New Yorkers live their lives in buildings surrounded by buildings, on blocks narrow or large, with traffic that -- while unruly -- often flows in only one direction. The constant talk of Manhattan's wild side casts a false shadow over some simple truths, like the fact that even an intrepid cabbie won't dare to make a right on red.
On the whole, we're a pretty orderly tribe, and the spectrum of "crazy" things we witness in our years here may be narrower than we imagine. All of this is perhaps unknown to us, until a storm comes and reminds us.
A storm is an odd thing. When power went out in Lower Manhattan, instantly cleansing half of the city of the light pollution that normally keeps even the loneliest New Yorker company, I was quite happy. Content enough to chuckle, affect a half-pained groan and continue on with my night, certain that come morning, light would snap into my room with the little effort as it takes to flip a switch.
Obviously that proved not to be the case. At the time of this writing, on Friday morning, we're told (by ConEd's robot) that we can expect power in certain neighborhoods by the end of Saturday. If that time frame holds, it's a cheeky nod to the "Friday/Saturday" projections the Mayor and ConEd have been giving us all week. Like an excited prom-goer barely sneaking home in time of his or her parent's curfew.
And so maybe our small, local nightmare -- one that at every moment has paled drastically in comparison with the real-life suffering many of our less fortunate neighbors are experiencing -- is ending soon. Perhaps we'll remember this week, like most, in moments.
So what of the livery cab driver who offered a ride from the East Village to midtown for $50? Or of couples huddled tight against the noise of their rattling windows? What of the African cab driver who laughed as he said the now-darkened Greenwich Village reminded him his own village in Burkina Faso, with the single exception that "in New York, everyone thinks someone is going to hurt them"?
What of the doorman who walked three hours from Brooklyn to hold vigil at a mostly deserted building in SoHo, where tenants came and nodded sympathetically as their flashlights cast light on never-before-traveled flights of stairs? And what of the Chinese restaurant on the border between brightness and darkness, wherein an elderly couple from the West Village traded jokes with a younger family, mocking uptown and midtown, despite retreating there for comfort?
What of parents, sleeping in the cold while their children flee to retreats at friend's apartments? What of bootleg spirits shared with the unfortunate Slovenian couple who dared to visit their friend who lives in Times Square? Of grand and unfulfilled ambitions of finding a unique nightlife scene in the shadow that covered half our city?
What of the tech company that opened its offices to the staff of an internet newspaper? Of the pizza shop on Second Ave., blasting Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on the day after Halloween because they just secured a generator? What of the mid-50s lady who rattled off discomfort after discomfort only to end by sighing, "but I never complain, nope, not me"?
And what those new feelings, of never being able to find a cab when on the dark side, and of guilt at the ease of life uptown? The inevitable, creeping unease that comes with knowing one's attention span is about to expire, when thinking about a storm and blackouts becomes boring, despite a clear and present tragedy. Those long walks that first morning, checking on on young and old family members who live in town. The phones, the welcome, almost warm vibrations of texts pouring in as we retreat again to the bright side. What of the eventual decline from cynical bemusement with fallen trees and floating cars to the realization that the lights were really not going to turn on? The understanding that we are small, and that ultimately, nature doesn't care much for our multibillion dollar elections and dangling cranes.
Perhaps it's just a week without power in New York, and any attempt to find some deeper narrative is the product of an idle mind's desire for something more. Whatever it is, least we aren't talking about binders full of women anymore.