Apologies for the blogging blackout but a hurricane called Sandy elbowed her way into my life earlier this week and sharted all over my holiday. However, she demands appropriate coverage, therefore the Boston blog will be published at a later date.
OMG THERE'S A FRANKEN-FRICKIN'-STORM CALLED SANDY GUNNING STRAIGHT FOR MY BACKPACKING ARSE IN NYC.
who knew NYC had a favela?
We were staying in a 'hotel' on Bleecker Street called the Bowery Whitehouse. Lies. It looked nothing like the Whitehouse. Or carry any resemblance to Barry White's house either for that matter. In fact, it looked like something out of a SAW movie sequel, full of creaky doors, poorly-lit corridors and homeless addicts mumbling in cobwebby corners. It was beyond the boundaries of abysmal and into the realm of the absolutely horrific.
I fully expected a knife-wielding maniac to come hurtling down the hall, screeching like the front row of a One Direction concert whenever I battled with the locks to our room.
It was the kind of place where you wished they'd install a euthanasia button just in case you were looking for an exit and couldn't face the fire escape.
Our room, another joke constructed by the cosmos to wreak havoc on our lives, consisted of two rickety single beds with approximately ten centimetres of floorspace. No, okay, I'm being harsh - they'd fulfilled the legal requirement of having at least TWO METRES distance between each plastic wrapped mattress. A round of applause, please. The Whitehouse has really gone above and beyond.
the black board is where my head would go
There was no ceiling. Forty bucks a night in downtown Manhattan doesn't quite cover such a frivolity. There were just wooden slats and exposed piping to look at once you'd arranged yourself on the cot-style bed for the night. Bedbugs cheerfully scuttled around my ankles feasting on my cold - but clearly tasty - blood with the level of ferocity you'd see in a Slough kebab shop on a Saturday night. Almost every morning I was awoken by the melodic tones of a thorough and comprehensive phlegm-rattle performed by one of our talented and congested neighbours. Scoundrel.
The Gassonatron and I had already been warned we'd get little sleep on Monday night by Nelson, the weary and sweaty check-in guy, on our arrival from Boston on Sunday evening.
'You guys are going to have the worst time. Like, ever,' he sighed, wheezing phlegmatically. He looked like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but with more hair on his head and more misery in his eyes. The family of whiteheads camped around his nose glinted folornly.
'I'm prob'ly gonna be stuck out here for the whole storm. And this is a really old building so like, who knows if we'll even be here in the morning? I hate my life,' he lamented, handing us the keys to 223.
I think the joke's on us, Nelson mate. We're actually paying to stay here, in this infected dump filled with a rabble of shifty tramps and vagabonds, as a cyclone howls outside. At least you're making money.
Nelson told us later that night that he'd gotten a text from his phone company advising us that we were in 'Zone One' and should have been evacuated hours ago. Sandy was expected to suckerpunch the lower east side with tremendous force and cause billions of dollars worth of damage. Terrific. It was now 1am. Would the National Guard, Navy Seals or Jake Gyllenhall ever come to rescue us?
The only thing to do was hunker down for the evening and find a gung-ho shopkeeper that was open in the morning. We managed to gather essential supplies from a supermarket in Chinatown on Monday including: a packet of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, several Japanese pears, a huge bottle of Budweiser. Not exactly the same garb you'd find in Army issued ration packs, but enough to see us through the storm. This was no time to be healthy. There was a major natural disaster looming. This was the time to eat (or in my case, drink) your feelings.
After dumping our nutritionally wholesome goodies in our room, we arranged with a couple of other British girls, Helly and Debbie, to sit out the afternoon in a local Irish pub sipping Hurricane specials. The TV above the bar flashed images of blockbuster movies featuring extreme weather to us, masquereding as news. It was hysteria, breeding panic, leading to complete and utter chaos.
CNN showed Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl careering into Ellis Island. Fox News covered Arnie in the whirrly sky, yelling at everyone to get to the chopper like a modern day Noah. Another channel broadcast Helen Hunt strapped to Lady Liberty's flame while Morgan Freeman narrated the biggest storm to hit the eastern seaboard in however long through a megaphone.
Leah and I sat there astounded. Where we maybe, really, truly about to die? Was I spending my final few hours calmly downing cocktails and cracking jokes with my fellow, fast-becoming-shit-faced chum? Would our bodies be found in the remains of Battery Park in the morning, floating in a sea of flood water, sewage and hotdog wrappers with hungry seagulls tearing at our eyeballs for sustenence? Bolstered by the alcohol, and weirded out by the strength of our own imaginations, we decided to make one more visit to the off-licence for an emergency bottle of vodka. Just in case.
Luckily the night turned out to be rather uneventful. Lights pinged out at around nine on Monday evening, and still hadn't been reconnected when we left the city three days later. Internet connection had done a runner, while electricity, dodgier than a packet of Poundland condoms, was also out for the count. We entertained ourselves by speculating how many panicked notifications and Facebook messages we would each get once our phones found a wifi signal, singing wildlyinappropriate songs and making comedy videos out in the storm to cheer ourselves up.
After an ice-cold shower on Tuesday morning, as neccessary as it was unpleasant, we headed out to gawk at the damage. A road block had been put installed a little up Bleecker Street to contain a fire that had broken out in an apartment block. There was news that a crane on a construction site had been pushed over and killed a passerby. Ambulances streaked past, their cargo life support patients whose batteries were running out of juice. Broken shopfronts were a common sight as we joined the streams of people heading uptown to where lights, electricity and coffee still lived.
Our merry band of Hurricane Survivors stuck pretty close to Times Square for the remainder of our time in New York. Times Square looked like Neon decided to go to after-work drinks, mixed her beverages and violently threw up lurid and garish advertising all over the building blocks. The difference between up and downtown was eerie, unsettling and shocking. The Upper East and West along with Chelsea was carrying on with business as usual while the lower half of the island looked as though Mad Max was lord of the land.
I've been to New York before, but I was really looking forward to getting my city stride back, side-stepping slow Joe tourists, shouting indignantly at yellow cabs cutting across my path by yelling: 'Hey, I'm walkin' here!', and seeing all the sights by whizzing around on an efficient subway system. But then Sandy huffed and puffed and blew my hopes down.
the Chrystler building shows the way to civilisation
We were lucky though. So lucky. People in New Jersey and Queens had their homes decimated. Some had to chase their property down the street. For many there is little chance to rebuild. A lot of them don't have home insurance and are stuck living in shelters until the government can sort out a longer-term solution. Cold weather is creeping in and up to 400,000 in the state are homeless. There's no way this hurricane, its handling and the pace of recovery isn't going to have a significant impact on the electorate come voting day, tomorrow, on the 6th of November.
And at least now I know that if I am ever eye-to-eye with a hurricane in the future, copious volumes of vodka and taking the piss for the duration will always, always see you through.