Eleven years ago I experienced my first taste of worldwide pandemonium in the days leading up to the anticipated Y2K disaster. Do you guys remember that? How scientists and analysts and mainly the news media were convinced that our computers would all freak out and the world would revert to chaos, cholera, and covered wagons? I think even at the time, as 7th grader, I wasn't that worried about it.
The event came and went with a fizzle, and we all entered the new millenium unscathed.
That is, until months later while poking around in the garage for a bike helmet, I pulled back a tarp to reveal two, high density polyethylene tubs. Peeling back one of the lids, I was floored to find them stocked full of cans of baked beans, space blankets, flares, jugs of water, yards of rope, a first aid-kit, flashlights, batteries... basically all the stuff that we'd been required as children to stuff into 1-gallon Ziplock bags and store at school in event of emergency. We called them our "earthquake kits" but in retrospect, they might as well have been called, "panic kits" because in order to bust into those things... one would have to be in dire straits. But right there in my own garage it appeared my dad had assembled one very real "earthquake kit". As my dad can fairly be diagnosed with Everyday Hero Syndrome, this might not surprise you, but at the time, it surprised me: this man was the pillar of logical and rational thought in my world. If he had bought into the Y2K fear mongering to the extent that he'd been forward-thinking enough to be prepared, then who was I to argue that? It shook me a bit.
Not enough to pay heed to any further doomsayers, however - we've survived multiple predicted raptures by now, and no tidal wave has wiped out the state of Oregon yet, so I really try not to buy into that stuff. Which brings us to present day, in New York City.
I wake up late with the sun in my face to the alarm on my cell phone and a missed call from my Uncle Bob in Atlanta. I figure it is his second attempt at trying to get ahold of me to wish me a happy birthday and don't listen to his voicemail until I am out the door on my way to the bus, so I'm a little surprised when his message is, essentially, "there is talk of evacuating the island of Manhattan, let me buy you a plane ticket to come down and stay with us here in Atlanta."
And for the first time in my life, I start to worry about a naturally occurring predicted catastrophe.
It doesn't help that one of my best friends/neighbor/co-worker Katie LOVES The Weather Channel and can pretty much recite to you the ten-day weather forecast at any given moment, which she does on the bus on the way to work.
Once at the office, there is a sort of low-level murmur about the news - each of us speculating and asking aloud what everyone else is planning to do. Mason declares the entire news media to be "full of shit" and predicts that this whole storm is going to be a "kittycat meow-fest". But a growing kernel of intuitive doubt starts to grow inside me as I scan news websites and read the texts and emails that are coming in, all tinged with a bit of lighthearted snarky New York attitude.
One article tells me to"fill my bathtub to the brim with water", in case we need to use it for water pressure in the toilet tank. Um, sorry: my bathtub is gross. Who takes baths in New York? Our tub looks like a slightly tamer version of the one in Buffalo Bill's basement.
A comparative t-chart starts circulating on Facebook:
I think I fall somewhere in the middle as I have made no moves to flee to Atlanta... but all of a sudden, I make up my mind: As a single young woman living in one of the most intense cities in the world, I would rather be prepared than not. I drop whatever I am doing at my desk and march down to the pharmacy in our building to "buy supplies."
What, exactly, I am preparing for starts to get a little hazy. From the looks of my rapidly filling basket it could either be
a) a camping trip (deck of cards, beef jerky) -or-
b) a "let's stay inside and get baked" college party (pack of lighters, scented candles, brownie mix)
I find myself in the canned food aisle with a similarly dressed Midtown Manhattan professional. We stand, heads cocked, quizzically scanning the labels for anything that doesn't look like dog food.
"I wonder if I even have a can opener in my kitchen...?" she muses.
They are already sold out of flashlights. I buy batteries anyway for a flashlight I don't have- honestly because I think subconsciously, "hmm. valuable for trade and barter."
$89 later I am back in the office. I anticipate my arrival will be met with good-natured teasing. It's not: it invokes an air of fear.
"Were there any candles left?"
"Did you see if they had any coolers? I think I need a cooler."
I accompany some sellers on a client lunch and at this point, Irene is the only thing I can think about. My adrenaline is rushing. I am making mental lists in my head.
I totally freak out our clients - 4 young women also living in Manhattan, away from their parents for the first time.
They start to make lists.
We all start to get email alerts on our phones: "MTA to shut down all public transportation Saturday at noon!" "No trains will be running!" "Evacuation and anticipated flood zone map"
When we say goodbye after lunch, we all nervously laugh and wish one another a safe weekend. "See you on the other side! Ha ha."
On the way back to the office, I stop by an ATM to withdraw some cash- it's out of service. I immediately assume that means it's already out of cash, and walk a block to the next one, quickening my pace. I withdraw a large wad of $20s and surreptitiously stuff them into my wallet and return to work where I find it very hard to concentrate.
I keep humming the few bars I know of that one song that goes, "Here I am!/ ROCK ME LIKE A HURRICANE" and am embarrassed that it is literally all I can think about.
So okay, let's be logical about this: what's the worst thing that can happen? We lose power and have to read and play games and sleep and generally unplug for a while? Totally fine. Fun, even.
Winds get crazy and knock out one of our windows? Unfortunate, sure, but, not life threatening.
But you want to know what really scares me, though? What's really got me worried?
Specifically, the neurotic, power-hungry, narcissistic people among whom I currently live everyday on this island, except now, IN PANIC MODE.
The post-Katrina looting in New Orleans, a bastion of Southern Hospitality, was bad? Lets see what happens when an 86 year old Jewish woman and a cab driver from Calcutta go head to head over a can of beans at the Fairway on 86th street.
Dennis Hopper in Waterworld will look like a "kittycat meow-fest" compared to the characters who are going to come out of the woodwork here when Irene unleashes her PMS all over this city (hint: probably closer to Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet). She's going to bring the bitchslap, but New Yorkers are going to get their claws out and it is not going to be pretty.
All we can do now is sit, and wait, and hope to God that come Monday, this was another Y2K.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go home to clean the bathtub.