November 1 - Stepping outside my apartment in Hoboken around 10 p.m. on Monday night, it really wasn't that bad. Occasional blustery winds and some sheets of rain, but, other than that, it really didn't seem like the monster storm we were expecting. That was, until I looked to the left and saw what appeared to be a 10 commandments-like sea of water and debris heading straight for us.
Over the next two hours, watching from the safety of our fifth-floor apartment, we saw the water level around the entire block rise from about six inches to close to four feet. The bushes that once surrounded the jewelry store on the ground floor disappeared. The tree that stood in front of the hair salon fell like a has-been heavyweight champion who just took his final punch. The current was so strong it began picking up stray minivans, shoving them into utility poles and flushing them all downstream, wherever that might have been.
The unfortunate ones parked on the streets, who must've thought they were far enough away from any serious danger, could do nothing, but sit, watch and listen as their headlights went from a blinking bright white to a faint jaundice color, and alarms went from screaming through the streets to whimpering like a dying dog. Then, nothing. All was quiet on the Western Front. Except the sound of sirens, coming from what seemed like all directions.
How could this be happening this far away from the Hudson? It's not exactly like we live directly on the waterfront. My building's a good half-mile from the promenade, so to see this wrath-of-God type of flood, this far back of shore, you pretty much knew the whole city was in for a long night -- and then some. For the first time in history, Hoboken was breached by the Hudson from both the north and south sides.
Pictures of the turnstiles in the Path station flooding as if someone had opened a giant spigot were all over Facebook. CNN had shots of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel filling with water. Then, the lights went out.
Many of us spent the night hanging out our windows watching the cars, doors and construction material from half-completed sites float by as if that was what they always did. Staring out into the pitch-black night, and hearing the wail of emergency vehicles, you couldn't help but think, this is what a nuclear attack must be like. (Without the obvious side effects.)
The morning after brought more of the same. The city was a scene out of Night of the Living Dead. Zombie people roaming the countryside looking for their belongings, trying to save their businesses, police warning you not to "go there." Curfews implemented. Water trucks showing up to help the unprepared. And, the National Guard arriving, making it feel like we live in Haiti.
A student of my brother-in-law was killed by a falling tree while trying to walk his dog. A friend of mine, a 9/11 first responder, couldn't get out to get his asthma medication. Two teenage girls died from C02 poisoning from their generator. Even though my car was toast, things could definitely be worse.
Now that we were being told over 50 percent of the state was without power, and would be for some time, we began making preparations for the "Amish" life that awaited us.
Due to the East Coast gas reserves taking a direct hit, word was there were lines 50 cars long at the one or two open stations in the area. This made the problem of charging your phones and stuff a bit more complicated, as you don't want to drain your battery anymore than it already is, so the more you charge your device, the more fuel you burn, and the closer you are to being stranded.
First problem was getting out of our building. Most folks with families chose to leave right away, as, besides a cold shower, the thought of navigating the 10 or more flights of stairs in total darkness each time you need to go outside, was probably enough motivation. Thank God for the free Flashlight app., as every store from here to Timbuktu is out of batteries.
I was able to start my car, but the warning lights were all on, and it sounded like shit. And, good luck maneuvering around all the abandoned vehicles. Friends began telling me of their two-hour journey to go a mile or two to the supermarket in Jersey City.
We decided to drive to the next county -- although the next country would be preferable -- a good 10 miles away, but after getting through all the blockades, things were no better. The one burger joint in the mall in Paramus that was open had a line a mile long, and the mall itself looked like O'Hare during a snow storm; hundreds of teens camped along the floors waiting for their Macbooks and phones to charge in the working outlets. For some reason, 11th St. in Hoboken still has power, so many of the residents have opened their homes to be used as charging stations.
The few supermarkets in the area with power are mobbed. Tempers are flaring. People are fighting over one place in a line that will take you an hour, anyway. Motorists try to gain the extra advantage that comes from going straight on a street without a working traffic light, but the drivers from the side streets, rather than wait for a chance that may see them there 'til Xmas, cut in completely unexpectedly, causing dozens of near-misses each minute.
On a personal note, after three days of living without power of any kind, the stench from my fridge reminds me of the scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta opens his trunk to discover a rotting "Billy Bats" inside. The dishes are clean, but the smell from the garbage disposal is in need of constant bleach spray. Candle wax is everywhere, and walking the long, dark hallways to toss trash is better than any haunted mansion ride at Disney.
The only thing that works is the gas, so pasta is pretty much the mainstay the past few days, but cooking in candlelight isn't the easiest thing. Each morning, you wake to find stains and bits of crumbs in places you didn't know were there the night before.
After taking a freezing shower, I tried to dry my hair over the stove, and almost set my head ablaze. Since there's no working washing machines, and we're constantly being told the puddles and floods that remain are mixed with sewage, you try and dress as if each day is "Laundry Day"; e.g., one red sock, one blue one, etc.
I have to give my folks credit, though. Despite knowing the situation at the airports, despite knowing the three-hour-plus traffic jams across Manhattan, and, despite seeing the condition the entire tri-state area is currently in, they have chosen to leave sunny Florida and come north, anyway. You see, they have their grandchildren's birthdays to attend. And, nothing can stop a grandparent from seeing their grandchild. Not even a life-taking hurricane. Good for you, mom and dad. You show that storm.
I should take a moment to give credit to the people of Hoboken, as well as they city and state officials. Given the extent of the crisis, the access to water and food trucks parked all over town, the updates on Hoboken411 and on the city's Facebook page, and the help being offered by neighbors to those who are in real bad shape, makes this unbearable situation a bit more bearable.
As for myself, looking forward to what appears to be many more days of this type of existence, I have to ask one thing of you, Sandy: "Why-ee-eye-eye, oh, Why?"