New York Stories

The first I heard about Hurricane Sandy was on the radio the other day, part of the 7.30 news update, sandwiched between something about a local politician and something about the Hobart Show. It stood out because it seemed so silly, like someone had inserted a movie promo in somewhere inappropriate and they’d forgotten to change the voices. The newsman said a Hurricane was About to Hit New York, and People were Advised to Evacuate. How do you evacuate a city of eight million people? I mean, where do they go? How does that even happen? What happens if these choose not to go? Would it be like New Orleans after Cyclone Katrina, with all those people living in sports stadiums for months? And then the Weird Thought came: This is New York. They’ve faced alien invasions (Independence Day) and giant apes on the Empire State Building (King Kong) and probably attacks by zombies and werewolves and giant purple bats and anything else that could come to mind, and hey, they’re okay! This is New York after all, the most famous city in the world.

I wonder: is that what the people there think as well? Is that why they stayed? No. I don’t believe that.

I kind of forgot about it, because life goes on in small-and-far-away places, and it was the weekend and we had things to do, but then I saw it again on Facebook: American friends expressing sympathy and fear, and I realized again that it WAS real, not a movie, and something I should care about. It sounds dumb. But New York for me is movies and pictures and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sesame Street Brownstone apartments and the Muppets Take Manhattan, and all those Yankee symbols that turn up in inappropriate places like advertising hair products in out-of-the-way hairdressers who like to pretend they’re hip and upmarket because they know what big cities are all about.

We so don’t know, down here in Hobart, what big cities are all about. I remember growing up in my little town and traveling down to Hobart once every few months, and feeling the need to dress up, coz I too was going to the “big city”.

New York is a dream. New York is pictures. New York is movies, and everything is okay in the end, because New York is Hollywood, and Hollywood always has happy endings.* And New York is BIG, so big that funny little things like weather shouldn’t be able to touch it, like it’s possibly even true, in a city of eight million people**, that sheer force of numbers should be able to control stuff like that, should be able to control God. It’d be nice to believe that, but I can’t.

New York City, according to my research, is approximately half the geographical area of Greater Hobart, and contains approximately half the population of my country. I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t understand it, any more than I should be surprised that I can’t understand the way God works. Or, for that matter, the way weather works.

I’m glad to read this morning that most people are safe, and that the worst is nearly over (although my heart breaks for the families of the ones who are not, those who did not make it through), and I have to stop and remember to give thanks, and not just presume that everything was okay because I knew it would be, because it was New York, or Hollywood, or pictures, or stories.

One day I’ll go there. But even then I don’t think I’ll ever really understand.

NASA image of Hurricane Sandy

*Please don’t correct me on my geography. I’m talking METAPHORS here, not subway stations.

**I met one of them recently. Well, one who USED to be from there. His blog is really cool, and if you ask him nicely he may put up a whole lot more New York Stories. I hope so.

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