Week five. No snow on the first four days. Alleluia. The siege is ended; normality is around the corner. Who cares if streets aren’t cleared and Christmas trees still litter the curbs? For the most part, trains are on time, and we find our rhythm. Holidays are over, and now’s the time to apply ourselves to the resolutions we’ve set.
That lasts until day five of week five, almost lovely in its symmetry. Another storm moves in, finds the place to its liking, and settles in for what turns out to be six straight days. We’ve never seen anything like it. Snow and snow and more snow on top of that, until we forget what the world looks like without white flurries blinding us.
None of us leaves home unless we have to. Then, the second day of this fiercest of storms, scores of us have to. Black out? Brown out? Whatever. Same result. Electricity goes out and stays out for most of the city for nearly a week. We thought things had slowed before? Turns out to have been barely a dress rehearsal for what Mother Nature, vengeful shrew, had in store. Road crews pretty much give up except for a few main arteries.
Speaking of arteries, we hope ours keep working, because chances of making it to a hospital for a jumpstart are slim to none. We’d be better off praying for divine intervention, and who dares count on that?
Some residential buildings boast their own generators, giving a few of us a sweet surprise vacation, a New Year’s gift that plunges our bosses into worse funks than usual. We lucky ones stay home from whatever job pays for those generators, drink down the booze supply, then trot to the nearest liquor store for replenishment, grateful such places manage to stay open no matter the complications the world faces.
The rest of us? Most all of us? What does fate have in store? We make our way to one of the city’s shelters, looking like pack mules, juggling whatever we can’t live without. One morose gentleman lugs a four-foot money tree, pausing every half block to adjust the clear plastic covering. Wasted solicitude for a plant obviously not doing its job. What else to think? Instead of sitting cozily in a generator-powered condo, the owner is schlepping himself and his failure of a plant to the nearest shelter.
Shelters are the chaos that television shows 24/7 until viewers get bored. Even then, our sorry state flashes regularly across screens to keep the world apprised of our troubles. Long lines at the bathrooms. The stench of unwashed bodies and stale air. Lights that dim but never fully extinguish, depriving us of the deep sleep we crave. We’re in the middle of the misery then, not like during Katrina when we sat back and watched, all of us secretly thinking we would’ve fared better in the Superdome than the slobs on our sets. Now we’re the evening news, entertainment for people downing a few brews in their FEMA trailers and gleeful to be living where snow’s a fairy tale, not a threat.
Amid the misery, we do our best to set up separate spaces, drawing invisible lines from one cot to the next, all of us suspicious of the contagious diseases our neighbors harbor. As for our own occasional coughs? Throat clearings really. Benign. Unlike theirs.