Dear Vermont, Screw you. Love, Irene. P.S. NYC, I love you! xoxo Irene
If you were told to evacuate, would you? Where would you go? Most people watched the aftermath of hurricane Katrina from the comfort of their living rooms, surrounded by plentiful Costco-portion snacks, wondering why so many people stayed in their homes when told they should evacuate.
On Friday, as CNN and NY1 warned New Yorkers with increasing urgency to evacuate Zone 1, my husband and I were faced with this dilemma. As the news showed, Zone 1 covered most of lower Manhattan, but if you looked across the East River, it ALSO included parts of Brooklyn – and not just beach-front Coney Island. We live about a half block from the water in Sunset Park, parallel to the Statue of Liberty.
We decided it was better to be safe than sorry. I also didn’t want to fight with New Yorkers over canned tuna and smart water. So we planned our escape on Friday.
For the last three years or so, we have been spending every available weekend in Southern Vermont. Our good friends have a little cabin there, so we’ll alternate camping and staying at our favorite Inns and B&B’s – all near one river or another, one in Guilford, where covered bridge meets white church steeple, complete with a Little House on the Prairie-like swimming hole.
These trips have been peppered with house hunting as well; if we want to stay in New York for the long term, we have to have a place to go to get OUT of New York as well.
Since my family is in Washington State, and my husband’s is in Virginia (in Newport News – the Tidewater area. They were also evacuated – ironically, to the very town where last week’s earthquake originated) we don’t have a ton of choices. Our friends were heading up to their cabin, we too decided we’d ride out the weather where it would be downgraded to a tropical storm. We’ve spent many spring and fall torrential rainstorms in Vermont, and were confident this would be just another rainy country weekend.
We reserved a room at the Wilmington Inn, Wilmington Vermont. Vermonters know how to make it through storms, and Wilmington is a four season town – close enough to Mt. Snow to service skiers in the winter, and situated on Beaver Brook it’s the perfect summer and fall leaf-peeping destination (our favorite breakfast spot, Dot’s, overlooks the Brook where it runs under Main Street.) These are folks who get by, season to season, depending on tourist dollars. They don’t get rich – they get by.
By leaving Friday night, we avoided the mass exodus on Saturday. On Saturday, we had a leisurely breakfast with friends, then lunch on the porch at The Vermont House in Wilmington. We watched the bright blue sky, knowing we wouldn’t have too many more hours of sun.
After poking around a property outside of town, we checked into the Wilmington Inn. Set up on a hill overlooking West Main Street, and beyond that Beaver Brook, we nestled in and watched the storm coverage on CNN. New Yorkers were still debating whether or not they should leave, and we felt happy to have somewhere safe and warm. Even if we lost power, we had flashlights and charged lap tops, and a fire place down stairs.
We met up with friends in Brattleboro – another favorite town, East of Wilmington and situated right on the Vermont/New Hampshire border. We’ve spent a lot of money on outdoor gear at Sam’s, and enjoyed the farmers market on summer Saturdays. We ate at The Marina on the North side of town - noting that all the boats had been pulled out of the water. This was our first time eating here – our friends who live in Brattleboro were commenting on the nice job they did rebuilding the restaurant after a recent fire. The drive between Wilmington and Brattleboro is about 20 miles, and the rains had already begun.
After dinner, we nestled in back in Wilmington, keeping our eye on storm coverage, looking forward to a day spent doing more of the same come morning.
After a 9:30 AM breakfast (the Wilmington Inn’s restaurant is farm-to-table, it doesn’t get better than farm-to-table in Vermont) our waitress suggested we head out to get groceries – stock up on provisions in town, in case we lost power. Most businesses would be shutting early to play it safe. The brook across the street was now a brown river, and it had already risen to within feet of the banks.
We drove through town, heading east on 100 about a mile to Shaw’s. As we crossed the bridge, we marveled at seeing the water through the railing – it was normally at least a twenty foot drop to the water. We found what ready-to-eat food we could at the grocery store, and were in and out in about 20 minutes.
Back at the bridge, there was police tape blocking our progress, and an officer was directing traffic. I jumped out to ask permission to cross, so we could get back to the Inn. After a 5 minute argument (Me: “you don’t understand. All of our STUFF is at the Inn. We have no where to go.” Him: “I don’t care. Turn around and head to the high school. That is our temporary shelter.” Me: “We’ll park our car and walk across, then.” Him: “You do, and I’ll arrest you.”)
A word about STUFF;
Don’t lecture me on STUFF and detachment. I’m Buddhist. I know the insignificance AND significance of STUFF. But I also know the significance of FEELING SAFE. I know from my experiences on 9/11 that it’s important to feel safe in an emergency. I watched two planes fly into two towers, then two towers collapse before my eyes, and watched people walk out of a wall of smoke and debris with only the clothes on their backs. I watched all this from the home where I was a nanny. Not with my people, not with MY STUFF. It wasn’t until later that night, when my husband and I were actually together again that I felt safe. The whole point of going to Vermont, with only the things we’d need and each other was to feel safe. So, my little nest on the second floor of that inn – my charged kindle, my flashlights, my medication – my STUFF – was my SAFETY.
So, like any normal New Yorkers, we decided this PERSON dressed as an OFFICER knew nothing, and we were NOT going to a SHELTER. We turned the car around, and found the bridge on the other side of us was now closed as well.
We called our friends, who had already made it safely out of town, and were in Connecticut. They invited us to join them there.
A word about invitations;
When you are a grown person, you can’t just call your friends and say “can we come stay there with you until this storm ends?” Family – maybe, but like I mentioned, we don’t have family near-by. An open invitation from a friend in a situation like this is RARE and a GIFT. Grown people don’t CRASH on each others couches indefinitely, and they CERTAINLY don’t invite themselves to do it. So an INVITATION is a rare, golden ticket. In NYC, where space is precious and about 1 million dollars a square foot, most people don’t even have the space to offer.
We evaluated our situation – we had our wallets, food (the water was back at the Inn), our phones (we could charge them in our car), a full tank of gas and a GPS. We knew our way out of town on the back roads more or less, we just had to bypass the closed portion of 9/100 going East, and we could get on 91 near Brattleboro and head South. We would come back for our STUFF in a couple days.
My husband is nerdly for directions. He always knows which way is North, and actually pays attention to street signs. So he drove on the back country roads up hills, down hills until we hit another portion of road that was washed out and impassable, or passed a car who shared information about the direction they came from. Forward and reverse. U turn after U turn. Each body of water we passed had already risen a foot higher than it was when we passed it 10 minutes before.
We weren’t getting out.
But could we now get back to town? Could we even get to the shelter in Wilmington?
This is when terror strikes. Terror is your imagination at its best. It’s picturing yourself as “that couple that was washed away on a back road in Vermont because they didn’t listen to the cop.” Hell, it is CNN telling you you’re Zone A and you need to evacuate your Brooklyn home. But in that moment, terror was having nowhere to go on a back road in Vermont, knowing the roads were washed out in every direction, and watching locals back track from the route they were taking to get home.
We parked our car on a drive way at the top of a hill on the edge of town, and walked in the general direction the officer had pointed out as “the shelter” carrying our food, and sleeping bags (which were the only things we had in the car.) We passed others wearing worried faces – worried about their loved ones, their homes, their businesses, who all still had the kindness to direct us to the high school.
Arriving, at last, we passed other evacuees in the halls and doorways, watching the “brook” which was now an ocean, and claimed our Red Cross cots and blankets.
One young woman and her father had also come across the bridge for provisions, leaving her mother at the Inn on the other side.
One woman was in tears because she had left her kids and grand-kids at home alone.
One man was still furious at the same cop who had threatened me for not allowing him to cross the bridge.
One group of people were in town from Toronto for a wedding.
One couple, like us, had left all their things at their Inn on the other side of the bridge – but their Inn was sitting on the water, not on a hill like ours.
At 11AM, we spread our sleeping bags, and wandered the halls of the school, looking for windows facing the water so we could watch it rise. And rise. And rise. I didn’t realize I was looking at what used to be the football field.
A group of kids –from 5 to 17 were playing basket-ball on the other side of the curtain drawn down the center of the gym. The constant bouncing of the ball was torture to our fragile nerves, but I’m sure we all wished we could be as easily distracted, and no one had the heart to ask them to stop.
After a few hours, a teen-ager came in looking for his mom, crying. We think it was his girlfriend who was washed away.
I don’t think I remember anyone’s name that I met at the school that day. Seeing the pain, worry and anger on everyone’s face made it difficult to connect with each other. You wanted to honor their privacy, and give them space.
After a couple of hours, someone found keys to the library. I was only able to read the first couple pages of a Stephen King novel – my usual escape – reading - was worthless.
Hour after hour, we waited – for what? To find out if things were going to get worse? Would we be moved again?
At some point food was brought in – in stages. First ice cream, then Gatorade, then sandwiches. This solved our secret problem – we had our own food. In a disaster, you struggle with wanting to hoard, and wanting to contribute to the community stock-pile. There’s no room for moral judgment, this is human nature and survival. As it is, I have food allergies and couldn’t eat the peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches provided.
After some hours, the National Guard came through. One man in uniform made the rounds of cots, asking each person how they were, who they were, what they needed. Each person was made to feel valuable, and that their lives were important and being counted.
Later, we lost power, and turned to a generator. The toilets wouldn’t flush and there was no running water. Only about 6 hours had passed, and already the bathrooms were unsavory.
When the rain died down a bit in the afternoon we took a walk to the car to be sure it was safe. We could see from the hill only some of the devastation of Main Street, and had apparently missed it at its worst.
We returned to the school, and passed a few more hours napping to the sounds of the basketball and the rain. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Shoot. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.
In early evening, we walked as close to the bridge as we could – the water had receded, and the Nat.’l Guard was willing to let people cross the bridge on foot one way – in other words, we could cross to the Inn, but not come back. We jumped at the chance.
At dusk, we crossed over.
The mud on the road had rainbow streaks where floating propane tanks had leaked.
The air was pungent with propane.
We dodged the downed power poles, cables and wires.
The inventory from the town yarn shop was woven throughout the town, most of it wrapped like a giant colorful sweater around a telephone pole.
Giant trees jutted up over the bridge like black daggers – these had washed down the river but couldn’t make it under or over the bridge.
The driveway at Dots was gone, leaving a crater through which you could see the river below.
Every window of every business in town was a gaping black hole – antique shops, book stores, hardware stores, restaurants, tourist and gift shops, all cavernous and empty and war-torn. There were slabs of concrete in the middle of the road that used to be drive ways and foundations.
Huge tree trunks were on the porches of store-fronts.
Each person we passed had a look of disbelief and curiosity. Is this the same street? Is this the same town? Is this my business?
We stopped and talked to a man with kind eyes, tattooed arms and a still-waters-run-deep demeanor who had just moved here from Texas. I imagine as a result of this storm he’ll go quickly from being the new-comer to one of Wilmington’s own.
The parking lot on the brook-side of Main Street was now a river. The road was cracked and jutting up like it had been on a fault line.
Finally reaching the Inn, we found it still standing proudly on the hill like it has done for over 100 years. We had to climb over and around the power lines and pole that had fallen in the street, but we made it up the hill and saw the relief in the eyes of the waitress who had just that morning sent us on our merry way.
Inside, folks were doing what many do, drinking to forget. We trudged up the stairs in the dark, and into the safety of our room where we collapsed after spending what felt like a week away.
We were happy to have our flashlights, some food, and a bed and each other. The STUFF was unimportant now.
In the morning, a strikingly beautiful and typical crisp, sunny Vermont-in-the-late-summer kind of morning, my husband trudged down to the road for news – the National Guard would escort us to our car if we could leave within 15 minutes. Our STUFF was now a ridiculous burden to pack and carry up to our car, but we made it.
Walking back up to the school, we passed the town manager and other city officials taking inventory. They could make no promises about the roads out of town being open, but wished us luck – warning us that Whitingham, Jacksonville, and Brattleboro were washed out and inaccessible as well.
At the high school, some kind soul had printed copies of back-road directions to North Adams, Mass. Two pages of hand-written instructions “Turn left on Whites road. Turn right on Hillsdale Road. Turn Left on Deer Park Road. Turn Left on Windswept road.” You get the picture.
Nine and a half hours later, we drove into Brooklyn. What was usually a 3 hour drive was filled with road closures, U-Turns, trials and errors, dead-still traffic and deep, painful fatigue.
There was a sign hanging over all of NYC that said “what storm?” And another one above our apartment that said “suckers.”
In the end, from the distance of a couple states and 24 hours or so, it was really just a day spent in a gym in the rain. We didn’t lose anything. We didn’t lose anyone. We were only in danger for a day, and didn’t shower for two. But it’s from that same distance that most people are watching towns like Wilmington on the news, thinking “why didn’t they get out?!”
What’s the lesson here? Ignore the news? Ignore the warnings? Ignore your instincts? Ignore the waitress?
I think the lesson is that we as individuals are only as strong and resilient as our neighbors. The distance between our comfort and terror is only a bridge away, and whether that bridge is an actual bridge, a state, a country or a continent, without each other, we have nothing.
ASK A DESIGNER: Mom Responds re: clutter and organizing the little things...
This is a very good question. Most of us deal with some clutter in our homes. I too adore smallish containers and want to be able to display or use them in some way. I have found that they can create another problem, ie clutter unless I have corralled them in some way to make a statement. The accompanying photos (see previous post), although clever and attractive aren’t practical and only end up creating frustration when you can’t maintain the tidiness they require. We have to remember 2 words here; useful and practical. And then we must ask ourselves if it will work for us and our life patterns/ habits? The drawer idea is a good one but if we had that extra drawer there are far better ways to organize and use it. Such as a felted jewelry organizer made to go into a drawer. These are available at most shops specializing in storage solutions.
These are a great way to use an entire drawer or half a drawer. There is no wasted space. As an alternative to the felt (protective) lined organizer trays, you can Also find the plexiglass style for less $$.
Now let’s consider clutter without an extra drawer…I love hooks! They are available in any size, color and material. Depending on your available space, they can be hung inside a closet or on a closet door. This is assuming one has a closet. I prefer to not make them a focal point in a room, so the next best place could be the side of a wood dresser or shelves. (nothing hollow core, please). The more the merrier. (not to be confused by this designers’ mantra, “less is more”). You will need to purchase hooks with some depth, depending upon what you hang on them. I use these for my necklaces, hanging gold with gold, silver w/ silver. Etc. chunky, chains all with like designs.
For bracelets and bangles, the fun, funky ones can be stored in a large crock or wide mouthed (straight sided) glass vase. This way you can see what your going for. Another idea for a bracelet holder, depending on your collection, can be a memo desk sword with a rubber tip on the point. If you have a ton, you may have to track down an attractive vertical paper towel holder to stack your bracelets. There are also T style bracelet holders at the storage shops which also work well for the more precious bracelets.
I do recommend always having 1 oversized decorative shallow bowl/dish to use when undressing in a hurry just as a temporary catch all to be cleaned out once a week.
If none of these ideas work for your particular situation, you can always find a decorative tray at a thrift store or tag sale to place your individual containers/ dishes on. Clutter can’t always be avoided but if you face it head on and make it a decorative feature by placing it all in one place on a tray, it can help one feel more organized.
I’m always looking for solutions for clutter, particularly in the bedroom department. I have a ton of small jars and dishes on my dresser-top holding my precious jewels (read: old stuff I don’t really want to part with mixed with some newer stuff I love.)
There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
Any other organization — a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society - -when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.
The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.
In this first instalment of “Ask A Desinger,” I wonder about the use of the color peach in interior design. Peach screams 70’s to me, which means I mostly love it. But 1980’s peach can veer into the pastel category, that sort of “Miami Vice is so in right now” vibe.
Read my mom’s* reflections on peach below.
"Dear Mom, Is peach making a come-back? If so, what is an “appropriate” use of peach? Love, Your daughter”
"Yes, peach is popular… But more importantly, peach has always been considered one the best colors to use in interiors because the right shade is soothing and comfortable for all to live with. I prefer the Greyer subtler tone myself."
*Hilary Newberry Interior Design, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Have a question about interior design? Want to know what color to paint that south-facing wall? Want to know what to do with your 300 sq. foot studio apartment? Ask me, and I’ll ask my mom.
I only read the statement from the Association of Black Women Historians, because I have already heard the raves about the film.
I haven’t seen the film, and I probably won’t - mostly because I don’t see many movies (it’s not usually a pleasant experience in NYC) - but also because I’ve learned enough American history told from the perspective of white folks.
Sure you’ll never get a reservation at Dorsia (because it doesn’t exist). But Patrick Bateman’s hung out in a bunch of very real 1980’s New York City restaurants and clubs. What has become of the world of American Psycho after 20 years?