Today I biked to work (in Manhattan) for the first time since last week, before the storm hit town. It was the most memorable ride I’ve had since I’ve been here and I wanted to put it out there in the ether, to make sure also that I don’t forget.
It sounds truly awful to wax poetic about seeing the entire lower end of Manhattan pitch black so let me explain myself: there’s nothing nice or beautiful or cool about hundreds of thousands living without power, heat and telephone service. It would be especially lame for me to say that, since I’m sitting in a well-lit apartment now typing away just across the river, barely affected by the whole thing. But what was striking to me was that the city seemed so malleable and adaptable on my commute today – a place where people are set on moving forward despite the setbacks.
Some sights were encouraging, like the hundreds of bikes streaming over the bridges from Brooklyn and Queens and down the arterial avenues. In the morning, there was a group handing out coffee, and in the evening, Second Avenue was flickering with hundreds of tail lights as commuters pedaled themselves home.
It’s nice to know that so many people are willing and able to bike, even if it takes partially suspended subway service to make it happen. Maybe this will encourage more people to do it on a regular basis.
Some sights were jarring: old women in Chinatown filling large plastic buckets of water at public fountains to carry them up flights of stairs for cooking or cleaning. All of this blocks away from the world’s financial center. First Avenue and Grand with barely any cars to block the way, most shops closed.
In the evening, crossing 34th street and going in a second from the usual bright lights to a dim world, and experiencing the opposite half way over Manhattan Bridge, where the uphill from Canal Street was pitch black and the downhill to Sands Street in Brooklyn was brightly lit.
Then there was the awe-factor. There was the eerie flicker of the flairs lit by traffic control guards on the corners of major intersections as the sun was going down in lower Manhattan. Rows of completely darkened buildings and hundreds shadows milling about on the sidewalks.
But the most memorable thing to me was seeing how the food service industry was dealing with the situation. Most restaurants and groceries of course had to shut their doors, but on many corners portable food carts – some that I had never seen before- had their generators running and were dishing out coffee, kebabs and stir-fries to eager customers.
And every few blocks, there was one bar or local restaurant that had managed somehow, whether through a generator or just with a few old fashioned candles, to keep its doors open for people to eat, read, and sit and talk.
It’s a determined and inventive group of people that can make such an awful situation seem not as awful as you initially thought.