A small peace

When I was 12, I moved from a town full of canals, which was on the bay and not more than 10 or 15 minutes from the ocean.  We moved to a town in Northwest NJ, with many lakes and less than an hour and a half away from the beach I grew up on.  It was during that time in NJ that I realized I'd always be drawn to water, and missed the sun drenched summers I had come to dread as my body changed and sitting around in a bathing suit became a trial of insecurity.  My escape was wandering down to the lake at night when it was quiet, when I needed to be calmed I found what i needed in the water I refused to swim in during the day. I don't swim in still water unless it is a chlorinated pool, and even that kind of grosses me out.  We all have our quirks.


The first time I visited somewhere truly landlocked was when I went to Prague for a summer study program in college.  It was my first time being a substantial distance from the ocean.  I spent nearly every night down by the Vltava River, once again calmed by a body of water.  At the same time, I had an inexplicable antsiness.  The word "landlocked" qualified the experience, as in "I am in love with this city, but it is landlocked".  I know, I know, it's ridiculous, spoiled and arrogant, but it was always underneath what was very close to unconditional love (in the same category as not being able to find an after hours laundromat or being able to order pizza to go).  As soon as I got back to Boston, I spent the remaining weekends of summer and fall on the harbor islands and visiting the beaches of Maine. 


I visited Las Vegas almost 10 years later and that nagging reticence to embrace a desert city had grown to something more annoying, I couldn't wait for the trip to end and to be home.  Not that I wasn't having fun, I just wanted out of the desert, like right now.  Combined with a phobia of flying, I think some of that fear spilled over and started taking on a life of it's own, however misplaced.  A few months later, when I first visited Denver, combined with the effects of altitude, knowing I was landlocked really chewed on my mind.  I tried not to think of it that way, the word "landlocked" alone conjures up negative feelings.  But, from the moment I got off the plan, I obsessed, fighting off panic and constantly trying to distract from thinking about how far I was from the Pacific or Atlantic.  I know it is ridiculous, and so I tried to keep it at bay (pun unavoidable) and only mention it aloud in offhand ways, and simply planned most trips to places nearer to the coast.  


And so now that I've witnessed what my beloved ocean, bay, and rivers can do first hand, I have to admit I'm not quite at peace with it at the moment.  My magnetism to water feels a little polarized, and I'm not so sure I need the shore anymore.  And, while I sort that out, I'm visiting my boyfriend's family in one of those landlocked places that used to cause me so much anxiety.  Out of habit, my brain keeps doing that thing – only when it goes there, I feel uncertain and a different kind of panic starts to set in.  Right now it is calming just to know how far away from water I am.  Does that mean that by tomorrow it won't feel as though my heart is literally drying out and screaming for humidity?  (Yep, it feels that way sometimes, and I don't even like humidity).  Does this mean more inland places are now in consideration to one day consider home?…I have no idea.  Though I am a little confused about pretty much everything at the moment, it feels good to just to have made peace with the desert.

3 weeks

Double life

I only made it in to work a few days last week.  It was a physical and mental trial before I'd get to my desk.  I would wait in the cold after showering in the dark (and cold) for a bus.  Once it came quickly, the other days were weird, I found myself wandering in a stunned circle trying to figure out where it was running, too easily confused  by makeshift signs that were actually quite clear after I re-read them a few days later.  I'd get on, swipe my metro card and make my way through the town center of Rockaway Park where the high water line had been above my head when Sandy raged hardest.  It physically hurt to see the destruction.  Heaps of people's wet and ruined belongings piled high in front of every house and building.  Huge portions of the boardwalk were blocks from where they were once anchored to concrete, and every car that stayed through the storm was sitting at odd angles and waiting to be towed. 







The structural destruction has nothing on the sights of people seeking necessities and the amazing human kindness you witness here.  That part is a little harder for me to talk about because while it is the best of what you see here, I also feel that those are the most private moments.


And, it continues after the bridge from Rockaway.  The route I take is through Broad Channel and then Howard Beach.  Miles of the same piles in front of every home,  boats in the street, red, yellow, and green inspection tags on houses, donation stations, no working traffic lights, things I've only seen in movies or on the news. 


Then onto the A train.  A big part of my decision to leave the city for the beach was a trade off of a long daily commute.  It had been a direct route, before parts of the train bridge fell into the water.  The parts that are now damaged were  my favorite parts of the ride, cruising over Jamaica Bay, looking at the houses and boats on the water, seeing JFK airport in the distance, and having a seat because I was near the beginning of the line.  Now I board the A shortly before it goes underground and stand for nearly an hour.  My commute now feels like penance for wanting –  wanting to have my job in the city, a lot of living space, no commute to where I want to play in the summer, and tempting the fates you do living near the ocean. 


The first day I got to Chelsea I felt like I was on another planet, not because it had changed, because it was exactly the same as I'd left it.  The office was warm and bright and people were back at work.  The internet worked and my cell phone which is dodgy at best in the office worked better than it had in over a week. 


I had to really grind to get things done, and couldn't spend time fretting over the glop of toothpaste i found that fell on my shirt getting ready in the dark, or browsing the news to see what the rest of the world was seeing, everyone was talking about the election and I had a hard time adjusting to life outside Rockaway.  I had to rush to leave at 3 to chase the sunlight before the buses stopped running.  Because we couldn't keep perishables at the house with no running fridge, I picked up dinner before heading back into it.  One evening I found myself walking 25 blocks because the bus that goes closest to home runs infrequently, and I had waited enough.  I walked that same route of ruin through downtown feeling the contrast of the dry home I was returning to, with a takeout in my bag as others walked carrying cases of MREs. I felt like an asshole eating dinner that night. 



So much of that first week straddling both worlds was indescribable and in such high contrast it was dizzying at times. There is an odd camaraderie that happens at times like these.  And just like I'd share a little of the Rockaways with people outside of it, I'd find myself telling my neighbors about the normalcy that existed across the bay and the river, as if it was so out of the ordinary.

It is about more than electricity

I was thinking today about where bitterness comes from and how to make it go away. Again, I am one of the lucky VERY FEW to have not been flooded on my whole peninsula of over 100,000 people. I am appreciative, my tears have been for family and friends in terrible situations. You'd think I'd be skipping through daisies and smiling the rest of the time, and I probably should be. And yet, I do have moments of anger, and when you are "in it", there are so many emotions, it can be hard to keep up with them. Maybe some of my petty-er malcontent is misplaced, but when I really thought about it, it points in a very specific direction – at companies who provide services that I pay for, that I feel are not providing their end of that smple business relationship.  


And then I roll my eyes at myself, slap my inner self around a little bit and lecture myself about first world problems. But, beyond having to do without some creature comforts, learning to live more simply and realizing just how spoiled I am…I think there is a small and probably obvious lesson to be learned here for brands. And because some of the bigger emotions I'm not quite ready to tackle, I can only seem to start here. Let me explain.  


I realize that getting my electricity on will take time, that it is complicated and in an effort not to cause fires or more devastation… the linemen of national grid and LIPA are working their asses off and people are away from their families, from all over the country working, and that is not a small thing that needs to be acknowledged..  My beef with them is communication. Auto dial us with updates, provide timelines or something, anything. I don't want this to be about LIPA because enough is being said and scandals uncovered in the media, and since I really have no choice with who provides me power – I am going to move on and try to explain what I'm thinking in regards to other companies. (I'm also writing on my iPhone and it is tedious, I could fill volumes with the follies of our dealings the past week, it has been bafflingly epic).  


My renter's insurance is through Liberty Mutual. And while I probably could have read all the fine print and known specifically what I am NOT covered for, I pay for relocation if my apartment is uninhabitable. And, while I had no flood damage, I have not had heat. I know, I have seen many sleeping on parked city buses because they have no home at all. When I go there in my head I think I shouldn't say anything at all, and maybe I have no right for this rant. But, I guess I need to get it out, so I don't forget. It has been warmer, but last week was brutal at times. I also could not reasonably commute to and from work, the subway bridge out to where I live was destroyed, buses stopped running at sundown. And without electricity, I couldn't work from home. Then add a gas shortage and driving was not a reasonable alternative. Apparently though Mayor Bloomberg seemed to evacuate us on live TV the day of the storm, no evacuation order at any time was reported to my insurance company. Fires were cropping up with exposed gas lines and my house is surrounded by sinkholes. Maybe I should be angry with NYC. But, in common sense terms, I would have thought that enough conditions were wrong that my dwelling was not habitable. Not to mention seeing questionable hazards all around me – neighbors keeping their houses warm with exposed range top fires, freestanding fireplaces being delivered, and fumes from generators from every direction. I didn't even get that far in explaining to the rep assigned to my case. It was as if he has no idea a hurricane happened or that my address was now in a disaster zone with FEMA, the Red Cross, and countless other relief agencies you never think you'll be seeing in your neighborhood. He was not remotely compassionate when I first called not knowing if I even had a structure to return to. Fine, not everyone has a good bedside manner, or whatever term you would use for a good insurance adjuster…but, a week after this all started, I saw that Allstate has a team here. They are in my neighborhood in our time of need, providing telephones for anyone who needs them and on site to help their customers. I would even pay a decent amount more, just to know they cared enough to send people, in person to actually be here for their customers. And in the end, I don't want to not be here, I just thought I was paying for the option if I couldn't be, and I probably shouldn't have been until recent days. They might also come up empty with coverage to get me out of here when I wanted to be, but still, you better believe I will be calling Allstate and switching my service just as soon as I can.  


On the flip side, Geico insures my car. They were the only company I could find to insure me when I hadn't owned a car for several years. They are also here. They are providing water in areas that need it, they are visible and available for questions, in person. Their assessment marks were visible on the endless fields of flooded cars just days after the storm, before FEMA or the Red Cross arrived. They have sent emails offering to defer payments, they have sent information to make filing a claim easier, they are advertising human words of encouragement on the radio, which for many of us is our most reliable broadcast media. Yes, I could probably find a better rate now that I have insurance. But I am happy to be their customer, Moreover I am proud of the work I see them doing. I see their reps on the side of the road and feel like I'm passing a comrade, not some random person from my insurance company.  


And then there is Time Warner Cable. I have to say, from the day I moved they were a disaster, so I am biased. But, I have a choice. And I see Verizon here. trucks everywhere.  I pay more for their service than I will for Fios, so surely they can spare something, maybe auto dialed updates or emails for starters or even mobile internet if i really were to push my luck. Instead they can't give me an estimate for when I will have service, even a broad range after my electricity comes back on…but it's been two weeks and nothing.  


These are just a few examples., and I know I am leaving so many others out I almost feel unfair naming names and not including everyone who is here, sharing our heartbreak, seeing the amazing good in people, and doing something.  


There are food trucks I recognize from the city, we have virtually no dining options out here right now, so being able to grab a bite while walking around numb seeing your home town flooded and torn to shreds is comforting. And I dare not get on most of those lines because I know they are providing food for free, for people who need it more than I do. I take note of them and I will be standing in their lines at a later date, patronizing them because they were here. I know Home Depot and REI are donating cleaning materials and coordinating volunteer efforts. Not because they are flaunting it, because I see the notes of thanks from people on Facebook and Twitter.  


There are things you balk at when shit first goes down and then become regular over time. Shoddy cell phone service, living in the dark, snuggling hot water bottles at night, the only local grocery store being open the hours you are at work, the dampness from boiling water to keep warm ruining my stuff that was spared any flooding. A devastating storm flooded the entire peninsula I live on, and so many towns up and down the coast – nothing like this has happened here before. I know getting the basics back won't happen quickly. I have amazing friends and family who have offered an out, places to stay, generous offers that make me wonder if I am bordering on some sort of Stockholm syndrome, but my home is here, for better or worse.  


I can live without all these things because I know it is a lot worse out here for so many. I can flush my toilet, I don't have to walk down 10 or 20 flights of stairs to get out of my home, I am not sick and unable to get needed medication, my car was not here when everything went underwater, my home didn't flood, it didn't burn down…just to name a few.  And that's just NY and NJ, just this one thing.  More on this part later when I have a chance to really process and understand how this has changed me in what feels like a very fundamental way. Or maybe I'm totally full or shit, another reason I had to to document what this feels like, right now, so I don't forget.  


So just as I'm learning a different sort of lessons, there are lessons to be learned for companies with paying customers.  Time ranges are a must, it is scary to be in the dark with little communication. Your customers can't continue to pay you if they can't work.  If you can't restore services or let someone know when they can get back to work, you jeopardize that whole circle. I realize I am also very fortunate that I work for a company that has been unbelievably flexible and understanding. But, at the end of the day, just as my eyes have been opened to the suffering around me, I will resume being a consumer again one of these days…and I will be a lot happier working with companies who showed up, who made themselves visible, the ones who keep sending emails, who made my life and those around me just a little easier.  It seems so simple in such a complicated situation, I really can't say more at this moment… because I still don't really know where to start and my phone is about to run out of battery.



Update: It appears that Time Warner and Liberty Mutual are helping, I was incorrect in my assumption that just because I couldn't see them, that they aren't there.  – gothamist.com/2012/11/12/big_business_like_twc_now_funding_s.php


Also, heard from my Godmother in Florida that Allstate has an abysmal record there, something to consider and investigate before I switch insurance companies


Day 13

My little brain dump seemed to ease the tension in my brain for a few days. Started to feel optimistic, was regathering the resolve to stay, and then the lights came on across the street. Yay!



Then LIPA left. Boo!


That was last night and after a long, tough day memorializing an amazing uncle who passed right before the storm…we returned back to find there is still no power. So few highs, so many lows.


When I start to despair it's just that much harder to pick myself up and kick the gloom's ass. But I'm going to kick it, just might not be until tomorrow morning.

Where I’m At, And It Is Dark

Forgive me, because I need to vent and it is not going to be pretty. I should have posted sooner when I was still feeling grateful and hopeful. But, now I'm tired, sad, and frustrated. 


I guess I need to start before Hurricane Sandy. In June, Matt and I started the season with our first trip to the beach. The year before we made many to Brooklyn, Long Beach and Queens, and so we took the A train a different route. As we approached the Beach 67th stop we were both awed. We got off the train and walked through a community of new condo-type ticky tacky looking places that were the exact opposite of my love of brownstones. Normally, I would have scoffed at them, but they were right off a subway line, still in the boroughs of NYC, and right on the ocean. A few blocks on and we were at the beach. It was as pristine a beach as the ones I grew up on in Long Island. We swam, I was bit on the foot by a crab (a warning?). We started to talk about whether we could live there. Could we handle a long commute? The winter? The lack of bars, conveniences or nearby friends? 




I could go on and in about that first day. The good and the bad parts (Matt lost his iPhone to the ocean and his kindle on the beach itself, and was that sign we ignored?), but the timing was perfect and we stopped at a for rent sign and called an owner trying to find a tenant. 


Two weeks later we moved in. ;It was not all roses as we found quirk after flaw in our new place, but it was the first real "grown up" place I've ever had, so I threw myself into fixing it up and making it home. And, we were right.by.the.beach.OMG. And we had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a yard, unheard of if we stayed in Brooklyn or Manhattan. In that process there was the glass I stepped on that required surgery, and benched me from enjoying the very beach we moved here for (was that another sign?), but we were thrilled getting to know our community, lounging on the beach on weekends, putting endless hours in painting, peeling old paint off the floors, growing grass in the yard, assembling furniture, hemming curtains, the list goes on. And, we got a car so that we weren't so cut off when there was work on the train that made getting around in weekends hard and to take advantage of being so close to my family, who I could now see easily when I wanted to. We spent so much money, much of it foolishly in hindsight, but we were in this for the long haul. 


Things were looking up when the stitches came out of my foot and I could wander aimlessly for miles down the beach and through our adorable town again. We'd joke about opening a mini golf business, ponder what the "Fecund Clown" was, and were finding ways to get more involved in the community. Up until the weekend before last when everything changed. I've paused here at this part for over a half hour now – because even digging back remembering the happiness "before" hurts so bad. 




Now, I'm not naive enough to think that storms don't happen. I ensured we had as much insurance that we could get. We bought FEMA flood insurance, we even have an earthquake rider. I grew up near here and remember Hurricane Gloria, so I thought worst case, maybe we flood. As the drumbeats were getting louder that a storm was coming, during a lunar high tide, and colliding with a Nor'easter we were paying attention. We bargained aloud for days. Do we wait until it started to flood? Until the water passed the boardwalk? Until people with megaphones came around? Would we be trapped if they closed the bridges out? We had an exit plan to go to my parent's house in NJ, we raised everything 2-3 feet off the floor, packed photos and clothes and insurance paperwork and headed Northwest the day before Sandy hit. When suddenly our flooding Zone B locale was being shown on the news inexplicably as a Zone A and we were told to evacuate. 


We were nomads for the first week after. Mostly staying with family in New Jersey, who had also lost electricity in the storm. There were trips back and forth to assess. There was the shock and appreciation that our place had no flood damage. There was the first walk around our beloved neighborhood and surroundings and seeing everything decimated. There is the damage to the beach and boardwalk which is nothing when you see what the water and following fires did to homes and businesses. There were tears and following numbness. There were amazing sights, neighbors helping each other and fortitude that I feel terrible that I seem to lack. There was searching for gas and then coming back to stay in the dark. There was resolve, but that resolve has crumbled. 


I think we need to get out. Then there is more bargaining, just like we did initially with the storm. But, we need to get out of our lease and start.all.over. And, I still have no idea how we will afford it and then then mental avoidance that comes with that realization. 


Before I pause again to sob some more (sorry, I'm not quite myself these days), I have to state what we now know after almost a week back. We both have jobs in the city, we both need to be able to work hours that are often longer than 9-5. There is NO transportation after dark currently. And that includes buses. The subway bridge out here is damaged and is going to take a "long time" to fix. We have NO electricity, heat, or hot water. Time estimates have ranged from two days ago to 7 weeks. To state the obvious, it is winter. We have almost NO communications. Time Warner cable is offering no time estimate and Matt's cell service doesn't work. My cell service barely works, enough for me to post this missive, but not to keep a signal very long on the phone. There are very few amenities left, one of the only ones is a grocery store that closes at 4pm. We have NO open laundry facilities. After the electric comes back, will they? And with getting gas still an issue, we're feeling pretty limited and wondering where we will do our laundry without paying expensive tolls. (Random example, the Verrazano Bridge is $13) 


There are no timetables for these things, and so many have it so.much.worse. I'm feeling totally overwhelmed with family and friends now homeless and in far worse shape than we are. And, so I try not to complain. I try to suck it up and boil water, take a camp shower in our cold bathroom, go to work, have to leave at 3, only to get back here and sit in the relative dark. But, it is so hard. I don't want to stay with friends. We need a warm and safe home for us and our cat. We need electricity and heat. We need to be able to get to and from work. The insurance I pay for has been beyond useless. I am frustrated and depressed. We walked down to the FEMA line, I know they won't help, and honestly couldn't stand there to hear the obvious surrounded by people in much more dire situations. 


We are surrounded by suffering far greater than ours. We have a structure and our next meal, and for that I am grateful. But our home feels like a husk in peril, and staying here is just risking too much, mainly our jobs and sanity. This storm has left me feeling gutted. it "spared" my apartment, but not my home.

Jacob Riis Park, temporary landfill

The comfort of home

A week Since

7 weeks, or when your Borough President is a Nitwit