Good evening, Internets. We at Casa Bionic have spent another day mostly at home today, and may well do so again tomorrow. Sugar had planned to bike to her job today, but she seems to have a — say it with me now — migraine. It’s kind of like our family signature, this week at least.
I have two jobs, teaching at colleges in Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The school in Staten Island will resume classes tomorrow; I teach there next on Monday. The Manhattan school is, well, in Lower Manhattan. It is in the evacuation zone, flooded, and currently has no power. All aspects of its Internet service, including campus emails, went dead in advance of the storm, when they realized how likely the servers were to get wet. No word yet on when they will be open for business again, but maybe they will be by the time of my next class, on Tuesday.
Just tonight I read that the MTA may be able to reopen the tunnel that the 4 train takes under the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan once Lower Manhattan has power again. This is good and, to me, at least, surprising news. The tunnels are massive, and all six connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn flooded. (The lines that cross on the bridges have also been suspended, either because of more flooding or because of power outages.) The tunnels were full to the brim; water, after all, is notorious for finding its level. If you haven’t seen this video of the flooding at South Ferry/Whitehall, the station on the 1 and R lines that meets the Staten Island Ferry (and is therefore close to the waterfront), take the time. If you haven’t been in a subway station ever or for a while, note that the level you are seeing is well above the level where the trains run; ordinarily, you would walk down those stairs whose railing is barely visible to get to the platform. The water is deep.
If power comes back and the tunnel reopens, I will have a simple way to work on Tuesday. If the repairs to the terminals of the Staten Island Ferry happen as quickly as is now expected, I will be able to take almost my usual route to work on Monday. Part of me can’t believe there’s even a chance I’d get this lucky.
Last night, when none of this seemed possible at all, I had a transit-related meltdown. The best plan I could come up with for the Staten Island job — and it took some time to find even this possibility — was a series of subway rides to the far end of Brooklyn, followed by a bus that runs from there across the Verrazano Bridge and then to the heart of the island and my job. No one has made any promises about the buses running on schedule, traffic is ghastly, and everything is running far above its normal capacity. Gas shortages are severe, so presumably even more people will be forced onto public transit in the coming days. Getting to work by eight, which under normal circumstances means leaving the house at five-thirty, seemed unlikely.
The best plan I could come up with for the Manhattan job was biking in. I could take the subway one stop and take a shuttle bus across the bridge, but the wait for those today was hours long. I could try out the water taxi, but it gets expensive in the long term, which is what I thought last night we were talking about. Biking, on the other hand, makes perfect sense in many ways: there are marked (but not separated) bike paths most of the way from here to the Brooklyn Bridge, and my building isn’t far from the Manhattan side of the bridge. Plenty of people in my position would prefer to bike there than ever take the subway.
My bike needs a tune up and I need a new lock and helmet, but the real problem with biking to work is that the thought of riding on the street here terrifies me. I’ve never been very comfortable riding around cars, and seeing a fresh ghost bike the night we moved into our neighborhood left a lasting chill. Fear is the real problem with taking a bus to Staten Island, too, though I occasionally do so anyway. Driving over the bridge, which, if you haven’t been on it, it unusually high, makes me dizzy with fear; the prospect of being stuck in traffic up there gives me the howling fantods.
Longtime readers may note that a lot of things scare me, especially things involving physical risk, even if the odds of serious injury are very, very low. I don’t know why I am made this way, but I am. I had this theory that because I had been so very frightened of labor for so much of my life, that if I actually did it, I would have that sense of invincibility that people report after sky diving and the like. I thought it might change my character in some fundamental way, as people often say “facing your fears” will. It hasn’t.
So last night, faced with the prospect of an already difficult semester becoming both harder and more frightening, I lost it a little, or I lost a little of it, or whatever becomes of that metaphor when you aren’t full-on wailing but tears and maybe some shaking are involved.
However, when I get to school on Monday, I suspect my students will remind me to put my commuting frustrations and anxieties into a more rational perspective. See, they mostly live on Staten Island. And right now, Staten Island looks like this.
Even in New York City, we aren’t getting much news of Staten Island. Half of the city’s deaths in the storm were there, as you might expect from geography, and I suspect the damage was greatest there, too. But reporters are more likely to live and work in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and to be fair, it has been very difficult to get around. (They don’t call it the Forgotten Borough for nothing, though, and I don’t blame Staten Islanders for being outraged that the mayor has not canceled the marathon for Sunday, a great New York institution that effectively skips them: the race is proud of tracing a course through all five boroughs, but the only part in Staten Island is the first few steps, onto the Verrazano and out of there.)
The apparent disconnect between Staten Island and the press (and the mayor) is symptomatic of part of what makes this whole thing surreal and, I think, part of what was secretly fueling yesterday’s meltdown: the city is just so big and so difficult to get around right now. For people like me, living in those “heights” neighborhoods out of the reach of sea water, it is hard to comprehend what has happened so close to us. Sure, the wind scared us on Monday night, but a walk around the neighborhood now is not scary. Some trees are down; the street is closed a few blocks away while a piece of roof dangles from a beautiful and dilapidated church tower. We didn’t get much rain in the storm, so there aren’t even many puddles. Most of us never lost power or got it back quickly.
The closing of the transit system means we’re stuck here, but that’s how many of us spend our time off from work anyway. People at the food coop shift I worked on yesterday were swapping stories of how they got there, and someone was surprised that I had walked, but in fact I always walk: the bus line I sometimes took was canceled years ago, and I can’t take a car service without juggling a car seat. Things don’t seem that different, which makes it hard to wrap my mind around the idea that the baby clothes I walked a few habitual miles to drop off this afternoon will go not to abstractly distant people in need, but people whose houses are, as the smoke flies, close enough to mine that I smelled them burning.