Hurricane Sandy, Reading, Money

Last week, after hurricane Sandy, I had no power, heat, lights, internet, hot water, cell service or client meetings.  Life and work were on hold. The temperature in my studio was a crisp 53 degrees, which was not conducive to working, so I spent most of the days walking around Manhattan. One thing I noticed was that while paper and screens were used for communication, paper emerged as a necessity for commerce.

Myself, and most residents living in lower Manhattan needed to walk to 27th St., where power and cell service began. The grocery stores that remained open in lower Manhattan had plenty of food and water: what people needed was juice for their phones and cash. Mass charging on daisy chained power strips took place in coffee houses, outside of stores, at portable generators in parks, and even at pedal powered dynamos on Avenue C. This atmosphere of cooperation extended into the street where cars—without traffic lights—negotiated the intersections without incident in my observation.

But paper still had its place. At Fishs Eddy, many wrote cheeky post it notes to Sandy, a kind of postmodern post card. Also, paper money was once again a necessity. Credit cards were useless without electricity or cell service.  But Banks and ATM’s were closed. Do many Manhattan residents stash cash under the mattress? Merchants tallied bills with a pencil and paper or visual inspection. Tax was largely ignored, possibly rationalized because there were no services, or likely too difficult to record.

Could this be a glimpse at a potential post-apoclyptic culture?  What if all cell phone service had disappeared? How many of us still have battery powered radios? Among other things, Sandy highlights the overlapping and non-linear nature of technological change as well as the durability of paper, a technology which is at least 2,000 years old.

I didn’t see anyone using books, though….


Contact me or the AIC-CERT disaster response team, or The New York Alliance for Response if you have wet or water damaged books.


Things are back to normal for me, but there are still ongoing needs for others. Many, especially in New Jersey, are still without power, heat, and need gas, food, etc. Donate to your favorite charities if possible, or these local ones.


David Nye has a great and very readable social history of blackouts titled “When the Lights Went Out”. There is a section on the 2003 east coast blackouts.

8 Replies to “Hurricane Sandy, Reading, Money”

  1. Jeff- I was thinking about you-and am glad you and Mary Helen, and all your things are ok. Since you are here (in the ether) am assuming your power is back. Heat? Love to post it note wall!!! Mimi

  2. I’m not sure if I missed the Juice or Heat/hot water more, but now we have them all.

  3. Hey bro- We still get power outages here in Laos from time to time (must be selling too much electricity to other countries). A few years ago the students would stumble down the stairs of our classes in the dark but now everyone pulls out their mobile phones to light the way. I do love how human activity (or nonactivity, as the case may be) seems to move outside when the power is out. Glad you stayed safe.

  4. Hey Peachey-
    Re: getting out. In the David Nye book, he writes that in cities, when the lights go out, people turn the streets into seats by sitting on the curb. Although the storm prevented it this time, the last time we had a blackout this is exactly what happened.

  5. Great muse, Jeff. Glad to hear things are returning to normal. Always a shock when our electronic toys stop working and we have to remember what we did to find things and people and places without them. Grim without the white and yellow pages we’ve all stopped collecting and how do you get takeout when nobody’s open. Just remember the old days living in rural CT when a big nor’easter was coming in and the shops were jammed with folks stocking up on basics, dusting off the Webers and stocking up on charcoal. Ah, the good old days.

  6. Jeff I am glad to hear you are safe and well, and that things are slowly getting back to some kind of routine. Of course this dominated the news down here in New Zealand, and I couldn’t believe some of the images and footage coming through the media. It must have been terrifying. It is true, too – you know, not having those things we have grown so accustomed to having that keeps us all in touch with eachother in some way or another. I had a measly 19 hour power cut the other week due to a storm (not a descendent of Sandy!) and went to bed with a torch and hot water bottle. It was actually rather nice. Take care out there. 🙂

  7. Jeff, I’m glad you and yours are well and safely weathered the storm. Thanks for posting those great pictures.
    Take care!

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