Walking southward down 8th Ave I can see the sudden darkness resting below 23rd street. My walk from parts of town farther north started in the familiar brightness and activity found in NYC streets, but as the street numbers decreased, so did the number of people and, of course, the light.
Super Storm Sandy has left her mark on the city and in the wake of wind and rising water the lower half of Manhattan is without power and rests in darkened silence that’s so much in contrast with typical NYC life.
The change is minimum at first with just a few shops on one side of the street encased in their security bars and blackness. People walking by me carry flashlights and pull their hoods up as I pass. A cautious tension plays on their movements and for the first time I consider how wearing all black leather may not have been the wisest choice for walking darkened streets at night. I should have brought a flashlight, I should have brought a buddy. Still I press onward and soon entered the heart of Chelsea and the blackout zone.
Every building stands silent and still below 23rd St and a pair of homeless men sit watch at the border between light and dark. “Going downtown?” one of the men crackles at me from under his blanket. “I am,” I say slowing only a little as I walk. “I like the…what is that…leather!” he says pointing a bony finger at my legs.” “Thank you”, I respond and press onward heading south.
Cop cars and traffic directing lights blink harshly in the darkness making it impossible for my eyes to adjust. I’m blinded by the light, I’m blind in the dark, and I just keep walking and occasionally seeing shadowy figures at corners. Smell fills in my sensory gap and I recognize gasoline, exhaust from generators, and rotting fish outside a sushi restaurant. I see the reflective sashes of National Guardsmen as they unload something from a monstrously large truck. I pass by an apartment building that the wind tore open and now sits in ruin like an exposed dollhouse.
Below 14th St and into the West Village things get even more eerie. At times I’m the only human in sight and every moving shape becomes an approaching zombie (I’ve been watching a lot of Walking Dead this week). But then I turn a corner and see a candle-lit bar open for business with a small crowd in the warm light and a human touch returns to this post-Apocalypse landscape. Individuals also roam along the street holding their cells phone aloft trying to find a signal in the night.
My destination is the apartment of two fellow Leathermen on an empty street where I can’t see the address numbers. Walking down it all I hear are my boots hitting the sidewalk with a bit of light from the moon pointing out hazards to avoid. With a useless phone and a useless door buzzer, I gain entry to the building thanks to another night walker who warmly embraces me as a genuine visitor rather than an evil murderer. I find my friends in their full leather uniforms surrounded by candles and together we rally to bring back a touch of leather to Christopher St.
Walking around in leather during a blackout is exactly what one should do in NYC. A cop car slowly drives by and jokingly announces over their speaker, “We’ve got em, three burglars, all in black!” We laugh and then encounter a solitary figure sitting in the dark who recognizes our leather and exclaims, “It’s like Germany in the 1940’s!” Assuming this is a reference to Tom of Finland, no greater compliment could be paid. He takes some photos and we wish him well and plunge onward into the night.
We have a few drinks at Rockbar that are illuminated by lights and music thanks to a generator and then finish up at Duplex where candles and a well-placed flashlight beneath a disco ball draw stragglers in off the street. Finally I say goodnight and catch a cab back to the northerly neighborhoods where my phone starts working again and lights pop up all around.
As I walk down my street to my apartment, I’m amazed how well-lit everything is. There don’t seem to be any shadows–just a street that’s never seemed so bright before. The night has been a fun and unique one and for all the folks living and working downtown, I hope power is restored soon.