Why I’m Glad I Stayed After Sandy: Free Ice Cream, An Encounter With Stephen Colbert

We stuck around for twelve hours, reveling in the novelty of a New York City power-outage. Then came the exodus.

The morning after Hurricane Sandy swept the power from Lower Manhattan, everyone in my dorm remembered their friends in the unaffected regions of New Jersey, or their relatives in a still-powered town upstate, and quickly evacuated to these havens of running water and satellite television. For my part, I tried to follow them, but the Megabus scares me and I’ve forgotten how to drive.

So I stayed at NYU the week after Hurricane Sandy. I regret almost nothing. Here’s why:

Free food: “You’re telling me I can just take as much of this ice-cream as I want?”

“Sure, until we run out. Pick a flavor.” I had this exchange with a Sundaes and Cones employee outside the shop where they were handing out free scoops on Tuesday. It made sense, too. Without freezers, the ice-cream would have melted by the end of the day.

The same was true at BambooTori, where the chefs opened their dark restaurant and grilled their leftover kebabs free for passersby. As my friends and I waited in line, the chefs asked us for light. We held up cell phones and flashlights and even a replica lightsaber to illuminate the restaurant as they cooked. They laughed at our lightsaber, and gave us free drinks on top of our already-free kebabs.

Local food trucks got in on the act as well. Sponsored by JetBlue, the New York City Food Truck Association released an online list of where to get free food truck meals. Justifying it as a “crisis survival tactic”, I proceeded to eat twice my body weight in Waffles and Dinges.

But perhaps the most impressive free food efforts came from NYU’s own dining hall staff, many of whom remained on campus all week to distribute free meals to students, staff, and their families. Their patience kept food lines running quickly and efficiently, and lent an element of stability to an otherwise-chaotic week.

An excuse to do uptown things: A combination of laziness, homework, and a reluctance to appear “tourist-y” had previously kept me from exploring NYC’s more popular uptown attractions. But like moths to a light, my band of refugees and I found ourselves increasingly drawn to the fully-illuminated midtown.

One night, we realized that, in the hurricane’s aftermath, few people would have reserved tickets to TV show tapings. With this in mind, we trekked uptown and caught four tickets to the Colbert Report, where I got to meet Stephen Colbert himself. I asked him what his spirit animal was. He said probably a trout.

The next night, my friend won a raffle for tickets to a Broadway show. Behind us in the theater, two tourists discussed lower Manhattan and whether or not it would fall to anarchy without electricity. I would have offered my opinion, but I was too warm and content and full of free waffles from a vendor downtown to argue. When we exited, night had fallen and we found ourselves in Times Square, surrounded on all angles by blinding billboards and glowing storefronts. But what was usually an unbroken skyline fell away between buildings to reveal the impossible darkness downtown. People looked on as we walked into the apparent abyss that was our way back home.

A giant, slightly uncomfortable slumber party: One can never presume to know Kimmel before having slept there in a large room filled with strangers. Out of caution, I anticipated something akin to the Thunderdome.

To my surprise, I found a supportive group of fellow refugees, all of whom were content to join me in a week-long, continuous Super Smash Brothers tournament. We watched zombie movies together. We threw a Perishables Party and feasted upon the contents of our useless refrigerators.  We learned to endure each other’s snoring and to wake our friends for breakfast each morning.

We also invented a game called Cot Jenga.

The spirit of community: One morning I walked uptown in search of two basic needs: Starbucks and cell reception. The Starbucks I entered was full of composed, well-dressed Midtown-ers on their way to work. By contrast, with my three unmatched sweaters and wet hair, I looked incredibly bedraggled. “Still no electricity?” asked the barista. I nodded. “Here, stay warm,” he told me, before making my coffee a size larger than I’d paid for.

Even in small gestures, this attitude of empathy was everywhere.  Free phone-charging stations appeared wherever stores could spare an extension cord. Threads of “survival tips” appeared in NYU facebook groups. Students in dorms with electricity opened their rooms to those who needed a warm place to sleep and shower. Displaced students living in Kimmel still found time and resources to help with volunteer efforts.

Though my dorm and my showers were often cold, my time spent in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was nothing less than heart-warming. I can try to weigh last week’s stresses against the relative comfort I would have found at home with my family, but the truth is that staying at NYU was something quite worth experiencing.

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