As the East Coast hunkers down and prepares to weather out Hurricane Sandy, I can’t help but remember what it was like to be in Manhattan leading up to Hurricane Irene last year. The metropolis that is usually brashly self-assured started to come apart at the seams. Flashlights, candles, radios and batteries sold out in a matter of hours and supermarkets couldn’t restock the shelves soon enough for the shoppers lined up around the block. Two besuited business women almost came to blows over a loaf of bread at my local Trader Joe’s. I slipped by them and took the crackers instead.
Then everyone disappeared indoors, filled their bathtubs with water and waited; armed with travel scrabble and playing cards; flashlights at the ready. When the all-clear was given, I remember rushing to the window of my top floor apartment and leaning out to see New York like I’d never seen it before. There wasn’t a single car on the road, not one yellow cab, not even a suggestion of the garbage that usually lines the sidewalks in black plastic sacks. The silent streets stared back at me; the streets I had walked along daily for several years; suddenly unfamiliar and strange and very, very foreign.
I watched as a man walked by with two dogs on a completely empty sidewalk, and wondered if the dogs had ever had the sidewalk to themselves before.
Just after I snapped this photo a flurry of yellow cabs screeched around a corner and I realised that New York was not going to waste any time getting back to business. If I wanted to experience this strange fleeting silent city I had better do it quickly, because the familiar old Gotham was beginning to stir.
I threw on a coat and scampered downstairs, out onto the sidewalk. On the other side of the street a pile of discarded boxes had magically appeared. Trash was already returning to the streets, and the all-clear had only been given perhaps 5 minutes ago.
There was an air of celebration; you could feel the city breathing a sigh of relief as New Yorkers took to the streets in droves, walking their dogs, dancing on the sidewalks, airing out their mini macaws. I’m not kidding about that last one.
Twenty blocks later, this strange silent city had vanished without a trace. Traffic was thick; the honking of yellow cabs threatened to rupture my eardrums and as I rounded a corner I was brought to a complete standstill by a towering mound of black garbage bags. New York was back with a vengeance.
Stay safe over there on the East Coast. xxx Ailsa