One day of theatre~24 hours, two shows, one brunch. That was to be my October 28, 2012. I was going to NYC for a day of theatre, planned months in advance. Two new shows~one new play and one new musical. Both Off Broadway; each at a theatre I love. That's why I went...for the theatre.
Fate had other plans for that 24 hours; plans that set my life awry. In this case, fate had a name, "Sandy;" a particularly apt name for an event that destroyed the beautiful sand of the Jersey Shore, Long Island and many other vulnerable places on the East coast. It's also apt because it represents the enormous amount of grit it threw into so many people's lives; getting into the gears and bringing it all to a standstill.
I knew Sandy was forecasted. I watched all the timelines; checked frequently as that Sunday drew closer. I changed my return train to DC for Monday to several hours early, before the storm was due to strike. Amtrak was running; nothing had been postponed or canceled. My Connecticut friends were still coming to meet me for brunch. So I packed an extra change of clothes just in case, and at 6:30am, I was heading north on the Amtrak Northeast Regional. The skies looked grey, but not particularly threatening. It spit a little bit of rain. And by the time we arrived at Penn Station, the temperature had dropped some. But it was otherwise just an expected fall day.
A wonderful brunch at Max Brenner with great friends, great food and great conversation convinced me I had made the right choice to make the trip.
So, with a full stomach and high anticipation, I headed for the matinee of "Checkers" at The Vineyard Theatre; to be followed later by the evening performance of "Giant" at The Public Theater. My only concern when we emerged from the restaurant to the smell of approaching rain, was that I'd left my umbrella at the hotel (ah, blissful ignorance!).
Apprehension heightened when I saw the digital signs at the Union Square subway stations announcing that the entire system was shutting down at 7pm; and that brought a new worry: I could get to the theatre for the evening show, but if the weather turned ugly while I was at the theatre, how would I get back to the hotel? I was smart enough to figure out that if it might be bad enough to shut the subway down, it was likely not going to be safe walking conditions. I'm clever that way.
My answer came by email just after I arrived at The Vineyard. The performances at The Public that evening were canceled. Good news for my staying dry; bad news for missing a show I really wanted to see, and knew I'd have real problems rescheduling. But at least I could relax and enjoy "Checkers," which was excellent (read my thoughts here).
I walked back to the hotel at a steady clip. Now the skies looked threatening. Businesses were shutting down. I didn't think I had time to stop at the few open delis for food (being sans umbrella). That turned out to be a mistake. Within a few hours, the whole city had shut down and I was without options for dinner and forward, apart from the way-too-expensive room service. Soon I received the email that my train in the morning had been canceled. I called and rescheduled for Tuesday; already I was looking at hundreds of dollars in added expenses. And the television coverage went to all-Sandy-all-the-time.
The next morning as I awoke, I listened for the sounds of driving rain and wind. Nothing. I cracked the drapes. Nothing. Just a grey day with no activity on the streets below. Had Amtrak not canceled my train that morning, I would have easily gotten back to DC before the storm hit either place. Instead, I was to be stuck for the next 3 days.
Monday was a day of watching nonstop coverage of the impending doom, breaking down and ordering room service, and exploring all my options for getting home the next day. The subway was shut down. Businesses were shuttered. Broadway was dark. When the storm did hit late in the evening, it made its presence known by banging open the closed and latched windows in the hotel room. Yes, latched...clearly not tightly enough. The most terrifying part of the experience was the very loud and constant creaking and swaying of the building. I lived through the Northridge earthquake in'94 close to the epicenter, and the terrifying sensations came flooding back.
Above are views from my hotel room window on Monday afternoon before the worst of the storm hit. Notice the empty street at 3pm.
By the next morning I was in shock, but warm, dry and with power (no internet). But so many others were not. All the things they hoped wouldn't happen had happened: the subway had flooded, downtown was under water and the vulnerable waterfront areas were hit even harder~there was no power, no transportation...it was stunning. I couldn't tear myself away from the television. Oh, and all the Broadway and effectively all of the Off Broadway shows were canceled again that night, so cheering myself up that way was not going to happen.
By the way, you might reasonably think that the people shown above were waiting for the Starbucks to open. You'd be wrong. Starbucks was shut down, but their wifi hotspot was alive and kicking! So everyone was huddling together against the storefront madly typing on tiny keyboards, or precariously juggling full-size laptops with phone and food and bag and umbrella. In this techno age, a roof over one's head has been replaced by an open wifi network to which one can connect. Gimme shelter, indeed. :)
And then a NYC friend, herself stranded at home in Astoria, sent a treat in the form of a note letting me know that some Broadway performers were gathering in Times Square that afternoon to sing some songs as a way of brightening spirits and raising some money for the Red Cross. I almost didn't go; it was cold and damp and an 18 block walk. But if they could sing, I could walk. And then I ran into some theatre acquaintances~an added bonus of chat & lots of much-needed laughter. The singing was lovely, and did indeed raise spirits and money, both. From "New York, New York" to "Tomorrow" to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the beautiful voices, familiar tunes and generous performers reminded me why I love theatre; why I love NYC and why sometimes the "sun" comes in the form of song or theatre or a smile. In fact, that's little Lilla Crawford, "Annie" herself from the current revival at the Palace Theatre, pictured in the center photo below.
We left Times Square and headed for the best cookie bakery on the planet, and a huge supporter of the theatre community, Schmackary's at W45th & 9th Ave. They had tweeted that they were open, and there is no way you can feel powerless when you are eating a Schmackary's cookie...so I made sure to get some to go :). You should too.
Got back to the hotel and discovered that, once again, my train was canceled. Only this time they weren't even rescheduling; clearly this was not good. But I was still warm and dry and with power...the important stuff.
Wednesday dawned on my mounting despair as to when I'd get home, how I'd pay the bill, where I'd find food that day.
And then it happened again...theatre stepped up to lend a hand. On Facebook, an Off Broadway theatre, Second Stage, announced it was offering comp tickets to "Modern Terrorism," a play I'd heard of and would have planned to see but for just not having the time. I didn't see the announcement with much time to spare, and before I knew it, I was sitting in the theatre and enjoying a well-acted, hilarious and unique tale of somewhat hapless, would-be terrorists. It probably doesn't really compute when you read that, but it really was all of those things.
That bit of good theatre-fortune had a snowball effect. On the walk home I found a great food emporium brimming with inexpensive deliciousness (Cafe R on W31st St.). Amtrak was still not booking tickets for DC, but Bolt Bus was, so I booked the bus for the next afternoon. And then I took a bubble bath. Because I was not homeless or without power. It looked as if this unplanned limbo was coming to an end.
My 24 hours of theatre had turned into nearly five days. But three of those five days gave me gifts of great theatre. And several of these were lovely surprises, just when I most needed a lovely surprise of theatre.
The takeaway? As the title of this post says, "theatre got me into this, and theatre got me through it." Were it not for those stories, I wouldn't have this story. And as I write this, I'm back in NYC enjoying a six-course feast of shows. But it won't stop there~I'll keep coming back. Because, for the love of theatre, it's worth it.*
*and, by the way, special thanks to the Eventi Hotel and my friends at The Muse Hotel (both wonderful Kimpton properties), the kind people staffing the Amtrak customer service line, and my jovial, burly guardian angel at the Bolt Bus who made sure I got on the first possible bus back to DC.