A Note from the Dark Zone

(by Katherine Wessling, who edits this blog)

On Monday night, my lights flickered, then flickered again, then went out. They stayed out until early Saturday morning. I live in Greenwich Village, and I was lucky. The water didn’t come near my apartment building, there was no wind damage on my street, I had running water. That puts me ahead of far too many people who are still suffering terribly in the aftermath of Sandy.

For the next five days, I camped out in my apartment. I didn’t have light or heat or hot water or phone service, but I did have plenty of tinned fish and protein bars and crackers. I had frozen bowls of water in my freezer, which kept my milk from going off. I had plenty of candles, a handful of flashlights, a handy little electric lantern, and a transistor radio. I had my Chihuahua, my Dutch roommate and her boyfriend, and my neighbors to keep me company.

My neighborhood continued to thrive: the streets were full of people walking dogs and kids, chatting, escaping the antsy feelings of cabin fever. People huddled around outlets at the New York University buildings that were powered by generators, charging their electronics. One local deli was lit by a generator-powered fluorescent light; the diner on the corner served what could be cooked on a grill; a nearby stationery shop set up business on the sidewalk. Bars served drinks by candlelight.

Spontaneous conversations broke out everywhere. I met one woman who was using her time to knit a hurricane blanket, which she planned to donate to the relief efforts. Another woman said she worked for the city and was spending her days helping out at the shelters. One guy said he was born and raised on my street, and that he’s spent the last 25 years volunteering to make the Village a better place, sweeping, cleaning garbage, even sawing up fallen trees.

Since there was power above 26th street, it was only a twenty-minute walk to delis and cafes and restaurants that continued to operate as usual. A friend let me use the Internet at his office. I took my first hot shower in a few days at a branch of the New York Sports Club, which had opened up its doors to anyone from the Dark Zone.

So as you can see, we were lucky.  But the nights were dark and sometimes scary. On Wednesday night, a young woman ran out of her building and grabbed my arm, saying a man was trying to follow her into her apartment. We walked around the block, then I escorted her home. A gang of young guys on bicycles roared through later, yelling and breaking things.  But a police car showed up the next night and stayed, shining its lights in the darkness.

We were lucky that there was a full moon, so it wasn’t pitch black. We were lucky that it wasn’t yet very cold. But by Thursday night, the temperature was dropping. I woke up freezing, boiled some water for tea on my gas range, and went back to sleep in my Michelin Man down coat, my heart going out to all of those in much worse shape than myself. That morning I’d noticed something I never thought I’d see in New York—a temporary water station, attached to a fire hydrant, with drinking fountains and taps for people without water to fill up.

I’d had kind offers to stay with friends who weren’t in the Dark Zone, but I wanted to stay in my neighborhood, in the city that I love. I love that I don’t need a car; that, if pressed, I can walk to work in an hour at most. I love that I am always surrounded by people willing to lend a hand, when necessary, willing to fry up some eggs or set up some water or offer their showers, their homes, their Internet connections.

I hope that Sandy is a wakeup call; that we don’t go back to denying changing weather patterns and the ill effects of building on our dangerous and delicate coasts. I hope that we can learn to build with community and the environment in mind. I have seen how people can come together, and I know that each of us can help make the world a better place, every day, in ways large and small. For today, I’m going to see what I can do to help the people who were not as lucky as me. 


  1. Thanks for a peek into a truly weird situation. The ingenuity and kindness of human beings is really something, isn't it?

  2. Thank you, Ann! Weird to be sure. And I find it so heartening that every crisis I've been through here in NYC (9/11, blackout, Irene, Sandy) has led me to have ever more faith in the ingenuity and kindness of human beings.