I never wanted to be a reality show contestant, much less one in a wild, untamed frontier where each day is a struggle. Yet I now have a starring role in the latest season of Survivor, in its most rugged location: New Jersey.
During Superstorm Sandy, my husband and I realized we now had waterfront property; the Hudson River was right outside our door. We live on the sixth floor of our building, so this was not an immediate issue, though certainly cause for some colorful expletives of wonder.
The basement filled up with eight feet of water, stopped only by the ceiling. People on the first floor could reach down from their windows and touch the river as it raged by. Cars in the parking lot across the street slowly submerged; as they shifted and flooded, their alarms were tripped, and the night was filled with cars screaming in the hurricane winds. Then the electrical systems would drown, and, one by one, the screams died.
Cue dramatic lighting effect: Our power went out.
Oh, but we were prepared. We had our candles, our flashlights, even headlamps -- my husband is an HVAC engineer, so he's got serious gear. I politely refused a headlamp, thinking I wouldn't need it (and because it was ugly).
Well, 11 days later, that headlamp is my new "Wonder Woman" tiara. I wear it so often as I trudge our darkened hallways that it's left what I hope is not a permanent dent in my head. Also constantly on my person are my cell phone, which gets decent reception in this strange new terrain; the keys to the locks on our generators; and my Clark's Botanicals lip balm, because I refuse to be in survivor mode and have chapped lips.
The days I spent foraging for food were well-spent. My husband and I have had some of our best meals in the aftermath of Effin' Sandy, as we call the superstorm. Neighbors gifted us with an extra steak that was rapidly defrosting. Another shared homemade chicken soup. All meals on Survivor: New Jersey are eaten by candlelight, which was romantic the first two powerless days. Our idea of romance now is a fluorescent light -- one that can be turned on at will. Ah, the good ol' days...
I struck deals with the local merchants -- I trade them quaint paper currency in exchange for food and batteries. Gradually, the challenges on Survivor have become more intense: Tend the generators that give us limited power. Organize gas runs among the other tentants/tribespeople. Try to form alliances with those connected to our generator, and keep peace between the tribes. Last night, Team Sixth Floor voted to turn off the generators as they'd been running for 36 hours. Team Second Floor sharpened their spears, lit their torches -- real ones, not flashlights -- and disagreed with unarguable menace. I will have to see if I can mollify them today with an offering of pelts, or perhaps my stash of Mallomars.
As most Survivor contestants find, I am getting in great shape. Running up and down six flights of stairs, and around the neighborhood screaming and waving my arms after the PSE+G truck, does wonders to firm thighs, tone the butt and wear me out. I'm too tired to be depressed.
Besides, I have no right to be. Last night, my husband and I dared to use some of our generator energy to light the electrical fire known to the outside world as TV. We saw reports of people living in Red Cross tent cities, or in their still-dark, unheated homes. (For anyone reading outside the New York area, temperatures here have dropped to freezing at night.) In the theory of the new relativity, the equation goes: we don't have power, but we have generators. Our friend up the block has no power and no heat. People in Manhattan high-rises have no power, no heat and no water.
So I count my blessings, and the lines on the generator's gas gauge, as we wait for PSE+G to declare our electrical panel safe and let there be light. I look forward to watching post-apocalyptic shows like The Walking Dead for kicks, not for tips. And I hope we're not the winners of Survivor: New Jersey. Can I vote myself off this island?