Staten Island: Someplace That I Used To Know.

“Oh Sandy the aurora is rising behind us
The pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh love me tonight and I promise I’ll love you forever
Hey Sandy Girl…”
Bruce Springsteen circa 1973

As I sat watching Hurricane Sandy start to pound Staten Island late on Monday night (October 29th), I was thinking about that song. The power had been out for a couple of hours and the titillation of
lighting candles, had long since passed, as mobile phones were turned off to conserve the batteries, because the storm could last all night, and who knew what the morning would bring.

Monday had started with a trip into Manhattan. Driving my sister-in-law and family, who were visiting from London, to their hotel in Times Square. The Governor’s of New York and New Jersey had already declared a ‘State of Emergency’.  The Mayor on NYC had decreed that all bridges and tunnels in and out of NYC would be closed at 2pm.
So off we went, 6 of us on a journey through the wind and rain. The traffic as expected was very light, and after dropping them off and making sure that their room was still available, we headed back to Staten Island, not knowing what lay ahead over the next 24 hours.

Midnight passed.
The wind was bending trees at a 45 degree angle, the fence next door had been ripped off, and the patio furniture was doing a macabre dance back and forth across the yard.
I stepped outside the front door with my torch and saw a black and white beach ball in front of my driveway.
WHOOSH….the windswept the ball away, I tried to follow with the torch, but I lost it and had to take a few more steps into the blackness, before I spotted it again.

For the next few minutes, there took place, in the middle of the most destructive hurricane to hit NYC since forever, a pantomime soccer game. Of course there were no players (that I could see), but I know they were there. And as if Sandy was paying homage to Sam Allardyce, the ball was hoofed up the road. Possession, quickly lost, as the ball was now winding its way back towards me, some neat one-two passing. Yet again, the big tackle robbed the ball and possession, and again the ball moved quickly away from me. I was getting soaked to the skin, the wind was ferocious and everyone else in the house was asleep…the old line of “Mad dogs and Englishmen” popped into my head, but I was hesitant to move.

Finally the decision was taken out of my hands, as the ball was at the end of the road and turned sharp right and was gone from my torchlight!
The game was over. I claimed a 1-0 victory for West Ham and retreated back inside the house.
For the next few hours, I fought back some water that was trickling into the house above the back door, and went off to bed, hoping that my make shift “towel barrier” would do the job.

Tuesday morning. The storm was over. Out back the neighbor’s fence had settled down and the broken furniture had taken up residence in some strange places, so I headed out front. Branches and tree limbs were scattered everywhere, but no downed trees. A couple of blocks away, people were not as lucky. Huge trees downed, streets ripped up and now impassable.
Who knew that we were the “lucky ones”.

No power. No phone service. I had a portable radio and that was the only contact to the outside world. Highlight’s, (actually Lowlights) from the first 30 minutes;
– the tide had crested at about 15 feet, the expectation was 12 feet
– Downtown Manhattan was under water
– Atlantic City and the entire Jersey Shore was devastated
– Brooklyn coastline was hit hard
– Out of control fire had claimed more than 100 houses in Breezy Point

Then the story moved to Staten Island.
Staten Island is the 5th Borough of NYC. It’s 5 miles from Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry.
Most if not ALL Staten Islanders, think that we are the “forgotten” borough.
We have no sky scrapers; no financial district; no meat packing district; no fish market.
Staten Island is not Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens or Da Bronx.
What we do have is a very diverse borough filled with hard working families, who often buck the voting trend of the overwhelming “Democratic” NYC.

Sandy had given us…..
– a tidal wave that had taken 4 houses out to sea, along with a father and his 13 year old daughter
– a mother that had tried to escape the storm, her car was immobilized by a huge wave and when she got out of the SUV with her 2 children aged 2 and 4, the next wave had ripped them away from her forever and ever
– a 28 year old off duty Cop who had got his entire family up to the attic, but then went looking for his dad and stepped into his flooded 1st floor, which had a live wire hidden from his view
– a father and son huddled together in their basement. Later found in a final embrace

Our power came back early morning on Wednesday. Every local TV channel was showing Staten Island. The devastation of the eastern side of the Island was incomprehensible.
Shocking images of neighborhoods that we all knew; that we had friends in; that I had coached and played soccer in.
In total 20 deaths. Each a tragedy. Each one with its own story. As the death toll rose, each death was told, and re-told by the media.

“…And me, I just got tired of hangin’ in them dusty arcades, bangin’ them pleasure machines
Chasin’ the factory girls underneath the boardwalk where they all promise to unsnap their jeans
And you know that tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag
I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
And they kept me spinning, babe, didn’t think I’d ever get off…”

Even though Springsteen wrote Sandy about the Jersey Shore, these words were sadly true about all places along the Eastern seaboard. Boardwalks were now gone and any rides had suddenly been swallowed by the sea.

However, it’s not just the landscape that has been changed forever.
Staten Island was no longer the Forgotten Borough. We were now in the spotlight. The world suddenly discovered that NYC actually did have 5 boroughs.

For me, I preferred it the other way…

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About Neil

Trying To Find The Spark Again To Write! View all posts by Neil

2 responses to “Staten Island: Someplace That I Used To Know.

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