar I found in my overcoat. It was getting colder and I had to work the next day. My upstairs neighbor expressed concern about my staying in the house. But I don't live near anybody I can crash with and besides I want to be home when the power comes on. I went to bed, It was past 9PM.

Friday November 2, 2012: I woke up early again because I got plenty of sleep once again. I was scouting out the area for the local gas stations to see if they were opened. I have to go to work but I need gas. I got coffee, walked around and went back home and took a snooze. I woke up to my alarm at 8AM and found that the gas station has a big enough backup that may make it run out of gas before I get there and thus waste my time.

I got ready for work and left early in hopes to see gas stations on the way with shorter lines. I thought with the power getting back on would make the gas station lines that are open shorter. The only gas stations on Rt. 22 opened were on the other side of the road and the lines were long. So my next plan is to go to the gas station on the airport grounds. No line but there were a bunch of orange cones that steered me away. I went down Rt. 1-9 and saw the same long lines that stretched in all directions that made it confusing to figure out if it was worth going in. People I knew were talking about 2, 3 hour waits. I didn't have that time and certainly not that patience, So I just went to work.

Work was a bit of a relief. A sense of normalcy I was missing the last few days. My supervisor came in a few hours later announcing about a "voucher" program that made the gas available to Newark Airport employees. Since he's a d-bag he didn't make it clear what we needed to do, the time we needed to go, and who was eligible. I was able to catch up on some news. One the stories was about a gas rationing plan in New Jersey that involves getting gas on an odd/even license number basis. I got good news from my upstairs neighbor at work. Our power was finally back on. Well, I was hoping to go out to Jersey City but with no gas and the urge to enjoy my fully electrified house again, I put it aside.

So after I punched out, I walked over to the gas station to see what's what. No on was clear on how you get gas. They said I needed a voucher. The upper management of my job said I needed only to show ID. Now the police were patrolling the gas stations and people who worked at the airport were being turned away. Even people with "vouchers". I said screw it, I'll try a different route home and hope that I'll find an open gas station. It was 11pm and any open gas station had long lines. I also made the mistake in going through dark neighborhoods and got detoured from familiar streets by the storm damage. I was able to get home but vowed I wasn't going to drive my car for the rest of my work week until I would easily get gas. I was thankful for the power and the fact I was able to watch "Seven Year Itch" on TCM. 

Saturday November 3, 2012: So I woke up early again and my cable was out. No biggie, I just listened to my i-tunes. The gas station in my neighborhood ran out of gas. I made a radical decision, I'm going to WALK to work. I'm not far from the airport. But it is a long walk. I gave myself a two and a half window. It was a nice day, So the walk was pleasant enough. But it was long. Two hours long. I walked into the parking lot where we take a shuttle bus. I felt I was taking a grandstand move by "sticking it to the man and not sit on their slave lines man waiting to purchase their glory juice."

But in reality, With the election coming up I was concerned about the future. No matter who won, We would still be VERY dependent on oil and could be easily shackled to the elite few when we start to run out of it. 5 days after a hurricane that didn't damage the infrastructure up by me and people are going to Pennsylvania to get gas. That seemed too absurd but people were getting in desperate straits. The behavior of the public was getting frazzled and desperate. I didn't want to play the game. I like to think I'm made of stronger stuff. So I walked and my back hurt most of my workday.

And work has been smooth. The airport was shut down for only Monday. I now work at a section of the airport where we only have to screen 5 flights that go overseas. That meant we didn't have to catch up on Saturday. A friend from my old shift worked in my section and I bummed a ride off him close to my home. All day I was obsessed about the route I would use to walk home. In the day time the area wasn't so bad. At night though the areas I would walk would be dicey. My reasoning was to walk down 1-9 by all the gas stations and police to bask in security. But the darkness would hide some of the damage danger so a bummed ride was VERY appreciated. But I wouldn't bum him again. I needed to beat "the man". So I decided to ride my bicycle the next two days. My cable was back on and I watched some old movies on TCM. The nights are starting to get cold.

Sunday November 4, 2012: It's Sunday and for the first time in nearly a week I was able to get my coffee from Quick-Chek the way I wanted. With Half and Half and Redi-Whip. Riding my bicycle to work allowed me to leave a little later. I decreased my window to two hours and was shocked how fast I got there. 40 minutes. I put the top part of my uniform in my backpack and layered myself well on my ride. This gave me time to purchase the Sunday New York Times and read in comfort before I started my shift.

The work went well and my bike ride home was fine except the blacked out areas. You see I haven't ridden my bicycle in the dark in years and I had not lights for my bike. It was cold and I was layered well. I'm glad I got my heat back. 

I stopped at the Mark Twain diner for a late dinner. They had the TV on to Sunday Night Football and watched in pleasure the Dallas Cowboys losing. My burger and fries were not good. I attributed to the hurricane closing the place for a few days. I scouted out the Sunoco on the Parkway and saw the lines were long but getting shorter. If I waited until midnight I can get gas but I opted not to. that can wait. Oh well, almost back to normal.

Monday November 5, 2012: The last day I'm covering in this posting.  My cable was out again. It seems like it was like a radio broadcast from Akron Ohio. It only worked at night. I didn't really make any effort to spot any gas stations opened in the morning. I was fine with the bicycle riding for one more day before my weekend.

Work went smooth and when I rode home I saw the Sunoco with no line. I asked if they had a good supply of gas before I got home. When I got home I drove my car to the gas station but was detoured by the cones unto the Parkway where I paid a toll and had a hard time getting back to it. It seemed like an extremely long ride. I was so sure if I drove more than 2 miles I'd run out of gas. But I got detoured trying to get back. I didn't see any other gas stations opened. I was panicking. To add insult to injury, it was humid and my glasses kept getting fogged up big time affecting my eye sight.

I detoured to Rt. 22 and saw the Hess station was opened on the other side. Unfortunately it was only the store that was open. No gas. I decided to head home before I ran out but found myself drawn to the Parkway ramp where there was a flashing sign flashing about the odd/even restrictions. That was a indication that I found the correct entrance to the gas station. Police were patrolling it but were noticeably less stringent than in previous days. I finally got the gas. I went to the diner to celebrate. The burger and fries were great. Now I feel I'm back to normal.

Like I said I got lucky. 

No comments: