New York City has its own rhythm, and when hurricanes take their own sweet time, the city is almost palpably annoyed. Nearly two days of media-driven panic left Manhattan a ghost town on Sunday night, with every strong gust a sort of trick-or-treat threat, a preview of the big boo that Sandy was going to spring on us all. Enough already. Bring it on and get it over with, most New Yorkers said upon rising Monday morning.
The rain finally started at about 8:15 a.m. I had expected the storminess to be at full throttle when I woke just before 7, but a peek out my window onto 82nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan showed the same dry street as midnight. A check of my Twitter feed indicated Park Slope in Brooklyn, which is roughly southeast from where I live and technically on a different island, was already wettish. The TV reports said Sandy had finally made her much heralded turn toward the U.S. mainland; they showed footage of rolling surf at Rockaway Beach and Coney Island. They said winds would start growing, peaking at around 60 m.p.h. at 6 p.m. The weatherman on NY1 said not to expect much in terms of rain. Just wind and a storm surge that would cause flooding.
My question: Should I head to work at the Time & Life Building or not? The subways aren’t operating, but it’s just a brisk 35-minute walk on a good day, barely two and a quarter miles. It would be a dramatic gesture. But would I be able to get back home before the big winds trapped me in midtown?
(PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy Bears Down on East Coast)
I decided to go for a test walk through Riverside Park and the promenade by the Hudson River. There were a few drops of rain but nothing close to a downpour, certainly nothing torrential. Riverside Park had a cinematic blusteriness — gray without being grim, something a director of photography would have put together. People were jogging or walking their dogs. Then I took the path that tunneled under the highway toward the river and saw the Hudson. The river had white caps; and the sailboats were bobbing and clinking like nervous silverware. The wind was not more ornery than the mild typhoon days I remember from my childhood days in the Philippines. So I decided to walk down the promenade to the 79th Street boat basin.
Not 200 paces into the walk, however, an enormous whoosh of wind nearly threw me off balance and, scaredy-cat that I am, I decided to turn around and head home. That was easier thought than done because I was now walking against the wind and a suddenly rapid spattering of raindrops. I used a passing Parks department truck as a windbreak until I got to the tunnel. And then, as I struggled up an incline toward my building, the wind stopped. Sandy was being tempestuous and temperamental — and she was still so far away.
The “pathetic fallacy” is a syndrome that people everywhere succumb to: the belief that the weather reflects our own moods because the universe ultimately revolves around us. In New York City, the pathetic fallacy is a truth universally acknowledged: it is all about us. Even if Sandy was headed straight for us, we say she is going to swipe us hard. And if she doesn’t, we will be relieved but secretly disappointed that she did not dare to take us on. The smaller towns around Gotham, indeed, the counties that have yet to recover from last year’s Hurricane Irene, well … they don’t quite fit into the New York rhythm. Of course, Sandy isn’t going to be treating anyone special.
And so I decided not to walk to work. I jumped into a cab instead. Lots of them today.