One of my first visions of New Haven was a hurricane. I was helping a friend move here from Boston, it was 1985, and the hurricane in question was Gloria. We were headstrong youth, and though the forecast was dire we had already the U-Haul, so we plowed on up the turnpike.
I remember a lot of traffic on the road, a forbidding sky, an eerie calm and long stretches of being immobile on the highway.
We finally arrived and I got my first real look of New Haven Green. I thought New Haven was one of the most beautiful cities I’d ever seen. Having a block of grassy nature right in the middle of the city to look at (not to mention the old churches and the impressive government buildings) was a great gift. The city had so much more clarity than, say, Boston, where I’d grown up and seen scenic neighborhoods narrowed and gentrified and otherwise distorted.
What was due to distort New Haven was the storm.
We unpacked, then duly put masking tape on the windows as advised by the Channel 8 newscasters.
Hurricane Gloria was not as damaging to Connecticut as prophesied, with very heavy winds but not much else. There was a general feeling of relief in the city, and also that East Coast skeptic’s sense that we’d been snookered into overreacting. I remember seeing a piece that a New Haven-based artist, Bryan Konefsky, which gathered dozens of images of the creative ways in which people had taped up their windows—with designs, with funny messages, with wild abandon. It seemed that many people had trouble taking the hurricane seriously in the first place, so the “disappointment” afterwards (“Awww, we weren’t killed!”) was somewhat balanced.
There was another massive storm in New Haven a few years later. The romantic relationship for which I had originally moved to New Haven was moving on. I had fallen in love with the city and was staying put. I had the romantic notion that I could save a small bookstore where I worked from imminent closure by purchasing it and managing it. In retrospective, this was a disastrous, foolhardy plan. I was in the store with the previous owners and a lawyer or two, signing documents which would make me responsible for the place, when suddenly the sky went dark outside. The hanging illuminated sign outside the store started whipping back and forth on its chain, and it’s a wonder that it didn’t smash. I saw a man across the street hanging onto a street lamp for dear life, his legs being lifted by the wind in what seemed like a tribute to a storm-tossed Bob Denver in a memorable episode of Gilligan’s Island. The street became a swimming room, the strong rains blown sideways by extreme winds. The darkness darkened. It was late afternoon, but felt like midnight, in a whirlpool.
The street survived, but the image of that afternoon never left me. I went through a long depressive period due to events in my life during that time, and signing life-changing documents amid the howling winds and pummeling rains became the mental illustration of how I felt.
Nowadays, news of a hurricane stirs whole other senses. I’m a family man now. Before my daughters left for school today we discussed where the flashlight batteries were, which foods might be most appropriate for dinner, and how to save the vegetables if the refrigerator craps out. I told them about Hurricane Sandy and they said "Charge the iPods! Find the candles! Put jugs of water in the basement!"
It’s a collaborative exercise in survival planning on a manageable scale. I don’t disuss the large-scale (black-outs, destruction, injury) with the girls so as not to scare them unnecessarily, and frankly it remains a fairly abstract concept in my own mind since I’ve never actually been heavily inconvenienced by a hurricane.
Hurricanes were present when I first arrived in New Haven, and when I committed to owning a small business. They fire up family discussions. They bookmark my life in unusual ways that I should learn to appreciate.
And now, the weather report, according to a few different sources but particularly the Hartford Courant: Maybe rain Saturday. Almost definitely rain Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. Wicked windy. Other states may see snow.
Have a safe Sandy.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times