Impromptus

Sandy & the Random
Kindness of New Yorkers

No one should be surprised if, among Hurricane Sandy’s misery and flotsam, altruistic, selfless acts of comradery were also on the rise, as spontaneous in nature and crucial in timing as any organized relief effort. Which never turns out to be enough anyway.
Scraped notes about such anonymous lifesaving events would number in the thousands, we’re sure. Since such story may never be completely told, here are a few examples in lieu of what may have happened, a record of what’s been lost in the darkness of the power outages.
From the simple, but utterly practical, bikers who spend their personal calories to charge their neighbors’ cellphones and computers, to the website listing the names and brief bios of those who perished during the storm, to the efforts by the Occupy Wall Street’s volunteer ‘splinter’ group, Occupy Sandy, to even those who simply post videos about devastated areas of the city on the Web.
More examples abound throughout the region and it’s almost contriving to make too much of what comes naturally to some of our fellow city dwellers. But we need to know that with all the gritty, and the powerbrokers, and the heartbreaking, and the widening income gap, New York still comes through as a community of decent folks, no matter what they say about it, you know where.
Even if the latest, and thankfully unnamed, nort’easter failed to live up to its billing, freezing rain and a potential new round of electricity cuts may rub the wrong way the still raw gashes and open wounds that Sandy’s left in some of the region’s poorest neighborhoods. That may set back the already timid efforts that have been directed towards their recovery.

NO CHARGE? NO PROBLEM, NO CHARGE
It’s almost embarrassing to realize how much of our day can be derailed without a functional cellphone. All of a sudden, you’re back in the 1980s, except that there are few if hardly any public phones still working at all. And shame on us, we almost forgot how to use them.
Don’t you remember the fun times of struggling to come up with change, only to place an ill-timing quarter and simply lose it?
What we once mastered, we’re now as helpless about it as little children. With the special aggravation that little children may be the new masters of iPads and SMS messaging but, alas, like us, are completely at loss when it comes to public pay phones. Did you really have to pay for that, daddy? But fear not, for not all is lost.
Not if, during the Sandy-driven power outage, you’ve came across a stationary bike put together by Lower East Side-based environmental group Times Up. You could’ve charged your cell or laptop for free, thanks to volunteers who pedaled and powered a makeshift charging station. Or in Brooklyn, where BioLite was doing pretty much the same, but using camp stoves instead of bikes, for crying out loud.
For most of last week, downtown Manhattan was a power and mobilephone-free zone, and such reality was not nearly as great as it seemed to look like, before the storm. So you know why some people were totally forgiven for, in the spare of the moment, offering heartfelts hugs to these guys. It certainly beat walking 27 blocks uptown to try your luck in one of the midtown’s overcrowded hotels.
THOSE WHO LEFT WITH SANDY
Even now, almost a week after the hurricane has touched us with its Diluvian paws, one would be hard pressed to number and, specially, name those who perished during its reign of primal chaos. Unless, of course, you knew personally some among them, in which case, numbering or even naming them to strangers would never make any sense.
But Pleasure & Pain’s Whitney Hess took upon herself to find out as much as possible who were them and how did they go, and to give them a place where others could learn something about their lives. Even without being personally touched by any particularly obituary she listed all those she found about on her blog.
In its deceiving simplicity, the site is a haunting but necessary walk through some of those lives that were, even though its whole point is not to turn into a mere piece of statistics the estimated almost 100 or so who died in the U.S. so far in consequence of the storm. In the end, it matters less how they went than what stories they’ve left behind. It had to be done and we’re glad Hess did it.

THE SOLIDARITY CHAPTER OF OWS
Perhaps one of the most rewarding turnarounds we’ve witnessed in these particular few days was the retooling of the Occupy Wall Street movement during the hurricane. For a brief but crucially needed moment, it became an aggregate of volunteers for rescue and support of those who were bound to be at the end of the line of rescue efforts by powers that be.
While no one dispute that the city and state rescue agencies and organizations act as swiftly as they could, to access and provide guidance to those living in downtown Manhattan and areas of New Jersey, by midweek, help was definitely not on the way for the poorest neighborhoods and housing projects literally drowning in the outskirts of New York.
Spring sprightly into action what we’d call a OWS’s ‘splinter’ group, the Occupy Sandy, and voilá, people in Red Hook, the Queens Rockaways, and other areas hit hard by flooding, power shortages, lack of public transportation, communication, food and clean water got some of what they needed. Obviously, we’re adding some color to what was a hard-fought, gruesome, and not always smooth effort.
Then again, this and other volunteer community groups were not about to let their lack of training, funding, and even basic resources stop them from helping people who were in fact in mortal danger, facing surging waters and isolation. With the extra credit that their sacrifice, albeit not to be forgotten by those who benefit from it, is bound to remain off the books.
As for Occupy Sandy, it currently serves as a clearinghouse for independent relief efforts at their improvised headquarters in Brooklyn. Whether their role should be, etc, etc, and the relevance of what they’re doing may be, etc, etc, is utterly beside the point at this time. The truth is they haven’t ceased to earn our utmost respect since they experienced their own surge, a year ago.

BETWEEN NOW & THE SHEETS
What Hurricane Sandy represented as a reminder of the global threat of climate change, this completely unnecessary nort’easter is a mere irritant, that nevertheless will only aggravate the situation of the newest contingent of people who lost their homes in the city this year. Would it kill this weather to have given them just a little break, so they could at least settle before being hit again?
Never mind. The point is, for those 80 or so families of Belle Harbor, Queens, for instance, one more or one less storm now makes little difference. After gone through the most devastating and spectacular event brought about by Sandy, they must wonder what’s there to pick them up. We hope this post serve as a little reminder of the bottomless amount of kindness they can count on from fellow New Yorkers.
As for the question of the ages, whether this storm will represent a spike in births and marriages, or negative fertility rates and divorces, nine months from now, the jury seems to still be out. One study after another seems to contradict the previous one, and experts are in the dark, so to speak, as to whether blackouts and natural disasters should even be considered a factor.
Time will tell, of course. While tragedy is an aphrodisiac to some twisted hearts, it’s definitely a libido-killer to many. Not to stick to deep a finger into it, we value restrain over opinion as far as what makes your rock boat is concerned. There’s love and everything, and there’s the no small matter of how much. But despite of it all, where would we all be if it were not for life’s little impromptus?

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