It is now three days and some hours after I was supposed to have departed New York via Newark airport. I was lucky – I rode out the storm and some of its immediate aftermath in a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights where the power stayed on and the Gristede’s stayed open. My inconveniences were minimal compared to those of many, if not most. Waiting now as I am at JFK for my flight home, I know that I won’t have to deal with the cleanup – at least not directly.
What can we learn from this total infrastructure failure? Or, rather, what have I learned?
1. Maintain real friendships. I had a pretty easy time of it until it came time to get to the airport. The car service I had reserved (talk about first world problems!) said they couldn’t guarantee a car. I called four others and was told that nobody was driving because they couldn’t get gas – the tanks were empty and the dispatchers were pulling the cars off the streets. Being who I am, I turned to a social media solution, posting my conundrum on facebook and twitter. A grad school friend in Colorado messaged me the phone number of a classmate with a car who lives in Queens. I called him and, even though we had not spoken in ten years or more, offered to “be there for me” if I couldn’t figure out another way. It would have been a tremendous imposition on him. Fortunately, another facebook “friend” (also someone I hadn’t spoken with in years) messaged me the map of the working train lines – a short walk would get me to the beginning of a three train journey to JFK. As luck/karma/fate would have it, I walked out to get to the train and into a waiting yellow cab!
The story is just a precursor to the point: I so so so wish that I had maintained my own direct line with my friend in Queens, with the one in Colorado, and the one with the subway map. We rely so much on facebook, we think that that is what friendship means – but it is not. Friendship means real bi-directional communication, shared experiences, fondness, and trust. It means helping when you need it and celebrating together when you don’t. So if you are one of my old friends, be warned, I may actually call you on the phone and want to talk to you or, as I have been doing lately, I may write you a letter (a real one, on paper) and hope that I will get one in return. And know that if you are stranded you can call on me for help – and I will do the same; and when it’s time to celebrate, I’ll want to do that with you too.
2. Have a plan for non-electronic communication. Related to the same topic, consider how much you rely on electronics for communication. What will you do when you can’t plug in your iPhone? Or send an email? I wanted to see my brother, so I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to meet him for lunch. Do you have an analog means of getting word to the people you love? What if walking isn’t an option? There was intermittent or no cell service below 14th street. I am rethinking my decision to do away with a landline phone. What is YOUR backup plan?
3. Be part of a support network back home. If there wasn’t a reliable support system back home, things could have been a disaster in my home in Phoenix too. Friends close to home need care and feeding (i.e. real bi-directional communication) as much as those spread out across the country. Like many in the arts and/or academia, I don’t live in the same city as my extended family, but have, over the years, developed one wherever I am that can help out if needed (and whom I, of course, would help). Sometimes, however, asking for help isn’t easy. The fact is though, people – especially friends – like to help their friends. It deepens the bond between friends. Consider who is in your local support network, and treat them well.
4. Stock extra toilet paper This is the basic stuff we always hear about: have bottled water, canned food, etc on hand. In my own case, it was toilet paper that we came dangerously close to running out of. But I also know that I don’t stock much food at home, because I rely so much on my CSA produce. I think I’ll shift my thinking a bit and put in some canned beans and such, just in case…..
5. Prepare now for the rising tide The NY Stock Exchange has not been shut for two days in a row due to weather since 1888. I would bet it won’t be another 124 years until it does so again. Global warming is causing the oceans to rise and storms to become more intense. (Scientists agree – this is not me being an alarmist.) New York, Boston, Washington, LA, Seattle, all of our coastal cities — and all my friends who live in them — should prepare now, in ways that are more permanent than stocking up on toilet paper. We need to do everything in our power NOW to stop global warming from increasing exponentially while simultaneously preparing for its immediate effects on the arts and on our lives and those of our friends.
Related post: Personal Symbiosis