After the hurricane
“This part of New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is an island of darkness surround by happy illumination.” Barry McKinley reports from New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
BARRY McKINLEY in New York
The third night without electricity, marked by the flickering of a Spanish religious candle and the dwindling light of a laptop; this part of New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is an island of darkness surround by happy illumination.
From my bedroom window I can see leering plastic pumpkins glowing in the dark, celebrating Halloween. From another window, the Empire State Building, lit up all orange and white, sparkles with the tiny camera flashes made by happy tourists.
New Jersey bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, and we ended up with a map redrawn by Salvador Dali – beaches appeared in back gardens and boats fell from the skies. Manhattan did not escape unscathed, with much of the territory below 34th street still without power. Looking across the river, the famous skyline has a blacked out section, giving it a strange gap-toothed appearance.
Hoboken, our neighboring town, is still flooded in sections, with raw sewage backed up through the drainage system. I know people down there, but the cops have sealed off the only access routes and it’s not possible to go and offer help.
Every now and then, an over-stressed transformer explodes on a pole, showering the night like a green Roman candle. It’s pretty while it lasts, but then it fizzles into one more blackened problem waiting to be solved. The sound of sirens is relentless, as is the distant hum of traffic crawling through the Lincoln tunnel, the last open vein running into the heart of the city.
Mobile phone towers have lost their power feeds. Nobody owns a battery powered radio anymore and the 3G smartphones don’t seem that clever when they die with a musical squawk, after four hours searching for a non-existent signal. There is a feeling that, although we are at the centre of the news, it is somehow beyond our reach.
Nobody has any valid information. The young cop in his patrol car, parked on Boulevard East, was startled by the rap on the driver’s side window. He awkwardly tried to conceal the fact that he was playing Angry Birds.
“Any idea when the lights will come back on?” I asked.
“Where do you live?”
The address didn’t register with him. He looked out blankly and shook his head.
“I suppose if it’s not on by tomorrow, it could be two weeks.”
It was an absurd timeframe, possibly designed by Salvador Dali – the melting clock that would never tick in the landscape that could never change. I thanked him for his knowledge, then left him to load his catapult with small round birds. When I looked back, the only light on the boulevard was his face lit up by joy.
Barry McKinley is a playwright and construction worker who left his family in Ireland to travel to New York to find work earlier this year. His Generation Emigration article Off to New York with the iPaddies is the most read in the whole series. Read more of his work barrymckinley.com.