The Long, Long Crawl to Brooklyn

Home Brooklyn Life The Long, Long Crawl to Brooklyn

Horns blare and police sirens sound, but all to no avail. A silver sedan is blocking the intersection of Fifth Avenue and East 65th and cannot or will not be moved. The taxi driver begins to sweat, leaning on the horn repeatedly as he glares at the sedan. It’s the not moving that makes him nervous, he explains. He had been driving taxis since 1988 but never encountered gridlock this severe.

Earlier in the day the taxi driver had taken four people to Bay Ridge for $160. Now he is being paid $40 to go back to Brooklyn. He isn’t pleased about the downgrade. He inches forward through Central Park, towards the FDR Drive and the bridge. Walking from Lincoln Center to the Williamsburg Bridge takes a little under two hours. This Halloween, it takes three hours by car.

Out of the cab and onto the B62, through downtown Brooklyn. The bus is full; spirits are high. A woman is speaking on her cell phone, her voice and person alike overflowing into the seats beside her. “I saw the buses were running and I just had to get out of the house,” she declares. She pauses to cover her phone and pat the woman beside her, saying, “He’s about to turn, this is you. You want to get off there at York.”

York Street in DUMBO is eerily quiet. Power is on but the streets are empty except for a few shivering trick-or-treaters being shepherded between the housing projects. Williamsburg is another story.

“I walked 13 miles today, from 82nd Street to here,” says one of the four 20-somethings at a table in The Bagel Store on Bedford Street. The Bagel Store is the kind of place that takes the time to sprinkle cinnamon sugar on every raisin bagel and customers in Williamsburg are the kind to notice and appreciate the effort. Three of the four at the table have the requisite hipster black framed glasses; the fourth compensates for his lack of eyewear with an impressively anachronistic mustache.

The man behind the counter is considerably older and less manicured than the four at the table. “I came from Morningside Heights,” he interjects into the conversation. He journeyed from his apartment on 117th to work the store’s counter and now worries about how he’ll make it back to Manhattan. Another man, stocky and balding with a sense of authority, emerges from the backroom and enters the debate.

“You think you got it bad? I went from living on the water to living in the water.” He says that he lives on Long Island, South Bay, “as south as south gets.” Water has entered the first story of his house and they are still without power. He has to hurry home now because he has two children who are waiting in a cold, dark house. He pauses and a customer at another table interjects, “For you to come and make it a home?” “Yes,” the boss nods.

The Bagel Store was closed on Tuesday but reopened for business on Wednesday. Bustling Williamsburg feels as though it is a world away from Red Hook or South Bay. The few broken branches from Hurricane Sandy are now trampled under the feet of the crowds who have come to celebrate Halloween and the prospect of a Thursday without work – after all trains to Manhattan are still down.

The four hipsters finish their bagels and leave but the two men behind the counter continue to chat about the hurricane. The boss reveals that it was suggested that he evacuate. “But I remembered Irene when nothing really happened,” he explained. So he stayed. His employee nods sympathetically. “Payroll won’t be on Friday this week. Not until Monday or Tuesday,” the boss adds. The employee looks less enthused about this fact but nods again. “The situation is getting a little unbearable,” says the boss. “One or two days, okay. But we need to get on with our lives.” At the moment some sort of woodland creature and a vampire burst in together, laughing and singing off-key. It appears that for much of Williamsburg life has already moved on after the hurricane.

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