Sunday, November 18, 2012

Off Topic: That Was the Week It Was - November 18, 2012

G'morning! Welcome to my weekly off television topic post in which I reflect on the week gone by in both words and photographs I've taken. This week I have a bit of an overlap with the past three weeks ... or, to be more precise, since Sandy landed.  Warning -- this is REALLY long and I apologize for the delay in posting. I just wanted to get the Sandy stuff finished and onto this past week in photos.

I've never been through anything like Sandy in my life. In a way, it's like I lost two weeks of my life and the week following was still a bit askew of "normal life." While I was aware of happenings in the world for the almost two weeks my power was out thanks to my MP3 player's FM radio, it wasn't like being a part of the world. It was more like living in some sort of parallel universe in a quasi-post apocalyptic world. 

I was through extended power outages of three and four days with last year's freak early snowstorm and Hurricane Irene respectively. But they were nothing compared to this. This time, the entire area for hundreds of miles around was affected. This time we were on our own. (And, if the elevator tries to take you down, go crazy -- Prince) Not only that, but it was COLD.

In this area, about ten or so miles inland from Staten Island as the crow flies, we didn't have flood damage (which the area suffered from with Irene). We had wind damage. Horrible wind damage. I was told by a PS&G worker, "Our poles do NOT fall down. YOUR trees knock down our wires and poles. The city of Plainfield does NOT trim the trees. They should." 

I believe he had a point. I live on a county road that runs through the city. I didn't see any wires or poles down on my block or a few blocks either way. They regularly trim and remove iffy trees along my street. Of course, in the long run, that didn't help me as the entire power grid in my area went down and the switching station suffered horrific flooding damage. All I had to do was go around the corner off of my street to see extreme tree fallen on wires damage, too.

Not in Philly!
SEPTA buses in Plainfield

Let's try for a litter free PLAINFIELD, not Philadelphia! Buses on loan from Philly have been running shuttle service for NJ Transit each morning at the corner of Gavett Place and North Avenue by the Plainfield Train Station.

Speaking of litter free, I notice the PMUA trash cans on that block of North Avenue across from the train station have gone missing. The folks who live in apartments there or run small businesses and don't pay for their trash are now just setting trash out on the street.

Neighbors ex-tree
Still can't park

Next door to next door, they're still parking on their front lawn. That was one huge tree which came down. It apparently hit their roof as well as blocking their paved parking lot in back of the home cut into apartments. There is blue tarp on a section of their roof.

Plainfield OEM
Now I see them

I don't know where they were when the power was out for so long, though.

Like spaghetti

Dunellen water and ice giveaway as seen from the train window

I heard these kind of things happened in Plainfield. But no one informed us they were happening ...


And then there was snow. I made this slideshow from photos taken after the nor'easter a few days after Sandy. At its height, we had about six or seven inches of snow. But then it rained and knocked the snow levels down.

There were things which worked and things which didn't work.

These things worked:
  • The Plainfield Police Department. With my scanner, I knew what the police were doing. From the hundreds of "check well-being" calls (as most folks were cut off due to landlines either down or needing electricity to work and cell towers damaged -- their relatives and friends were worried) to responding to carbon monoxide and fire calls, to running from tree down to tree down, to dealing with HUGE gas lines when the random service station here and there could open, to working the shelters and making sure food deliveries there went down ... these guys and gals went above and beyond. Halfway through the night of the storm, they had to stop going to tree down calls unless there were arcing wires or lives in danger. There were just too many. Otherwise, they had an action plan for such an emergency and it worked. They had the mobile command center in motion set in the areas most in need of immediate response. They had, in addition to normal district cars, posts covering each area of the city. Kudos to the Plainfield Police Department!
  • The Plainfield Fire Department. As with the police, they were running ragged for days on end going from call to call. I ended up turning them off on the scanner as it was all too constant, thus making my head spin.
  • Plainfield Department of Public Works/John Louise. Hooked in with the police department radio frequency, as in Irene last year, I listened to this poor guy who's apparently the head of the DPW going from tree down to tree down, trying to clear the streets. Last year in Irene, he was out there rescuing people by boat. On the scanner, it seemed like he worked two days straight through Sandy, not stopping to rest.
  • The Stop One Supermarket on East Second Street. It's actually more of a small convenience store or bodega than a supermarket. Last year when the power went down four days in Irene, they had no power. When it came up, the compressors for their refrigeration units blew and they had expensive repairs to make. When I saw the lights come on on East Second a few days after Sandy blew in, I thought they'd have power. Nope. They were on MY grid and remained without power for several days after the swath of power on four or so blocks of East Second and part of downtown arrived. BUT ... they had invested in a generator between Irene and Sandy! Alas, the generator wasn't strong enough to keep any of their perishables. But they were good for canned foods and ... they were FANTASTIC about charging my cell phone for me more than a few times!
  • Apparently (as I heard about it on my scanner, not that I was actually informed or the efforts touched my neighborhood) ... The local Salvation Army and the Salvation Army of Newark. These were the folks fixing up and getting the hot food to the evacuation shelters. I also heard on the scanner more than a few times that the Newark contingent was handing out supplies and food in the projects area on the west side of town.
  • My new landlord. Although we didn't lose any of the big trees surrounding my apartment building, we lost some huge limbs off said trees -- some 20 or more feet in length. Tree limbs covered some cars and were across the top of the Dumpsters. By the morning after the storm, the new landlord's crew was there, moving the limbs and blowing the various storm debris into a corner of the parking lot. That was good. I was already tired of hearing cars crunching over the debris and smaller limbs.
  • My employer. Although I wasn't personally worried as I have plenty of paid time off available no matter how things came down, my employer paid everyone (even the new 75 cents over minimum wage part time folks) in entirety for the week of the storm. My workplace lost power for four days, but I couldn't make it in until the Monday following the storm due to transit issues. Many employers did NOT do this. And, as a result, those who live paycheck to paycheck and need it the most, lost a week or more worth of pay. For example (not that they're low paid), NJ Transit did not pay their conductors or engineers unless they had paid time off hours. Their PTO hours turn over on January 1 each year. So, many of them have already used most or all of their available hours or have vacations planned which they can't cancel or they'd lose more money. One conductor I know received $28 for that week the NJ Transit trains didn't run; another received nothing. Now, with many train lines still down, the conductors and engineers don't dare call out (even if they're still dealing with no power issues) as they could be bumped off their jobs and there are rumors of possible furloughs or layoffs. (See also, things which didn't work.)
  • Chris Christie. I'm not a huge fan of the governor. However, I must say his passion for the state shined through. I don't think we could have anyone more passionate about New Jersey than he is. That said, he didn't visit Plainfield and concentrated most of his efforts on the shore. The casinos in Atlantic City were up and running while power was still out for most inland areas for more than a week longer. I also don't recall him visiting the Raritan River horrific flooding in Irene which, although not as extensive, was just as bad as the flooding this time at the shore.

We had fog this week ...

Fading Into White
Fading into white

I took this at the TD Ball Park in Bridgewater. It reminded me of the old Cat Stevens song.

Foggy train station
Approaching the Plainfield Train Station

Foggy graveyard

This is the cemetery behind the Friends Meeting House in Plainfield.

Can't see downtown

This is the corner of Roosevelt and East Front in Plainfield. You can barely make out the Supremo supermarket on the opposite corner.

Richmond Towers in fog
Richmond Towers

Yes, there are two fourteen-story apartment towers there. No. You can't see them from here, the sidewalk in front of them.

Oh noes! Where's 525?
The Presbyterian Church on East Front

No, you can't see the church through the fog. Alas, the 525 Parking sign went missing with Sandy. That sign had been here since before I moved to the area in the mid-90s. Only the frame remains.

Webs coated with the foggy mist

Some color in the foggy world

 These things DIDN'T work:
  •  The Mayor's office in Plainfield. There was absolutely NO information coming in on the east side of town where I lived. We had no power for a week and a half to two weeks dependent on neighborhood. NO INFORMATION, none at all. No effort made to let us know of any water, flashlight, batteries, foods available, etc. Not only were we in the dark, we were in the dark. No fliers. No bullhorns. Nada. We could have used blankets. We could have used bottled water. We could have used self-heating meals. The local bodega only gets a handful of newspapers daily and they're gone within a few minutes. We couldn't see notices posted on websites. Cell phone towers were down. Don't advise us to go to websites! WE HAVE NO POWER AND DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON! I wouldn't have even known there was a 7pm curfew if I didn't have a police scanner. I hear council members in other areas were out and about. Where was mine? Where were the local elected city officials when we needed them? Certainly not on the East Side!
  • New Jersey Transit. Now, I most certainly understand issues with the streets and rails being blocked. However, this is just plain stupidity -- NJ Transit closed down the night before Sandy hit. That sounds good, right? Um ... where did they store all the locomotives and rail cars? In two predicted storm surge flooding yards in Kearny and Hoboken! Five feet or more of salt water flooded those yards! Sheesh! Almost a third of the train fleet destroyed or, at least damaged for a long time. Plus, when trying to call them days after the storm, you couldn't get a human. They kept referring you to the website. WE CAN'T GET TO THE WEBSITE BECAUSE WE HAVE NO POWER!
  • The American Red Cross. Who? Oh. Did they come to Plainfield? Oh. They came two weeks after the storm to give out rakes? But, if they came before that, no one around here knew about it. Maybe they went to the West Side. Those folks on the East Side don't need any blankets, food or water.
  • The city of Plainfield Evacuation Shelters. Before the storm hit, I had posted a photo of the evacuation notice that had been placed under my door. I noted that one of the shelters was right down the street from me, a five minute or so walk. Well, before the storm hit at its worst, the shelters started receiving folks. When my power went out, I had my police scanner on. Sure enough, the power went out at the shelter as well. And, guess what? Apparently no one had tested the back-up power there. It didn't come on. In the height of the storm with sustained winds of nearly 80mph and gusts near 120, they bused the evacuees over to Emerson School. The police monitoring Emerson had warned the ones coming from the senior center (my local non-shelter) that objects were flying off the roof at Emerson. My gosh ... those folks would have been better staying in the dark at the senior center rather than out in the worst of the storm! Also, in talking to a friend across the street at the senior home, they went to one of the two remaining shelters only to return to the limited back-up power at their own building as the shelter crowds were unruly. The Salvation Army delivered them meals. (They didn't check the rest of the neighborhood to see if WE were hungry.)
  • Fools with generators. Sheesh. People should have to be licensed to operate those things. So many carbon monoxide emergencies and fires, most of which didn't seem to hit the newspapers. Although, to be honest, I really didn't see newspapers for a few weeks.
  • PSE&G. My power was out for nearly two weeks. And it keeps going out just about every other day. The temporary fixes they made are shoddy. Grr.

525 is back!
They found the 525 sign!

A bit battered, but it's back in its frame. All is right with the 525 once again. And, in this photo, you can see the church.

Applebee's, obviously

This is their Bridgewater, NJ location. I went there with a friend from work Friday evening. Then we went to Westfield to hit up Trader Joe's.

Dawn sun on Watchung Mtns
Sunrise on the Watchung Mountains

Not only do they look down on us, but they get the morning's sun first. I took this from East Front looking down Sanford Street early one morning. Obviously, there are still piles of storm debris. But, at least there is power! This area of Central New Jersey is almost totally flat with the exception of the "Watchung Mountain" range. Where I'm from, we'd call them big hills. There's bear up there, though!

Morning skies
Sunrise over ScottWay Townhomes

Taken on East Front Street

Plainfield train station
Sunset at the Plainfield Train Station

More SEPTA, same location

Yet more sunset
Sunsetting skies over Plainfield

Another sunset
Sunset arriving

I took this overlooking the toxic superfund site near the Bridgewater Train Station.

Same location, same time, different day

In a puddle
Reflection in a puddle

Oh noes!

I've lost more than two weeks of my life! It's Christmas already! The row houses on East Second Street in Plainfield.

Random odd notes:
  • On November 1, there was power downtown. So I walked there. I decided, since there was power at the ticket vending machines, I'd get my November monthly train pass while I was there. Little did I know, but NJ Transit was honoring October passes until November 10. Remember, I can't get to websites and they have no humans on the phones. In the end, buying three weekly passes for the end of the month wouldn't help me when I want to catch a bus across town for the rest of the month. The cross honoring of rail, light rail and bus passes is ending and the weeklies don't cover other modes of transportation.
  • If I never hear the sound of generators, chain saws, leaf blowers and wood chippers again ... it will be too soon.
  • Vincent did his best to keep me warm, but thought I was home to keep him company.
  • I never want to eat canned spinach and Vienna sausage again for a meal.
  • My power has gone out for up to five hours at a time three times since my power came back on. I don't know how long it was out yesterday while I was at work, but the traffic light was still out at the end of the block and my apartment was chilly when I got home.
  • While the car gasoline lines reminded me of the early 70s, the lines of folks with gas cans for their generators (or dead cars) was unbelievable. The first day we saw it, it took us aback. As it continued, I became very happy I wasn't a part of that fiasco.
  • With this storm, I'm so happy I went car-free some years back. I wasn't worried about trees falling on my car, nor did I have to worry about gas lines.
  • My digestive system is still a bit whacked from eating out of cans and eating processed foods for nearly two weeks. Spam, sardines, lots of canned vegies, Dinty Moore stew, canned hash ... gah.  Near the end, I was barely eating; I had no appetite for anything in the cupboard.
  • What we need in a storm outage like this are some of those food trucks coming around. I would have paid dearly for a dirty water dog or hot pretzel!
  • A pound of butter stayed good on the fire escape for nearly two weeks. I really didn't dare that with any other foods. Now, if it had been winter, I wouldn't have lost so much food.
  • Speaking of which, totally restocking a refrigerator and freezer is expensive! I deliberately didn't do regular perishable grocery shopping which was a bit needed before the storm.
  • I prepared to be out of power for three of four days. When I saw how bad things were, I rationed my supplies of batteries, candles, etc. I lasted a week and was running low, but hanging in. Upon returning to work, I bought more candles and batteries in shops open up that way. Plainfield was emptied of those supplies. Oh ... except for the lucky folks who were informed of services available.
  • Eating nearly a quart of Trader Joe's chocolate ice cream before it melts makes my stomach hurt even though it tasted so good.
  • I just can't take cold showers when it's 40-some degrees in my apartment.
  • It takes a gazillion teakettles of boiling water to mix with the cold water in the tub to take a bath.
  • I'm happy I didn't throw out that huge stock pot I bought for one time cooking lobsters back in the early 80s. Keeping that full of boiling water on the stove helped warm the apartment. I kept having to regularly refill all my smaller pots.
  • If a storm is ever on the horizon again, I will push folks out of the way to get my laundry done.
  • I recharge my battery in my cell phone about once every week or two in normal life. In Sandy, due to trying to text and get to Facebook and the signals being down, it would go down almost by the day. I actually got panicky each time I saw a power bar vanish and I'm really not a phone person at all.
  • On the Sunday evening before Election Day, I received two robo-calls, not from the city of Plainfield to inform me what was going on. Nope. One was from Bill Clinton who started out explaining FEMA contacts and such, then turned into a political plea to vote for Bob Melendez. The other was from Comcast informing me my cable service was out because there was no power. Duh! At least they ended up with asking us to notify them if the power returned and our cable service remained down.
  • That said, when my power came back and I turned on my television, it went through automatically reprogramming the channels and came right up without issue. When I turned on my other TV, it was already all set. Cool.
  • They say it's an old wife's tale that you catch a cold from being cold. Okay. I picked up a nasty cold. What's up with that?
  • Being flung into huge loads of work at my job while being without power at home is a miserable and trying existence.
  • Usually I rejoice on the day that the clocks turn back an hour. I get an extra hour's sleep! This time I almost cried when I awoke and realized the time changed upon looking at my cell phone clock. The dark would arrive an hour earlier. In my powerless days, I learned to not only not waste daylight hours, I learned to fear the dark and cold nights. I could hear someone sneeze from three apartments away in the building. Every noise, every creak. Ambulances would come and go to the building. I was in the dark ... and cold as I didn't want to use my stove while sleeping. I don't scare easily, but the dark nights actually scared me and kept me awake.
  • Speaking of daylight, I read three novels sitting in my recliner by the window that first week. Although I love to read, I usually don't have the time to read that much during the average week.
  • Now, nearly three weeks after the storm hit, roofs are a crazy quilt of shingles mixed with blue tarp or, in some cases, mostly blue tarp. Okay. My question is ... why is the tarp blue? You never see any other colors.
  • Then there's caution tape. I saw so many different kinds -- "Police Line - Do Not Cross" - "Crime Scene - Do Not Cross" - "Live Wires - Do Not Cross" - "Fire Line- Do Not Cross" - "Caution Caution Caution"
  • After my power returned, I saw the PSE&G had been sending me regular updates via email. I had no real access to email. My bank was also sending out all kinds of notices about not charging late fees or ATM fees and such. But, since I didn't have Internet while I was out of power, I didn't know.
  • Not only was gas in short supply, but so was money. I'm talking cold hard cash money. Places couldn't take debit or charge cards without power (although decades ago you didn't need power for such things). Once power came to some areas, ATMs rapidly ran out of cash. Money trucks couldn't get here from there and on and on.
  • Life is still a bit askew, what with ongoing transit issues and intermittent power outages. Sandy is like the storm which wouldn't die here. I do know folks in many areas had it worse than I did. However, I noted that some of the storm surge areas which had been flooded had their power returned before I got mine back. No, not the folks who lost their homes, but ones with more "damage" than I had. The psychological and stress factors endured by folks here with massive extensive power outages and a living in the third world for a few weeks type of existence isn't anything I'd wish on anyone.             

Way too green!

While walking to the library last week, I spotted this newly painted home in one of the historical districts in town. Yikes! It's scary green!

It has apartment(s) for rent

Um. No. Just the color of the building would keep me awake at night.

Survivors on East Front Street

I will survive! Post-Sandy

Crowing the news

Berckman Street, Plainfield

Be thankful

Yes, it could have been worse. I guess. But this has been bad enough, thank you very much.

Local Plainfield blogger Bernice

Since she posted shots of me at the Plainfield Library Photo Contest Exhibit, I'm posting one of her! We bumped into each other the Thursday of the first week post-Sandy.

Post-Sandy cat

I saw this cat on East Second Street the day after Sandy hit. He wouldn't let me near him.


After my power came back, we had a few warm days (which I could have used when the power was out instead of nearly record lows!). Buds began growing.

I am just so precious, aren't I?

Vincent will probably send me a bill for cat treats because he worked as a small purring heater during the cold powerless nights.


lynn1 said...

enjoyed your photos and war stories. I hope your area improves daily.
I know what you mean when you said you were prepared for a few days or a week. When Katrina hit we had to evacuate before the storm and were prepared to be gone for 5 to 7 days.It took us 3 months to get back home permanently.

MikesGirl said...

Great read as always. Glad you're safe :)

Jean Floyd said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I thought of you every day. I hope it never happens again in your area. I was worried about people turning to crime during the outage and I hoped you would be safe. I'm so glad you are.

Palmaltas said...

What an experience! And one I hope you never have to go through again. I can imagine how terrible the nights must have been. I've been through brief power outages at night and nearly panicked because there was blackness everywhere.

Jackie said...

Thank you.

Jean -- There were isolated incidents of looting, robberies and burglaries, mostly downtown. Thankfully, the police were really out there in force.

Where I live, the normal folks locked themselves in once the dark nights arrived. We all feared what could happen. I wasn't too happy to be out in the darkness when I returned to work before our power here returned. It bothered me that the homes I would consider safety after dark in the normal world were totally darkened and they wouldn't know it was me if I needed them for safety!

Becky said...

Jackie, I know how you felt during and after Sandy. That is why I vowed in 1970 to never again stay during a hurricane. We had been through three before Celia, but never again.

I thought about the difference between your hurricanes and the ones in the South. The Southern hurricanes strike in the summer or warmer months. Not only do we have more daylight hours, but most of us can at least grill on our barbeque pits. It can be horribly hot, but better that than freezing cold.

I think you guys got the short end of the stick.

One thing that amazes me are the people who can leave, but decide to "ride it out". When it gets bad they call first responders to come save their behinds. I admire the mayor of Galveston who told the people there was a mandatory evuacation in place. She said that if you choose to stay, don't call us to come rescue you. You are on your own.

The pictures were fantastic. And, frankly, I think Vincent is due a few extra treats for doing his best to keep you warm.

lynn1 said...

@Becky when Katrina was coming we were under mandatory evacuation. we received a phone call at 3:00 AM to tell us that. our parish government said if you stay there will be NO attempts to rescue anyone. take a magic marker and write your social security number on the inside of your left arm so that when your body is recovered your next of kin can be notified. A rather sobering message to receive in the middle of the night.

Becky said...

A rather sobering message to receive in the middle of the night.

Did you leave?

Dusty said...

Jackie, I'm so glad that you survived and that you're here to talk about it. I remember when I went through the biggest earthquake of my life and it was very traumatizing for me and night time was the worst for me too. We only lost power for about 18 hours, so I could NOT imagine almost two weeks without power. I was never one to sleep with the television on, but I needed to because I couldn't sleep otherwise. Every aftershock was a jolt to my brain. I know what you went through was worse, but I just didn't want you to feel alone.

What is a dirty water dog?

Btw, I disagree with you, I LOVE the green apartment building :D!!!!

Jackie said...

A dirty water dog is a hot dog vendor cart hot dog, like the ones in NYC

Margo said...

I loved reading about your weeks. I am so sorry that you had so much non help from the local government and relief agency's. I hope you let the various places that kept you informed via email that you could not read that they need another way to reach the public during a massive power outage.

lynn1 said...

Becky, yes we left. We headed out in the very early morning hours on August 29th, prepared to be away from home for 3 to 5 days. We didn't actually get home permanently until after Thanksgiving.
we were allowed to come backon 2 occasions one to asses damage and meet with the insurances claim adjuster and once to get warm clothes.
we lived in Motels part of the time in the Arlington Texas and part of the time in Birmingham Al.