A Moment of Clarity - Long Beach Post Sandy
The first hurricane head fake came when meteorologists started hyping the storm. For a change, they nailed this one. I had advance warning from a heroic power trader in Baltimore who was in front of it by 10 days. I knew my town was in trouble because last year Hurricane Irene came and went with 75% of our locals sticking around to laugh at Al Roker. One week after that hurricane Long Beach, New York, of all places, was treated to its finest hour when 100 year surf conditions provided a playing field for the best surfers in the world to compete for the NYQuiksilver Pro Championship. This time, we wouldn’t be so incredibly lucky, but we’d learn something.
The stress level created by the storm, the unbelievable surge, and then the aftermath is a lot to bear for a blue-collar beach community. The City of Long Beach had just elected new leadership, for better or for worse, and cut spending and raised taxes to cover its $25M budget deficit. Then Sandy hit causing billions of dollars in damage. Neither the savings accounts, nor the tax receipts of a town with a median income of $76,000, were going to pay for those billions. Consider for a moment that I had no idea what condition the town was in during the wee hours of October 30th. I was left to reading the “market” signals.
I firmly believe that having a background in trading is useful in any time of crisis. During a low-grade natural disaster, daily staples like power, gasoline, cash, and south shore pizza become a luxury. Fending for them brings out the extremes in human nature; and you can read the sentiment signs through catastrophe like you can read the warning signs through a trade. At around 11pm weather channel predictions came to fruition and the Frankenstorm surge reached its peak of 10’ feet above sea level. A few of those locals were watching their cars get entirely submerged from the 2nd floor of their two-story home as the ocean poured into their living room right up to their flat screen. Down the block from them in the “canals” area of town - 6 homes were in the process of burning down to the water line in a matter of 2 hours. We were indeed on the lows in the middle of the night and I was praying for a bottom. Text messages of desperation now read “Dude make it stop!!!”
On my first return trip to Long Beach on the morning of Tuesday, October 30th – I admit – I couldn’t believe my eyes and was highly skeptical we would see any modicum of normalcy for months to come. The town was a warzone, covered in debris and burned-out zombie vehicles. There were parts of our boardwalk on front lawns five blocks away, vehicles were smashed through parking garage walls like Matchbox cars, and four feet of sand covered the roads along the beach. The water decontamination plant had been knocked totally offline and we were at square one in determining when, if ever, we would have power again. We’d just been taken down several notches of living standard and gone straight to primitive.
Locals immediately began the arduous task of pumping several feet of water out of their basement with gas powered generators and carrying the waterlogged contents of their life out to the curb. I will never forget the looks on the faces of my friends, family and neighbors facing the seemingly insurmountable task of first cleaning up after one phase of their lives, then rebuilding the next one. Put yourself in their boots for a moment. All at once, that is a consideration your brain cannot handle.
House after house, block after block - waterlogged furniture, wallboard, carpets, mounds of insulation piled twenty feet high. Beautiful God fearing people reduced to zombies in filthy wet work clothes. It was time to queue up my crisis salvation song by Derek & the Dominoes. “It’s Got to Get Better in a Little While.” Repeat.
I knew while watching my 6-year-old niece crying out loud at the sight of her playroom being deposited on the curb, dripping with black-water from a freshly gutted first floor, that the situation had reached a dark sentimental bottom. Despite the mess, the loss, and all of her tears - the sun rose again. The next time I saw my niece laugh hysterically – I got the chills.
In the days that shortly followed, the National Guard set up throughout town and the industrial clean up revved into full gear. Having the support of your iphone, text message system, email box, and twitter feed fill up with calls of concern provided the first chance to get your spirit off the mat. In short order a friend from Connecticut offered to make a midnight run to deliver 20 gallons of gasoline, desk mates and market buddies offered to come down and pitch in with the clean up, professional saxophone players were available in tool belts for the rebuilding process, the ice arena where my children skate was converted into a massive supply station as donations arrived from every corner of the country. Help was pouring in from neighboring towns in the form of man power on school buses. People were so eager to help us that my faith in human nature spiked to the top of my screen and I have all of that to be thankful for this year.
On the first Saturday after the storm I was proudly part of a 50 man team that gutted 8 homes in 12 hours. That’s a lot of tonnage moved for charity and something we’ll always be proud of. Some day in the future – the clean up and the rebuild will define this episode, not the destruction or the despair.
After that herculean effort, to borrow a phrase from Jules Winnfield “I was sitting here, eating my muffin and drinking my coffee and replaying the incident in my head, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.” Ok I was drinking a cold Bud can outside and eating a hot dog, but I’m the farthest thing from an alcoholic. In partially soaked and entirely filthy work clothes, I realized how damn lucky I am.
The most important stat was that there was no loss of life in my town. Everything that everyone was forced to part with on short notice was either of material or sentimental value. The truth is – in short order the material loss will mean nothing. Aside from Rockaway Flu, we have our health and a big job to do, but we can look each other in the eye knowing we have the will to get it done. It didn’t seem possible 2 weeks ago but we are going to have a 1st Grade Turkey Bowl and monstrous Thanksgiving this year after all.
If there is a town on Long Island with a Kevlar backbone, it is the town of Long Beach and that is a testament to the people. “Beach Creatures”, as I refer to my local brethren, want for very little. How much can you actually want for with a median income of $76k?
I realized in my moment of clarity that it is not money or the possessions we’re after. It is to be able to call our beautiful beach town home and have that cohesive bond motivate us to full recovery. We are all longing for a run on the boardwalk, to watch our kids play sports on local fields and for 12 hour days on the beach that end riding waves with the family until the sun goes down. A few thousand more man hours, donations, FEMA checks, automobiles, generators, renovations, prayers of love & care and we will be sitting on the beach enjoying that sunset in no time.
Still one thing that you can do;
Fall down on your knees and pray.
I know the Lord's gonna answer you.
Don't do it tomorrow, do it today.