I live on the North Shore of Long Island and I was lucky during Hurricane Sandy to only lose power. There was no flooding or fire or downed trees at my house, though I only had to walk a few blocks to see power lines draped across the roads and horizontal trees where fences used to be. I was doubly lucky then, when a cousin of my Mom’s offered us her apartment in the city until our power returned. We drove in on the Wednesday after the storm and started out before anyone realized it was gridlock day. We were in the car for six hours on a trip that would usually take less than an hour. Six hours with Cricket climbing behind my neck and barking at trucks and all of us really needing to pee.
When we arrived at the building and found a magical parking spot only two blocks away, my first priority was, of course, to pee. And then I had to find and turn on the TV. I am a TV addict. I may have to write a whole blog on that someday, but suffice it to say that going a full day without TV leaves me strung out, two days and I’m shaking.
But really, what the TV offered was a better idea of what Hurricane Sandy had done. Listening to the radio on and off didn’t make it clear, pictures did. It was the flooding that I couldn’t have imagined without the pictures. The houses snapped in half and pulled off their foundations. The only sign of the storm damage in the Upper West Side neighborhood I was temporarily living in was that Central Park was closed, so all of the runners and the dogs had to crowd onto the sidewalks.
Cricket is my anxiety dog, in that she shows the anxiety I feel. She shook and cried under my legs during the storm itself. And then in the aftermath, she was scared of the dark. We always leave the living room light on, or a light in the hallway, but without electricity, the only light came from candles and flashlights and those were only where the humans were. And she became even more of a Velcro dog than usual.
In the city, she was overwhelmed by all of the new people and smells and configurations. At first she wasn’t ready to poop or pee in a strange place, then, once she’d mastered that, she started to bark at everyone – in the elevator, in the lobby, on the sidewalk. She was clearly the country dog among city dogs. She weaved from side to side, sniffing every pee spot along the sidewalk, turning her head at every new dog, hiding behind my legs as every clique of marathoners ran by. The city dogs were polite, and somewhat jaded. They kept their eyes forward, did their business, and went on their way.
We walked everywhere. They had a Fairway and a Trader Joe’s just like on Long Island, but more cramped and with escalators filled with people. I tend to panic in crowds, and that’s what happened when I tried to go into stores in the city. Everything was too close together and I couldn’t think, or breathe. But the crowds on the sidewalk were half dogs, so they didn’t scare me. It’s as if dogs mitigate the panic for me. If I could go to school, or work, or synagogue or the doctor with dogs, I’d have a much more active life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if dogs were allowed at the DMV?
I liked having doormen there at all hours. Taking Cricket out to pee at ten PM and being surrounded by light and people was very different from home, where it is dark and haunted by six o’clock this time of year, even with the power on. You only know other people are around because there are lights in the windows.
The power came back on in our neighborhood by Friday, so Saturday morning we were ready to go home. But first, Central Park was finally open and Cricket needed to walk. I’d seen so many dogs and runners on the grassless sidewalks that I’d assumed that was their natural habitat, but no, they belonged in Central Park, with the dogs finally free to run off leash and chase balls and grab sticks, and the runners on their own separate paths.
We met a woman and her dog who had been there from the first opening of the gates, when at least a hundred people and their dogs were waiting impatiently to get in. She said that once the gates were opened, the dogs ran like mad to get inside. After a week of being city dogs, they let loose and became dogs again.