As I write downtown Manhattan, from 40th Street to the Battery, is in a state of almost total darkness. What illumination there is at all is comes from the passing headlights of cars and trucks and by flashlights held by held by pedestrians rushing home from work and your occasional dog walker.
As the sun went down I did something I will not do again: I cycled to midtown where there is a friend with electricity on a mission to recharge my daughter’s DVD player, so disappointed she was by the de facto cancellation of Halloween. Allowing her to watch a movie — some semblance of normalcy amidst this primal existence — was my way of trying to make things a little better for her. Nearing Bellevue Hospital I begin to see the huge antennae of the media vans – ABC. NBC, CNN and a host of others. Ambulances are doubled parked by the dozens in front of the hospital. Others are speeding off uptown somewhere. I stop and ask one of the media people why they are there. Bellevue is being evacuated, she says. Something about generators failing that I don’t quite catch, the wailing of the sirens deafening all.
It is an eerie sight and a chilling sound as ambulance after ambulance speeds past wailing into the distance, off to God knows where as NYU hospital was evacuated the day before.
I charge my girl’s DVD player and head by home. It is only 7:00 pm but feels like midnight. Time has become very, very bendy and the landscape of the city is nothing short of surreal and spooky. That much the more if you are trying to navigate your way home 40 odd blocks on a bicycle in a lightless world without traffic lights. The traffic moves slowly, in fits and starts, with a great and welcome sense of hesitation. At one point I pulled over to the sidewalk and took it in, this bizarre scene like something out of a horror movie of a city fleeing itself, a river of red taillights as far as the eye could see within the silhouette of towering buildings in a sea of blackness.
I have never seen anything like it.
Somehow, at least as far as I can see, it seems to work. No one is plowing into each other and the infamous New York rage is held in check. But sirens wail constantly and fire trucks and cops cars are everywhere. Vowing to not pull this stunt again, all I want to do is make it back to my family on the Lower East Side in one piece.
This I do but not before stopping off at the Catholic Worker to see if I might be able to peach some of their famous hearty soups ( and hearty it is ! ) as we are unable to cook and our bones are cold for lack of heat.
With more soup than any three people can possibly eat we enjoy a very welcome hot meal in our candle lit 19th century tenement abode, my daughter thrilled by the simple joy of being able to watch Scooby Doo.
I set out to walk our friend’s dog, a routine I normally enjoy, but in the complete darkness of the Lower East Side Streets, it is one fraught with unease and even fear. Even carrying a flashlight, the darkness is, to say the least, un-nerving. Here and there human forms move swiftly on the sidewalks, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. I find myself walking in the middle of the road. Everyone is keeping their distance and attempting, I suspect, not to appear afraid. It is both fascinating and scary. It occurs to me that this shadowy night world was the nocturnal reality for civilizations for all but the last hundred years or so. It is a world of mystery and a world of mystery is a world of imagination. Imagination and fear.
But we are habituated by electricity and are not accustomed to darkness and are not about to be so anytime soon. Something has changed down here in the last 24 hours. The night before we three set out to take a walk and take in what Sandy had wrought and found hundreds of people doing the same. There was almost a spirit of holiday in the air. Not so tonight. Unlike last night when one saw crowds of people out for a stroll taking in the novelty of a New York Unplugged, tonight one sees only shadows and dog walkers. The novelty, it seems, has worn off and a definite spookiness that has nothing to do with Halloween seems to fill the air.
It is unlike anything I have ever experienced and one I am bound to re-experience for the next few days at least. Nothing to do but take it in.
Addendum: Today as I passed Bellevue on my way to the Mid-Manhattan Library, the army of ambulances was still doubled parked out front. The evacuation continues.