Let me start by saying that none of us took the hurricane seriously. Not at first. Irene was supposed to be ridiculous and unless you lived in a bad flood zone, it wasn’t a big deal. Sure, some of us lost power then, but a lot of us didn’t. It was easy enough to cobble together friends who had power to charge phones, it wasn’t cold and most businesses were in business. You just went out to dinner a lot during Irene. Sure, we all half assedly prepared for Sandy. If you live in Jersey, you’ve been stuck at home with a bad snow storm with nothing awesome at all to eat and no delivery services before at least once in your life due to laziness. No one wants to repeat that. We got extra batteries, water, food that could be made on the stove top, “french toast” shopping (milk, eggs, bread). As the hype picked up, it became impossible to get water, french toast goods, and D sized batteries. Whatever, we thought. We probably won’t need it.
We all got that excited snow day feeling before Sandy dropped in Jersey, maybe we’d get a day off. What would happen? Parties were still happening the night before, though Jow and I were too scaredey-cat to go. Saturday afternoon my mom, my not-quite-two year old nephew and I had a perfectly lovely afternoon getting cider donuts, going on a hayride and petting tiny Pygmy goats. Sunday, Jow went to work, though he left early. Mom and I went to a small family party in the afternoon and then she went with me to a farmer’s market and the liquor store.
Mom: So you need wine for a hurricane?
Me: I don’t *need* wine but I would *like* wine.
Mom (watching people go in and out of the liquor store): I didn’t realize there were so many alcoholics living in New Jersey.
Me: Learn something new every day. I look like a teetotaler with one large bottle of wine and a bottle of port compared to these pros.
Me (after the farmer’s market): They charged me $3.09 for a half gallon of milk!
Mom: Those little buggers.
Me: I think this is gravy? I’m not sure. It’s in Polish. Whatever. We’ll find out.
Jow came home and we waited.
The worst of it came Monday, though it was hard to tell from our window. We never lost power due to our location, though we are still losing cable and internet periodically. A state of emergency was declared and Jow and I had to call out of work as most roads were closed. It was too soon for us to tell how bad it was, really. The winds got very high and it was a bit scary but it didn’t look like too much from our window. We weren’t sure if we could go into work on Tuesday, but a no-travel state of emergency was called. A lot of people lost power.
Tuesday was when shit started to get very real. My sister and her husband live on the beach about a half hour away from us. They went down to their place to check on the damage. They were stopped as they got closer several times to prove their identities and that they lived there. They lost their front door, the garage door and their first floor was covered with silt and neighbors’ possessions. Most of their possessions are on the upper floors but my sister lost her car and some electronics. They came over to our house, punchdrunk and in disbelief, showing us videos of the house across the street whose house was swept out to sea. How the little bar/restaurant across the street that we would go to was in ruins. Stories about neighbors who let insurance for cars and floods lapse. They gave us most of their freezer and we drank two bottles of champagne. Because . . .what else could you do? Later that night, Mr. M came over to stay because his whole county didn’t have power and he has sleep apnea which requires machines which require electricity for him to not stop breathing.
Wednesday, Jow made it into work and managed to get gas after waiting two hours for it. It would be the only day he would get to go to work this week because his other clinic doesn’t have power. I managed to go to work one day as well on Thursday, but one of my families still doesn’t have power and their workplaces don’t have power and it’s unknown as to when it will come back. Neither of us get paid for this time off.
Ms. K came over on Wednesday after I watched my nephew for a few hours. She wanted cigarettes and we tried the usual places that would be open (a local drug store, a convenience store) and none were open. It was the first time I’ve seen these places closed. Trees were down, power lines were down, everything was a mess. We found the Shoprite near my house open, though I didn’t think it was. It turns out it was open, but running on generators. Everything was dark with only a few lights. We went to the cigarette counter and Ms. K got her cigarettes and I asked, “Do you have milk today?” The girl at the counter nodded. “But just milk and eggs. None of the frozen goods are available or the meat.” Ms. K and I wandered the store in a daze. It was dark, there weren’t many people there working or shopping. It was quiet and felt quietly menacing, like anything could happen there and none of it good. We left quickly after buying milk, both of us staying close together.
Phone calls take a long time to get through right now and a lot of people are still without power and it’s getting colder. There’s not much infrastructure around here. Yesterday, my bff A. and got out at the same time and decided to go looking for gas. There was a gas station that had gas before I went to work with a line several miles long, but they ran out before I got out of work at 2p. A. got out around the same time and she had been looking for gas for several days and was running out of gas which she needed to wait on line to get gas for her car, get to work and to visit her ill grandfather. She had waited on a few lines but they ran out of gas before she could get it. Since her car was on fumes, we decided to collaborate. She got into my car and we drove together, looking for gas. We found a station that had just reopened and we were lucky enough to get on line fast enough that it only took about an hour to get gas for my car. There were police officers everywhere, to direct traffic, to prevent a riot when the station ran out of gas and to keep the station from charging $10/a gallon which a few stations were doing illegally. People roamed alongside the car, trying to sell us gas they had gotten previously, sandwiches, anything they had.
We grabbed some gas cans from A.’s mom to get gas for her and parked in the high school parking lot. We had to walk about a quarter of a mile, dodging downed power lines, downed power poles, carefully avoiding stepping on any of it. We got on a line outside with our cans, we were the only women waiting outside to fill our gas cans. I didn’t have a coat because the weird thing about this kind of environment is that it’s so new and strange, you forget to prepare for it. Things are normal inside our house, I kept forgetting that it wouldn’t be normal as soon as I stepped out of my door. It was cold, it took us almost another hour to get it. A newspaper photographer took our picture as we waited. We managed to fill her gas cans and then we plotted our course back to the car, driving home with the cans balanced carefully on A.’s lap with our windows open so none would spill.
A. and Ms. K still don’t have power, though Mr. M. does. Ms. K may not have a job to go back to. My sister and her husband are still cleaning out their house and have a national guard curfew as to when they have to leave town every night to go back to my mother’s.
Jow and I have been lucky in many ways. Our condo is fully intact. We have power. But we’ve lost almost a whole week of work that we will not be paid for. We may lose more work.
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