Hoboken, not Hobgoblins


I was set to post something appropriate to Halloween this evening, but then I watched the evening news, viewing once again photos of the devastation in New Jersey.   Halloween costumes and jack-o-lanterns were not something that I wanted to focus on.  Rather, the all-tricks-no-treats aftermath of the storm — too monstrous in real life to still refer to it by the humorous pre-storm moniker of “Frankenstorm” — is on my mind.

Throughout the day on Monday, there were photos of the rising tides, of flooding in areas of New York City that I am familiar with, like Battery Park City.  As the storm made landfall, the shocking photos of the subway stations flooding were difficult to believe.   I have been in many of those stations.  I can visualize the depth of the tracks in the 86th Street Station and understand just how many feet of water were on the tracks below the flooded platforms.  I’ve been through South Ferry Station on several occasions; I can’t imagine it being filled to the ceiling with water.  But none of the photos were of places as familiar to me as the PATH station in Hoboken.  Seeing the water gush out of the closed elevator doors was truly shocking.

For more than five years I worked for a company that had offices in Hoboken.   During a special project that I managed in 2007, I commuted regularly from Indiana to northern NJ.   I had my comfy well-furnished office in Indy and I had a temporary office — filled with banker boxes of papers, manuals, computer cables — in a rarely used conference room in the Hobo office.  What it lacked in furnishings and conveniences (like a steady internet connection) it made up for in view — an unobstructed, breathtaking view of Manhattan.   Because I was nursing a broken foot at the time, it was important that I had lodgings that were accessible to public transportation.   This was not disappointing for it meant that I usually stayed in Manhattan, a short ride under the Hudson River on the PATH, rather than somewhere in New Jersey where I would have to walk a distance or use a car which I was unable to drive with my injured foot.  Since the elevator from the PATH went directly to the street, it was nearly six months before I could take the stairs and see what a magnificent old train palace the Hoboken station had once been.

It isn’t that I’m overly attached to that elevator or the somewhat neglected train station that made the photo so shocking and surreal.  Like all subway elevators it is dank, dirty, smelly.  Sometimes there were rain puddles in it for hours after it had rained.  Sometimes there were  puddles that you knew weren’t water but you didn’t want to think about it.  Instead, you just held your breath as the slow elevator shuttled you down underground.  But, seeing that photo (if you didn’t look at the link, here it is again) of a place that I have been to hundreds of times made the frightening views of Sandy’s wrath all the more real.  It wasn’t happening someplace that was far away, some place where I could understand the implications but had no connections to, some place where I couldn’t quite grasp the scope of the destruction.  It was happening to a place that I knew well.

This evening on the News, one of the reports was on the severe flooding in Hoboken, a densely populated town that is only about a mile across.  There isn’t much to Hoboken except for residential buildings that are home to people who work in the city.  There are some offices and commercial businesses, and lots and lots of restaurants.  Tonight, most of the town is flooded and many people are stranded in their homes without power or water, trapped by the high floodwaters in the streets and lower levels of their apartment buildings.  The National Guard came in today to assist people.  Reports are that it will be a few days before they can pump the water out of the streets and out of the buildings.  The officials haven’t said how long it will be before the trains are running again, but it won’t be soon.  As I looked through photographs of the floods,  there are streets that look familiar, but I can’t determine exact locations because rivers instead of streets disguise the landmarks, masking street corners and buildings that I’ve walked by many times.

The company I worked for was sold a few years ago.  The Hoboken office was closed and I have lost touch with most of the people who worked there.   Only one or two of them lived in Hoboken; the others lived in nearby Jersey towns — Newark, Bayonne, Weehawken, Jersey City.   There are miles of displaced beachfront with burned houses, the remains of businesses, dwellings, and livelihoods strewn with the sand, all along the Jersey Shore; there are neighborhoods without power in New York; towns obliterated on Long Island; places along the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers experiencing historic flooding.  My heart goes out to all those affected by the storm, in Hoboken and elsewhere.

Here are two photographs I took from my office the last time that I was there in 2010:

The front of the Hoboken Train Station

Another view of the train station with the Hudson River in the background. ERIE is now eerie.

I found photographs of the train station and surrounding park showing the rising flood waters before the hurricane made landfall,  here and here.   You can see the building where I used to work to the right in the first photo.

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12 responses to “Hoboken, not Hobgoblins

  1. Thanks for this – we have a nephew who was stranded in Hoboken, and will be so glad when we hear he’s safely out. I also have a friend with 3 small kids in Toms River, which is a mess, and my daughter on the CT shore probably won’t have power until Monday. We did well – no power for 2 days, but no damage, and we were well prepared. We have much to be thankful for, but still so many to pray for and reach out to.

    • Glad to hear that you got through the storm okay. Hope that things go well for your nephew. I’m sure all in his family will be relieved when he is no longer stranded. I heard on the news last night that most of Hoboken’s streets had drained, though most basement and first floor apartments are still flooded. What a mess! Recovering from a flood is so heartbreaking, too! You can see all of your belongings (if they weren’t swept away) — in many cases most items looks okay — but there is so little that you can salvage when it has been in such contaminated water. Although I don’t have experience with fire, I’ve been told that it is actually easier psychologically than from a flood.

  2. Thanks for posting this. While the usual news outlets are doing fine, it seems like I’m seeing the same group of photos everywhere. I am getting more info from bloggers in the area affected than from the news lately.

    At a former job I used to visit a client in Hoboken frequently, so I appreciate the update on the area.

    • Since I’m not in Hoboken or the East Coast, my news has all been from the media outlets and the web. Saw an interesting story on NBC last night with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. He said that he couldn’t imagine NOT having social media — twitter, specifically — and being able to provide help to his citizens. Social media is great for times like this. I remember when there was that devastating earthquake in China a few year ago. One of my co-workers knew her brother was okay within minutes because he was tweeting his status.

  3. This was very interesting to read. Around the other side of the world, our weather was calm and sunny as Sandy created such havoc in these places so familiar to you. Not knowing the geography of the area very well, it was good to read stories such as this which describe places and spaces so graphically and help to imagine the devastation that must be in New York now. My thoughts are with those who have to deal with it all. Thanks for the post.

    • As more photos and video come in from the East Coast, I think more Americans are being shocked by the devastation. We saw this kind of thing with Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, but we don’t expect this kind of thing in New York and New Jersey which are so heavily populated.

  4. The storm was so massive, and the impact so severe it seems incongruous that life – and ghoulish Halloween – in the rest of the country is going on as normal. 🙂

    • Agreed! Even more incongruous must be the divide between those with power & those without within Manhattan. I’m planning to call a good friend over the weekend (we’ve IM so I know she is okay) who lives in the far northern part of Manhattan but works down in the area that is flooded and without power. She never lost power and had no damage to her home but it must be odd not being able to go to her office.

      • I’ve just stumbled upon our conversation Anne – sorry, I seem to have forgotten to respond to a whole slew of comments from last week …

        Has the storm been eclipsed by the elections, or is the clean-up back on the news now?

  5. Like you, my thoughts and prayers go out to those millions who are enduring this terrible storm.