This post is not wine related, but I have a lot of things on my mind that I’d like to try to “get out” in some way. This is the only way I know how to do it so far. I don’t feel right about selling this story to a newspaper. Who would buy it? It’s not nearly as compelling as some others you will read, and I’m not that talented of a writer anyway.
I bet many people have their Sandy stories. I have a few, but the one that is probably most etched in my memory is this one.
On Wednesday, a full day after Hurricane Sandy left thousands of exhausted, powerless Long Islanders in her wake, I pulled on my rubber rain boots and hit the streets of my own hometown to see what she had done. It was Halloween, and until this day, the streets of Babylon south of Montauk Highway were impassable due to flooding.
As I walked south, crossing Montauk Highway onto Willow Street to make my way down Shore Road, it didn’t take long to see the first signs of her wrath. Several boaters stood nervously around a crane at the Suffolk Marine that was attempting to right a wayward boat that had fallen from her scaffolding. In the background, the bow of a half-sunken boat peered out of the canal. As curious onlookers snapped photos with their iPhones and muttered sounds of disbelief to one another, a man looked back at those that had gathered and said, “Yep – that’s my boat. And I just got it, too.”
Wandering further along Shore Road and eventually making that left onto Fire Island Avenue, I observed trash piles slowly growing on a number of curbs…and not just water-logged furniture and rolled up carpet, but also big black garbage bags that had probably been filled with numerous possessions and personal effects that had floated up inside along with the marauding tide. People often say that objects can be replaced, but is that always true?
My objective in this trip was not to sight-see in a time when so many people were cleaning up what had remained. I wasn’t there to gawk at those that had lost so much. Instead, I wanted to visit the streets where I used to ride my bike as a little kid. Babylon is my home, too… and it has been for a long time. As I approached the corner of Merman Place, near the last bit of Fire Island Avenue that heads down to the village pool, I noticed a crude handmade sign posted on a telephone pole outside someone’s flooded-out home. Slow, no wake: an odd sign to see in the street.
I made a left here and stopped at the edge of the driveway of what was once 4 Merman Place. As I became more stationary and my heels sunk into the mud, I recalled standing there twenty years earlier in front of a bungalow that once belonged to my parents. A tenant had permanently (and unexpectedly) evacuated just prior to Hurricane Gloria, and the venerable shack was not able to keep the water out. Although I was young, I recall almost everything about that house, including the 16 foot Renken bowrider we kept in the canal behind it. The house was uninhabitable after the storm; it sat dormant, waiting for repair. Years later, a fire had taken all that was left: the hardwood floors, the wooden planks that made up the front walk, and the tiny oar that adorned the front door as if to let visitors know, “Hey, we live in a mariner’s town.”
But that’s all gone now. While I knew that the property couldn’t have sustained any real damage (it’s hard to destroy a home that has already burned down and left a tuft of seagrass growing from its ashes), I was curious to see how everything looked. Aside from the neighbor’s back porch detaching and floating over to the back of our driveway where a garage once stood, everything was OK.
The same can’t be said for Yacht Club Road, though. As I made my way back north, my boots clomped through the tacky muck that covered the streets. I didn’t want to gawk, I swear I didn’t… but I couldn’t help but stare in awe at what was happening before me. As men and women in rain gear and work boots carried what was left of their homes to the street, scrap metal scavengers in pickup trucks went curb-to-curb, only asking for permission to pick through the rubble if the homeowner appeared to be nearby. Cars with shattered windows lined up along the side of the road and waited for tow trucks to carry them away. The smell of oil and rotten shellfish stunk up the air.
The Babylon Beach House, a family-run senior home facing a part of the Great South Bay known as Babylon Cove, stands near the edge of Yacht Club Road. That was my “out-of-bounds” on the bike; I couldn’t go past that point because the busy intersection into the mouth of the Babylon Marina was too dangerous for a little kid. In the present day, my turnaround spot was blocked by piles of its former interior. A sad note on the facility’s Facebook page sadly states, “the…future is unknown at this time.”
While my power was out on Monday night, I took to checking social media sites to see what was going on in my neighborhood. Living half a mile north of the bay means that I’m usually far enough away from powerful storm surges, but after seeing whitecaps on the corner of Montauk Highway and Route 231 on television before the power failed, I didn’t want to take any chances. Among other somber updates I saw about my community, I read that the Venetian Yacht Club may have collapsed, or had a fire, or both.
So I approached that corner like I watch the scary parts of horror movies, with my hands covering my eyes with just the tiniest space between my fingers to see merely a shred of what’s actually happening. Through the cracks, everything seemed to look OK from the front, but I wanted to get around to the back to see if there was anything I had missed. I felt compelled to either confirm or deny this rumor, but getting to the back, the bayfront side of the large catering hall, involved negotiating the biggest puddle I had encountered at this point in my journey. Once I safely made it into the marina and took the pictures I wanted to take, I sat on the pier and wept.
When I was finally ready to head back home, I walked through a community that alternated with the sounds of buzzing chainsaws and silence, a cacophony of the macabre. Here and there trick-or-treaters walked up to homes where work-weary adults put down what they were doing for a few minutes to fetch bowls of candy and offer reluctantly relieved smiles. Police officers stood at the corners of busy intersections with dark traffic signals and somberly directed traffic. Shopkeepers on Deer Park Avenue washed their storefront windows with paper towels and Windex and chatted with one another about when the power might return.
I haven’t been that far down since.
So this is Babylon. It’s not Lindenhurst, It’s not Mastic Beach, It’s not Long Beach, Staten Island, or Breezy Point. But it is my hometown. I’m one of the lucky ones that does not have to go back to reclaim anything. I am one of the lucky ones that does not have to rebuild. Instead, I satiate my guilt by spending my free time working with an organization called Babylon Helps, but that’s another post for another day.