Rockaway

Today (50 days since Hurricane Sandy graced us with her ferocious presence), I take the Q53 from beginning to end, round trip. Takes about an hour one way. As we get closer, I see a house that is sideways. Like a little kid got angry while playing a game, knocked it over, and just left it there. Right before the last stop, the guy, about 20, sitting next to me stands up.

“Are you getting off here?”

“I don’t think so. Is it the last stop?”

“No. 116th is the last stop.”

He sits back down.

“Do you live out here?”

He does. I tell him about the Second Response work we’re doing and give him the printed overview. He reads it. His demeanor changes a little. He seems relieved, like he was just given hope. It’s the same reaction I am given by everyone I talk to about the work we are doing. He’s interested in coming to the playshop. We pass by what’s left of some buildings where there were shops, presumably people lived above them. They’re gone. It looks like a bomb was dropped on them.

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“My house is ok, it’s right on the beach, it’s made of brick. My buddy’s house burned to the ground in Breezy Point.”

“Did you see that?” He points at what we just passed.

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“Yeah.”

We part ways. I’m trying to find space where we can facilitate a playshop for some children in this area that was decimated by Hurricane Sandy. Finding space has been the big challenge.

I stumble upon the NYCares distribution center. A man comes out and asks what I want. He sends me down the street to a church. They have a massive warming tent. It’s closing January 1. Our playshop is scheduled for January 6. I go to the rectory. The only person there is an overwhelmed man working, moving boxes around. The church is undergoing renovations, they can’t help. I need to head back to meet the person I am out here to see about using the space at the school. I walk to the beach. It’s so peaceful, except for the sound of a jackhammer and a power saw.

I spot this beautiful old house, Hotel Del Mar. It apparently has some history.

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The beach is empty except for sea gulls and a man named Jack who is throwing a soggy well-used tennis ball for his happy black lab mutt. He points out the NYC parks department truck parked with people napping inside. He scoffs at the NY bureaucracy.

I continue on to the school, another distribution center. We’re all set with them. It’s been the only thing that has come together easily during this whole process. The first time we spoke he said, “Just let me know when you want to do it.” The only reason I had to come out to meet him is because he doesn’t use email. I am on my way 5 minutes later.

A couple of blocks over I stop at Small Water, another distribution spot. They’re going to help us get the word out, but they can’t help us out with space. A desperate woman asks us if we have 50 cents.

I get on the Q22 for a half hour ride out to Far Rockaway. When I get off the bus, I see a church in a storefront with a line 20 deep coming out of it. They’re waiting for food or supplies. I arrive at the church where the woman with whom I spoke on the phone told me she could set me up with space. FEMA is there in the sanctuary with rectangular tables set up around the perimeter. The man at the entrance asks me if I’m there to volunteer. No one is in this large room except FEMA people.

I step outside the sanctuary, back into the room I first entered. It’s being used as a large kitchen space. Only volunteers and two men talking. I ask if they know where the woman is. One of the men goes to find her. I start talking to the other man, he turns out to be the pastor of the church. He is interested in the work we’re doing, but tells me we can’t use the space FEMA is occupying because they have an agreement with FEMA. No outside organizations can come in to use the space. Somewhere in the conversation I let him know it has taken me an hour and a half to come out to his church. He offers me the tent outside. It’s not a 4-person tent, but my apartment is bigger. The living room in my apartment is bigger. Hopefully, tomorrow one of the synagogues will offer us space.

A few things were confirmed for me today during my adventure to Rockaway. There is still a shit ton of work to be done there. Organizations run by bureaucracy are not helpful, nor are they efficient. Devastating hurricanes are better timed during warmer months.

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