"Totally coup, yo."

How much of a “Real Thing” was Sandy?



Harlem Hurricane Hunt results in disappointing lack of unimaginable carnage

Looks pretty damn “real” to me, the dead, and all the people still without power and water.
But what the hell do I know? I’m just the guy who captions the photos.

In Which I Decide to Fight a Hurricane

In the days leading up to her arrival, Hurricane Sandy had been hyped by meteorologists in windbreakers, 24-hour newscasters, and your friends on Facebook as some sort of “Megastorm.” It was like that movie, The Perfect Storm, except that instead of being a movie you caught on cable/a flight, it was a real thing in real life that you could participate in. By texting or tweeting jokes. Or by asking your buddies, Google and Siri, about it. Or by getting bored and accidentally passing through CNN2 Territory. But what ended up going down, when Sandy finally hit the East Coast, was an unprecedented clusterfuck of publicly-conducted reports, experiences, and perceptions, and a bunch of wind and rain and snow and floods. Having thrown myself needlessly into the mess through a convoluted concatenation of events, I am still reeling in confusion. What really happened?

Sometime a few days ago, I received a message inviting me to NYC for Hurricane Sandy’s landfall. It was a loose pretext; some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and catching up during a cool hurricane seemed like an optimally idiosyncratic opportunity. I said OK. Plus, I’d always wanted to “Fight a Hurricane.” And so I set off.

The whole beginning, middle, and end of Hurricane Sandy had been corrupted by technology and social media, to the point that actual human minds in the middle of the mess couldn’t really differentiate what was real and what was fake, even in the midst of it all.

Cut to: It is seven AM on Monday, October 29, and I am hitting the GW Bridge into Manhattan from New Jersey. The City has already suspended all public transportation, and there is no mass transit into or out of the city. The LED traffic signs on the I-95/80 Express say things like, “STATE OF EMERGENCY” and “ALL BRIDGES AND TUNNELS SUBJECT TO CLOSE AT ANY TIME” and so I said things like, “Fuck that, I’ve been on the road from Buffalo since one, and I’m not turning back now” and hit the pedal, hard.

I had also been listening to the AM Radio morning newscast, and the newscasters were losing their fucking shit. “This storm is gonna be so fucking bad [paraphrased],” and, “We’re all gonna fucking die [paraphrased],” and, “This storm is bad, but not as bad as if you were driving a Subaru [FAR LESS paraphrased],” because, it turns out, even when you’re losing your shit and about to die, you still gotta acknowledge your sponsors.

I whipped across the G-Dub, took a moment to admire the Lovecraftianly Green clouds hovering to the south, skidded across to The Bronx, down through Randall’s Island, into Queens, back up to Randall’s, drifting dangerously around each turn, cutting off every other panic-stricken shithead along the way, handing every toll-collector “way too much” money with trembling, caffeine-addled hands, in the rain. And then the bridge to Manhattan again, in a “last possible second before they close the bridge and this feels like a movie” fashion.

Apocalypse Buddies, a Heroic Beer Run

The Hosts’ tiny apartment was in Harlem. Outside, the storm was raging about as hard as it had been all morning. Inside, I jumped directly into a Caffeine Nap. The studio’s acoustics made even the faintest rustle of breeze sound like the Voice of Satan Himself, and each pattering of rain sounded like Satan was 13-years-old and Learning The Drums.

The storm made noise all day. We discussed our susceptibility to the insanity of cabin fever, and, simultaneously, how to best ration the limited provisions of beer, whiskey, and goldfish crackers. The Internet news videos kept saying that Sandy was going to “hit” with some kind of remarkable climax at some point, and then continue this feverish cadence through to the following morning. The ETA of this “hit” kept getting pushed back, we would find out as the hours dragged on. And so, awaiting the Real Hurricane, we decided to break into the beer rations at one or two PM.

It was a storm, to be sure. A big storm. Maybe the worst I’ve ever been in, but only inasmuch as it was tied for first with the next biggest storm, and instead of lasting for “a couple” hours, it lasted all fucking day, so that by the time it ended, weirdly and abruptly, I should reasonably’ve been driven batshit insane, by all accounts.

We passed the early afternoon and evening getting steadily drunk and periodically checking the internet for info on the storm that steadily waged its war outside. Out of boredom. There was this:

-Internet videos of meteorologists in windbreakers on coasts, explaining how Hurricane Sandy was going to be the Fucking Worst Ever.

-Sanguine and sardonic social media posts by friends.

-My favorite, a live satellite tracking of Sandy that seemed to portray the storm as some kind of vitriolic Drunk Girl, staggering unpredictably up the Atlantic. Wobble wobble, “Shut UP, Florida,” wobble wobble “Outta my way, New Jersey, I’m totes gonna throw up right now!”

We quickly ran out of beer.

Do you know what the only thing more glorious than a necessary beer-run is? A necessary beer run IN A HURRICANE.

We decided that I should be the one to get the “more beer,” since I was also coincidentally the only one willing to do it. It wasn’t that bad outside, really, though, kind of just a “worse-than-kinda-bad” storm. But I got the beer, from a disappointingly nonchalant clerk at some recalcitrant bodega, and scurried back to the apartment.

Things Get Ugly in Real Life, The Eye of the Hurricane

As it grew dark outside, and the near maddening crescendo of rain and wind and unsettling slams of loose doors and metals, a sudden domestic spat erupted from within the apartment building. It was bad – like, REAL bad. Spanish voices screaming at each other in a way that only loco Spanish voices can. It went on forever, and as my Hosts and I stared at each other, drunkenly wondering, “Should we call 911?” we all kinda realized that the NYPD would absolutely have been like, “You fucking kidding me? Welcome to New Yawk. There’s a fucking hurricane right now.”

Then it all abruptly stopped. Not just the spat. The Everything, the Storm, too, all of a sudden.

After a few minutes of the most intense awkward silence you can imagine (read: in a tiny studio apartment, getting all cabin fever drunk, and all of a sudden, everything is quiet).

So we went to the internet – the same thing that had told us all along to be Very Afraid all along – to find out why exactly what was with the sudden silence. “Are we in the Eye? Do hurricanes have Eyes?”

There was nothing. The satellite tracker was gone. The meteorologists in windbreakers hadn’t said anything new in hours. Had the storm just ended? Had everyone realized it had never been that bad all along and deleted their content to save face? Was it a conspiracy? Was Obama fucking around with the CIA’s Weather Machine to, somehow, rig the election?

But there was nothing. So after a long, tense period of consternation, and some “We Killed a Hurricane!” celebratory shots, we intentionally decided to go to sleep (aka drunkenly passed out).

Weather Machine, The Aftermath of a Disaster

The next morning we raced to the internet like it was Christmas Day, wanting to find out what Really Went Down. Turned out: it had been bad. Widespread power outages in NYC, photos of cultural and architectural treasures overrun with water, quantifiable deaths. Text messages from friends and family from around the country, worried about whether or not we were alive.

But a closer examination revealed that the most egregious underwater-terror photos were clearly Photoshopped, the power outages had actually been intentionally conducted by ConEd to prevent real catastrophes, and our friends and family had simply been getting all their info from the same News and Social Media programs as we had.

A lot of the photos were real, to be fair, and the quantifiable deaths were very real and very sadly qualitative. Everyone is still really just now beginning to assess the totality of damage. But what will that totality turn out to be? It will change, constantly, from one source to another, across the multifaceted surface of media.

The whole beginning, middle, and end of Hurricane Sandy had been corrupted by technology and social media, to the point that actual human minds in the middle of the mess couldn’t really differentiate what was real and what was fake, even in the midst of it all

Confused, we eventually just settled on the explanation of “Obama Weather Machine, duh,” and feeling sorta like that inconspicuous guy who slips out of a wild party without offering to help clean up, I left the eerily quiet city to deal with the aftermath of a disaster on its own.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    You better be working on your 50 Most Loathsome People of 2012. And this time get some illustrations. Better be on time. I’m warning you.

    • betabeastadmin

      Yeah, maybe.

  • Adam Curry

    It’s nearly Sunday, and still nothing about the election? Might as well shut this site down, because it’s obvious no one gives a fuck about it anymore.

    • betabeastadmin

      Sorry, Adam, but the flu virus gives zero fucks about your election.

  • Chris Riordan

    Stop bellyaching! Anyway, I heard one of the old editors was going to start contributing again… Maybe not one of the smarter ones, but the one with the coolest wardrobe.

    • betabeastadmin

      Ha! Yeah, I heard that too, but I doubt he will because he has no follow-through.

      • http://www.facebook.com/washmyface Christopher William Riordan

        And that’s shocking, because the amount of money The BEAST pays per word – in addition to the appreciative nature of the editor and publisher toward contributing writers – is incredible!

        • betabeastadmin

          You’re right. It’s not because you’re a bullshit machine. It’s us. We’re ungrateful about how you pretend like you’re going to write something every so often.

          But if anyone out there is curious about Riordan’s latest unfinished (and probably unstarted) masterpiece, here’s how it should have existed in its entirety:

          by Christopher William Riordan

          I threatened to kill Mitt Romney on Twitter. My account was suspended. The Secret Service came to my house. They determined that I’m not a legitimate threat. I am merely a putz.

          The end.

          That was great, Chris. Thanks a lot for your submission. Your $1 million check is in the mail. And I’m informing the Pulitzer committee immediately.

          But in all seriousness, I thought it would’ve been an interesting article, and I hope the podcast is going well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/washmyface Christopher William Riordan

    it’s coming man, it’s coming. it’s got a few extra words and a plot twist… i’m on vacation in Miami Beach, Florida. it’s hard to stay in and use the computer.

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