Things I Learned In The Dark

Too long of an absence. What with life at full tilt, Sandy, black-outs and then the spinning. About what to write, list ways to help or assume we all know by now, how much to linger on these overwhelming circumstances that many of us were and some still are trapped in. Hmmm. So, a mini summary of life in the dark lane and then many restaurants to report on in the coming days.

Let me first say that I was basically inconvenienced, compared to the hell that my neighbors just a bit south and east of me are enduring. Cold and bored doesn’t hold a candle (truly) to seeing your life literally disintegrate around you. Of course that being said, it was still pretty weird. The streets were so dark that if a lone car passed by with what seemed like super sonic headlights, your shadow would be cast upon the buildings on either side of you. Very Twilight Zone. One night making my way down my block, familiarity had bled into unrecognizable. In the barely reflected cloud light, a man appeared out of the mist and said…scary huh? It is now. Then I kept losing my dog in my building hallway, he didn’t cotton well to pitch black, even needed the light to shine on his food bowl or he wouldn’t eat and would reverse direction if the flashlight wasn’t right in front of him on each step. Several times he turned tail (!) and ran back up the stairs to the apt. That – he’d do in the dark. I kept thinking he was just behind me until I’d hold open the front door and he was nowhere to be found. Ai me. So #1, give your dog his own flashlight.

With my previously extravagant candle supply now running low, a borrowed flashlight (from neighbor Larry & with extra batteries!) and a rather nippy apt – I turned to my dog and asked, so what’s on our newly created emergency wish list? #2. A list. I chose first. Hand cranked radio. No more battery dependence. Grilled chicken. Clearly not getting the hang of no power, no delivery. Way more candles. Grilled chicken. An itty bitty book light! Grilled chicken and…cream cheese! He thought he had the game now. I voted for a foray to some camping goods store to know what’s even possible to want in an emergency. Dog Larry cast his ballot for a run on the beach. Seriously no idea of what was at stake. Steak!

Years ago there was an episode of Seinfeld centered on the contraceptive choice, the Today Sponge and how they were being taken off the market. All the female characters on that week’s episode stockpiled them by the case or begged each other for a loaner. So to speak. And Elaine had to make the ever difficult choice of who was “sponge worthy”. Could you really afford to risk one’s dwindling supply on a particular sexual encounter? Well that’s how I came to feel about a low battery and my only method of black-out communication – texting. With little ATT&T service downtown (luckily at least texting worked for me), a walk to re-charge, and an online business to manage, I had to seriously consider who was text worthy. Makes you think twice. Some had to fall away. #3. Be clear about who to bother with.

After 9.11 everyone would part after a dinner or a casual run-in on the street by saying, stay safe. No one I knew had ever said that at the end of a fun night before. It became the norm, odd and clearly heartfelt. The Sandy farewell evolved into…stay powered up. When a recharging find I was at became too popular, a church down the block invited those waiting for a turn to come inside and plug. One of my new black-out pals said – plug in to the all powerful! Ha. #4. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Ever.

My morning routine became waking up without any idea of the time. Could be noon, could be 8am. #5. A non digital clock. That first morning with about two minutes of battery left in the red zone, I had emails from a couple clients already wanting to know where to eat, what was open. I managed a brief list. Off to the new world, fully loaded my pockets with the all important triad – flashlight, matches, phone. #6. Never just put something down. Gotta have a central spot so it could be found again in pitch blackness. Then Dog and I would walk north to plug in somewhere, and happily for us we discovered the outdoor outlets at the John Dory Oyster Bar. Awfully nice of them. They had lucked into one of the random small pockets of power in the Frozen Zone.

We were jammed into power strips attached to power strips. Friends ran into old friends, strangers became friends, everyone pooled whatever information they had about what was open, when the power might return and for those who ventured north, tales of how close to normal life was above 39th street. Some of us liked the camaraderie of the Frozen Zone or SoPo as we were deemed by the media – south of power. Power (or not) to the people.

Except for too many loooong dark nights that started at 5:30pm, it was oddly fun. Writing by candlelight I felt like Mary Todd, except I was just making indecipherable lists. We all had little idea of what was really happening around us so we created our new world, some of us in front of the Ace Hotel hanging with the peeps who started a seriously brilliant company called BrightBox. Lock and leave drawers to recharge your phone. Swipe your card, door opens, plug in, close door. Then go wander and hunt for food to eat, and report back on what was open and what they had left when you returned to swipe, open and retrieve your fully charged phone. #7. Sometimes technology rules. Embrace it already.

Ryan and Peter from Bright Box made my three time a day habit completely entertaining. Along with all the regulars. Even my dog knew the routine and had his own pals to check out each day while we’d pass others gathered in their own plug circles…

And man, NYC restaurants are the backbone of this city and this downtown life. Several rushed to the forefront either cooking what was left in their larder on the streets for all to share (like Northern Spy) or offered candlelight and a limited (very) menu for a true dining experience. Noir et blanc to the max. (like Exchange Alley, Boqueria etc) Inspiration magnified with people like Allison Robicelli of Robicelli’s Cupcakes. Stuck in Bay Ridge with a business, a child, an injury from a recent car accident, she and her husband Matt literally made it happen for South Brooklyn. They got people to help them with food, offering a zillion hot meals, cleaning supplies, organizing the troops and being the gateway for information not only for their neighborhood but Staten Island and the Rockaways as well. She just jumped in, never minding their own business loss and circumstances. And a big mention for the NYC Food Trucks Association and Farm2Me still getting right in the thick of it collecting donations and serving hot meals smack in the center of utter devastation. #8. Do what you can.

When all else fails – have a black-out dinner party. #9. Fun is…fun. Gather anyone willing to glide through the dark, tell them to bring whatever’s left food/libation wise and have a blast.

Interesting that Thanksgiving is almost here because I do feel particularly grateful right about now. I got to have lunch with dear friends uptown one afternoon and have a shower, I had my bed, my home, my things, even if I couldn’t see them much of the time, I had a reasonably good time. So that happened and now I’ve turned my attention to doing my part for those rightfully less thankful in this new New York. #10 and #11. Recognize grace. Return it ten fold.

In case you’re only hooked into the Red Cross and want to get a little more direct with a cash donation, hard goods or even hands on – here are a few ideas and feel free to email me for more. Neighbor to neighbor. NYC has always felt like a big city with a small town spirit to me and never more than now.

Stay powered up!

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About eatquestnyc is for.....when you can't think, don't know, need inspiration and you have to eat. My services range from on or off the beaten track recommendations, organizing private culinary tours for a perfect dining-out experience and sourcing food items or private chef suggestions for those who prefer to dine-in. A fun way to rediscover NYC and the whole planet!

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