Weather prediction has come a long way since the only way to know if rain was coming was when Pappy’s elbow gets a crick, but it’s still not perfect. Take last weekend – Labor Day. New York City was on schedule to get slammed by Tropical Storm Or Possibly Hurricane Hermine, which had already flooded vast swathes to the south. “As bad as Sandy!” screamed the local news.
I’m not one to ignore warnings of disaster. I don’t climb over fences hung with signs saying “danger – crumbling cliffs”. I don’t pee on the third rail. I don’t try to ride down a hill in a dumpster. If the presidential debates are happening on the Intrepid, I take the subway and leave Uber for the poor schmoes who don’t know the West Side will be completely impassible. And if a hurricane is coming, I prepare.
Usually, New York City is a great place to be for Labor Day weekend. Everyone who can get out of town has already left. The tourists have thinned out, due to the fact that public schools start in August in most of the country. The subway is clear and breezy, the roads are uncluttered, and you can waltz right into almost any restaurant and get a table. Even though Summer Streets is over, the museums are open, free concerts are on, there’s a big parade in Brooklyn, and you can watch the annual tugboat race on the Hudson. It’s a great time to be in the city.
This year, what with the weather predictions, it was even less crowded than usual. Because we were expecting a big storm, some of the above-ground subways shut down. The tugboat race was postponed. People near the shore started raising all their furniture on cinder blocks. We were battening down the hatches, as Hermine was supposed to turn left, hit the Jersey Shore, and stay for 3 days.
It didn’t happen.
I’m not faulting the meteorologists. It’s not an easy job, the data is complex, and conditions change in unexpected ways. Of course, the talking heads on the local channels could use words like “a 50 percent probability of a storm, but we don’t really know yet…” No. “Hammered! Worse than Sandy! Dig a hole and crawl inside!” That’s the kind of talk you get. The problem is, sometimes it comes true.
I’ve lived through plenty of disasters here in New York. I’ve seen terrorist attacks, major blackouts, hurricanes, garbage strikes, blizzards (named and unnamed), subway strikes, riots, and perhaps worst of all, Republican conventions. So I’m down with disaster prep.
For those of you newer residents, I’ll share the secrets of surviving a disaster in New York City. You’ll need a basic level of prep to get through a few days of chaos before things get back to the normal level of chaos.
Here’s the list
DO fill up your bathtub, bowls, pitchers, and jugs with water before the storm hits. Make sure you have a bucket with a handle, and fill that up, too. When the water goes, you won’t be showering or bathing for a while, but there are certain critical times when the toilet must be flushed. For your own sanity. That bucket of water, with more in the tub, is your insurance policy.
DO buy a few extra jugs of spring or distilled water. You need to drink more than you think. You will also then be able to brush your teeth, a nice amenity. I knew someone who brushed her teeth with coca cola during a blackout, but this is not recommended.
DON’T let your children view this as an opportunity to fill up the pantry with every manner of junk food in a box. Like I did. Instead, you should go for long-lasting, practically indestructible protein. The Hub can choke down a tin of Spam, but I prefer smoked oysters or a jar of gefilte fish. Peanut butter works great, too. I once lived for 3 days on nothing but unsalted peanuts and raisins with no lasting damage done.
DO keep a clean change of personal undergarments in a baggie with you at all times. Mine is in my gym bag, and one in my laptop case, too. This is because, during the big blackout of 2003, I learned the hard way that you can wear your clothes without washing them for 3 days and 2 night, but you will really start to long for fresh underthings if you can’t get home.
DO keep some basic first aid gear around your place. Bandages, Advil, tweezers, hydrogen peroxide. If you don’t already have those in your apartment, what the hell is wrong with you? Why would you wait for a hurricane to get some Band-Aids? You’re far more likely to get into an accident in the comfort of your home by doing something stupid, so be prepared!
DO make friends with a neighbor with a Land Line. I know you charged it up, but your phone is going to die soon. Make sure you already know where everyone over 70 lives in your building, because they will have the only phone that still works. Buy them chocolates later to say thanks.
DO keep a flashlight and some batteries, but you don’t have to go too crazy. It’s not like you’ll have anything to do after dark if the lights go out anyway, except…you know. You won’t need a flashlight for THAT.
DON’T let your paranoia run away with you. A blackout, for example, can be a great way to go out, meet your neighbors, and get some free ice cream (stores and restaurants give it away).
DON’T use candles. Some idiot always uses candles, and sets the place on fire.
DON’T try to get to work. I can’t think of any good reason to go to work in the event of a blackout, a hurricane, a blizzard, a strike, or a convention. There is no reason. They don’t need you. You’re not that critical. Just stay home.
DON’T try to go to midtown, especially during a convention. DON’T walk around outside to “see” the hurricane because something will hit you on the head. DON’T think you’ll be wanting to go up and down 27 flights of stairs 4 times a day, no
matter how aerobic it is. DON’T walk around in a daze like someone just hit you with a sandbag, because this is your only chance to see New York City on a vacation and suddenly all the lights went out and you can’t believe this is happening. DO find a place to sleep before the sun goes down.