Good Narrative Principles

Sandy Stories: Day One Without Power


Before the power went out, there was a sense of anticipation, honestly. Excitement. A break from life as we know it. I felt compelled to grab my notebook and capture the “meme” that is crisis weather TV coverage. Couldn’t help myself. There’s the action map tracking the storm. It’s on its way and it’s bad.

The storm is a field day, a gift for elected officials who finally are being asked to step up to the mic and behave like leaders. They don’t know their script and so they have no choice but to simply be themselves and urge people to evacuate. Governor Christie takes to task the residents of Atlantic City who remained. Tells them clearly that no rescue will be attempted tonight. “Head to higher ground” he suggests, resorting to the language of films like Towering Inferno. As if by ignoring his advice those who remain are getting what’s coming to them as darkness falls and scary takes over.

The poor hapless Anchor who has to keep the broadcast humming through the frantic flood of information and the inevitable lulls. The crazy Field Reporters buffeted by the howling wind, stand with their backs to the angry ocean yelling into the mic (what might motivate someone to sign up for that job?). Two young giggly girls step up to the camera. They’re holding a mangled stop sign that was ripped from its metal pole. To them Sandy is a holiday. The Anchor chastises the Field Reporter asking “where is your Mother, girls?”  A person surfs, rides the wild waves behind another Reporter, prompting the Anchor to again demand that the Reporter “find out who that is”?

The new language around Category A areas. The blaring klaxon and red flashing lights. Peoples’ homes condemned. Who knew NYC would ever flood?

The thousands of stories that are baked into each moment like a Sunday Special all-you-can-eat banquet. An estranged couple forced to ride out the storm together. The Mom who doesn’t quite have a fully developed “entertain the youngsters endlessly” muscle. The Field Reporter who lives to stand by the edge of the raging ocean. The crazed gambler who rolls the dice hoping that the odds are in his favor (her favor) but spends the night on a long ride of survival. Dawn breaks and the rescue crew can be seen cresting the horizon. The Shelby Mustang owner who simply can’t leave his car to fend for itself in the garage. After all, he just got it a few months ago and he has great plans for a road trip. And yes, he did name his car after his first girlfriend in sixth grade.

And then the images began in earnest. First Southern Jersey and then Lower Manhattan. The shots of Van Brunt Street in Red Hook turning into an angry river, the same streets where we studied the vacant lots with longing just a few weeks before, thinking maybe we’ll live here or here.

The lights flickered. We cooked like crazy. In anticipation of losing power, we turned off first the lights, then the TV, so that the actual power failure sounded more like a psst than a fatal thump.

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