It was a dark and stormy night.
Of course, I'm talking about Sandy, that blowhard of a storm that surged into our lives and ripped us apart. Once again, downtown New York proved to have its own ecosystem, blacking out while the rest of Manhattan continued to bathe in its electric glow. But as hard as it was to make do without power, the aftermath will linger long after we're back in our heated apartments waiting for the takeout to arrive. From restaurants to law firms to galleries to boutiques to theaters, businesses were flooded, merchandise, art and food destroyed. Homes and livelihoods were lost.
After 9/11, a wave of introspection swept across the mediascape. One pundit famously declared the end of irony, and now, more than a decade later, we understand the epic failure of that prediction. Anyone been on Twitter recently? Will the lessons of Sandy also soon be forgotten, this teachable moment allowed to pass as if it never happened?
Maybe not. Like 9/11, whose post-bombing stench still lives in our consciousness, we will not soon forget the post-Sandy days of quiet desperation, reading by candlelight and combing the streets for a hot cup of coffee. At home with my wife and kids, we lived unplugged, playing cards and listening to a battery-powered radio, leaving us with nostalgia for the good old days and a hunger for the return of our comforts.
With the presidential election behind us, let's credit Sandy with helping to carry our flag bearer across the finish line. In a world -- not to mention an election -- dominated by corporate and oligarchic interests, Mother Nature came a-calling to remind us of our priorities, putting people over profits. Sandy brought the theoretical conversation about Obama versus Romney into stark reality. The storm, followed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's resounding praise for President Obama's leadership and priorities, most likely helped hurricane-prone Florida fall to the Dems. Americans everywhere -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- impressed by their President's response, knew in their hearts that the man who would shut down FEMA was not the person you would want to lead us through a natural disaster. Gov. Christie, to his credit, recognized this.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg played the part of the competent executive to perfection, a calm and collected presenter talking to the media, only to stumble badly when it came to decide whether or not to postpone the annual New York City Marathon. Saying that the marathon was needed to bring money into the city, he set himself up for defeat. The race was another victim of Sandy's surge, swept away in the tide of public outrage against anyone who would put profits before people.
The Sandy aftermath is expected to play a significant part in city politics for years to come. Our next major exercise in citizenship will be the 2013 mayoral election. With the only clear-cut candidate being Democratic City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (Bloomberg's handpicked successor following a deal presumed to have been made when she did not oppose Bloomberg's third-term machinations). Feeling more vulnerable than ever, New Yorkers will be voting for the candidate who can best protect us from the elements, an issue that Governor Cuomo has already embraced, perhaps looking to the 2016 presidential ticket. Suddenly the door for the mayoral throne is cracked open and we can look in to see who will walk through it.
For a few minutes during Hurricane Sandy, as the waters, less than a block from my apartment, flowed like a river down Avenue C, I flashed on The Day After Tomorrow, the disaster movie that depicts a city wasted by floods. Fortunately, that did not happen in real life. The water stopped rising and people went back to piecing their lives together, rudely awakened to the new reality of extreme weather behavior. Inevitably, a semblance of normalcy returns, our concerns about the weather resolved by trips to the tropics or the ski mountain. Even the New Yorkers whose lives have been more severely uprooted -- those still struggling in the Rockaways, Staten Island or on the New Jersey coastline -- will one day return to the old normal.
The resiliency of New Yorkers was tested again, and it turns out we can take a punch. Even when living our anonymous existences, dependent on powers beyond our control, we can turn to our neighbors, relatives and even strangers to help us through the storm. Let's hold on to that feeling.
Photographed by Dan Monick