When the lights came back on late last night, my immediate reaction was confusion and alarm, not elation. I’d been living by candlelight since Monday and had become acclimated to darkness and quiet. I didn’t understand what was happening.
After a moment, the realization hit me that our power had been restored. I high-fived my son. Then I thought, “Christ. Has our fridge always been that loud?” Seconds earlier, the only sound within my range of hearing had been the audio from the Ultraman DVD crackling from the chintzy speakers on my laptop.
You see, with about 28 minutes of battery life left, an episode of Ultraman was the shortest thing I could find to watch that was child appropriate. Now, all of the sudden, I was enveloped in a cacophony of white noise: the refrigerator, the heater, the phone beeping, the humming of the lights.
Some of my neighbors in the complex ran outside, I guess to see the street lights come to life once again and to confirm we really had rejoined the grid. After a week of blocked roads, fallen trees, dangling power lines, gas stations with fuel but no electricity to pump it, and garbage bins stuffed with spoiled food, we were ready for some good news.
When one traffic light goes out in a town, you’ll find a cop there waving some cars on, stopping others, and doing his best to keep things moving along. When all of your traffic lights are out, in hundreds of intersections, you’re on your own. There simply aren’t enough cops to watch every car crossing, especially when they are busy trying to keep people from shooting each other in the mile-long line for gas at the one station in town that has power. And don’t get into a crash, because no one is coming, even if you can get a cell signal to report it.
Lately I’ve become accustomed to driving through intersections when I see no one coming the other way. Now that the power is back, at least for some of us, I’d better break that habit fast.
During the storm, a 60-foot tall tree fell across all four lanes of Alexander Road in West Winsor, yanking down power lines about a mile from my job. It was still lying there on Friday. Anyone qualified to remove a massive tree blocking a four lane road was too busy dealing with catastrophe to handle a dangerous inconvenience.
For example, a catastrophe such as the blaze that destroyed an entire neighborhood in New York. On any other news day, a single fire that swallows 80 homes would be a major headline. On Monday, it was but one element of the devastation wrought by the mindless, churning beast called Sandy.
Hitting closer to home for me was the wreckage at the Jersey shore. Along with millions of others, I’ve spent summers spinning roulette wheels and wasting quarters in Lucky Leo’s arcade at the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, walking the white sands of Island Beach looking for shells, and marveling at the difficulty of finding parking in Belmar. Eating artery-clogging snacks at food stands that sell fried Oreos and pizza slices the size of a Toyota Yaris. Climbing onto amusement rides operated by cute eastern European girls.
I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, so you know most of it is gone. The amusement piers at Seaside are so damaged they will have to be torn down. Roads have been ripped part, and beaches have been lifted up and deposited on people’s houses. Those homes that are still standing, at least.
Despite debates carrying on in newspapers and online, there is no question all of this will be repaired. New Jersey’s barrier islands represent billions in tourism and property-tax revenue for the state. Within a year or three, Seaside will have two new piers with all-new rides (hopefully better protected from extreme weather than the ones we lost). People will rebuild their lost homes there, as they will in Staten Island and Brooklyn and other places in New York so afflicted by the storm. But it will take a monumental effort, without much time to catch one’s breath.
Meanwhile, my apartment is intact. No fires, no floods, no lost jobs or lives. I’m not going to complain about a measly week in the dark.