Dispatches from NYC
Ladies and Gentlemen, New York Is Crumbling
By Pauline Millard
Aug 23, 2007

Two weeks ago after a particularly hard rainstorm, I came home late at night and found my apartment had been flooded. The floors were soaking wet and the whole place smelled like a swamp. As I ventured deeper into my bunker, I realized the dark, wet conditions were perfect for cockroaches, as several had set up camp on my living-room floors just hours after a few pipes under my place had burst.

In the days that followed, I cleaned up and dried out my apartment, but not before tossing out hundreds of dollars worth of clothes and shoes, buying all new bathroom supplies, and running in fear from many more cockroaches. (My dad says I should toughen up.) Even once the place was clean, an exterminator had to come in to remove a few more roaches who were overstaying their welcome a little too close to my bed.

New York has been showing signs of weakness lately, and as an eight-year veteran I’m disappointed. New York City is supposed to be Mighty Gotham, not the weak, whimpering My-Subways-Get-Flooded version we’ve had to put up with this summer. Weakness is for other cities, like Los Angeles and its earthquakes or Seattle and its crummy weather. The Heartland needs to do something about those tornados and Florida, well, that’s just one huge mess of a former penal colony.

The first sign that the city was falling apart came four years ago with the blackout. On an otherwise typical, albeit hot, August day, the entire city went dark, along with most of the eastern seaboard. New Yorkers were forced to walk home for miles over bridges, throw out spoiled food, and (if you were truly unlucky) had to be rescued from subways that were stuck in the lurch underground.

Some people claim that the blackout was some of the best fun they’ve ever had in New York, but I don’t consider not being able to take a full shower a good time. Now when it’s hot out at night and I hear all the air conditioners running, I keep a flashlight next to my bed. ConEd hasn’t exactly redeemed itself since the 2003 blackout, either. Last year, huge chunks of Queens were also without power for days, and then the electric company had the nerve to bill those poor people, who were mostly elderly, for their usage.

The exploding pipes, though, is a little more unsettling. In this case I can’t overtly blame ConEd, because as an institution, its “best” work comes out when its people are reacting to problems, not when preventing them. (Seriously, name one problem that ConEd has prevented.) When I heard about the exploding pipe outside Grand Central a month ago, I wasn’t surprised. The infrastructure for this town was put in when subways were dug by hand. Sooner or later it was bound to fall apart. It’s an absolute tragedy that people have been hurt because no one seems to have thought about fixing these things. How long did New York think pipes laid almost a hundred years ago could last?

The strangest part is that now New Yorkers are actually expecting something bizarre to happen whenever it rains, as if precipitation portends unfortunate events. We’ve already dealt with blackouts, bursting pipes, and flooded subways: What could be next? A swarm of locusts, perhaps?

This morning I woke up and, once again, it was raining outside. Although my landlord swears they’ve fixed the broken pipes under the building and added the requisite stop valves, I locked my laptop up on a shelf in my armoire. The way things are going, who knows what the next catastrophe will be.



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