The New Landscape
Last Wednesday, we rode our bikes over the Williamsburg Bridge to visit some friends and their son in the Lower East Side. As we crossed over the center of the bridge into the darkened half, which ordinarily draws power from Manhattan, we could see the shrouded shape of downtown through a stream of cyclists and pedestrians.
At street level, bright traffic still flowed on Delancey. I was struck by the fact that I had never considered what would happen to traffic in a blackout. Many of the useless traffic lights had been replaced by police officers directing cars.
The light of the automobiles gave way to darkness and silence on normally busy side streets. A few flashlights glimmered here and there in building lobbies.
In a candlelit apartment without power or water, our friends were calm. But after days without power, their son was learning a higher meaning of boredom — tormented by the fact that his neighborhood was missing Halloween. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had just seen children trick or treating in their costumes less than a mile away on the other side of the bridge.
I was surprised by a feeling I often get when travelling through a city for the first time: Looking carefully at every new street and building, and trying to make sense of all the new shapes and spaces. It’s one of the pleasures of travel — the rush of your brain keeping up with all the new input. It’s something that quickly fades away in any city where you live.
For the first time in years, I was looking at familiar spaces in Manhattan as if my eyes had never seen them before.