Survival Stories from Zone C – A First Look at the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

“You’re in Zone C,” a special Hurricane Irene version of Google Maps told me. “And you’ll maybe experience major flooding if the storm somehow gets a lot worse than it already is. But probably not.” Like the rest of Manhattan’s residents, it was time to panic/blow things out of proportion. Rushing past apocalyptically long-lined Duane Reades and empty city bakeries toward Target on 116th street, I prayed the droves of people cleaning out flashlight/water bottle aisles from Battery Park to Central Park hadn’t made it up to 116th st yet. I was wrong.

The flashlights (flashlight aisle pictured above) were nowhere to be found. In fact, it seemed almost everything in the store was gone, save for those Pringles, which no one seemed to be interested in. They’re way, way overpriced, after all. Nowhere near as good as regular potato chips. Still, we managed to stock our “emergency rations bunker closet” with everything we thought we would need.

With enough water to last us years and years, Hello Panda cookies from Chinatown, a medium-sized watermelon, and extra soy sauce, just in case something happened to the soy sauce I already had in the cupboard, we were ready. We taped the windows, said one last thoughtful compliment to each other (just in case they were our last words on earth. I was told I had nice calves), and began waiting it out.

Minutes turned to hours, and after unsuccessfully trying to find an english version of True Grit again and again for what seemed like days, it was finally morning. And it was time to survey the damage. In fact, as a self-titled “Hurricane Overreaction Correspondent” in my neighborhood of East Harlem, it was my duty to.


East Harlem, though visibly bruised and battered, is eventually going to be okay. The trash cans uprooted can probably just be stood back up by people walking by who have an extra second or two, while the branches down may require two people (as per the OSHA regulations I remember from working at Target) to remove them from the sidewalk.

A rough estimate of the damages in East Harlem due to Irene run, at this point, about $14 – $16, depending on how many issues of “El Especialito” were contained in the El Especialito newspaper machine pictured above. That number could have easily reached $2014, if that branch had hit that car.

The real fallen “heroes” of East Harlem, however, are the cheap deli-bought black umbrellas. Though these $7-$10 items don’t normally make it through a regular rainstorm in New York, anyway, we found an unseasonably high number of them within a few blocks this morning. They did the best they could, and we’re proud of their sacrifices.

Perhaps the strangest and most alarming piece(s) of debris found is pictured above. Whether it was one person who lost a relatively decent looking Nike shoe, bottom jaw dentures and leather mask, or three separate people, it should be noted that these items appear to be okay. To the owner(s): if you’re out there, and if you’re looking for these things, they’re just past the 110th street 6 train stop going west. By the dumpsters. Hurry, because the looters’ll grab these up so quick if you don’t.

Though the hurricane was not nearly as bad in New York City as Bloomberg yelled to us on the television, there’s still a lot of damage elsewhere and a good amount of people who didn’t make it. My heart goes out to their families.

Photo Essay: New York, After Osama.

Note: You can find this article (and others) on my new site, http://www.TwelveBitterPeaches.com! This site will be used primarily for photo essays, so check out both often and enjoy!

Sitting in a chilly, empty subway car racing towards Times Square last night, I was a bit nervous about what I was going to find. I’d heard that there was a “celebration” picking up speed on 7th avenue, but didn’t know any of the details beyond the general statement. And my nervousness was grounded in historical fact…

I’m from Pittsburgh,  after all, where “celebrations” are never just celebrations… Inevitably, someone always climbs a traffic light pole and somehow (with superhuman capabilities I’m imagining) manages to tear the light itself down. There’s always a car that gets flipped for no rational reason at all by groups of kids who never once even got a detention in high school. There’s typically a dude carrying around a speed limit sign with a huge mound of earth still attached to the bottom (again, superhuman capabilities). And riot police, saddled up on angry, foreboding death horses, always charge down the street to break it all up to the tune of 18 and 19 year old girls screaming for their lives. This is not what I wanted to find.

Man Raises Flag over Times Square in Celebration

And it’s not what I found. I found others exactly like myself – emotionally overcome by the scope and importance of the news… people who wanted to not just celebrate Osama’s death, but also the healing that can now take place in America. We were there to remember the (arguably) most horrific event of this nation’s young history, and those the day (and ensuing years) took from us. I have more respect than I’ve ever had for this country, and I want to thank the people of New York for being so respectful in this “celebration.” I’m going to stop talking and let the rest of the pictures speak for themselves. I think they do a pretty good job of it. Enjoy!

A Boy and his Father Celebrate the Historic Night Together

Elated Man Joins the Celebration with a Huge Flag

Man Shields a Remembrance Candle from the Wind in Time Square

Scores of American Flags Rise over Times Square

Young Boy Waves Flag under the Glowing Ticker Tape

FDNY Firefighter's Emotions are Gauged by the Press

A Young Girl Reports from Times Square while her Sister Watches the Historic Celebration

New Yorkers Share the Light with Each Other

Man Wrapped in American Flag Witnesses History

That’s all for now! I have hundreds of others that I’m sure I’ll share with you over the coming days/weeks, but these are the ones that had the greatest impact on me. If you’re interested, you can order prints of these photos right here. I want to close by urging everyone reading this to do everything they can to help maintain the incredible level of unity we’re all feeling and experiencing all over America right now. We really can do anything if we unite together towards a common purpose, and I hope we all take a lesson from what unfolded last night, and what will continue to unfold for days, weeks, months and hopefully years.

Photo Essay: Freetown Christiana – The Final “Lawless” Frontier

NOTE: This article and more also up at my new site, http://www.TwelveBitterPeaches.com! This article is certified 4/20 (you’ll see why below).

Walking into the bustling, vibrant, and altogether friendly neighborhood of Christianshavn just over an unsuspecting bridge in Copenhagen, you’d never suspect that you’d ever end up wandering into the “Deadwood” of Europe (and in fact the “Deadwood” of nearly the entire developed world) – a place “without laws” and “without government” (I put that in quotes for a reason as you’ll see), where it’s as easy to buy marijuana (in any form) as it is to buy a bottle of Coke (which itself costs a whopping $5 US dollars – ah well. still worth it); a place where you’ll see more men wearing track suits in one square mile than you will in all of New York City… during the New York Marathon.

But that’s exactly what you’ll find in Freetown Christiana – a small neighborhood that claimed autonomy from Copenhagen and Denmark itself in the early 1970′s… a collective whose residents believe in freedom of expression in every possible way – through art, music, theater and, yes, unabated drug use. Note, whether or not this article is directly correlated to the fact that it’s 4/20 and I’m hoping to get a bigger crowd of readers because of it is irrelevant… nothing changes the fact that this place is interesting… about as interesting as it gets.

The Blockade of Christiana

One of the few entrances to Freetown Christiana looks like a scene from The Road, I Am Legend, or any of the slew of other “where did all the people go” movies. Cars are prohibited from entering the space, that is, if they even wanted to. Walking into the town feels like stepping into another world. The pleasant side streets and open sidewalks that take you to Christiana (pictured below) eventually give way to dirt paths, decaying buildings, and a ton of artwork – some very interesting and unique, some morbidly disturbing.

The Road to Christiana

Once you’ve passed this nice “point of no return,” everything becomes a whole lot more interesting, and possibly more than a little bit sketch. The first thing you notice when entering the town, other than the concentrated crowds of young people, blaring music, and… err, interesting smells, are the “no photography” signs. I’m pretty good at concealing my Nikon D5000 when I have to, but when you have intimidating Danes wearing dark sunglasses eager to smash your camera on the ground at the sound of a photo snap staring you down, it’s time to put it away. Thank God for iPhone.

Thanks, But No Thanks, Sign!

Now the residents of the town will be the first to tell you that this place is all about art, music, performance, and community, but to the majority of the tourists who go here, it’s the drugs… giant open marketplaces full of drugs… literally a farmer’s market of drugs. Tables full of every imaginable use for marijuana (most I don’t and will never understand), and plenty of eager people (young and old alike) eager to sample within the borders of this “safe zone.”

Graffiti in Freetown Christiana

Everything seems pretty straight forward here, except for a group of people I’ll call the “nervous ones.” While everyone walks around and has a good time, regardless of whether or not they’re partaking in the activities here (it’s still fun for writers and journalists… I swear), there is a group of people who always look like they’re having a terrible time.

Dressed in a tight track suit with the collar popped, wearing dark sunglasses and outfitted with nervous feet, this special breed of resident looks so shady that it almost seems like he’s getting paid to look creepy. One minute they’re standing along as if they’re waiting for someone, the next moment they’re sprinting away in terror. Supposedly the hard drug trade has ended in Christiana, but when you see these guys, it’s kind of hard to believe.

Some of the More... Interesting Artwork

Now, before you go call your old high school friends to book tickets (the ones who still play Call of Duty for 7 hours a day and ingest more Mountain Dew/Cheetos than all of the isolated residents of the Appalachian mountain region combined), know that the landscape of Christiana is changing. Copenhagen’s police frequently attempt raids of the “compound,” and aim to tear down many of the decayed buildings and end the drug trade once and for all as soon as they can get in for good.

Overlooking Christiana

Though much of the police presence is turned away by the residents, it’s not uncommon for these drug marketplaces to disappear within seconds of a signal from the “watchers” of the town that police are nearby. If you do get a chance to check it out (and I do recommend seeing it just to see it), proceed with caution, and expect your eyes to be opened wide to a new world.

DailyFeats and the Changing Social Media Landscape

This is an article I wrote for Big Fuel’s blog! This is the original edit. Be cool and let me know what you think!

The most recent shift in the social media landscape has been a move towards location-based conversation, networking and socializing. Whether we’re checking in to make sure the whole world knows that we received one of only 150 wristbands to see Iron & Wine play their new record in Soho’s Apple Store (I don’t mean to brag of course), or we’re attempting to draw pity and sympathy from people who find out that we’ve been waiting in line in Brooklyn’s Ikea for 14 hours, our check-ins and statuses nowadays seem to be just as much about location as they are about content.

While burgeoning geo-tagging based platforms such as Foursquare and Facebook Places are based completely on where we go, what we do, and whom we do it with in the real world, another type of social media platform is also on the rise. Taking the idea of geo-tagging oneself one step further is a new start-up based right here in New York City called DailyFeats. The idea is impressively simple: “Go Do Good.”

Still in its beta testing phase, DailyFeats has seen a surge of growth recently, and has gone through numerous facelifts and UI updates since. The site acts as both a place to check in good things you do in real life to benefit yourself, others, the community or the environment as well as a place to be encouraged by others to do more through conversation.

Whether you volunteer your time at a soup kitchen, take a walk somewhere with no cement anywhere around you (an unbelievable challenge in New York City), or simply drink a glass of orange juice (whether full of pulp or pulp free – they  don’t discriminate against texture drinkers… class folks), if it’s good for you or others, you can check it in. The incentive? The site offers a points system that awards you some pretty awesome rewards through a variety of big-name partners (1-800-Flowers, WWF, Hilton Hotels and more) the more you check in. Drink a whole lot of green tea and get an Amazon gift card? Well, that’s the greatest deal in the whole world if you care what I think. What’s more, the system is based entirely on honesty. Talk about a site that respects and trusts its users.

DailyFeats’ intuitive check-in interface.

Is this the future of social media… a place to go to better yourself, others and the world around you through online conversation and real world action? With the recent surge of sites like DailyFeats and the rising number of awareness and ‘fundraising for good’ campaigns on sites like Twitter and Facebook, it definitely looks promising. What do you think?

Notes on the Everyday Trials and Tribulations of Spending Winter in NYC

Most of us would agree that winter isn’t much fun in most cities and towns in the cold portion of the world, ski resort towns and mountain villages excluded. If there isn’t any real form of winter entertainment in a given place, the freezing cold air and the angry people it creates aren’t much fun to deal with. If you live in New York City and you either aren’t that graceful at outdoor ice skating or don’t have anyone to do it with (check and check), there isn’t a day of winter to look forward to after Christmas. I love living here, and I can’t see myself anywhere else at this stage of my life, but I’m still allowed to complain.

You see, over the past 4 weeks (in which I’ve slept on a couch every single night… nice), I’ve noticed a few patterns of winter terribleness that are making my life a lot harder, and I want to bring them out into the light (which, unfortunately, is not bright enough or warm enough to make them go away). There are 4 altogether, and they make maneuvering a wintry New York City not only a daunting task, but an impossible one. They wipe the smiles straight off those who consider themselves smilers, and bring us right home into our beds at night instead of out with friends. I don’t have the evidence to back this up (I never really do though), but they also increase the viewership of terrible shows like “Skins” and “King of Queens” exponentially, as people who are hiding at home have nothing else to do. These 4 recurrences are a plague, and something needs to be done about them before our world is destroyed a la the black death hundreds of years ago. Let’s explore. (Pictures taken with Instagram for iPhone!)

1. Camouflaged Lakes of Slush

My daily commute to work is the same every day…. charging down the streets of NYC as fast as I can, desperately trying to get around larger, slower individuals whose walks are more crooked than the Nazca lines in Peru. Unfortunately, it’s not a consistent charge. You see, every time I get to a cross street that I have to, well, cross, I have to stop and assess one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever faced… slush lakes. Every single corner of every single street in New York has them… giant puddles of dirty, icy street water that infiltrate even the most formidable shoes and keep your feet wet for days and days and days. Most of these lakes are manageable… they’re generally easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for and, if you’re 6’4”, are very easy to leap over. Shorter people have more trouble, but I’m not concerned with them, because I’m not one.

Every day, I brave the slush lakes in courageous fashion, leaping and stretching over them more gracefully than the greatest olympic hurdlers you’ve ever watched. However, things change when I get closer to work. You see, the closer and closer I get, the less I concentrate on where I’m walking. Unfortunately, at the same time, the lakes become more and more camouflaged. A block away from work, it happens. I take a bold step into what looks like street gravel (see above), and then I sink… not just a mere few inches, but several feet down into the coldest puddle in the entire city. My lightning fast reflexes (I’m very good at a lot of things) get my foot out immediately, but it’s too late. My sock has already been soaked and my toes are already purple with hypothermia. I get to work and can’t take my shoes off, because it’s a respectable business, and end up having the worst day ever. And it never ends.

2. Trash Mountains

I don’t know how much “sanitation engineers” make in New York, but it’s apparently not even close to enough to make them do their jobs after a snow storm. Maybe they don’t want to get their hands cold, or maybe their frozen fingers can’t grip the outside of the truck as it drives down the street, causing them to fall and break parts of their bodies, leaving them physically unable and ineligible to work. Whatever it is, the consequences are severe… trash mountains. They’re on every street in New York, and they grow every day. The one you see here is a pretty modest sized one (taken in Midtown Manhattan… where they care a little more about these things, so they don’t let them get too big). It’s still impressive though – if you planned on having a picnic lunch at the top, this mountain right here would probably take a full day to hike. If you’re lucky, you’d get to the bottom by sundown, before all of the horrible trash animals come out to feed.

Others are bigger – some of the trash mountains in Brooklyn rival the ancient Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania, and may take 3 or 4 days to climb if you’re in the required physical shape to do it. There’s really nothing we can do about it – people just tend to create giant amounts of trash. It’s in our blood. Until spring comes and the sanitation workers decide it’s time to get a paycheck again, we’re pretty much at the mercy of these mountains. If you have a day off to climb them, the views on top can be incredible. If you work, like most of us here in NYC, you have the wonderful privilege of only getting to walk past an ever-growing, ever-smelling pile of rotten waste every day. What a life.

3. Never-ending Construction Projects

I don’t want to go into a huge rant on this, because I could go for days, but 90% of New York City (and every other city I’ve ever been to) is constantly under construction. And there’s never anyone actually working. The stick man on the orange sign does more work than the construction workers who put him up. I understand it’s snowy and it’s winter, but you chose the profession. Please, fix this road. It’s making taxi drivers angry, which makes the whole world dangerous for the rest of us. Not a healthy situation.

4. Irony

Now, I don’t really know how to describe this to you in words, so I’m going to let the pictures explain this one, because the kind of ironies you experience every day in New York city are confounding, and, a lot of times, very sad. Here:

Imagine this scenario: you’ve just picked up April, a cute, free-spirited girl you met through a friend who set you two up on a first date… which is starting right now. You’re sitting in the back of a taxi getting to know each other as the taxi driver sings along to that LeAnn Rimes song everyone would never admit they used to like. All of the sudden, the collision occurs. The taxi driver had taken his hands off the wheel for a few seconds to air drum, and now the car is on fire in the middle of a snow bank. You don’t panic yet, though. After all, you’re surrounded by the very substance that stops fires! All you have to do is wait for it to melt…. fire melts ice, right?

Not in New York City. You wait and wait, but the ice holds strong as the fire gets bigger. When the soles of your feet begin to melt, you decide it’s time to get out. You all burst out of the car and run screaming down the street. After a night in the ER, you decide  to walk back to the location, only to find that the car is now completely burned out, and the snow has never melted. The irony is palpable… and very, very sad. Fred (the taxi man) probably lost his job. What’ll he do now? Better question, what do we do?

The answer is, unfortunately, to wait. Spring is coming friends. Spring is coming.