“What’s Bad About It?” “It’s Fucking New York” - A Report From People Who Do Not Want To Be Here Bailing Your Ass Out
“I DROVE A SEMI HERE –” I’m talking to a tough guy with a biker mustache working with a group of trucks pumping water out of buildings near the South Street Seaport, deep in the Lower Manhattan blackout. There’s a din from the generators running around us, but he’s just talking in that loud way that a lot of my favorite Americans do.
“IT SUCKS. IT FUCKING SUCKS. YOU CAN’T SEE ANY STREET SIGNS. NOBODY SEES YOU.”
“What’s so bad about it?” I ask. He shrugs slightly, like it was obvious.
“IT’S FUCKING NEW YORK!”
This is the common call of the people running garbage trucks, municipal vehicles, pumping trucks, fire engines, buses, and generally everyone who is working in the blackout. They are there to fix what’s broken, drain buildings, keep people safe, and get Lower Manhattan running again. They are not happy to be driving there.
“It’s cool,” the firetruck driver smirks, leaning his elbow on the window. You might imagine that the blackout is a paradise for the FDNY and the NYPD. Hit the lights, hit the sirens, and you can blast through any intersection at any speed. I personally don’t see a single ticket being written. Other drivers are freaked out from the darkness. Sandy still has a palpable presence on the busy streets and the cars are cautious. Driving downtown is not easy, though.
The firetruck driver pauses and his face goes straight. He starts again. “No, it’s dangerous. Because of the pedestrians. You can’t see ‘em. They’re walking in the streets and they don’t stop. So, if you’re not paying attention…” He trails off.
With the lights out, all drivers maintain the general rules of the road: cars on side streets wait for cars on big streets, don’t drive too fast for how far you can see, caution is king. Pedestrians are a different matter. They have found a paradise where cars stop for them in the middle of intersections. Some have flashlights, some don’t, but everyone acts like they own the road. It’s like Liberty City out there, one Twitterer effuses.
“It’s eerie,” shrugs a garbage truck driver picking up trash on the east side of 14th street. He is one of dozens of these trucks rumbling through downtown. “You can’t see cars or pedestrians… At night it gets really chaotic, when the cops are called to places more… war torn.” Another garbage truck driver is terser. “IT’S BAD. IT’S BAD!!”
There is a decidedly stressed-out look in the eye of anyone in a large vehicle. Might makes right when there are no lights, but the streets are dark canyons here in the blackout. It’s not easy.
Some of the more experienced drivers have too much pride to admit to any trouble. One big old man driving an MTA generator truck mumbles from behind his mustache, “It’s not so bad.” He shrugs. “You gotta be careful.”
A cab driver at Grand Central starts off talkative, but once he starts thinking about driving down there, he’s ready to jet.
“You want to go down there? I can take you down there… Oh it’s not so bad. You have the cops, you have your lights. It’s not so bad.” He’s already rolling away with a worried look as he finishes the last sentence.
Now that the city has express bus lines running back and forth from Brooklyn and down into the Financial District (regular buses will drop you off in the dark on 23rd), there are traffic cops on the biggest streets and avenues. From the outside, the flow of traffic really isn’t terrible, especially after 6 PM when there are significantly fewer cars on the road. The effort it takes to keep things running is draining. On 34th street I ask a bus driver if it’s crazy driving down in the blackout.
“Yeah, a little bit.” Her thin smile fades. I’ve never seen a bus driver look so beat.
Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik