Filling in some gaps: a marathon runner, a cab driver, and zombieland

I arrived in New York City Thursday, November 1. It was 3 days after Hurricane Sandy hit. I am staying near Columbia University (the upper west side) with a friend whose office was damaged and still not inhabitable. Everything in his apartment building is fine. We have been exploring parts of the city that are still open.

You should know that much of the city is moving forward slowly. The general feeling is that they are not “out of the woods” yet, knowing that when one part of the region suffers, they all do. Nearly everyone knows someone or someone’s family who lives in the areas mostly directly affected by the hurricane. The subway system is slowly recovering. Through yesterday, they were free.

I thought I would share 3 conversations I have had in the past days with people affected by the hurricane. They are not extreme. But they help explain some of the underlying worry and anxiety people are holding. Check back to the blog for more stories as my time continues.

  • From a 50-year-old marathon runner I met on the airplane on my way into NYC: My incoming plane had many people coming in for the New York Marathon scheduled to occur on Sunday. My 50-year-old female seatmate, Cindy, told me how hard she had trained for the marathon, and how glued to the television she had been in the days leading up to and after the hurricane. When mayor Bloomberg announced that the marathon would still happen, she jumped on a plane to get here. Cindy had spent months training and felt this would be her last marathon. She felt selfish, but was so hoping the city could recover enough to host the marathon. When we touched ground she threw her arms in the air like she had scored a touchdown and cried. Today they announced the marathon would not occur. Staten Island, where the run begins has lost 20 residents and many homes. It was no time for a party. The criticism the mayor received is affirmed by people I talk to. They just wish he had made the call several days ago.
  • From my taxi driver, Thursday: The taxi driver that took me to my destination missed work for 2 days and now traffic is cramped and oppressive. The cost of a simple, generally inexpensive ride to my friend’s apartment was potentially $80. I was alarmed. Traffic was stop and go for miles, just to cross the JFK Bridge from La Guardia airport. As the time ticked away on the meter, I let go of my money anxiety by asking him him about his family. They live away from the shore and were fine. But now, getting gas took 3x as long because of the lack of functioning stations and the lack of gas making it to the stations. Taxi drivers count on every day of work to support themselves and their families. Additionally, customers (like me) don’t want to pay the additional toll the backed up traffic added onto the fare. He was impatient with the traffic, trying to abide by the rules, throwing his hands up, gesturing to other drivers, attempting to find the best lane. I noticed the 40mph speed limit as we jerked along going between 0-10mph. I said, “One good thing: you aren’t going to get a speeding ticket!” He laughed and then we started really talking.
  • In Zombieland: Noushin in Manhattan: Noushin’s electricity went out Monday during the storm and remained that way through our lunch near Time Square. until this afternoon. The exactly “80 steps” down the black stairway with their dog is a bit anxiety-producing.  Several blocks around her also have no electricity. This means that every night, people are wandering the streets with no lights outside and only flashlights and candles.  Noushin is calling it, “Zombieland”. No electricity also means that at day 5, there are still no neighborhood restaurants and the food in the fridge is no good. Additionally, the trains cannot run. Fortunately, she had the resources to take a cab to meet us. The previous night, the National Guard came in with water and food because many people in the high rises aren’t mobile enough to come down many flights of stairs. Noushin is quick to say “this is not a complaint, just a reporting.” She is well aware of the trauma in Atlantic City, Bay Head NJ, Staten Island, NY, Long Beach, NY, and more. Update: Noushin’s electricity is back on.
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