Clearly Irene does not watch her own press. If she did, she would have known that passing through Manhattan without so much as downing a few trees in Central Park wasn’t what the media had in mind when they labeled her a “monster hurricane” equivalent in size and destructive power to Katrina. A foot of water on the streets at South Street Seaport? And in Battery Park City? Please. That’s standard Nor’easter fare.
Of course we are happy that there was no widespread destruction or lives lost. And I know that Mayor Bloomberg was determined not to have a repeat of last winter, when his Administration was caught off guard by a blizzard that managed to cripple the city for a few days. Lack of organization left many streets unplowed for the better part of a week. Irene was his redemption in a way, but we were so overly prepared that it seems a bit ridiculous in retrospect. Shutting down the subways and buses meant that most businesses closed for the weekend, since their employees would have no way to get to work. Which left us sitting around staring out the windows waiting for the storm that would justify such extreme measures.
And that storm never materialized.
Irene, as we knew her, was a heavy rain storm with a little wind. Apparently we slept through the wind part, because by the time we woke this morning after waiting around till almost 1am for the real drama to start (and never having the satisfaction of seeing or at least hearing it), the streets were dry, puddles were few and only the occasional twig could be found in the tree-lined parking lot behind our building. Our boarded up lobby windows looked an awful lot like someone overdressed for a casual party.
Joshua drove our car to the store this morning at 7am, encountering a few large puddles on 23rd St. and no wind, though the rain at that time was hard and steady.
At 3pm Maya and I took a walk and the streets were busy with people who were no doubt as tired of being inside as we were. A few food establishment were open and they were busy. Other than that people were just window shopping or strolling around. One woman asked a police officer when the subways would be running again. Monday morning was the answer. It takes over 8 hours to shut the system down and secure the train cars in the rail yards. It takes longer than that to get them out again.
By 5pm the sun was out and the remaining clouds were racing across the sky. A couple of online stories with headlines like, “Irene batters New York City” showed photos, not of the city, but of outlying areas or towns in New Jersey with flooded boardwalks.
And yet we received concerned emails from all over the world. Literally. Relatives in Israel, friends in Costa Rica, more relatives in Indiana – all asking how we were, all telling of photos and reports of the ‘devastation’ in the city. Devastation? Joshua came in laughing, saying he’d gone on the Israeli news channel website and seen the report, in which they worked really hard to make a large puddle in Times Square look like a flooded street. He spoke to his sister who kept telling him that according to the TV, we’d been hit really hard. His response, “Well of course! You saw it on TV so it must be true, right?”
And therein lies the lesson in all of this. Those of us who live here know that the reports were exaggerated. Probably to save face after the 72 hour build up of the “monster storm”. The truth was that there was a little flooding in Lower Manhattan, but nothing worse than we’ve seen before.
Convincing people who take their truth from the newscasts is difficult. Which is why I never watch the news. On Thursday we heard that people were stocking up on water and batteries and thought it was ridiculous. By Friday morning I decided that since I needed to get groceries anyway, I’d get a few bottles of water. And I emptied my terrace. Even though I don’t watch the news, the doomsday scenario was everywhere. You couldn’t look at a homepage on the computer without reading what danger we were all in. So by Saturday I thought, ‘ok, probably a good move to shut the subways down.’ And we waited, and waited, and waited. And it rained. And we waited some more. And it rained some more. And that was pretty much it. They are saying 7 inches fell in Central Park (well, some other blogger said it, but we all know bloggers can’t be trusted!) but I’d be surprised if that was the real number. Two weeks ago we got 3 inches of rain in less than 24 hours and it rained in sheets literally all day that day – which it didn’t do during Irene.
The suburbs and outer boroughs were hit harder than the city, as is usually the case. I am not trying to minimize what happened there. But it’s good to remember that the media is all about sensationalism, and that often what you are shown is only a tiny sliver of the whole story. Which was what we talked about at the dinner table tonight, while looking out the window at dry streets and sunny skies.