Billboards in Times Square during the Downtown Sandy Blackout advertised a new sci-fi TV series and an upcoming rock-n-roll documentary film:
“Revolution: 15 Years After the Blackout… Power is Everything”
“The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane”
Talk about a Tale of 2 Cities. Uptown north of 30th street missed entirely the bitter irony of those billboards as downtown remained plunged in cold, wet darkness. Yours truly didn’t have it nearly as bad as some friends and relatives on Staten Island, Long Island and New Jersey, but being below the power line in Greenwich Village sure wasn’t any fun after Katrina’s wicked little sister Sandy blew into town. Mrs. Guttergourmet, having lived her childhood in Cuba through many hurricanes, had filled the bathtub with water (despite my ridiculing the idea) and instructed me to get extra groceries on Sunday and candles and flashlights and batteries. I ignored the flashlight request but dutifully bought the extra groceries… mortadella, prosciutto and, ironically, some Nathan’s Coney Island (an area which bore the brunt of the storm) brand hot dogs. After watching non-stop weather news coverage on Monday during what I had assumed to be only severe rain and wind and not being able to take a shower because my wife had filled the tub, I dutifully ate all of the cold-cuts and hot dogs. As I polished off my third and last hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut…the lights went out.
Along with the lights, the cable and the internet were down along with any running water and heat. I freaked. My daughter, who watches way too much reality TV, immediately asked whether we’d have to drink our own urine to survive. Mrs. Guttergourmet, as usual, kept her head as she put all the remaining food into the freezer to preserve it as long as possible. “But what are we going to do?” wailed my daughter. “Board games!” shouted Mrs. Guttergourmet happily anticipating some quality family time.
The next day, I took inventory of the rapidly thawing freezer. We had some gravlax and sturgeon, courtesy of Russ&Daughters, some chicken thighs and drumsticks, a dozen eggs, some Prague style ham and a little prosciutto and mortadella that my wife had managed to keep hidden from me the previous day along with some sliced provolone and emmethaler cheese. Mrs. Guttergourmet lit the stove top pilot (which I would have had no clue how to do) and made some scrambled eggs with the last of the butter to accompany the gravlax and sturgeon. Speaking about getting a “Clue”, my wife took out that board game along with Monopoly, The Game of Life and Trouble, complete with the original and now collectable “Pop-O-Matic”. Thoughts of cannabilism being deferred for the time being, I thoroughly enjoyed the eggs and smoked fish and even the board games. We had enough water after finishing up the last of the cold cuts but the next day I’d have to venture out for supplies.
Not having a flashlight, I made due with my 21st century $600 substitute flashlight as I groped for the railing in the dark staircase of my apartment building while descending 9 flights of stairs. Amazing how much light an iPad (henceforth dubbed iTorch) throws off. I was lucky enough to have access to my car but was warned about the gasoline shortages by others in my building. I drove around the Village hesitating at each cross street as there were no traffic lights. A few enterprising delis were offering coffee heated on hot plates to those lining up who had not yet come to grips with being deprived of their daily Starbucks grande no-whip skim milk mocha chai latte frappucinos. For my part, I could only summon up images of post-nuclear war and, passing on the burnt smelling coffee, sheepishly asked if I could shop from the dark shelves in the back of the deli. A nice man shone his flashlight for me while I grabbed whatever was handy apparently without any plan whatsoever. First, 10 liters of bottled water, warm of course. My wife had given me a list of what to get which I only partially retained in my panic. Since we had the stove, I grabbed all of the canned goods I could carry momentarily forgetting that I had to walk UP the unlit 9 flights of stairs when I returned home. Cans of Campbell’s tomato soup and, natch, a box of cheddar cheese flavored goldfish to drop into and improve the soup. Next, pork and beans of varying brands figuring we could mix them all together anyway. Then I remembered that my wife had said that she loved Spam as a child and that I should get some if I had the chance. So I grabbed 3 cans humming the Monty Python ode to the mystery meat product under my breath. One gourmet shop had shipped fresh bread from its lighted, business as usual sister shop uptown in a rare instance of remembering in the words of Springsteen the "Darkness on the Edge of Town". Once again downtown Manhattan disproportionately suffered as it did after 9/11. I indiscriminately grabbed life affirming fresh bagels, a baguette and a loaf of challah (perhaps to pray over if I survived until Friday). My wife later reminded me that we had no working toaster.
Barely being able to carry everything upstairs, I knew we’d survive as I was greeted by my wife who had just finished frying the chicken legs and thighs. My daughter had developed a milk allergy so my wife was using the last of the Almond Milk to coat the chicken before dredging with flour. To my surprise, the almond milk lent the fried chicken, which was delicious, a unique nutty aftertaste. After innumerable board (bored?) games, we had the tomato soup. My wife, being Mrs Guttergourmet, if not making soup from scratch gets canned tomato soup under the Wolfgang Puck label. Hand crushed peeled San Marzano tomatoes, basil and Puck's proprietary mixture of herbs. $7 a can but worth it. My daughter had therefore never been exposed to Campbell’s tomato soup before. “This tastes like ketchup soup” she said quizzically. Knowing her predilection for dunking everything in ketchup, this was actually intended as high praise. The worst part of the storm was the information deprivation. With no news source, I would get up in the morning after confirming still no power or running water and stare out the window for any update on the situation. The only sign of life was my neighbor's cat across the street sunning itself and looking hungrily at pigeons on the windowsill. I wondered whether I would soon be looking at the pigeons with similar desire. The next day I got a tip that NYU was allowing people to power their 21st century devices (and use the restrooms) in the Bobst library. Entering the generator powered university library was akin to travelling in time from 1812 to 2012. Dozens and dozens of powerstrips were being shared creating strange electronic bedfellows:Apples co-existed with Androids; laptops with tablets and my daughter, who had accompanied me down the 9 flights of stairs, had brought her Nintendo DS to charge.
On the way back another entrepreneurial spirited shop owner gouged me by selling me a Sony transistor radio for $40. My daughter thought the stone age device was like something out of the Flintstones had she been old enough to remember the Flintstones. But it was a source of news and entertainment as my wife cooked up the pork and beans and fried strips of Spam which my daughter was immediately suspicious of (as she should have been). She associated all things "spam" with the nasty messages or computer viruses which she recognized as untrustworthy and potentially harmful. But, even if potentially harmful, the salty, porky Spam was delicious with the sweet baked beans.
Friday, we were informed by the tinny voice on the transistor radio, was the night that Con Ed conned us into believing that the power would be restored. Sure enough, at 5pm, the lights came back on...across the street from us. Surely it would be only a matter of time before we would have lights too, so I descended 9 flights for what seemed the millionth time (the cancelling of the marathon now a major disappointment as I now felt in shape to run it) to get pizza having noticed Joe's operating its gas ovens by generator. Sneaking past the 15 policemen and women who had been directing traffic all day in lieu of traffic lights and who were enjoying some warm pizza before the increasingly chilly evening, I brought back 3 pies for my family and my building and garage staff who never abandoned us and who knocked on every door in the building climbing up 35 flights of stairs to make sure everyone was alright.
At 4:30AM on the following freezing Saturday morning after we had exhausted the bathtub water which we had used to have basic plumbing (if you get my drift), the power came back on. We were,thankfully, the no worse for wear. And my daughter, though still mourning the cancellation of Halloween while catching up on Facebook, has even asked my wife when we can have Spam again.