Life goes on sans cellphones in manhattan’s no-power zone
By JENNA WORTHAM
The New York Times | November 05,2012
NEW YORK — While Hurricane Sandy left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without electricity or heat, the loss of one utility left some especially bewildered: cellphone service.
“Not having hot water is one thing,” said Kartik Sankar, 29, a technology consultant who lives in the East Village. “But not having a phone? Forget about it.”
With only sporadic access to text messaging, Facebook or even landline calls, Sankar and others like him in Manhattan’s no-power zone quickly devised more primitive systems for passing information and arranging when and where to meet, so they could take comfort in each other’s company in the dark.
On the scale of hardships suffered in the storm and its aftermath, these ranked as minor annoyances, and, by Sunday, most electricity and cellphone service had been restored to Lower Manhattan.
But being suddenly smartphoneless caused some to realize just how dependent on the technology they had become.
“The lack of information was unnerving,” said Tay McEvers, 27, a television producer, who was celebrating the return of power with Sankar and other friends at Niagara Bar in the East Village on Friday night. “You would hear that the water wasn’t safe to drink or that the lights were going to come back at 4 and have no way to verify it.”
The lack of connectivity led to many missed connections.
“On Halloween night, we thought everyone was going to be at one bar, but when we showed up no one was there,” said Steve Juh, 32, who lives on the Lower East Side and works in finance. “They left a note with the bartender telling us where they were, but we didn’t get it.”
On a stretch of Bleecker Street in the West Village that was still draped in darkness on Friday night, local residents — and a few disaster tourists — gathered at Wicked Willy’s, a sports bar that siphoned power from a generator and offered free battery charging stations and landline calls to patrons.
Joshua Diem, 21, a student at New York University who was at the bar, said that during the storm he left the city to take care of his ailing grandmother in Connecticut. They were without power for most of the week. Diem said he felt as if he had missed nothing while offline.
“I’ve been texting with my ex all night,” he said. “I kind of regret that, to be honest.”
For some, regaining cell service as the power came back on was bittersweet. Although they were relieved to be reconnected with their families and friends and to begin edging toward normalcy, they said that the brief break from their hyperconnected lives turned out to be welcome.
Amelia Erwitt, 32, and her husband, Kamil Kaluza, 36, who live in the West Village, said they enjoyed life offline — waking up with the sun, exploring their neighborhood, checking in on friends, cooking by flashlight and going to bed soon after sundown. They got their news from a battery-powered radio and checked email by walking two blocks to a spot in front of a nearby deli that somehow offered a cellular connection. They waved their phones in the air until they felt them buzzing with messages and alerts.
Sometimes news updates came from unusual sources.
“I stood on line for a payphone for 30 minutes to call my dad,” Erwitt said. “And the man in front of me was a tourist from France, and after calling home to check in, he hung up, turned around and said, ‘I just heard, from Paris, that we’re getting power back in three days.’”