It had been well over 17 years since returning to my hometown of Center Moriches (Long Island), New York, and that was shortly after the birth of my first niece, Jill. This time I was returning to Jill, nephew Matthew, brother John and sister-in-law Lynn, as well as to revisit high school classmates for a 35-year reunion.
Mind you, when I called the family in late September to leave the message, “Hurricane Trisha is coming to town, might you have some room?”, I never would have thought a hurricane might actually be involved in my travels.
It started out that I was to arrive in NY 5:00pm October 30, however that was also the time Hurricane Sandy was going to be in town. My flight was cancelled two days prior to departure, at which time I spent two additional days attempting to book another flight as well as rearrange my work/vacation schedule.
In the early hours of Friday, November 2, I finally arrived in JFK on a red-eye wondering what transportation challenges I was going to face between JFK and the east end of Long Island, considering the massive power outages. The airtrain, which conveniently transports you from the airport to Jamaica station from which you can catch a train was not running, though bus transportation was a possibility. However the only train that was running would only get me out about half-way to my destination. On top of that, gasoline was at a premium … while many stations had gas, they had no power to pump it. Thus, I was not thrilled about asking friends or family to come pick me up from such a distance.
After an hour and a half of calls and working with the local transportation desk, I was finally able to score a “super shuttle” van, along with a few others heading out onto the island, right to my brother’s front door. During the ride I was searching for obvious signs of Sandy-damage, however the roads we were traveling were quite a distance from the water’s edge and the bulk of downed trees and limbs had already been cleaned up. What was obvious were the long lines at the gas stations – both for vehicles as well as containers that would refuel generators.
While I only lived in Center Moriches (CM) from 8th through 12th grades, I think of it as my hometown. It’s where I came to love living close to water, sailing, swimming, hanging at Great Gun (Fire Island) with friends, clamming, etc. It’s where I learned community.
When we arrived in Petaluma after my discharge from the USN, I felt I’d come home, to an extent. Downtown brought back memories of CM’s Main Street; the river replaced the creeks and bay; and there was community. As a teen I wasn’t too thrilled that almost everything I did or didn’t do was reported back to my parents, yet as an adult I’ve now ”got it” - ”it takes a village to raise a child.” It was amusing how often my eldest daughter in her younger days questioned how I became aware of something she did or did not do. Community. And after a disaster such as Sandy, community was there to support those most impacted, just as it is here in Ptown.
Little has changed. The high school is now the elementary school. Graduating classes are now closer to 125 vs the 96 I graduated with in 1977. The house in front of the school that served as the community library is now school district offices and there is a new library. The home I grew up in during the 70s hasn’t changed, other than looking a little smaller from my vantage point. I’d also forgotten how beautiful it is, how large and charming most of the homes are (again, many reminding me of the character and charm of west Petaluma) or how large the home lots are.
I spent more time this trip taking a closer look at CM and came to realize my mind had done some imaging of its own. I actually thought our populations were somewhat similar. Turns out that while Ptown is at about 55,000, CM is more like 8,000! And, as friend Dave states, “If it takes you more than 5 minutes to get anywhere in town, then you’ve left town” – now that surely doesn’t apply to Petaluma.
(NOTE: click on any image to see a larger version.)
Shortly after arriving in Center Moriches Lynn and I went for a walk into town as well as down by the bay where the bulk of the visible damage occurred. If you refer to the map, my brother’s approximate location is marked with a small black “A” – about two blocks from the bay, one block from creek due west and 1.5 blocks from creek due east. While most nearby neighbors did not receive visible damage, their basements did flood, and on the east coast, most have finished basements. Homes facing the bay had very visible damage from the outside, as the high tides and large waves not only flooded the homes, but tore at the structures.
In looking at this map you’ll see a strip of barrier land known as “Fire Island”, with an opening (Moriches Inlet) for access between the Bay and Ocean. Thanks to Sandy, the inlet has been compromised and there are now at least two additional openings (breeches) between the bay and ocean.
Saturday morning John announced that he wanted to take me out in his boat, to which I was thrilled. Not long after spending some time cleaning it up (filled with leaves deposited by Sandy), he realized he may end up needing the bit of gas he still had left for another purpose, so we resorted to kayaks. Mind you, I wasn’t too thrilled. I have kayaks, however I’m more of a fair-weather kayaker; the water shouldn’t be too cold as I might end up in it – and this is speaking from a California perspective. Now we’re talking cold NY waters! On top of that, once we’d walked the kayaks down to the water, he continued to take them onto a dock – that meant I had to do a dock vs land entry into the boat. This surely meant I was heading into the water very early! Fortunately, all went well and in no time we were paddling down the creek toward Moriches Bay. The closer to the mouth of the creek, the more damage became visible – decks ripped from homes; docks lifted to the tops of their pilings only to be left hanging when the water receded; furniture, appliances, personal items; and the smell of heating oil.
I’d brought a camera along to document the damage we observed, however it suddenly wouldn’t work. In a way I think it was meant to be as there was a certain discomfort simply in watching people attempt to clean up the mess and damage left behind by Sandy. It felt as if watching from our vantage point on the water was an invasion of their privacy, their pain. One family who lived on the creek to the west of my brother, had just finished repairing damage they’d received from hurricane Irene when Sandy came through. The 14-yr old boy who lives there, a friend of my nephew, came by and began crying as he spoke of losing everything again (add to this, his birthday was five days after Sandy passed through).
Ultimately, the few photos I did capture were taken during walks at a time I felt I would not be disturbing anyone. The photo to the left demonstrates the desperation of families not wishing to totally abandon their homes. This family placed their trailer on the property to live out of while they worked on removing damage and making repairs. Just down the street from this house was the old Shoreline bar and boathouse, now totally destroyed.
Power: imagine losing power October 28/29 and learning you are not likely to have power until Thanksgiving week?! Yes, that is happening. In this small town alone, a week after Sandy, there were still several areas that did not have power. Personally I observed utility workers not only from LIPA (Long Island Power Authority), but from California, Colorado and Indiana. Governor Cuomo was threatening to do a hatchet job on LIPA top management for the poor efforts they were making on restoring power. The lack of power was an additional challenge on election day. Lights were strung in venues such as school gyms and run off of generators. People had to complete paper ballets, surprising many. The lines to vote were as long as the lines to get gas.
And all these challenges were about to be followed by an additional slap-in-the-face … Nor’easter Athena. The poor people trying to stay in their homes without power, particularly at the west of the island/NYC, were now being faced with additional rain/snow and cold temperatures coming from another storm. There was also t
Gas: gas was at a premium more due to a lack of power to pump it than anything else. By Friday the ports that receive the gas were up and running and gas was regularly being delivered to stations in the area. The problem was that so many stations were closed due to lack of power, putting an added burden onto those stations that did have power. In addition, people panicked and became gluttons, regularly running to a station to top off their tank. New Jersey chose to go to odd/even pump days, but NY had yet to consider it.
As for my 35-year reunion, it was a go! The venue, Rock Hill Country Club, had power and they looked forward to the business. Over 50 of us were in attendance. As one classmate said, “Funny how your mind can transcend time in a second; it was 35 years for a few hours last night!” Outside of one couple from the Class of ’78, what I found most amusing was it being like a school dance, in which everyone was around the dance floor socializing and drinking, yet no one danced. It was nothing like our gatherings here in Ptown, in which it’s more likely to have to battle for space on the dance floor to shake your bootie! One old friend, Jenny, did get up on the floor with me, though after a couple of tunes we began walking off the dance floor and attempting to pull others onto the floor with us, only to hear, “I don’t dance!” or “I can’t dance!” After a bit of coercion and instruction, a few brave souls did attempt to shake it up with us.
Finally, it was time to return home, however Athena also chose to put a momentary crimp in my travel plans. I was scheduled to fly out 3:30pm Wednesday, however JFK decided to close the airport down from 3pm Wednesday to 3pm Thursday due to the Nor’easter. I received the flight cancellation text just as election polls were closing on the east coast. Fortunately I was able to get on a 1:45pm flight home via LA. My journey to the airport was another adventure, though welcome. After a nice breakfast with Lynn, she drove me two towns over and I caught the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). At this point there were significant signs of Athena’s visit insofar as rain and wind. The LIRR ride was a gentle, soothing (like being in a rocker) ride with one simple change before getting off in Jamaica (from there it continued to Penn Station). From Jamaica I caught the JFK AirTrain, which reminded me of the tram at Disney World, though this didn’t take me to fantasy land but straight to the airport, stopping at all eight terminals before returning to Jamaica. I cannot wait for the day we have trains running through Petaluma!
At the airport, several TSA employees would said “Good luck taking off today!” At that point it was only 25 minutes til we boarded … we had to leave! By the time we did board, snow had begun falling and we had a slight delay as they had to de-ice the plane. Thankfully all went well and I’m home now, scheming up the next adventure.