Yesterday, I traveled back to New York from San Francisco, where I’d been for nearly a week. After closely following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy — the tragic deaths, lack of power, flooding, shutdown of the MTA, among others — I wasn’t sure what to expect upon my return.
My flight with Delta was on time. JFK appeared relatively unscathed once we landed. Though the cab line was long, and people were looking to pair up with others headed into Manhattan, the road traffic wasn’t serious and within an hour I was back in my Carroll Gardens neighborhood. I was eager to look around so my husband and I decided to go for a run. Our first stop was Carroll Park in the heart of our neighborhood, a place where children congregate at all hours of the day. The damage was remarkable; two massive trees had fallen down and still remained on the ground. People were taking photos. We did, too.
One of the trees had barely missed a car that was still parked underneath it. From there, we headed down Henry Street, where Halloween revelers were dressed in inventive homemade costumes (plenty of robots, zombies and devils) and the mood was unmistakably cheery. Parents marched down the streets, children gathered candy. The streets were covered in leaves, equally a result of it being a crisp Fall evening and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We ran through Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and into Brooklyn Heights. Once we arrived at the Brooklyn Promenade, the view into lower Manhattan was remarkable. The eastern edge of lower Manhattan was completely dark. It looked like a ghost town; stark, serious, empty.
I’d just finished reading Shani Boianjiu’s remarkable debut novel, The People of Forever are Not Afraid, about a group of three girlfriends who become soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. Towards the end of the novel, Boianjiu imagines a bleak future, set amongst an Israeli invasion of Syria, and the aftermath. The characters are haunted by their past, and by what they see as an inevitable future. This idea resonated with me while looking out into an unusually dark Manhattan. It was impossible not to worry about the future and climate change.
Afterwards, we continued on to Brooklyn Bridge Park, which was closed to pedestrian traffic. I was curious about the damage in DUMBO, so we managed to walk around on Main Street. Several businesses were closed; the French bakery Almondine, chocolatier Jacques Torres, One Girl Cookies, Bubby’s. I noticed the lights on in powerHouse Books, the book publisher and seller. Workers there were clearing the space out of books, all of which were piled on the floor in soggy, misshapen heaps. The storm surge hit the store, located on Main Street, hard on October 29, causing severe water damage. Cleanup began October 30, and continued yesterday. Daniel Power, the owner of powerHouse, estimates that his bookstore sustained “around $100,000 in damages to its book stock alone, not including the building and equipment, like the store’s computer system.” DUMBO remains flooded.
Other Brooklyn bookstores like Word, BookCourt, Greenlight, and Community Bookstore were able to weather the storm and are open for business. But powerHouse, with its location near the river, was not so lucky. The damage to its inventory was remarkable. A distinction between digital and physical was tangible while observing workers remove the debris. Through Hurricane Sandy, digital media has been a reliable, powerful force of information. The ease with which I was able to follow the storm from California was remarkable, through live blogging, citizen journalism, webcams, maps and videos. I tracked Twitter feeds on my iPhone, read blogs on my laptop, looked at maps on a iPad, text messaged articles and photos with my husband. Turning to digital devices to share news and information was an instantly effective way to communicate. The physical destruction of objects, like books, speaks to the importance of other forms of information storage.