There's a funny thing about Super Storm Sandy, which devastated much of the US East Coast, swallowing up lower Manhattan and spitting it back out again. When you get north of 42nd Street in Manhattan, it looks like nothing happened.
Stores are open, people are strolling, cabs are on the street. On the Upper East Side, where I live, her impact isn’t obvious.
But Sandy is deceiving. If you look closely, its effect on this city is everywhere.
"Can you believe the kids are out of school the rest of the week," a weary looking mother said to me in an elevator. She had two little girls with her, one was dressed as a black cat. The slightly older girl wore whiskers and wings. "I’m a cat fairy," the girl announced.
It being Halloween, the girls had dressed up to go trick or treating door-to-door in the high-rise apartment building. After three days of being off school and unable to go outside the kids seemed excited to have something to do. But mom was clearly exhausted.
"My office is in the Financial District, underwater, so, I’ve been trying to work from home," she said rolling her eyes. "Yeah, right."
As a reporter who has been working long hours to cover the storm, the idea of working at home sounded great to me. But as the mother of two boys, I could relate to her frustration with the difficulty in juggling work and kids. I was on my way to pick up my own children from a friend’s place.
The woman who cares for my children, Maureen, had left our home early - after arriving three-and-a-half hours late. Only sheer force of will got her there at all. She lives in Jamaica, Queens - about as far from Manhattan as possible while still being in the City of New York.
She made it as far as the Queensborough Bridge which leads into the downtown – then got out and walked the last couple of miles to our place. All told her journey to my apartment, which normally takes an hour by subway, took 5 and-a-half hours.
'Like the Wild West'
I had been out reporting in Queens and seen the gridlock first hand. I had also been in lower Manhattan at the height of the storm and in its aftermath. Streets normally teeming with people and commerce were dark, largely empty and covered in debris. Blocks and blocks of stores were – and are – shuttered, without power. Traffic lights aren’t working. It felt more like the Wild West than the largest American city and the world financial capital.
My friend, Beth, was good enough to take my two boys, Sawyer and Jax, trick-or-treating with her son so Maureen could start making the journey back to Queens before it got too late. Beth’s friend, Keesha, was also at her place, having tired of staying in an apartment downtown with no electricity. That’s been the comforting part of this storm, seeing how people help each other out.
When I got to Beth’s place, the boys were counting their loot and trading Snickers bars. The masks to their superhero costumes had been thrown aside. Jax’s face was smeared with chocolate. It was the first time in seven years I hadn’t celebrated this candy-collecting tradition with Sawyer who, strangely enough, doesn’t like eating candy but loves getting it.
Keesha, a publicist, was on Beth’s computer to catch up on what kind of press her high-profile clients had been getting while she was unable to log onto her computer. Having been cut off from the world for a few days, she wondered how long it would be before the lights were on and subways running.
I told her it could be days. The utility crews, emergency responders, and transit officials have been working around the clock to get the city moving again. But New York has never seen a storm like this.
"New Jersey is devastated," Beth told her. I thought about the pictures of the homes that had washed away, the terrible stories of people who had died in the storm.
"Did you hear about the two boys who died in their living room?" I whispered so our boys wouldn’t hear me.
"No," Beth said. "What happened?"
"A tree crashed through the window. Can you imagine? You’re in the kitchen fixing a snack and…"
She shook her head, having uncharacteristically little to say. We were quiet thinking about how easily it could have been our kids.
Jax asked me for another piece of candy – he is very different than his big brother. "Nope, time to go home," I said. "Thank God we still have one."