The Big Little Things

I’ve been hearing about directed acts of kindness post-Sandy, and I have to say it really is encouraging.  While it is unfortunate that a community’s true stripes are most evident in times of distress, it’s nonetheless amazing to witness all the “little” efforts people make to help one another, especially as I’ve seen in the weeks since the storm.  We just got a comment from Reveler Ralph about a simple act he did to help a friend who was away during the storm, by checking on his house , sealing up broken doors, and turning off gas valves (smart — I don’t know that most people would think or know to do that).  Then I was checking out PS8’s website in preparation for their holiday craft fair this Saturday, when I saw this notice:

School Food is pleased to announce that all school lunches for all students will be free for the whole month of November. Thanks to a special federal waiver, all lunches are free to all New York City students for the whole month. While the City continues to recover from Sandy, we hope you will enjoy our delicious and nutritious lunches at no cost. As always, breakfast is free for all students daily

I especially like that the lunches are offered to all, and there’s no required showing of distress from the storm or other financial hardship to receive it.  I don’t currently have a school age child so I may not be up on what’s happening in that microcosm today, but it has made me happy to see groups of school kids with their school reps setting up mini-farmers markets offering either produce they’ve grown on their own school grounds or food donated from local farmers.  I’m especially grateful to see that breakfast is free for all students every day — sounds like someone’s been heeding the longstanding nutritionists’ advice that good health rests on a well fed morning.

Kudos to Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, too, whatever you may think of him.  We get his complementary publication “Brooklyn!” which features short public interest pieces, and emphasizes small business efforts in our borough.  This most recent issue features “Sandy Samaritans,” including, among others Matthew Kraushar, a medical student who helped organize a pop-up medical clinic in a distressed area of Red Hook, which also reached out to the homebound to make sure they were okay.  Deborah Carter, president of the Tenants Association at Gravesend Houses helped evacuate tenants before Sandy, and afterward helped provide them with food, water and other supplies.  And, not reported in that feature in Markowitz’s “Brooklyn!,” but still significant, a grassroots group called People’s Relief, has organized to fill the void where government relief has been insufficient or, according to some, altogether absent.

Hooray for people, every one of us.  Please share your post-Sandy stories.  Let us know what you’ve seen that’s encouraging or discouraging, and everything in between.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Oh, Sandy — And How to Be Ready for Her Sisters

It’s good to admit weakness.  Although we were lucky enough to not suffer any serious damage from the storm, it was an acute reminder to this household, and I’m sure others, that we were generally underprepared.  It’s so painfully easy to get wrapped up in the day to day and to put off doing things that will make your life easier when you have something more serious to worry about than your own busy-ness.  One of my own personal challenges is failing to approach things in digestible pieces.  I tend to try to tackle the whole mountain — in this case, investigating, reviewing, interviewing experts, before sitting down to stuff a safety-pack.  However, there’s no time like the present, when you’re not staring down the eye of a storm, to start preparing for the unexpected, even if that start is just making a list of what you might need.  It is okay to start small, and proceed small, and eventually you will have something very big accomplished.  (A writer/mentor/friend of mine, Crescent Dragonwagon, advocates relentless incrementalism, and I’m incrementally incorporating the notion.)

That in mind, I am finally ready to start getting serious about getting at least more adequately prepared than I felt about a month ago, as Superstorm Sandy was rolling in.  (It’s an awful feeling when the drain in your bathtub doesn’t work and all you’re hearing on the radio is how everyone should be filling their bathtubs to the brim in the event of pure catastrophe — the unknown is always the villain in these scenes).

There are many lists available online for how you should stock your home in the event of an emergency.  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments on this list, and to recommend others.  As for now, I’m keeping it simple with an old standard — FEMA.  According to FEMA, the following is what you need to stock your basic disaster supplies kit.  (If anyone can think of a better name for the “basic disaster supplies kit,” please share.  While I’m no Pollyanna, I still think the words we use help shape and create our own reality.  Maybe something along the lines of Adventure Pack for the Unexpected, or Welcome the Unknown Gift Basket….?)

Anyway, here’s the list…

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

I was calling my adult daughter the day before the storm hit, making sure she had good old-fashioned paper maps, atlas, etc., since her cell phone has been her fifth appendage since high school.  From my own experience on September 11, I can’t vouch fervently enough for value of a good radio.  I walked from Houston to 83rd that day, keeping quick pace with a stranger who gave me one ear bud to get the news on his handheld transistor radio.  Granted the news was all wrong, including reports of Chicago being bombed (seriously – and from a legit source), but that was in the cacophony of confusion so I don’t hold it against anyone — just one of those things no one seemed to remember after.  Still, access to any news is better than no news in such situations.

I skipped Black Friday — trying to do the “be local buy local” route — but I have a specific shopping list for the days and weeks ahead.  (relentless incrementalism, relentless incrementalism, relentless incrementalism)  It’s an early gift to my family, my home, and myself.  Will keep you posted.

Just Another Evening Stroll

At night sometimes the buildings look like just part of a stage drop.

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Brooklyn is anxious to get back to business as usual, including recycling.

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After the party has ended.

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I only wonder why this isn’t at my dog’s eye level. What are my neighbors trying to say? Are they aware that if I obey, I will no longer see the instruction, and will instead be at my dog’s eye level, which brings us back to … why isn’t this at my dog’s eye level?

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The Storms: Death and Destruction, Help, Hope and Recovery

While counts of the toll the two storms that hit the northeast in recent weeks continue toward a final tally, people of the area busy themselves donating to others still in need, waiting in gas lines, resuming (or trying) semblances of normal in their work and personal lives, while others wait for electricity and struggle to stay warm. 400,865 homes in the eastern U.S. remain without power as of yesterday.  The least fortunate of us trudge the long uphill road of grieving lost loved ones. For those, the pain will last long past the clean up crews and news media. For those, the recovery never really ends. The death toll of victims in the U.S. has reached 120. At last count, it was close to 70 victims in the Caribbean, hitting Haiti (52 fatalities) the hardest.

Flashes of hope of the basic compassion of humanity are present in the vast relief efforts underway. From local long-standing businesses such as Two Boots Brooklyn, organizing food and clothing drives, to the new and innovative Mealku, making sure those who have lost much are receiving home cooked meals. And of course there are so many others lending a hand and organizing volunteers: Red Cross, NYC Mayors office, New York Cares, Congregation Beth Elohim, Occupy Sandy, the Humane Society (leading pet search and rescue efforts), Staten Island Recovers, and of course The Salvation Army. If you are donating, please remember the victims in Haiti, whose suffering is all that much greater given its extremely impoverished state and particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and global warming. Please consider contributing to groups such as Direct Relief and International Medical Corps and Americares.

Most everyone I know is in some way in the trenches, whether by helping a family member or hard hit local business (like Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook – my friend, part owner, was there with a pump before realizing the task ahead was too great — he was able to keep himself safe but the bar/restaurant itself has suffered serious damage). (Please check out this NYT blog post if your small business was affected by the storm).  Others are rolling up their sleeves and coming from our of state to see what help still needs to be done. At Greenwood Cemetery, they’re busy removing the 150 trees that were destroyed during the storm, and restoring many broken monuments. Donations for that restoration are being accepted online.

Please let us know of other disaster relief efforts you are supporting, what people can do to help, and any useful links you may have. In the wake of so much destruction, the helping hands of others is the real source of recovery.

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Gas Rationing to Start

(NB: lest you find me a hypocrite extraordinaire after reading what follows, please know that it covers every instance of me getting behind the wheel since Superstorm Sandy hit — so, thrice in two weeks —  and, by choice and because my tank’s not empty, I have not gotten gas since October).

It’s now a common sight to those of us in the storm struck region of late: long lines of traffic you later discover are people waiting to get gas.  Today’s news is that NYC will be instituting gas rationing New Jersey style, with eligibility for gas corresponding to the oddness or evenness of your license plate.  It’s definitely time.  I hadn’t seen a gas line so long since the 70s but then, last Friday on my way to dropping off my kid at school, I saw a line that ran about eight blocks long.  It took me a minute before I realized they were all waiting for gas.  I’d seen news coverage of long gas lines in New Jersey and other such faraway places, but from what I saw on TV, it looked like long lines of people with their red plastic gas cans waiting to fill up to keep their generators going.  Since the line I was seeing Friday morning was in my own hood, which was spared serious power outages, I doubted these folks were all waiting in their cars to fill up a plastic can to take home for their generators.  The more I saw, and the more I heard, taking into consideration what I know of this little town called Brooklyn I’ve been in for a decade and change, it became sadly apparent to me that my neighbors had fallen victim to the big Gas Panic.

Public transportation is running full tilt, except possibly for the G, which isn’t in high demand anyway.  When I started seeing the gas lines, many people did not have open offices or stores to go to work in.  Sure, there are those whose livelihoods really do depend on fuel: pizza and restaurant delivery people (although at least some have gotten around on bikes without any problem since time immemorial – or at least since the happy coinciding of food delivery and wheels).  There are also the car services (livery/cab equivalent, for the out of towners).  In celebration of a very important person’s birthday late last Friday night, we ventured out to Park Slope but no car service would pick up us or their phone.  To my amazement, parking was abundant … on a Friday night.  On Fifth Avenue.  Even in front of Prospect Bar, a new spacious and inviting bar between 14th and 15th.     And it was available down in front of Ginger’s Bar too (where my 65 year old mother got the whole sloshy crowd of friendly lesbians going in a rousing verse of happy birthday to our VIP).  Parking at home was harder but not impossible, so very early Saturday morning, I pulled our Dodge caravan (usually designated for the family business) into a spot just a block away.

Over the course of the next several days, everywhere I looked there was evidence of few cars on the road but more than plenty in the gas lines.  Throwing caution to the wind (and grateful I had gassed up before Sandy’s arrival), the next night we drove up to Long Island City for the launch party of see.me (formerly Artists Wanted and currently a powerful democratizing force in the art industry).  It was then that I saw lower Manhattan, dark.  It was eerie.  Fog curling its tail around Gotham’s tip.  The quiet of the tallest skyscrapers, every window dark, no hint of life anywhere.  The stillness of the Hudson, like it stood still, in disbelief and anticipation.  I dared not even look at Lady Liberty.  Too spooky.  So we pulled around that corner of the BQE where it looks like a swim over to the financial district wouldn’t be terribly taxing on a sunny enough day.  It was hard to keep my eyes on the road, and I’m surprised there haven’t been reports of many accidents at that site, front row to the financial capitol of the world, playing kabuki on a Saturday night.  Across the water you could almost hear the tall buildings creaking as they leaned in to hear what the audience was saying.

Once in LIC, parking was surprisingly easy.  We were up by PS1.  I’m not there often enough to know if the parking is usually more scarce, but we found a spot in front there and again at Court Square Diner (highly recommended — get a burger, you order the chocolate shake and have the person across from you get vanilla) where we stopped before heading to our home borough.  Every gas station we passed that didn’t have yellow tape around the pumps (which I’ve come to understand means not a crime scene but just no gas) had miles snaking down and around many blocks, and had cop cars with siren lights on, and had on the ground officers keeping the peace and making sure people waited their turn.  It amazed me (then and now) that people know where traffic ends and the gas line begins.  One friend’s family member took their car to Jersey yesterday where there were no lines, turned around and went home then proceeded to take his girlfriend’s car to Jersey to gas up and back to Brooklyn again.  I guess the rationing works to keep the lines shorter at least.  Now if there was just something that could be done about the gas fanatics who need to fill up just to keep their street parking warm.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on the great Gas Panic?  Am I overstating it and not giving people enough credit?  Are there really greater (and legitimate) gas needs than I know?  Or is it that people simply want what they are afraid they very soon may not have?  Have you waited in line for gas lately?  Or are you, like most of us, using this grand system of public transportation that’s gotten most New Yorkers around sans problem since time immemorial (or at least the happy pairing of underground tunnels and trains).   Go ahead … gimme the dirt!