May 26, 2013
Walkabout: Manhattan After Sandy
Posted on Nov 3, 2012
Police had placed barrier tape around Union Square Park, presumably to make their jobs easier. I walked up to a subway entrance where a number of people were peering in.
“The rats,” a woman next to me said. “You know things are bad when the rats are coming out of the subway.”
The entrance to the platforms at the base of the stairs was dark. A white-shirted officer carrying a flashlight charged into the darkness in pursuit of something mentioned on his radio. Covering the marches and protests of Occupy Wall Street months earlier, I had learned that NYPD officers on duty were under orders not to speak to the press. And while one officer on this day confirmed that the prohibition still applied, he was more than happy to smile widely and joke with me and others nearby about the boredom of standing guard in a stiff uniform that left him longing for a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans and the company of his family back home.
Not far away, a large Guardian Data Services truck was parked, with a huge generator humming from inside its cargo bay. GDS specializes in converting large amounts of data from old formats, like reel-to-reel and floppy disk, to modern technologies. A crowd of people had gathered to charge their laptops and cellphones. I asked a man in a GDS cap why he and his co-workers weren’t busy backing up servers at the Stock Exchange. He grinned and explained that they had nothing else to do.
This was their second day in the park, and he told me they planned to return the next day if they were still needed. I saw other businesses sponsoring similar services, including handing out food and water, throughout my walk.
My last stop was Pete’s Tavern, a block from Union Square on Irving Street. The bar opened in 1851, predating the Civil War and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, as a banner above the entrance proclaims. It survived as a speakeasy during Prohibition, disguising its storefront as a flower shop. Some of the great capitalists, media men and politicians of the day could be found imbibing inside late into the night.
The place’s Irish-American managers take great pride in operating what they claim is the oldest continuously run bar in New York City. A plaque that hangs inside boasts that the place has never been closed a day since it opened. They stayed in business through previous power outages, cooling things in the bar with ice and preparing food on portable stoves. They kept the doors open during Hurricane Irene last fall.
But that string is now broken. Pete’s had closed at the end of the dinner shift the night that Sandy hit and had not yet reopened.
I found an open side door to one of the tavern’s three dining rooms and in the darkness introduced myself to man I recognized but didn’t know by name. I explained that I had worked there as a waiter earlier this year, and that I was stopping by to see how they were getting on. He jerked a thumb toward the front room, where Gary, my former boss, who began working there as a busboy in his teens shortly after arriving in America, was talking with a member of the kitchen staff. He knew what I was after as soon as he spotted me.
“Yeah, I know,” he said with a grin and an Irish brogue. “It hurts. But we’re gonna keep the sign up.”
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