It was the same at all but one FEMA station: still waiting. The lines snaked around for hundreds of people and the soldiers spoke with the cops, but the food hadn’t arrived yet. The station at Clinton and Grand had water, but it wasn’t being distributed yet.
You never get to do this, bike these streets without negotiating severe traffic. If I had biked the way I did then two weeks ago, I would’ve been killed 15 times; I kept my head everywhere but the road, needing to not miss anything, but also trying to keep my mind on my assigned task. I wrote each scene in my head as it occurred, for safe keeping, and that made focusing difficult, but since no food was happening anywhere, it meant the information I needed to retain could be easily accounted for: nothing doing.
They were paying for food across the street from where food was being distributed to families by volunteers in orange vests.
Two men stood talking on a corner about how the shop owners shouldn’t be selling that food, how, no way, it couldn’t be good. They’d been there. They saw what was going on, and it didn’t have anything to do with refrigeration. They laughed.
A woman rinsed a wok in a dribbling black fire hydrant.
Children ran in zigzag formation in the path of my bike but I didn’t yell at them. Everything was quiet by the standards of midday Manhattan. Human voices were almost as loud as the sounds of distant traffic on some streets. The hands of cops were traffic signals. I disregarded them at relatively busy intersections and nothing happened, not even so much as a sharp look.
At Catherine and Monroe, we found a FEMA station with food. Members of the Guard handed relief packets to the hundreds in line. It was the last place we needed to stop before reporting back to the CAAAV. There were elderly people in line with canes and walkers. Insouciant kids made wide semi-circles running out of the line and then falling back into the clutches of their worried families. Food made it into their hands and maybe they took it back to eat in a dark apartment, by candlelight.
There were thick white candles lit in a small café across from the CAAAV headquarters on Hester. I hadn’t noticed the café before, when we first arrived, but upon returning I hardly saw anything else. People sat at tables and left paper money for the servers, along with half-eaten croissants on cream-colored plates. They were paying for food across the street from where food was being distributed to families by volunteers, some wearing orange vests, others with just the word “volunteer” written in black marker on masking tape stuck to their coats. People that had come to help. Good people, I think.
There are enough volunteers, they told us after we relayed the information about the FEMA outposts. Thank you. And from the way the woman looked around quickly at those assembled, it seemed to be true—the system would become too byzantine if we stuck around. We went home.
Back in Clinton Hill, not much had changed (aside from Road Warrior-esque lines for gasoline). It would've been nice change if I'd looked into my wallet to find blood where my money had been. But no. I went to a coffee shop and ate a complicated grilled cheese sandwich that contained Brie, rosemary, walnuts, and chocolate on a multi-grain bread. It was bullshit.
RELATED: Inside the Red Hook Relief Effort