New York, Days 5 to 8 – Superstorm Sandy

October 28, 2012 – Sunday

With the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy all over the news, we thought it would be best if we stayed in and around the neighborhood on this Sunday. We started off with laundry in our apartment building, just in case the power went out and we’d be stuck with dirty clothes. An interesting thing about laundry in New York apartments is the laundry cash card. Instead of coins, you use a credit card to buy a smart card that you insert into the machine. I suppose it’s better than inserting a bunch of quarters.

Hercules Laundry Cash Card
A Hercules laundry cash card – with quarters pictured on it!

Inside the laundry room was a TV tuned to the local news channel showing the destruction that Sandy had left behind in the Caribbean. We learned that the subways would be closing in the evening (good thing we decided to stay put). You could tell that the authorities speaking on TV weren’t kidding around. We definitely got to know Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie during this period of time.

Like local New Yorkers, we had to make sure that we had plenty of food and water. Since we weren’t aware of any grocery stores in the area (not like we were going to cook, anyway), we went across the street to Cucina and Co. again, where we stocked up on salads, soup, pasta, and sandwiches. I again got the cheesecake and coffee that I had liked so much. It was sort of a guilty pleasure to stock up on food from that place because it wasn’t exactly cheap. I also liked building my own salad, picking only my favorite components. It was here that I encountered the mussel lady.

Later, realizing that if the storm was really serious we had only perishable food that would last only a couple of days, I went back down to get water, bread, and peanut butter. The water shelves at Duane Reade were almost empty, the checkout line was long, and they were out of peanut butter. Luckily, Walgreens still had peanut butter. I used the opportunity to also snag the last six-pack of beer, saltine crackers, and some cookies, just to be safe.

With our supplies secured, it became a matter of waiting out the storm. The authorities had urged everyone to stay inside, so that’s what we did. We used the time to catch up on some TV shows that we had missed while traveling. I played a 23 year-old video game. I finally took a look at (and washed) the flask I bought from the Glenfiddich Distillery. Throughout the night the wind howled, and the storm wasn’t even here yet…

October 29, 2012 – Monday

After spending so much time in our apartment, the next morning we went outside to see if anything was open. I walked out onto the street and immediately felt the strength of the wind. It felt good to be hit with the cool air after being cooped up inside. Debris was on the street from the wind and to my surprise, quite a few people were out and about. I guess in my area, things weren’t as bad as what the news was reporting. Tim Hortons was open, and it was one of only a few places that was, with commensurately long lines (for another Tim Hortons coffee, I didn’t mind waiting). KFC was also open, so we used the opportunity to stock up on more food.

KFC at 34th & Broadway - October 29, 2012
Everyone wants KFC; told you it would come in handy

For the rest of the afternoon, it was KFC, beer, and TV. The stock market was closed for the day. Google cancelled an event that was supposed to announce a new Nexus device. A crane at the top of a skyscraper construction site collapsed. Our lights flickered sporadically. And that was all before Sandy made landfall.

We were super lucky to be at the very edge of where the power was still on. With the internet still working, we were able to keep up-to-date on what was going on. This live-blog on the New York Times website was invaluable for finding out what was going on (note that it’s quite huge now and will slow down or freeze your browser). We also kept updated by streaming WNBC. It was unbelievable to see what was happening at some of the places we had been to just a few days earlier: Battery Park 10 feet underwater, the Statue of Liberty going dark, and Penn Station getting sandbagged. We heard sirens almost continuously throughout the night.

October 30, 2012 – Tuesday

Originally this was the day that we had scheduled to leave our apartment and either find another place to stay or move on to our next stop. A bit travel-weary and concerned about budget, we had also considered flying back to San Francisco. Of course, with the arrival of the storm and the closure of the airports, that was no longer an option. We could try to wait out the recovery effort until the re-opening of the airports, but how long would that take?

Earlier in the year, when I was winding down my last days at work, my coworkers and I were having a conversation about what I would be doing after work ended. One of my answers was that I had always wanted to take a cross-country road trip. Back then I still had my TSX, and I thought it would be awesome to tour the country in it. Once I sold it, however, the idea faded from my mind. With our options to leave town now limited, it occurred to me that we could now do the road trip, albeit in a different form.

On this day, we searched for car rental places that still had cars. A couple of days earlier I’d already booked a car from a place in New Jersey (it was certainly not the nearest, but it was the cheapest), but with the PATH not running, there was no way to get there and I had to cancel. Looking online, it appeared that several places still had cars, but to be safe we wanted to confirm in person. Not knowing what the traffic situation would be, we also wanted to see how far of a walk it’d be, since we’d be carrying all of our stuff with us.

The place nearest to us was in the Garment District. When we got there, the clerk told us that they had nothing left, that even if we had booked and confirmed online, it didn’t matter. Well, at least we got to see the giant button and needle.

Needle and Button, NYC Garment District
The Garment District

I don’t remember what happened afterwards, but we didn’t go to another car rental because we had walked so much already. I know we booked a car from the second-nearest place, and I know we didn’t go there to confirm. I must have called them instead. I also checked with the landlord to see if we could stay another night (we could). A few places in Koreatown were opening back up so we had dinner there, and then finished off the night with one more Iced Capp from Tim Hortons. That was our last night in NYC.

October 31, 2012 – Wednesday

We finished the last of our perishable food, cleaned up the apartment, gathered our belongings and said goodbye to the place that had been home for the past 8 nights. I texted the landlord to let him know we were out. From Herald Square, we walked along East 34th Street all the way down to Lexington Avenue, then up to East 50th. It’s a pretty long walk by itself; with two pieces of check-in luggage, a couple of carry-ons, a backpack, and a bag of water, bread, cookies, and crackers, the difficulty level increased quite a bit. We tried putting the food bag on top of the rolling luggage, but it kept falling off. This was fine when we were on 34th, but once we were on Lexington and got closer to our destination, it became more and more crowded. I’m sure some people didn’t appreciate us suddenly stopping to adjust a bag that was sliding off.

This was the day that limited bus service resumed, and I noticed a packed bus pass by as we walked. JC had actually suggested taking a cab or a bus, but I knew that traffic would be a nightmare and I wanted to get out of the situation as soon as possible. Traveling on foot would be the quickest and most reliable, at least until we picked up the car.

East 50th Street, NYC - October 31, 2012
Waiting for the car; still lots of emergency-services activity

Finally, we made it to the car rental place and I checked in with the clerk. Naturally, their car selection was rather limited, with only a Toyota Camry or a Ford Escape as the options. Not wanting to drive an SUV, I reluctantly picked the Camry (my first TSX was hit by a Camry, and I’ve been traumatized ever since). As she was about to process the rental, the lady looked up and said that an Infiniti G37 had just come in, and asked if I wanted it. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and said HELL YES! I just had to wait for them to clean it up. It didn’t take very long and soon we were on our way. We left Manhattan via FDR Drive and then the George Washington Bridge. Just like that, our trip to New York City was over. As we drove out, the landlord replied to my earlier message:

“Hope you enjoyed your time in NY. It was historic.”

I certainly did, and it certainly was.

Next: Road Trip, Day 1 – NYC to Cortland

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