I Survived Hurricane Irene and All I Got Was This Lousy Weekend

Posted on August 30, 2011 by

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by Kyla Marshell

Brooklyn residents prepare for Irene. Taken by the author

Maybe you’re like me. An adult only by technicality. A really big kid. New things excite you. Shiny things. A new iPhone. A new person at work. A new ice cream flavor, a new mailman, new furniture at the doctor’s office. Things you’ve never seen. Things that never happen.

Consider Irene. Not Cara—the Hurricane (Consider Irene Cara, too—she was always my Renaissance Shero). She blustered (blundered?) her way up the East Coast, knocking down trees, whipping up wind—scaring up a storm. A storm that, by the time it hit my region, New York City, was not much to speak of.

Still, before she hit, most New Yorkers were excited. At the party I went to the night before, everyone was buzzing with questions as to whether we’d prepared properly—enough water, enough flashlights, enough whistles, for what I don’t know, but did we have enough? I myself tried to buy a flashlight Friday night: they were sold out.

The city was absolutely aglow with this strange mix of fear and delight. “We never get to have hurricanes!” everyone seemed to be saying, as if a hurricane was Six Flags.

On Irene Eve, Mayor Bloomberg began his pronouncements, his safety measures: he ordered that the entire MTA system be shut down, a first; that all outdoor events be canceled; and that all residents in Coney Island, the Rockaways, and other coastal areas of Brooklyn evacuate by 5 pm Saturday. Many other precautions were taken, from the closing of bridges and airports, to the opening of shelters for those living in dangerous areas of the city. The goal was to protect everyone from impending, potentially momentous doom.

But the doom never realized its potential, not as everyone had imagined. Hunkered down in my apartment with cinnamon popcorn and a bottle of red wine (see: nonperishable goods), I let my little girl imagination run wild, dreaming up images of sheets of wind and rain blowing by, my windows shattering, imagining myself running into the living room and diving under the coffee table. But once Sunday came, it was clear, especially by the time my local bar had reopened for late afternoon drinks, that nothing was coming. Not Irene. No one.

That day, of course, everyone took to social media to emoticonsciously eye-roll. “Irene—that was all you got for us?” is a pretty accurate mosaic of all statuses combined. Everyone was disappointed. There was no doom. There was no catastrophe. No. Thing.

And this, this nothingness, inevitably meant backlash for the Mayor and his team. People asked why the subway had to be shut down at noon on Saturday, rather than 6 or 8 pm. People asked why so many events, from the Dave Matthews Band concert on Governors Island to the beloved AfroPunk Festival had to be canceled. Spike Lee, I’m sure, made personal calls to Bloomberg to stress the importance of a Michael Jackson dance party—which, after being moved up and shortened by two hours, had to be canceled altogether. I’m not sure if anyone thanked Mayor Bloomberg for the good silence of people remaining safe.

Because that’s what happened—people stayed safe. The reason we didn’t hear about thousands of injured or dead was because thousands weren’t injured or dead. Yes—there were injuries, tragic deaths, and lots of damage; but the scale of it was much smaller because of the precautions the city took to ensure no Katrina-like destruction ensued.

But apparently, everyone wanted to be Helen Hunt in Twister and fight off huge natural disaster, while simultaneously falling in love. I’ve never witnessed such disappointment at the preservation of life. Such disappointment at a necessary fuss over a potentially fatal event.

The alternative, of course, was for the City to brush it off and say, “It’s nothing,” (which is what happened in that awful snow storm last Christmas) and have a major crisis on their hands. And then everyone would have been upset when their house floated down the street.

Some people have the bizarre, self-destructive problem of loving drama. I’ve always noticed this—how, when tragedy strikes, people long to be close to it, but not too close; close enough to feel the fire but not for it to burn. In this case, tragedy didn’t strike, not for the vast majority of this city’s inhabitants; yet still, it seemed everyone was awaiting mass chaos…and when it didn’t happen, they were bummed.

For some people, though, the issue isn’t a tendency towards self-destruction, but rather, the perfectly natural inclination to buy into the hype. In the case of a hurricane, it makes sense. Better safe than swept away. Better safe than cynical, then trapped under a tree, or subsisting off of cinnamon popcorn and merlot for days. It was silly not to believe the hype that the commercial and governmental media propagated. Because such extreme measures were taken. Because everyone was buying out Family Dollar, water, flashlights, and whistles. Because Mayor Bloomberg was practically clutching his chest, shouting, “Elizabeth, this is the big one!”

In short, everyone got hyped and hopped up on Disaster Juice. Probably no one wanted to die, yet still so many were seduced by the possibility of it. Was Irene the way we reminded ourselves of our own mortality?

Today, it is disgustingly pretty outside. Blue skies, pitch-perfect temperature, people milling about the streets. There is no storm coming; everyone is safe. Nothing exciting will happen. The ordinary-everyday can be celebrated again. And what a joy: the world is ours to invent.

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