Green-wood Cemetery, Pumelled By Sandy

Ever since Superstorm Sandy hit NYC October 29th, I’ve wondered how Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn–with its 470 acres and 1000s of trees–had fared. Earlier in October, I had written about my first visit there, when a new statue at the graveside of New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk was unveiled. At the time, I wrote this about the cemetery:

The complex, 478 acres of rolling hills (making it more than half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park), big hardwood trees, and sparkling views of Manhattan and NY Harbor, was founded in 1838 as a non-denominational burial ground that also offered what was described then as a “rural” location. To the urbanites who conceived Green-wood, it was important to create a pastoral, soothing place for mourners to say goodbye to their loved ones. . . . It is still pastoral and still a balm to the daily cares of city-dwellers.

Sunday’s NY Times had the regrettable answer about the effects of Sandy on Green-wood. According to the story by David Dunlap, and the accompanying photo slideshow, 100s of trees were toppled in the storm and many headstones and gravesites were broken and wrecked, as can be seen here in one of Dunlap’s photos. The harm done at Green-wood is is just one more of the many injuries suffered by New York City in the past month.

Riverside Park, post-Sandy

In Friday’s New York Times, I’d seen an article with updates on the condition of the city’s parks, post-Hurricane Sandy. My own nearby park was listed like this:

RIVERSIDE PARK Large areas of the park, which stretches along the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were under four feet of water after the hurricane, according to the Riverside Park Fund. Dozens of trees were destroyed, and hundreds of others damaged. Some paved walkways were washed away, and falling branches damaged park lights, playground equipment and benches.

The article went on to say that many of the city’s parks would officially be reopening Saturday, though I was not sure they’d be able to open Riverside. Checking the NYC Parks Dept. website Sunday I see that Central Park has re-opened, but the part of Riverside Park nearest my Upper West Side apartment is still closed, especially the stretch between 116th and 125th Street. Sunday and Monday I took my first bike rides since the hurricane, and found evidence of the storm’s prolific destruction. These photos show a tree care crew cleaning up from a really big oak, originally standing in the grove to the right, that fell across the paved path in the center. The butt of the fallen tree is impaled on the black iron fence bordering the path. It’s going to be a long while until our parks are back to anything like they were before the storm.

Volunteering to Help Fellow New Yorkers

Since Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last Monday night, I had not ranged outside the Upper West Side of Manhattan, within 10-20 blocks of my home. My wife and son and I never lost power and aside from a tree that fell across our street, our neighborhood fortunately suffered little consequential damage. We’ve been able to buy fresh groceries and get cash from local ATMs. All week, I’d been very conscious that hundreds of thousands of fellow NYers had been plunged in to an unpleasant, partly pre-industrial existence, but with the subways out of commission and surface traffic horrible just on my own nearby streets, I was loathe to add to the difficulties and confusion below 34th Street, where power was out and so many parts of the city had been severely flooded.  We made some donations–check out www., an outfit doing great work, and one which we’ll donate to again in the run-up to the holidays–and avidly followed all the news (thank you Brian Lehrer and John Hockenberry and all the correspondents on WNYC radio and NY1 TV). Finally, Thursday night I saw on Twitter that some Upper West Siders were organizing a trip downtown with supplies for an organization called Good Old Lower East Side, or GOLES. Once downtown, there would also be a chance for volunteers to connect with GOLES’s efforts, bringing provisions to seniors and others without power and elevators in their apartment buildings. I emailed Monica O’Malley and promised to meet her and her friends at noon on Friday.

When I got to the building on a west side block between Amsterdam and Columbus I found a group of young women already carrying flats of bottled water and bags of food from the lobby to a waiting cab. We met and quickly introduced ourselves and continued loading the cab, soon packing off several of us in what remained of the space in the taxi. With one of my co-volunteers, Melinda, we marched off together carrying bags of goods, planning to find a cab of our own, but first stopping off to buy many boxes of granola bars, portable, lightweight food that we knew would last a while. And with that, we hailed a livery cab and began our journey into the no-power zone. After crossing below 34th Street, I noticed the lack of operating traffic lights. Our driver stopped at every corner before proceeding through each intersection. Soon, we reached 169 Avenue B, between 10th and 11th Streets, brought our goods into the GOLES storefront, and found our friends from uptown.  GOLES organizer Demaris was using a bullhorn to tell the eager volunteers, a mass of about 100 people at this point, what we could do to help. She was especially looking for any Spanish and Chinese speakers to ask residents of buildings what kind of help they might need, and if they had any urgent medical problems. While I couldn’t help with those languages, we did gather up provisions and were asked to bring them to needy residents of LaGuardia Houses, a public housing complex at the corner of Madison Street and Clinton Street, north of the Manhattan Bridge, close to the East River.

I sparked at the mention of the LaGuardia Houses, the site of a distressing report by WNYC correspondent Marianne McCune this week that chronicled the fortunes of a LaGuardia resident, 87-year old Margaret Maynard, who hadn’t been able to leave her apartment since before Sandy. She’d been subsisting on crackers and orange juice. McCune, whom I admire in her riveting audio report for the willingness she shows to get involved with and help out a person she’s covering, uses the waning battery in her cell phone to call a friend of Maynard’s, Doris George, who had been the maid-of-honor at Maynard’s wedding 60 years earlier. Though Maynard was reluctant to be the beneficiary of any special intervention, insisting that some folks were worse off than her, with the return of electricity to her building at that point still unknown, we learn that Maynard has since been evacuated to a nephew in the Bronx.

Walking south and east, I saw an astonishing amount of damage in parks and all over the neighborhood. I tried to capture it n my pictures, but am sure I haven’t. Everything’s been pushed down, especially the plants. At LaGuardia, we used flashlights we’d been given at GOLES to navigate hallways with floors wet from condensation due to the flooding to reach pitch-dark stairways and then up to floors in the building, where we began knocking on the doors of residents. The buildings were up to 18 stories. I walked up five floors at the most, for my knees. We were instructed to not be too aggressive in our knocking, lest we alarm residents. We found some who were doing okay, not in need of assistance; we asked them if they knew of any neighbors in distress. Even the people who didn’t need food and water were very glad to have been remembered and held in the thoughts of other New Yorkers. At one apartment, I found a three-generation Chinese household. The older ladies who answered the door were instantly grateful for the bottles of water, the boxes of raisins they said the children would love, a can of pineapple chunks, and several self-heating meals. At none of the apartments I visited did I find anyone in distress, like Ms. Maynard had been, but I did see some people who weren’t doing well at all.

I also saw instances of spontaneous resilience, like a pop-up coffee & oatmeal stand in front of a low iron gate near 82 Rutgers Slip, the next address I went with a big bag of foodstuff. Two gay friends, two guys, were running it, and had no dish put out for people to put money in. It was conspicuously free, not even asking for change. At that point on my own for a few minutes, I encountered a community meeting on the 2nd floor where a discussion was underway in English and Chinese translation on how to deal with difficulties caused by the storm. There I met Victor Papa, a veteran of this community’s many organizations and a board member the Two Villages Neighborhood Council. It was heartening to find this level of community organizing going on so quickly, even amid all the new problems that are less than a week old. He was also grateful for the provisions I brought.

After this interlude, I met up again with two of the women from my original group, Melinda and Kim. We walked to 46 Hester Street, where CAAAV is located. This is a community group whose mission is to develop “power across diverse poor and working class Asian immigrant and refugee communities in New York City. Through an organizing model constituted by five core elements–basebuilding, leadership development, campaigns, alliances, and organizational development–CAAAV organizes communities to fight for institutional change and participates in a broader movement towards racial, gender, and economic justice.” In front of CAAAV’s storefront, dozens of notices had been posted. From across the street, these signs immediately reminded me of the weeks after 9/11, when people were putting up signs in search of missing loved ones. On closer inspection I found that these were notices of buildings and particular apartments where help was needed. CAAAV staff in orange vets were deploying teams to addresses where they knew help was needed.

Unfortunately, the notices posted on walls weren’t the only thing that reminded me of post-9/11 New York. There’s a fragility to the city right now that’s so reminiscent of then–a deep sadness at the realization that so many things have been lost, never to be regained. I met and spoke with one woman, Ellen, from Brooklyn, who had just come over the bridge to see what she could do to help. We were both taking pictures of the posted notices. She looked to be near tears much of our ten-minute conversation. We talked about 9/11 and I told her about my own experiences that day and afterward. Despite the lingering sadness, it was still extremely impressive to find such effective grassroots organizing. One thing I detected all afternoon was intensive and agile organizing like Occupy Wall Street. I know many of these organizations have been around for even longer than OWS, so it might be better to say that the LES and Chinatown have some very effective community organizations; maybe it’s OWS that’s borrowed and learned from them. The grassroots stake in the fortunes of the community was palpable.

It was now getting on past 3:00 and since I didn’t know how long it would take me to get back up to the Upper West Side, I said goodbye to Melinda and Kim and began heading uptown on foot. Kim said she was going to be cooking at home today, with the food to be donated to an organization she knew about. At the corner of Ludlow and Stanton, I saw a table set up on the sidewalk where coffee and food were being offered gratis to passersby. Spontaneous acts of generosity were sprouting all over town. Staffing the table were Ian and Savannah. She works at the shop on that corner, a hairstyling salon called Pimps and Pinups. With the shop closed, the two of them had set up their own food station on the sidewalk. I had a nice time sipping coffee and chatting with them and their patrons and taking a few pictures. Their corner was just down from the street from music clubs I often frequent–Arlene’s Grocery, Pianos, and the Living Room, which were all shut. So lively much of the time, this part of the Lower East Side had a ghost-town feel on a late Friday afternoon.

As I expected, public transportation was a major challenge, but using the M15 bus up First Avenue to 42nd Street, the M42 to Grand Central, the subway shuttle to Times Square (where I declined to try and get on the #1 train, since a ridiculous horde of passengers were already waiting for it), the M20 bus up Eighth Avenue to Lincoln Center and the M5 bus along Riverside Drive I got home just as darkness was falling. Riding the M5, I was enormously relieved to hear WNYC broadcast on my radio headset that Mayor Bloomberg had at last agreed to cancel the NYC Marathon and that power was just then returning to parts of lower Manhattan. It had been quite an afternoon, filled with generosity, moments of buoyant hope, and desperation.
Click here to see all photos. 

President Obama, Comforting Americans

Reuters photographer Larry Downing shot this remarkable image today. In Reuters’ release of the picture, it’s running with this caption:

“U.S. President Barack Obama hugs North Point Marina owner Donna Vanzant as he tours damage done by Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, New Jersey, October 31, 2012. Putting aside partisan differences, Obama and Republican Governor Chris Christie toured storm-stricken parts of New Jersey together on Wednesday, taking in scenes of flooded roads and burning homes in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.”

What My Manhattan Street Looked Like This Morning

Wednesday Update: City crews came this morning and cleared away and chopped up the downed tree from our street. Thank you! I wish the rest of the city could have as easy and quick solution as we had today.

Storm damage outside my apartment building has those of my neighbors with cars unable to move them. These are pictures taken at around noon today. Twelve hours later, the fallen tree still bisects my Upper West Side block, and we still have no traffic on our side street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue. Note how fortuitously these limbs crashed toward the pavement–none of the cars has so much as a scratch or a cracked windshield. Strangely delicate destruction.

Hurricane Sandy’s Near-Wipeout of NY Publishers

Earlier today Publishers Weekly asked 10 publishing and bookselling companies if their offices were open–it was a total wipeout, not one managed to open this day after the big storm. While none of these establishments opened, I want to add for the record, that Philip Turner Book Productions LLC is answering its phone and has someone available for editorial and bookselling consultation. That would be me.

“Not surprisingly, Hurricane Sandy left most people in the New York City publishing world at home on Tuesday. Here is a list of different houses’ status. We will try to update this throughout the day, as more information surfaces. Please contact us with updates on Twitter @PublishersWkly. (Publishers Weekly’s email is currently down, and our Manhattan office is closed, but staffers with power will be monitoring Twitter and other social media.)

Macmillan is without power and email is down, due to outages in the Flatiron Building, where it is housed. (The publisher’s warehouse, however, remains open and operational.)

Random House email is working, but access to the office is limited due to the collapsed crane in midtown.

Penguin is currently closed and a decision has not yet been made about whether the office will open on Wednesday.

Hachette’s office is closed, but company email is working.

Bloomsbury’s office is closed, but company email is working.

Abrams is currently closed and company email is down.

Kensington’s office is closed, but an employee reports that the building has power. A decision has not yet been made about whether the office will be open on Wednesday.

Barnes & Noble’s New York City office is closed, and a decision has not yet been made on whether the office will be open on Wednesday.

McGraw-Hill closed its office in New York City, as well as in other cities, including Washington, DC.

Scholastic’s SoHo New York office was without power through Tuesday and the company is not sure when its headquarters will reopen.

Norton’s New York City office is closed, but the company’s warehouse in Scranton remains open.”

Coming Back from Hurricane Sandy in NYC

In response to friends and readers who’ve begun asking about the welfare of me and my family, thank you for your concern. I’m posting with the good news that my wife and son and I are all well this Tuesday morning, after the hurricane blew through the tri-state area. Despite the widespread loss of electricity throughout New York City, reportedly affecting more than 750,000 fellow NYers, we did not lose power, nor suffer any issues with our apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. While our hearts bleed with the news that there’ve been at least 10 fatalities in the city, and an incalculable loss of property and key city infrastructure, we are okay.

I should add that this day, October 30, is the one-year anniversary of the first blog item I posted on this site, Seasonal Thoughts. Interestingly it was about another weather event, a big snowstorm that occurred last year on this day. So, it’s a kind of birthday for The Great Gray Bridge.  Thank you for being one of my readers, and for your concern about our well-being.

Thoughts on the Storm, the Election & Why FEMA Runs Best Under DEMs

As I sit here in my Manhattan stronghold, with batteries, candles, water, food, and supplies socked in, I’m thinking about the effect this storm may have on the presidential campaign. Like when the Olympics were held last summer, and the competition had the collateral effect of diverting the attention of the media and millions away from the campaign, I’m thinking there will be a smilar effect this week, with the likely effect of freezing the campaign in place.

Though surrogates will probably continue to be heard in the media, their efforts will be dampened, while campaigning by the two candidates and their running mates is coming to a near-standstill for at least 2-3 days. In the meantime, President Obama visited FEMA HQs for a briefing this afternoon. CNN reported on his FEMA visit:

“You need to take this seriously and take guidance from state and local officials,” Obama said at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington. “This hasn’t hit landfall yet,” he said. “So we don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts and that’s exactly why it’s so important for us to respond big and respond fast as local information starts coming in.” Before speaking to reporters, Obama said he met with officials from FEMA and other agencies, as well as spoke by phone with governors and mayors whose states and cities may be impacted by the storm. Obama said he is “confident that the resources are in place.”

Barack can do presidential things like that, but since Mitt has no job, apart from running for office, he can’t do anything constructive. He may be tempted to to do something photo-op-ish like visit a shelter or an evacuation center, but it would look excessively opportunistic, especially after Paul Ryan was recently caught trying to wash a food pantry’s pots and pans when they weren’t even dirty.

Do you remember how well FEMA operated during the Clinton administration, with James Lee Witt at the helm of the agency? Then, under Geore W. Bush, with hacks Joe Allbaugh and Mike Brown in charge, FEMA was a basket case. Katrina happened after the Bushies had let the agency go to pot. It’s so clear that government agencies like  FEMA run better under DEMs, than under Repubs. Maybe this storm will have the effect of reminding the country of that, and which party they want in charge of the White House, under circumstances like these.

Since I believe that the president is ahead in Ohio and key swing states, I’m okay with an event like this that freezes the campaign in place, though I’m disappointed with the disruption of early voting and the possible muting of the president’s case for re-election. There is no precedent for a storm like this, landing just a few days before a presidential election. It’s terra incognita in historical terms, so we really don’t know what effect this may have. Still, I’m hoping the millions of people in the storm’s path will be safe, and the country will be reminded of why we need to have an adequately funded government, with agile and responsive agencies like FEMA.