(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!