A Prayer for the City
Faith in a place with no lights
There was no point going to the office today. The city’s transit systems are shut down and so we advised everyone to work from home. I ventured outside, for the first time in almost 24 hours, to go to minyan and found that, aside from a number of small trees that had been uprooted, life on the Upper West Side seemed quite normal. We had not lost power in our apartment building and suffered no ill effects from the storm.
At mid-afternoon, my sister arrived with her son. She lives at 23rd Street and Second Avenue and had lost power the night before. She and her son had walked uptown from their home, anxious to re-charge their phones and go online. They stayed for the afternoon, joined us for dinner, and then at 8 P.M., I offered to drive them home.
That was when my day turned surreal.
I headed down the West Side Highway and, once past 34th Street, entered Manhattan’s blacked-out area. Shockingly, during the rest of my journey, I encountered virtually no police presence. Traffic lights were out and, in the darkness, our lives depended on the kindness of strangers as I inched through intersection after unattended intersection. I turned left on 24th Street and began crossing Manhattan, block by block, ofttimes in almost total darkness.
Once I got over the shock that police had not been stationed at each intersection, I was dumbfounded that there had been no attempt to place temporary stop signs at the corners or to position some kind of temporary lighting, such as one sees illuminating nighttime road work. Each block was a challenge as I waited for a break in the up or downtown flow of the avenues to allow me to cross.
Aside from the dangers at the intersections, it seemed like the total lack of police presence on the darkened streets was an invitation to looting. I suppose I should cut the city some slack–perhaps the police are still preoccupied with those who have been driven from their homes or with areas that are flooded–but to drive completely across Manhattan, in virtual darkness, seeing almost all of lower Manhattan blacked out and seemingly unpoliced, was an experience I will not soon forget, and which I hope the city will survive, unscathed.
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