New York Becomes a Windy City
Years ago I was meeting with two men from Chicago for work. I noted that the downtown financial district of Manhattan can get very windy, as breezes come in off the harbor and are funneled down the streets by the tall buildings.
I asked how the downtown area of New York compared with Chicago. It didn’t. It could get windy here, they agreed, but in Chicago the wind had once dislodged a large window pane from a tall office building, and the loose piece of glass had cut a person in half. I haven’t been able to confirm this story anywhere, but it didn’t sound like these guys were trying to bullshit me.
This story came to mind recently as New York was hit with extreme winds amid a storm that couldn’t make up its mind. I set out to work in a rudimentary rain storm. A few hours later, I looked out the window of my building to see snow blowing sideways and obscuring much of my normally pleasant view.
The snow turned to rain when I stepped out of the office during lunch time. Large snowflakes flecked my umbrella as I made my way to my bus stop in Herald Square. None of the snow was really sticking in Manhattan. The wind was bothersome but I did not have an idea of the scope of the problem.
Arriving home from work on Friday via commuter bus, traffic to the Whitestone Bridge was backed up at least one mile, with the backup spilling onto service roads; we later learned that tractor trailers and busses were banned, and heavy restrictions on the number of cars crossing imposed. As cars turned right up a local street near my building to try to steer around the traffic, a felled tree forced them to make a U-turn and plunge back into the gridlock. A few days later, the tree was still blocking half of the road and felled tree branches still littered lawns, sidewalks and streets.
The video of a truck being blown onto its side on the Verrazano Bridge began circulating over the weekend. Upstate on the Tappan Zee Bridge (no one calls it the Mario Cuomo Bridge) at least two tractor trailers were blown onto their sides.
In New York, we live in such a large, man-made metropolis, we like to think that for the most part we have conquered nature, that natural disasters are things we see on the news happening in less fortunate places around the world. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 sobered some people up and forced building code changes to those neighborhoods most in danger.
Within the past decade, we’ve been bombarded with one hurricane that did damage that is still being repaired, endured at least one earthquake that sent people fleeing their office buildings, had tornadoes touch down within city limits, and faced heat waves and cold snaps that cost lives. Despite the powers that we wield over our environment, despite our ability to carve and crush bedrock to anchor our buildings and lay track for our subways, we are still at the mercy of what the Earth will do.
A new poem, “Distant Lightning” is up on the Impolite Literature web site.
One night in our off-campus apartment in Athens, Georgia, I came to the living room to find one of my roommates sitting in the dark, looking out our window. He had a beer.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Watching the lightning in the distance,” he said.
In the South the weather is such that you can often see storms coming from a ways away. The storm may not reach you but the lightning lights up the sky where you can see it and it’s beautiful.
A few weeks ago I was on Cape Ann, Massachusetts with my family and I went out for a nighttime ice cream run for my wife and I. As I walked down Rocky Neck in Gloucester towards the ice cream parlor, I saw lightning in the distance. It was peaceful outside, and the lightning in the clouds in the distance was beautiful.
A few days before, we had to hurry home from a fast-approaching storm. As we headed down Rocky Neck Avenue to where we were staying, I saw a woman run into Rocky Neck Park with a camera. I couldn’t resist looking to see what she was photographing and it was a set of storm clouds moving in fast.
The weather rules our world more than we can ever control or prepare for. It may rain destruction upon us, but it will inspire us.
This poem was inspired by the distant lightning past, present and future. May it continue to inspire.