7:25 am Nov. 5, 20121
It was my first time in the Rockaways in years when I went this weekend. The sun was rising and the light was beautiful.
A segment of boardwalk, weirdly intact, was pressed up against a house on Shore Front Parkway.
Another section was siting in the parking lot 200 feet further inland, complete with a guard rail and several benches facing the water, which was gently lapping the concrete pylons that now appeared to be holding up empty pieces of sky.
Street signs for Beach 94th Street and Beach 95th Street were strewn around. On the parkway, a pole leaned like the Tower of Pisa, with an American flag still waving from it. Up the parkway, a concrete staircase stood, connecting to nothing.
I'd gotten to Rockaway Beach at 7 a.m. on Saturday. Some people in heavy jackets were standing by Cross Bay Parkway, near a Verizon charging station. Some were smoking cigarettes. Nobody looked like they had had a shower.
One block south down Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Surfside Bagel, normally busy on a Saturday morning, was a wreck. The sidewalk and street were covered in sand. A guy in front of the store was smoking a cigarette. Behind him, through the window, I saw a pile of small potato-chip bags in the middle of the floor. Everything else was dark.
I walked back to the crowd at Cross Bay Parkway, where a New York 1 reporter from the rotating crew that has been set up since the storm near political director Bob Hardt's house was conducting an interview. Off to the side, a young man with a stubbly beard and a girl with pink and diamond earrings and a tattoo behind her ear were talking. He said something to make her laugh.
More people were joining the crowd, each one with a sad story, the same story. I left and walked north.
There was a mobile library parked on the sidewalk. Across the street was a fire house, doors open, no one visible inside.
Earlier that morning I'd spoken with a photographer in a jacket that had the words "News" and "Fire" in big letters on his back, who told me he was out Monday night photographing the storm. He said he was out "with the gangs." They didn't bother him, he said, but they were ripping stuff off of boats and people's houses. He said he took their pictures and that stopped them from stealing anything else while he was around, but he said they were everywhere. He asked me what time Kirsten Gillibrand and Janet Napolitano were going to be in the area. I told him I wasn't sure and he walked away.
I saw a group of people in dark clothes walking along a sidewalk near where the boardwalk was. As I approached them I recognized a few members of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's security team. The only event on his public schedule was a 4 p.m. press conference in City Hall. He had announced, in a press release the day before, the cancellation of the New York City Marathon, after enduring pressure from the public, his own aides and the organizers of the marathon.
Bloomberg was there, in a brown leather jacket, walking-and-talking to one of the anchors from Channel 2, Maurice Dubois. There was no other press there.
I tried to get close without alarming his security team or the uniformed police officers. I didn't have my press pass and I was wearing dark blue jeans, white sneakers and five layers of shirts and sweaters--clothes suitable for post-flood clean-up work, which I'd gone out there to help at a friend's house.
I took a picture of the mayor with my iPhone and tweeted that he was in the Rockaways.
Then I hurried back to the New York 1 reporter and crew and told them the mayor was about a block away. We went back and Bloomberg was now in front of the fire house, within eyeshot of the crowd by the Verizon charging station, which was getting a little bit larger.
Grace Rauh of NY1 got her microphone in front of Bloomberg as he was talking to a young African-American girl who seemed awestruck to be talking to the mayor. She was smiling and looked slightly dazed.
Bloomberg jokingly said he was "sorry" but she'd have to be heading back to school shortly. She kept smiling.
He put his arm around her and turned to face his photographer, who took a picture with a small, point-and-shoot-camera (the girl's?) and then with the big digital camera hanging from around her neck.
Then the event went off-plan. A man in a sweatshirt who had come over from the charging station yelled out to the mayor, asking about water. Bloomberg said something about it arriving at 1 p.m.
This made the guy angrier. He didn't want to hear that he'd have to wait till the the afternoon, after waiting all night for what he needed.
Then a woman began yelling. And then another man. NY1's camera was still rolling, and I was trying to get my video camera on the people yelling, and on Bloomberg before he disappeared.
The mayor stood there and pulled in an aide to answer some of their questions.
Rauh asked Bloomberg if this was the kind of response he expected. Bloomberg tried explaining that in an emergency, the response never comes fast enough and this outrage is what you'd expect.
He walked a little bit further, moving the growing cluster of security guards, uniformed police officers, press aides, reporters and onlookers with him. Finally, he got into a black S.U.V. and drove away.
Rauh went into the street and began recapping the whole event into the video camera. A few people passed by behind her. I stood watching her on the sidewalk as a woman in sweatpants walked her dog. I asked her, somewhat stupidly, how she was doing.
"I'm fine," said the woman. Clearly she wasn't, but she wasn't going to complain. She said she didn't have a television and just wanted to know what was going on. She found it a little funny that she was getting to watch the television news happening live.
Talking about her dog, a small white fluffy thing, she said, "He was going crazy in the house," where he had been stuck for a few days. Now, outside, the whole area smelled different, and with the sand everywhere, it felt different too.
"He doesn't know where he is," she told me.
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