Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hoping for a New Normal #JerseyStrong

We've managed to return to normal here in the DKL house, here in the DKL town, post-Sandy. It happened a while ago, actually. Normal, of course, is all relative. Before that happened, though, there was a whole lot of not normal...

The Witch Pinata
The warnings were there. We didn't ignore them. Not completely, at least. We just... tabled them. Sandy was coming. It was making a bee-line for New Jersey and all indications were it was going to be bad. We had to get ready, but not for Sandy. For Halloween. Our annual child Halloween extravaganza. So that's what we did. The weather on the Saturday before the storm was eerily calm and overcast. Perfect for an outdoor Halloween party for a dozen or so kids. This day was business as usual. Fun needed to be had. A party needed to be thrown. That witch pinata desperately needed to be beaten down in a violent avalanche of sugary paradise. The hurricane could wait... for Sunday. 

The Day Before Sandy
I made all of my usual pre-party stops. First, the hardware store. As scores of people scurried around the cramped store like frantic ants, stocking up on flashlights, batteries, and whatever pre-storm supplies one who is more in-the-know than I purchases, I was looking for the liquid solution for my fog machine. Then I swung by the liquor store, expecting a madhouse compounded by storm AND Halloween. To my great surprise, it was a graveyard. I was the only customer. I bought a case of beer and a couple of bottles of wine and headed to the grocery store. You would have thought the zombie apocalypse was upon us. Families grabbing every piece of fruit, loaf of bread, and canned good they could get their hands on. Older people crowding the medication aisles, squinting to find essentials to stock up on. I was looking for festive cups in which to serve my pumpkin chili.

The party, for all intents and purposes, was a success. As it turns out, it was the only Halloween these kids would have for a while. (Our town did trick-or-treating on Monday 11/5.) Sunday came and the wind shifted, as did our mood and priorities. NOW it was time to get ready for Sandy. We took down all of our outside decorations and took in all of our outdoor furniture. We cleaned the house. We did all of the things we could control, to help us feel normal. I went back to the grocery store and stocked up on what I could. I cooked an early dinner of chicken cutlets and pasta with pesto, what I feared might be our last hot meal together for a while. I packed for work because the unfortunate reality of working in television news is you still have to be at work under these circumstances. 

My Ticket on the Last Train in
Train service into the city was ending at 9 o'clock that night. So I abandoned my family and my home, caught the last train into the city and waited alone in a hotel room for Sandy to come. The last thing I want to do is leave my family in times like this. It's something I struggle with - something we all struggle with - every time a big news story comes along. (9/11 comes to mind.)

Peanut prepared too... packing her Calico critters into their camper and heading them to higher ground, inland:

Calico was under a mandatory evacuation
Two days later, I managed to find a way back to my powerless house and chilly family. We were among the fortunate ones. The next night, our lights and heat came back on. The rest of our block would be without power for nearly another week. Our normal became opening our house to friends and neighbors. A place to keep warm, charge their devices, eat, do laundry. A steady stream of people came in and out of our house for for six days.

Our new normal also included a more stressful and crowded commute for me. Since the trains on the line that runs through our town weren't running due to extensive track damage, the people who would normally catch the train into the city were now riding the bus. Buses were standing-room only, if you could get on one. To ensure I at least got on each morning to get to work on time, I'd leave my house 20 minutes early and walk a mile up the road to catch it earlier down the line. That lasted a couple of weeks. 

Perspective. My commute was very annoying for a while. That was the worst of it. But every day I tried to think about the people who had it a lot worst than me. People on my block, in my town, and anywhere else who didn't have power. People who didn't even have a house. I thought of my hometown, a lot of which had been underwater:

A lot of my hometown, Toms River, NJ,  is normal again. My mom's house - where I grew up - is fine. So much of it is not fine, though. It won't be for a long time. I don't know when the people of Toms River, Seaside Heights, and elsewhere will be able to return to normal. But this weekend, a glimmer of normal. They lit the Christmas tree in front of city hall, as they do every year. I saw this picture on Facebook and felt happy and hopeful:

For many, Sandy is a way of life right now. Christmas is coming, but they are more concerned with fixing their homes. Frustration is mounting. People feel abandoned. Things won't return to normal for them for a while. Federal help that was promised to come quickly hasn't come at all. If it has, it hasn't been much. I can say from first-hand experience that the most effective help has come from private volunteers, not FEMA. FEMA, in fact, is spoken with venom. Like a four-letter word.

Local officials have called Sandy "our Katrina." The damage estimates for New Jersey and New York have grown to more than $70B. That's billion with a "B." I produce a financial news program and often find it effective to communicate these gigantic amounts of money to the audience by writing them out:


It'll be a while before normal totally returns to Toms River and everywhere else. Perhaps your normal was disrupted for a bit. Or perhaps you only saw what happened to the Jersey coast and the outer boroughs of New York City through the lens of a television camera. Perhaps those images have disappeared from the newscasts and newspapers where you live. I know the news cycle can be very forgetful and unforgiving sometimes.
The Sandy Dump off Rte. 70 in Brick, NJ

The water has long receded. But the damage is still there. Lives are still being repaired. The picture on the right is one of seven dump-off sites within a 10-mile radius. It's 100 yards long, 100 yards wide and 15 feet high. This is where the contents of entire homes are being dumped. That stuff needs to be replaced. That big number I highlighted above is only going to go up. So please, in this season of giving, find it in your heart to help...


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  2. We are in the process of adopting a family in Union Beach. Hopefully we can make the holidays of at least one family a little brighter

  3. We down in south Louisiana have felt every bit of your pain. My husband commuted 65 miles to Baton Rouge for three years after Katrina, because our house was spared and we were among the few without a FEMA trailer in our driveway. Every word and picture from Sandy's wake brings it back for us.

    Having been in your shoes, let me tell you the good news. Normal will return. For some it will be the old normal. For others, a new one. Some will leave, many will stay. Most will rebuild better than before. And, in time, when a disaster strikes somewhere else, you'll feel what I'm feeling now. Empathy for those suffering, and gratitude that we survived and returned to Normal.


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