Mounds of trash add to New Yorkers’ post-blizzard woes
Ten days after the last flake fell on New York, the fallout from the post-Christmas blizzard continued.
New Yorkers woke up Wednesday to mountains of still-uncollected trash — some 200 bags stinking up the entrance to a posh Manhattan apartment building, rats brazenly crossing Riverside Drive to get at it, and pedestrians navigating sidewalks piled high not just with black trash bags but also discarded Christmas trees and clear recycling bags bursting with empty champagne and wine bottles.
“I know the leftover roast I prepared for my boss for New Year’s is still sitting somewhere in those bags,” said Miriam Lopez, a housekeeper who was stepping over trash to get to work on West 75th Street.
“Good thing the blizzard comes in the winter,” she added, chuckling. “If this was summer, ooo-oooh, that would be some powerfully worse smell.”
With another snowstorm apparently heading for the city Friday, New Yorkers were still demanding answers about the aftermath of the last one: Where were some sanitation workers at the height of the storm, where was the mayor, where were his deputies, and where was everybody who was supposed to choreograph the cleanup?
Federal prosecutors are investigating claims that some sanitation workers had staged a slowdown as vengeance for budget cuts — relaxing at a Dunkin’ Donuts when they should have been plowing streets. Their union denies knowledge of any coordinated job action.
In the meantime, the tabloid newspapers are hounding Hizzoner and his minions.
“Was it a snow day for all the honchos at City Hall?” screamed Wednesday’s front-page headline in the Daily News, which ran four stories on the storm fallout.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office has refused to reveal where he was the day after Christmas as the storm, which would dump 20 inches of snow on Central Park, bore down on the city. He was first seen at a late-afternoon news conference.
Howard Wolfson, a Bloomberg deputy who had been vacationing in London, freely admitted that the government had failed the people. “The bottom line is we didn’t do the job,” he told the local news channel NY1. “Had we done that, nobody would be asking questions about where the mayor was.”
The City Council has scheduled a hearing Monday that is expected to be a shout-fest over the blizzard response, which the mayor acknowledged Tuesday was “unacceptable.”
New Yorkers were apoplectic that it took days for 1,700 snowplows to make side streets in the outer boroughs passable while many parts of Manhattan — particularly Fifth Avenue near Bloomberg’s townhouse — were squeaky clean. Thousands were stranded and unable to get to work or receive emergency services.
The plows eventually made it around the city, and with the help of several warmer-than-usual days, New Yorkers were liberated to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
This week the sanitation department returned to its usual task that is monumental even under sunny skies — retrieving 11,000 tons of garbage every day — plus all the trash that stacked up while sanitation workers were diverted to drive snow plows.
Between holidays and canceled pickups because of the storm, New Yorkers accumulated eight days’ worth of trash — a daunting amount but not a record. A strike in 1968 left bags sitting on sidewalks for nine days.
That was little comfort to the doormen and building superintendents who manage trash in high-rise apartments, or to families trying to keep vermin out of their basements or having to clear a path amid the bags so visiting relatives could get to their front doors.
“They come up from the Hudson River and you see them crossing Riverside Drive and step up on the curb,” said doorman Hiram Vidal, referring to the rats (not the relatives). Vidal has been stationed in front of a prewar apartment building at Riverside and 75th Street for almost 18 years. “I just hope the trucks get here fast. If the rats start getting hit by the cars, then the hawks swoop in for them,” he said.
But this being New York, not everyone was worried or disgruntled.
Jane Kahan, 70, saw art in 300 or so bags of trash idling in front of a cafe on West 85th Street.
“Look at that. It’s so neat, piled so perfectly,” said Kahan, a lifelong New Yorker having breakfast at the cafe. “This is beautiful.”
Peering over her red-rimmed glasses and a plate of French toast at the Everest of black garbage bags, Kahan saw an opportunity for New Yorkers to stop being such whiners and to tap into their better angels.
“If you have a blizzard here the streets are cleaned and the buses get going relatively fast,” she said. “People complain because they don’t know how good they have it.”
Then she added, “It’s good to be old because you’ve lived through worse. Praise the mayor! Praise New York!”