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Living in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

Last week Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States with incredible fury. Actor, voice artist and resident of New York City, James Lurie, wrote the following letter to the editor of The VanCouver, describing his experience living without electricity or water in the “city that never sleeps.”

Nov. 2. — It has been 18th century life for us since Oct. 29: candles for light, no refrigeration, no TV, no Internet, no baths, no showers. Sixteen flights of stairs up, sixteen down. My spirits are great, my knees slightly less so. Playing piano by candlelight is very atmospheric, and conversation and reading are quite adequate substitutes for all electronica.

We have walked around the neighborhood quite a bit. The most visible damage is the large number of downed trees. Some have crushed cars; others have taken out awnings and windows or other trees.

The less visible damage is economic. For example, I live over a cheese shop. On Wednesday the Tibetans who own the place (yes, a Tibetan cheese shop!) were throwing away all their soft cheeses. No refrigeration equals a massive financial blow for them. The Japanese ice cream store put what was left of their inventory out on the sidewalk and gave it away as fast as they could before it melted. Free wasabi and red bean ice cream for us, trauma for them.

All businesses have been closed here since Oct. 29 and, until the electricity was back on, they remained closed. The one bright spot within this economic woe was the uninterrupted delivery of cooking gas. That meant pizza ovens still worked — at least until the pizza parlors ran out of dough. The shops stayed open for a day or two.  They could not make coffee, or dispense soda or, quite frankly, do anything except make pizza. But they were baking away inside their almost totally dark restaurants. Guys out on the sidewalk were barking, “Pizza here.  Hey, we got pizza.  Come on in, it’s right out of the oven!” Pizza being the national dish of this island, I think this little bit of good news went a long way toward keeping people’s spirits up and the potential for violence down.

I saw one other store that was open for business: A liquor store had its door open and a sign on the sidewalk that said, “Screw electricity.  Have a drink!”

Yesterday, the lack of water made life downtown untenable, so we decamped to my cousin’s apartment on 89th Street. We piled our belongings into a laundry trolley and walked the four miles uptown. Truly, I felt like a Russian peasant fleeing before Napoleon’s invading army.

What a surprise to reach 40th Street and find a fully functioning city right across the road! The downtown side was a wasteland — no one on the sidewalk, no cars on the street, no stores opened, no lights on anywhere.  It reminded me very much of the aftermath of 9/11, though, of course, the psychic trauma surrounding that event was vastly different.  But here, suddenly, only fifteen feet away were bustling sidewalks, noisy traffic, stores filled with provisions.  Bizarre juxtaposition. Groups of people from below 40th street were huddled five or more deep around any outdoor electrical outlet they could find, recharging their cell phones.  You think Starbucks has long lines? Wait until you find one within walking distance of people who’ve been forcibly decaffeinated for several days.

I went back home this afternoon to feed the cat who, of necessity, had to stay behind. The city is bouncing back quite quickly.   There are still no subways below 42nd Street, or other parts of the city where the tunnels filled with water. But lines of buses were speeding up and down the avenues below 42nd Street (no other traffic on the roads there) so that people could get where they needed to be.

We passed the 25th Street Armory and soldiers were pouring in and out the door. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they are here and they looked busy. The pizza restaurants have all run out of dough and closed, but a few bars are open here and there with candlelight. After all, you don’t need electricity to drink. Unless you want ice.

Fortunately, I’ve got a bottle of single malt scotch at hand.

Ice? I don’t need ice.

Editor’s note: If you have ever heard the introduction to KATU News, then you have heard the voice of James Lurie. He is the award-winning narrator of many television series, audio books and commercials for radio and television. We appreciate James’ permission to reprint his letter here.

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