Charles Petzold

My (Ongoing) Week with Sandy

October 31, 2012
New York City

I was all set to fly out of JFK Monday morning to attend the Microsoft Build conference, excited to be spending four days immersed in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, but Hurricane Sandy had other plans. On Sunday my flight was cancelled, airports were being shut down, and I wasn't going anywhere.

I live in lower Manhattan, several blocks south of 14th Street, a bit east of 5th Avenue. Power in my neighborhood went out about 8:30 PM on Monday. Some 40-odd hours later, it hasn't been restored.

For short buildings of 5 or 6 stories, water gets to apartments by sheer pressure through the mains. For taller buildings — I live on the 10th floor of mine — water is pumped up to the top, then gets delivered to the apartments via gravity. That system can survive a short blackout but not a long one. Water stopped flowing yesterday morning, so we've been without running water for about 30 hours now. Of course, the elevators don't work. Only one of my two cell phone carriers works in my apartment, and the data connection is extremely spotty.

Yesterday (Tuesday) Deirdre and I spent a good time outdoors. The damage in the neighborhood was mostly restricted to branches down, garbage receptacles overturned, disarray at construction sites, and (further east) a few cars that seemed have floated away from they had been parked.

We walked uptown past 25th Street and found ourselves back in the land of functional electricity. Although many retail stores and restaurants were closed, a few were opened and business was booming.

We all have many more mobile computers and devices since the last major NYC blackout, but we've also become more tethered than ever to the grid. We met up with a friend in a restaurant and bar on 8th Avenue and 30th Street that had probably never been so packed on a Tuesday afternoon. While many patrons were doing burgers and beer, many others were in there just to recharge their devices and plug in their laptops. We saw a simiilar spectacle of myriad young people plugged into electrical outlets in the basement of a Duane Reade drugstore.

Most of the Starbucks in the city were closed, but Deirdre noticed that in front of each Starbucks, people with their laptops had gathered outside on the sidewalk. A strange homing instinct? No: Although Starbucks wasn't dispensing coffee, it continued to dispense WiFi.

Today we walked 60 blocks north to a friend's apartment (thanks Terry!) for showers, recharging outlets, getting some work done, and, of course, blogging. Soon we walk back home, this time crossing 25th Street into a land of darkened buildings and iffy intersections.