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:
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.