Being in the path of an approaching hurricane changes the way you look at your neighborhood.
Let it not be said that the people of Brooklyn didn’t keep their sense of humor in the face of Hurricane Sandy. On Sunday night, writer Lisa Goldman tweeted that “Fairway is sold out of Kale!” with a link to a New York Times story that included that amusing detail about hurricane preparations. The borough that never stops talking about itself was still cracking wise.
Things looked different in the morning, when high tide arrived and Fairway – a fancy grocery store on the waterfront in the Red Hook neighborhood – had the waters of New York Harbor lapping at the door. That was a full 12 hours before the worst of the storm, and another high tide, were due to arrive.
Being in the path of an approaching hurricane changes the way you see the physical world around you. You realize all of a sudden that the landscape of a neighborhood is all too mutable, that the features you have long taken for granted could be gone or changed forever in a few hours’ time.
I live in a spot of high ground between two evacuation zones, a half mile from the East River and a half mile from the Gowanus Canal, which was also overflowing its banks this morning. This afternoon I went for a walk down by the river with some friends, and as our kids leaped and spun around in the gusting wind, we grown-ups looked across the water at the skyline of Manhattan, and then down at the grey chop that was beating against the pier.
We kept the conversation light – joking about how good wine and gourmet cheese were part of the Brooklyn survival kit -- but I’m pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing: that this water could wipe away the beautiful promenade we were standing on, part of a much-loved waterfront park where I run every day. That winds could blow down the crane atop the Freedom Tower across the way. That all this is temporary, after all. A reality that we got familiar with when that same skyline was changed 11 years ago.
By this afternoon, all of us had made our preparations – stocked up on milk and cheese and wine and kale – and gone back to our individual homes to wait for whatever comes next.
None of us thinks we’re going to get off as easily as we did last year with Irene. This afternoon, water levels were already six feet above normal at the Battery, and we had all seen the pictures of Atlantic City. We know that the night will be long, and that tomorrow we may well have lost some of the things that we love. Already, trees are falling.
One of my Facebook friends posted a picture of hurricane preparations at the Wonder Wheel, the spectacular 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel that has stood on the beachfront of Coney Island since 1920. I felt my stomach sink when I saw it. I hadn’t even thought about the Wonder Wheel. I rode it on a mild summer night just a couple of months ago, rising high over the dazzle and swirl of the amusement park, looking out to the mysterious, dark Atlantic. As Sandy gets closer, I keep thinking of that magnificent wheel, a monument to the joys of my city. Long may it stand.
Top image: A woman makes her way through flood waters in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, on October 29, 2012. (Keith Bedford/Reuters)