I remember reading a Facebook update from a friend last Friday who said, "I may not be a weatherman, but I guarantee you by Monday this "Sandy" will be a non-event."
I kept thinking about that update for the last few days while I was trapped in my 8 floor condo, surrounded by 4 feet of water on all sides. Our condo is the Jefferson Trust located on Newark between Willow & Clinton. It's about 100 units, and we had about 30-40 people in the building during the storm. Families were there - about 6 kids and two newborn twins. Probably about 7 dogs, too.
We didn't lose power until 2:30am on Tuesday. We woke that day to no power, flood waters surrounding the building, and only a small patch of dry land at the service entrance behind our building. We were, for lack of a better word, "trapped". Our only saving grace was a natural-gas generator that was built at the same time as our building was in 1985. We tested it monthly, and it runs perfectly. It wasn't enough to power our individual units, but we had power to our hallway lights and stairwells.
On Tuesday morning we spent the day staring at the looming water levels from the entrance of our building. We watched the water levels rise together. Then, someone showed up with a six pack of beer - and offered me one. Then another resident showed up with a carton of wine and a few empty cups. Pretty soon, we were having ourselves a little party when someone hooked up their iPod to some speakers.
We were really just making the best of a bad situation. We couldn't get out - no one had waist high waders. Plus only an idiot would wade into water that deep not knowing if a downed power line or you could step on something sharp.
Eventually, one ground floor resident said, "Hey, I have a gas grill." and what started as a few drinks among friends turned into an impromptu BBQ. Everyone cleaned out their power-less refrigerators (we reasoned it was going to spoil anyhow) and started to grill up all sorts of food - steak, chicken and ribs. Everyone was sharing. I had made fresh home made brownies the night before the storm, and ran up to my apartment sliced them up, added toothpicks and started to serve them along side of a few bottles of wine I had purchased at Sparrow Wine a few days before the party. It was really something to behold - a community coming together, sharing what provisions they have with each other. It was fun, most of us really don't know each other - it's the funny thing about life up around the New York City area we are all packed together and mostly mind our own business. I know other dog owners in the building because we have a common interest - our dogs. But most of the building are strangers to me.
Wednesday rolled around and we were still trapped by the floodwaters. Someone discovered that our generator that was powering the hallway lights had electric rooms on the 4th and 7th floors which had power outlets! We procured a power strip and were able to charge our cell phones, make a pot of coffee and someone even hooked up a slow cooker and started to make a vegetable dish made with peas, corn, and other ingredients.
Signs went up at the lobby "6pm! Community Dinner! Cell phone charging & free coffee on the 4th floor!", it was, for lack of a better word...kind of fun. I mean, we didn't have power in our individual units and I was bored out of my mind. I was reading "The Walking Dead Compendium" a bit on Tuesday. Watched some old Dr. Who videos on Wednesday on my iPad. But I didn't have cell phone access or internet or TV. There wasn't much to do.
By Wednesday afternoon the water level receded to the point where I could wear my new Hunter boots (I bought them for The Hunt 2012 with The Turtle Club) - and figured that the waters were safe now to wade into - I saw others going up First Street, and if a power line was down, it would have zapped them first. I slapped my boots on, with Rocco looking at me with a "Is it time for a walk?" and left him behind to brave a journey to Washington Street.
Now you have to understand by this time it was 11am, and since we lost power my AT&T connection was down unless I went to the 8th floor of our building to get a signal. I had no idea that all of Hoboken was without power. I just thought it was our section of town. Walking around it was like a dream/nightmare/surreal experience. I couldn't believe that everything was off. I figured that Washington Street would at least have power - and I was so hoping to just find a place where I could get a hot cup of coffee.
Walked a bit, ran into some people I knew, talked a little. Wandered a bit more, hoping to find that elusive cup of coffee, and saw a small line of people outside Benny Tudino's. Someone then walked out of Benny's with a pizza box and I saw Brendan Mooney from my Eagles Club (The Philadelphia Eagles Club of Hoboken, which I founded in 2004), I said hello to him, see how he was doing and quickly took my place in line.
I waited about 30 minutes and got to the front of the line. It seems that Benny's ovens were powered by natural gas, so while they didn't have power, they could heat the ovens. They weren't taking credit cards, it was cash only. Each slice was $3. Oh, and you can't buy them 1 slice at a time, you buy a "box" of three slices...which costs $9. Oh...and we don't have change so it's $10 if you don't have $9.
Yes, Benny Tudino's ladies and gentlemen. No, they didn't have to be open, and I was grateful to get a slice of warm pizza from people who didn't have to be making me a slice. Some people will take the side of Benny here and others will call this price gouging. You decide for yourself - i'm just the guy telling the story.
I grabbed 6 slices for $20 and left, carrying the pizza back to Jefferson Trust. People asked me along the way where I got pizza. I told them. Then started to wade back into the water at 1st street with my pizza boxes. A reporter from WCBS 880 caught up to me. He started to interview me about the pizza and where I was going. We talked for about 5 minutes, and I made jokes about surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. Not sure if that ever got on the radio, but he said that I would be a hero when I got back to my building.
And you know what...I went up to my apartment, and gobbled down a slice for myself - and then sliced up the rest of the pizza into strips. Went to the lobby and handed it out to residents who were walking around and didn't have boots to get out. Everyone was grateful and it made me feel good to watch them say, "Pizza?!"
Later Wednesday around 6 PM we had our community dinner. The water levels receded to a point where most everyone could "get out" but there was a curfew in effect and most everyone stuck around. Once again it was neighbors, who really didn't know each other, emptying out what they had and making the best of the situation. The slow cooker on the 4th floor made a BIG pot of cooked veggies, in a curry broth - and we had hot white rice along with it. Burgers, dogs, chicken wings, sausages - at least 10 bottles of wine, and two bottles of port were out there. Kids (and even a dog) were dressed in Halloween Costumes and I brought a Jack-O-Lantern that I carved earlier in the day.
Little did I know that Anderson Cooper was reporting 100 feet away from our party on Newark and Clinton that same night! If I only knew, he would have had one of the best stories ever to report on Halloween during the Sandy aftermath. It was the real tale of good people during a bad storm - about residents coming together as neighbors, friends and a community in Hoboken, to pool their resources, feed each other, share wine and break bread. It made me proud to watch it - and also I SO wanted others to see this. See this organic thing just come together, out of a tragic situation - and proud to be from New Jersey.
Thursday I woke up at 7am and took a taxi to 14th street ferry. From 14th street I took the ferry to 39th street and then a taxi to my office at Houston and West Side Highway. They were on generator power, and it was amazing to see how bad lower Manhattan was - everything was powered off like Hoboken. I worked that day and it wasn't too bad - I was happy to be back at work doing something - and they even provided us free food (they normally have chips, soda, pretzels, etc) - and I wolfed down big plates of pasta and bread - very grateful to have a hot meal. I didn't know if going home Thursday night what I was going to do about dinner, and sleeping that night was going to be rough without heat or hot water.
Going home, I walked from 14th street ferry home wearing a head-lamp that I normally use on camping trips with the guys who do Team Hike. I saw all the power was still out, and saw a few places here-and-there that had power. I rounded the way off Washington to Newark and saw Jefferson Trust in the distance. I first thought, "Hey I can see the candles from here..." and then realized as I got closer that my neighbors lights were on! They had power!! I started to cry. I know that sounds stupid, but yeah I was walking towards my house and tears were welling up in my eyes because I knew I wasn't going to go to sleep cold tonight and that I could take a warm shower before work on Friday. I got into my apartment, flipped on all the fuses and hugged Rocco, who really had no idea why I was hugging him - but he was cool about it.
Maybe it's luck that we got our power back. I'd like to think it was a little bit of good karma Fate tapping Jefferson Trust on the shoulder and saying, "Good job, here's one back for you."
Whatever it was, i'll take it. I originally planned to head out this weekend to my mom's, and I see a lot of people have evacuated Hoboken - which makes sense if they don't have power. But what I would say if you DO have power - stick around. Lend a hand. Maybe make a warm pot of coffee for a neighbor who has none. My friend Chris Halleron has been making charging stations out of front of his house when he's not busy chasing down reporters from The Wall Street Journal or The Irish Times to give out his "everyman quotes". Nice job there, Chris.
Anyhow. November Thanksgiving just came a few weeks early. I'm sure most of you will feel the same way as I do when the power comes back on for you and if there's anything you need - don't hesitate to email me.