Hurricane Coffee: How a Strainer and a Paper Towel Made Me Feel Connected to Irene Victims

08/30/2011 10:04 pm ET | Updated Oct 30, 2011

2011-08-30-hurricane_coffee_lead.pngLike many Americans, I'm obsessed with disaster coverage. For the most part, the local news depresses me, but if CNN is willing to send Anderson Cooper out into the field for hours on end and broadcast it to the entire country, I'm willing to watch. Though more often than not, whatever requires such round-the-clock coverage is usually devastating to someone, somewhere, I get a strange adrenaline rush like I'm right there with the victims, toughing out the blizzard, mass transit strike or terrorist attack. Maybe it has to do with the fact that after I watched the towers fall in 2001 from my West Village street, I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but watching 24-hour coverage of the aftermath. I was alone in my apartment, but I felt connected to my fellow New Yorkers. We were all doing the grown-up equivalent of wishing underneath the same big star: staring at the flickering light of one big message on the television. I know, it's what The Man wants. But I'm a more-than-willing participant -- especially when my survivor instincts kick in, and my MacGyver-like tendencies take over.

Last Saturday afternoon, I was scheduled to fly from Kansas City to LaGuardia to visit some friends. By early Friday, with the news of a hurricane threatening to douse the Big Apple, my flight had been canceled. I was actually bummed I wouldn't be shut in my Brooklyn room, facing Irene alone -- but somehow with eight million other people, too (oh, and everyone else on the East Coast). So, I did the next best thing. I turned on CNN and pretended I was there. It was shockingly easy.

My boyfriend was out of town and I had a bunch of work to do, anyway. So, Saturday evening, I holed up in my house, pretended I still lived in Brooklyn full-time and watched coverage of Hurricane Irene. And watched. And watched. And watched. Before I knew it, it was 6:30 a.m., and I was strung out and worried about letting the dog out in the rain before finally making my way up to bed. (It was a dry 74ºF outside my Kansas City home.) I finally crawled between the covers around 7, with the soothing sound of Anderson Cooper's voice streaming through my iPhone lulling me in and out of sleep.

When I woke from my half-sleep a few hours later, I did the most reasonable thing a girl seeking a connection with people 1,200 miles away can do, and checked my Facebook feed. The hurricane had passed through the city I used to call home with lots of flooding, but little serious damage. All of my friends were fine. Except one. My friend Bill, who lives about two blocks from where Anderson Cooper did most of his Irene coverage the night before, posted this at 9:46 a.m.:

"I just broke my french press. NOW I'LL PANIC."

With the entire New York City transit system shut down, the city had virtually closed. There was nowhere for Bill to get a cup of coffee, let alone a new Bodum. As someone who works in a coffee factory, and can't function without three cups in the morning and another two in the afternoon, I knew I had to help Bill overcome this emergency.

This -- this! -- was my opportunity to have my MacGyver moment. To do my part. To tell that storm "Bring it!" All while I was stuck in the dry, temperate (for once) comfort of the Midwest. So, I hastily posted my instructions:

"Okay, if you have a colander -- better yet, a sieve -- and a really good-quality paper towel (or a clean flour-sack dish towel) you can make your own pour-over right into the cup or whatever container you can balance your contraption on. Just put the paper towel in the colander, put the coffee on the paper towel, and slowly pour hot water (give it about 30 seconds after it's done boiling) over all of the grounds. Make sure to soak them all pretty evenly. Good luck!"

I don't know if Bill even utilized my idea; he never responded to my comment. But I felt connected, like we -- me and everyone in the city I called home for nine years -- were facing yet another disaster together. Making do in less-than-perfect circumstances.

So, I went downstairs and made myself a cup of Hurricane Coffee. It was less than perfect, too. But it made me feel connected, and in the face of a disaster, isn't that the most we can hope for?

Plus, the storm had kept me up all night and I needed something to get me going for the long day ahead.

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