Hurricane Irene: Jokes and jitters in New York nightlife
"Happy Hurricane Day," a burly, bearded man named Carlos said as he walked into Mona's, a longtime watering hole in New York's East Village, on Friday night and asked a barmaid to pour him a whiskey. "Nah, that's Sunday," came the barstool reply from a short, clean-shaven man who looked like the actor Fisher Stevens (and may in fact have been him).
A kind of stoic comedy, with a kick of gallows humor, permeated New York late Friday night as the city braced for what meteorologists predicted could be one of the worst natural disasters in its history. In preparation for Hurricane Irene, the state was already taking the unprecedented step of shutting down mass transit at noon Saturday, a move that equates roughly to Los Angeles banning cars on city streets during the weekday rush hour.
Trains and buses were gliding along Friday night, but a sense of disruption was already palpable. The East Village, where Mona's is located, is one of New York's premiere nightlife districts. Well past midnight on almost any weekend night, bars are typically packed, the sounds of noisy inebriation -- emanating from those who've traveled miles from homes in suburban New Jersey or blocks from dorm rooms at New York University -- filling the streets.
But it was comparatively quiet at about 1 a.m. Saturday -- a function, perhaps, of the neighborhood sitting partly in the dreaded Zone A, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has named the high-risk, low-lying area adjacent to the water. Just a few blocks northeast of Mona's sat the East River, looking deceptively placid, though a concrete embankment that rose just 10 inches from the water to the sidewalk was enough to bring a shudder to the most stoic New Yorker.
A few solitary people could be seen strolling near the normally deserted riverfront, as though contemplating what would happen if the waters swelled. Nearby, a river-adjacent plant for Con Edison Electric Co., normally a barely noticed industrial complex, suddenly seemed more prominent and more vulnerable.
Meanwhile, alongside some buildings near the river sat piles of sandbags; the sight of a dog walking up to a newsstand and buying a lottery ticket would have seemed less strange.
A few blocks inland, gaggles of hipsters could be seen standing and smoking, talking about the possibility of their apartments getting flooded. Most young people in this city only rent their homes, but that did little to appease them; if their windows blew out or their lobbies filled with water, they had little confidence their superintendents would jump quickly on the case.
There was also a more deeply felt reason for the worry. This is a city whose air, with a bevy of upcoming Sept. 11 anniversary events, has been saturated with anxiety this summer. Memories of a crippling blizzard last Christmas didn't help either.
Still, some were trying to keep the mood light. Back inside Mona's, a thin man with a tanned complexion and a black T-shirt bantered with the barmaid. "Something interesting for this weekend," he said, with a look of amusement on his face.
"Yep," said the barmaid, as she set a pint of lager in front of him. "A shower and a show."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: In New York City, a (temporarily) calm East River on Friday night. Credit: Steven Zeitchik