Friday, November 02, 2012

My Hurricane Sandy Odyssey

NYC Real Estate Goddess rode out the storm snug in Brooklyn, where my location in Kensington - though sometimes seemingly inconvenient to the nightlife splendors of Manhattan - lent itself to my safety. My 6 story elevator building lost neither power nor water nor heat, and no damage to the building (so far as I am aware) or my unit. So I am very thankful.

The office of M. Woods & Associates - my brokerage - also came through the storm in good shape. There hasn't been any power since Monday night due to the 14th street substation outage, but the building did not flood and did not sustain any damage, though a wall of ivy in the backyard was ripped off the wall and landed in the garden.

Since Sunday we were hunkered down in Brooklyn. It was so cute to see all the kids in the building watching movies like Madagascar and Ice Age 3 in our basement common room. Parents brought popcorn.
Our proximity to Park Slope made the wait for public transport bearable - Tuesday we walked up to the Pavillion to see Taken 2 - Argo was unfortunately sold out! - and to have dinner on Prospect Park West at the Windsor Cafe. Our server (who I think was also the owner, as we've seen him before but never waiting tables) seemed harried but polite - no doubt due to the inevitable short staffing situation that comes with no public transportation in NYC!

Wednesday was Halloween. I was spared the stress and anxiety of trying to find a way into Manhattan to conduct a lease signing when the markets re-opened, making it necessary for the new tenant to work the NYSE. I had a plan if necessary. It involved 1-2 local buses to get to downtown Brooklyn, then walking or taking the ferry across to Manhattan, then a bus up to the Village, and walking the rest of the way. My building is actually 3 blocks from an express bus stop, but it's the last stop before departing to Manhattan (through the Battery Tunnel, which was closed, meaning a detour to the Brooklyn Bridge), and there would be little chance that the buses wouldn't be packed within the first couple stops in Sheepshead Bay. Luckily, in the end the only bus I had to take was the B68 up to Park Slope with my sweetie, to indulge our favorite Halloween tradition of eating at our favorite pizza place, Pizza Plus, and cooing at all the cute Halloween costumes that the kids were wearing. I also was able to add our leftover Halloween candy to Pizza Plus' stash - businesses give away candy in Park Slope - thereby keeping us from devouring it in the days to follow!

Thursday, we finally got some subway service back. With a guaranteed route available to Downtown Brooklyn, I was finally ready to attempt the crossing! I had 4 plans for crossing into downtown Brooklyn:

1) Take the subway shuttle bus, which would leave me at 14th and 3rd and and walk over to 12th and Hudson.

2) Take the East River Ferry at Brooklyn Bridge Park and get a bus on the Manhattan side to go up to 14th Street.

3) Get in the carpool line at the Brooklyn Bridge and get a ride into Manhattan, supplementing with bus as necessary.

4) Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - this was my last resort plan!

Upon arriving at Jay St - Metrotech, I encountered the shuttle bus line. It wasn't too long, perhaps 80 people were in line, though the line wasn't very clearly defined, e.g., with barriers. Instead of having shuttle buses lined up, they were pulling up 1 at a time about 5-8 minutes apart. As I watched a bus being loaded up - to the gills - I realized that I would likely have to stand, and that in Manhattan people would try to get on, with few getting off til 34th street. I decided to try my luck elsewhere. Option #1 was out, perhaps to try on the way home.

The on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge was just up the street. I walked over and found a cop directing traffic. I asked where the carpool lines were but he told me there weren't any, that I was supposed to "arrange it" myself, and "it was a good way to end up in someone's trunk". That remote possibility aside, I didn't feel like waiting at the side of the road for someone with 2 people in the car needing a 3rd to roll along. Plus it would mean walking away from the bridge, which would be going backwards. No go on Option #3.

I considered Option #4 my last resort, though I've walked the Brooklyn Bridge countless times. So I didn't walk directly onto the bridge after talking to the officer and instead started walking towards Dumbo. I knew that once I got to Old Fulton St, I could see the lines for the ferry, and if they looked long, I could just dart up the staircase near Cadman Plaza to get on the bridge instead.

Luckily, that didn't have to happen. From my vantage point I saw that there was no line (and confirmed by checking Twitter feeds for NY Magazine and NYEDC) and got my spot.

An added benefit of heading to the ferry was walking through the neighborhood I lived in nearly 15 years ago, but have rarely visited since - Brooklyn Heights. Cadman Plaza has been refurbished with a new green play surface to accommodate all the screaming kids that were working off the excess energy from being cooped up for 3 days + a lot of Halloween candy. The paths snaking along the perimeter have also been redone with a rubber composite for nice jogging surfaces. I caught a glimpse of the new building at Poplar and Henry too as well as a new restaurant up the block. I do miss those few blocks.

$4 for a quick ride is a great bargain and I was lucky enough that the next ferry was heading straight to my preferred destination of Wall Street Pier. So, Option #2 ended up being the plan. But it wasn't the end of my journey by a long spell.

Walking from the pier to Broadway was interesting. Everything was very quiet, subdued, just a lot of pumping trucks and a few people manning them. No lights in any of the buildings. Once I got to the Stock Exchange there were walking tours of tourists. I cut down Thames Street to Church, which goes uptown, and stood across from the World Trade Center site, which had lights and a working elevator. I noticed businesses on the same block had electricity too - maybe they are on the steam system? I hadn't heard much before Sandy about buildings buying steam directly from ConEd to power them. It's definitely something I want to know more about. With the exception of one all-electric building in Chelsea, everything building we manage has gas or oil boilers.

One unintended benefit to getting the ferry was hitting Church Street before the bridge-crossers do. I caught an uptown M5 with relatively few people on it - I was able to get a seat. At the next stop, perhaps 15 people got on - no more seats. The stop after that was next to City Hall Park - right across where the Brooklyn Bridge hits Manhattan. But the bus was practically full already. A few people managed to pack into the rear door, making it very uncomfortable. Naturally the guy standing all the way in the back thought it beneath him to move a half step back, allowing for breathing room near the rear door. The bus driver made everyone enter and exit from the rear door, I'm assuming so that he wouldn't have people yelling at him or crowding the front of the bus, against regulation. We skipped a few stops but had to stop at the stops where people wanted to get off. When that happened, 3 more people than got off would try to pack in, sometimes delaying us by blocking the rear door from entering.

I decided it was time to get off when people started screaming at each other. A loudmouth packed on and blocked the doors, causing someone further in to yell at her to get off. She pushed further in, managed to get the door to close, and then proceeded to talk smack back at the other woman. Not that they could have reached each other to come to blows. Even if they were next to each other they probably couldn't have raised their arms above their shoulders. Maybe they could have bitten each other, a desperate measure in these bacteria-averse times. There wasn't much chance of a fight. But I'd had enough, and 8th Street was close enough so that I could get to the office within 15 minutes of walking. I reached my office 2 hours and 5 minutes after entering the subway station near my home. Usually it's a 55 minute commute, including the 5 minutes it takes to stop at Starbucks and get a tea - which I couldn't do this time because no Starbucks in any part of the Village had power.

Once off the bus I realized that there was indeed no cell phone service as had been reported! I had one bar at 6th Ave and 11th Street, but as soon as I turned down 11th Street, it was gone, and there was none all the way to 12th Street and Hudson Street. I hoped no one was trying to reach me. The landline in the office was working, at least. The landlord I was heading to see greeted us with flashlights as we walked up to the top floor apartment.  The lease signing went well and I was glad to see the landlord was holding up very well without power. He has gas heat, so he could cook, and gravitational water pressure, so he had water, though it was all cold since the water heater was off.

Collapsed Chelsea Facade From Hurricane Sandy
On my way back I stopped to look at the building in Chelsea where the facade was blown off. The truck with scaffolding materials was just below and it seemed they were starting to build the scaffold as the sun was going down. It's exactly as the footage on TV showed it. How sad! Two of the apartments had beds just inside the walls - how scary to realize there is little keeping you from falling down 3 stories!

What's truly amazing about this collapse was the fact that not just the facade fell off the building - the facade was some kind of brown stone. But there was a brick interior wall underneath that stone, anchored by wooden studs. And ALL of it was sheared away on the third and fourth stories, only the brick surviving on the second story. You can see the metal trim at the top was pulled out on the lefthand side, maybe providing a crack that the wind levered away? Or was there longtime water damage from the roof weakening the facade's adhesion to the building? I feel sorry for the people who lost their homes there. It's a great location!

Dark Downtown with Lights from Times Square in the Distance - Hurricane Sandy
After this it was time to head back to the shuttle on 3rd Avenue. But by then it was getting dark. I knew the street lights were out, but it didn't really occur to me until I saw someone walking down the street with a flashlight that it was going to really get dark. Not completely dark - there were many cars on the street - but much darker than I've ever seen it in New York. I could see pretty well but was glad I had my own flashlight to shine into the corners under street scaffolding as I passed by - just to be sure. I caught the bus at 7th Ave after a good taste of the darkness. Kind of made me feel like "I Am Legend". I've been camping plenty of times and am used to complete darkness under the night sky, but it was a little creepy in the city, especially this city!

At Union Square I got off the bus when I realized Whole Foods had lights and shoppers! They had opened at 1PM on Thursday. They had limited lights, little bakery goods, no meat other than some packaged goods, and no dairy in the display case. But it was good to see them open! I got a couple bagels. The Green & Blacks Chocolate was completely cleaned out.

At Third Ave there were plenty of shuttles. It was full but not jam packed. It was 6:30 by then, I guess people who had been working hightailed it out. It was hard to see out of the bus with all the lights on the street out but the interior bus lights on, but I saw a couple bars who had opened in candlelight. Soon enough we were over the Manhattan Bridge and back to Jay Street, where the streets were lit and I didn't need a flashlight to go down the working escalator and back onto my working F train to Kensington. Again, a 2 hour trip, not including my detour to get Indian food at Bombay Grill in Park Slope.

Luckily, ConEd announced that power would most likely be back on Saturday, meaning more of the subways would be able to run into Manhattan. My train - the F - will likely continue running in sections until the tunnel is drained, as will the other 8 lines that run under the East River. I hope they will start running the R train over the Manhattan bridge when service to Lower Manhattan resumes, and extend the N train at least as far as Atlantic Center. The Manhattan Bridge likely to be the only crossing point by subway for the next week. Either way, starting Sunday there should be trains running at least as far down as Wall Street and the Battery, meaning I could pick it up just the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking across won't be so bad for me if there's a train just on the other side.

Today, Friday, I think I'll head over to the newly re-opened Park Slope Library and see if they need help stacking books. My Councilman Brad Lander's latest email said their regular staff was having trouble making the commute. Take it easy this weekend, everyone. Because it will be a sprint for the next two weeks!

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