Streams

Reporter's Irene Notebook: That's It?

Sunday, August 28, 2011 - 12:00 PM

WNYC

"I by the tide / Of Humber would complain."

--To his Coy Mistrees by Andrew Marvell

From the admittedly jaundiced vantage of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Hurricane Irene was the girl who threw the party of the year, showed up briefly and didn’t dance.

I'm back in my apartment after a two-hour saunter around the north end of the borough during which I called in two reports to WNYC. In the first, around 8:30 a.m., I spoke ominously of yellow police tape around Grand Ferry Park, which the East River had half-inundated. It ended with an observation that the wind was picking up. Assuming later reports would describe mounting scenes of havoc, that was my stab at foreshadowing.

The second report couldn't have been more different. I stood in McCarren Park at the border of Greenpoint, where families and couples and dog-walkers had gathered at the base of a snapped-off linden tree to pose for photos. There was no rain and barely any wind. Behind them, on the public courts across a flooded Berry Street, a couple played a jaunty game of tennis.

Williamsburg is a well-known global nexus of meta-criticism. Thus, a young man regaled a group of friends, none of them wearing rain gear, about a breathless dispatch by a TV reporter he'd heard earlier in the morning. "'I'm at Battery Park and there's no one here,'" he said in a mock-serious version of the on-the-scene journalist. "'I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY.'"

I winced a bit, wondering if that's how I'd sounded at Grand Ferry Park.

A languorous breeze is now lifting the leaves of the mimosa tree outside my window. Gaps in the clouds show scraps of a washed-out blue. On the outdoor patio of a nearby bar, patrons have resumed their traditional howling as they drink and play games of competitive bean bag toss.

It's calm here now but less so around other parts of the city and state, where more than 900,000 people have lost power and streets and railroads lie under water. But that’s not bad compared to the worst-case scenarios we'd been hearing in the lead-up to Irene. There are no reports of death or serious injury. And it looks like we'll see a fraction of the property damage that might've occurred.

Après le deluge comes the clean-up and consideration of how we prepared for it. I have to think the storm itself could be the calm before another storm to follow in its wake.

If you listen, you’ll probably hear grumbling from Far Rockaway to Woodlawn about an over-reaction by government and a feedback loop of hysteria by the media. We’re already seeing a rebuttal in the statements of officials, up to and including Mayor Bloomberg, defending the pre-emptive and unprecedented shutdown of North America's largest transit system.

Both sides will be argued but, really, nature is a coy mistress. To act as if we know what she will do is to risk looking like a fool. Yet, what else can we do?

A final image from the morning: two women in shorts and tube tops accelerate their bikes toward a block-long puddle. Reaching the edge, they lift their legs and glide through it, laughing as they crease the standing water. It looks like fun.

UPDATE: About eleven hours after this post, CBS News is reporting two hurricane-related deaths in New York State among 21 total on the east coast. 

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