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Walkabout: Manhattan After Sandy

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Posted on Nov 3, 2012
Jessica Lehrman/Photo Thug Life

By Alexander Reed Kelly

(Page 2)

At an upscale condo down the street, a crew of lobby guards explained how the floodwaters had come in.

“It was all the way up to here,” said a man who stood about 6-feet-5, holding his hand at waist-level. “You can see there wasn’t much damage on this floor. It came into the building and went down into the elevator.”

The water had poured into the complex’s basement parking and storage facilities, completely filling the 15-foot-tall space where residents’ artworks, family photo albums, books and other precious belongings were kept. The guards said everything they had recovered in two days’ worth of pumping was destroyed.

“We’re not done yet,” one said. “We think there still might be some cars down there.”

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Walking through SoHo, I came upon a small crowd at a street corner. As I passed, a man caught my attention and offered me some of the fruit, vegetables and hard-boiled eggs that were sitting out. Thinking he was trying to sell the stuff, I declined and kept walking. But then I realized he wasn’t selling the food; these were people who worked at a restaurant on the corner and they were giving away all of the food that hadn’t gone bad. The spread wasn’t limited to a few oranges and some kale. They were giving away gold-dusted peanut butter truffles, once-molten chocolate cake, tarts and cookies and small bouquets of flowers.

I moved in for a truffle, a rare treat for an independent journalist. Josh Capon, executive chef of the Lure Fish Bar and the man who had offered me food, shoved a white paper bag into my hand. I couldn’t accept any more, I explained, as I was already violating my food allergies. Others who had stopped by were poring over the food in a state of mild astonishment.

I asked Capon if the cops had given him any trouble. Other restaurant and grocery store workers I had spoken to had told me health codes forbade them from giving away most of their food. A few police cars rolled by, he said, but no one had interceded.

“People are just so grateful for whatever we can give them,” he said in a hearty, gravelly voice. “They come and ask for water to flush their toilets upstairs. And these are people who live in the neighborhood.” He seemed to be fighting back happy tears.

A few steps away, a large contingent of the restaurant’s exclusively Hispanic kitchen staff was standing in the street. Capon walked over to them and explained that he didn’t know when their paychecks would arrive.

“Monday,” he ventured. “But I need you guys to be ready as soon as the power comes back on. I’m gonna get shipments in first thing and we’re gonna need to jump on it.”

Lining the edge of the sidewalk next to them was a row of garbage bags piled waist high, food that had gone bad and had to be thrown out in the wake of the storm.

“These guys work so hard,” Capon said, shaking his head. “Times like this, we all gotta help each other out.”

Up at a residence building for faculty members of New York University, a guard explained that he and the building’s maintenance workers were forced to leave their homes in the outer boroughs extra early to make it to work on time. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had banned vehicles carrying fewer than three people from entering the city before 6 a.m. These men had to make it into Manhattan in the predawn darkness to beat the ban.

“Some of these guys are nearing retirement age, 60 to 65,” the guard said. “One is even 70 years old. And they’ve gotta show up to work in the neighborhood here where the street lamps are out, before the sun rises. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but this place is dangerous with the lights on. We all want to keep our jobs, so for most of us, that’s a risk we are willing to take.”

He said he didn’t personally know of anyone being robbed or attacked, but that he had heard stories of assaults taking place in the nights after the storm within a few blocks of his building. He seemed happy that someone was there asking about his experience.

I was looking forward to what I would find up ahead at Union Square. Its location, midway between the southern tip of Manhattan and 34th Street, makes it a popular gathering place for people eager to talk anytime something big has happened in the city. Getting there took me through Washington Square Park. A few students and couples sat around the fountain and at the tables meant for chess games, but the center of the park and pathways were populated mostly by homeless people. They sat on benches in soiled, raggedy clothes, most of them just staring blankly around. Some were curled up on the ground with their eyes closed. The two that I approached were not interested in talking, so I continued toward Union Square.


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