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Dancing with Irene—JCOM student reports from New York’s hurricane

August 28th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by Natasha Bodily
HNC New York City correspondent

NEW YORK—I was not initially worried about Hurricane Irene. Preceding the media’s overreaction to the recent non-eventful earthquake, I assumed the hype was merely built up excitement contributed by political motives, Katrina reminiscence and the “better safe than sorry” mentality.

When my overly protective mother texted me on Thursday night about getting standby tickets out of New York; I rudely told her she was being irrational. Though I hold firm that waiting for flights out of the coastally located and now-closed JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports would have been a nightmare, I probably could have taken her concerns more seriously.

After browsing CNN, MSNBC and the NYTimes websites and receiving emails regarding hurricane preparedness, church cancellation and worried family members, I realized the apprehension over Irene was growing in intensity. Though I don’t own a TV, I caught glimpses of Anderson Cooper’s death-and-doom CNN forecasts Friday night in the local convenience store as I loaded up on water bottles and protein bars. I had just left another grocery store, Trade Fair, where I had bought canned items and a bag of bagels—since all other bread items were taken or opened.

The store was more packed than I had ever seen in my time in Elmhurst Queens. Following this experience and my earlier attempt to enter Whole Foods in Union Square, where the line reached the entrance, I realized residents were taking hurricane warnings seriously. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg even ordered evacuations from lower Manhattan.

The lottery addicts in the convenience store were soaking up the Cooper-provoked anxiety and splurging on more tickets and beer. (From what I hear, liquor sales are way up, so at least liquor storeowners and tipsy patrons are happy.)

When news hit that the MTA would be completely shutting down, I finally started to get anxious. For someone whose panic attacks are triggered from such insignificant experiences as a dog barking, I’m surprised it took so long for my nervous system to take note of the stressful events around me. I’ve psychologically analyzed that I was in denial and annoyed that everyone was so concerned about me.

I was scheduled for a brunch shift on Saturday morning at the restaurant where I currently work parttime, but I thought they surely wouldn’t stay open with mass transit shutting down and the mayor urging parts of the city to evacuate. Oh, but one would be surprised what a swanky Greek restaurant would do to keep customers happy—or make more money; I’m quite unclear what was the logic behind the decision.

After attempting to get out of the shift, I was told my cab fare would be reimbursed and I grudgingly headed toward midtown this morning. The subway system was sparsely filled with those other unfortunate workers whose employers clearly don’t care for their safety either, and streets were sprinkled with a few stranded tourists who weren’t quite ready to stay in their hotels all day.

At the start of my shift, I read these words from Mayor Bloomberg: “Starting at noon today—which is in only two-and-a-half hours—mass transit is not going to be available if you have to leave. You have to start right now.”

During my shift, virtually every dinner-scheduled employee called to find out if they were actually supposed to come in for work when the city was in a “state of emergency.” Even if the media coverage has been excessive and dramatic, the fact remains that transportation is very limited and will continue to become more limited. Nobody in New York City, sparing maybe doctors and cops, should be required to go into work at this time.

My manager treated every employee as if they were crybaby nincompoops and told almost everyone they still needed to come in. He encouraged those who lived close and who had cars to carpool in (methinks he was hoping to avoid some extra cab fare reimbursements.)

(Though it is probably inappropriate to demean my employer in such a public way, I find it more unacceptable for said employer to put staff safety at risk. And I’m far less concerned about losing this job after seeing how obviously unvalued I am to them.)

When I noted my concern about the possibility of being stranded in Manhattan, the maître de concluded that I had other options and basically had no reason to complain. Because crashing on someone’s couch for a weekend isn’t inconvenient … (heavy on the sarcasm.)

Through the on-and-off heavy rainfall, I began to accept that even if Irene had been downgraded to a minor Category 1 storm, she was still a hurricane, and that’s reason enough to stay indoors and off the roads.

Finally, after much Twitter trend-following and news update-checking via my iPod (praise the heavens for the free wireless in the restaurant), the next hostess arrived and I quickly bid work adieu. I was very fortunate to catch a cab, and my driver said he happened to live near my apartment, so he agreed to trek across the bridge to Queens since he was headed home anyhow. Throughout the ride, my driver, Norbu, informed me of the risks people are taking by staying out and about, and how most cab drivers had already headed home—this fact confirmed by the streets littered in parked cabs—and said that most other drivers would be finishing within the next hour-and-a-half.

Now I’m checking in with my fellow colleagues who are still trapped in an east midtown Estiatorio. Traffic is slow, I’m told. And as the tree by my window blows in the rainy wind, I’m praying, too, that Mr. Anderson Cooper and the other newscasters have over-estimated the impact of Miss Irene.

From the humorous to informative, here are some notable #Irene tweets of the day:

NYCMayorsOffice NYC Mayor’s Office: MTA & and airports shutting down. Ferries have stopped or will soon. Time is running out. If you’re in an evacuation area, leave now. #Irene

cnnbrk CNN Breaking News: NYC mass transit “probably” won’t restart ’til late Monday, mayor says. #Irene on.cnn.com/nNZItz

DepressedDarth Darth Vader: I hope I don’t lose power, I always seem to burn my frozen burritos when I heat them with my lightsaber. #Irene

BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz: Even if you count #Irene, the biggest disaster to hit the Jersey shore is “Jersey Shore.”

MikeBloomberg Mike Bloomberg: I want to assure our city that we will get through this. We are New Yorkers, and New Yorkers have always risen to the challenge #Irene

NBCPhiladelphia NBC Philadelphia: Mayor @Michael_Nutter has declared a state of emergency in Philadelphia for the first time since 1986 #Irene

to2 Trevor Owens: How to make a ridiculous amount of money: stay open during the hurricane #irene

petershankman Peter Shankman: Warning: If Internet goes down due to #Irene, people MAY be forced to interact with each other IN PERSON. BE PREPARED.

Updates to follow as the storm hits.

Update, Sunday (8/28) noon ET:

Natasha Hope Bodily: I should sue Anderson Cooper for how much stress he caused my family.

—Natasha Bodily is a JCOM senior in public relations who is interning in New York City and experiencing the Big Apple.

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