I’ve never walked down the middle of my street before. But today cars are haphazardly parked on the closed off road, while police officers and Con Ed workers pace around restricted areas.
An explosion at the western corner of my block, near 7th Street and 2nd Ave, rocked the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan on March 26. One building collapsed that afternoon, while another two fell before dawn the next day. Pockets of fire smoldered until morning, and most of the surrounding streets are open only to residents.
On the afternoon of the blast, I was working at my office several avenues away. Even there, we could smell the smoke-tinged air. “Where do you think that’s coming from?” a co-worker asked. We walked to the window and were greeted with ominous black clouds coming from the direction of my home. I Googled “East Village fire,” but nothing relevant popped up—then I quickly checked Twitter, only to see my apartment’s cross streets trending.
But of course, as with all news stories that break on the internet, the facts were garbled. So I turned on my heel, told the boss I’d be back, and ran toward my (suddenly worrisome) address.
Two things very quickly happened: First, as I rounded the corner of 9th Street and 2nd Ave, I realized that my apartment was in the clear. But at that moment, I also began to understand the severity of the fire, and the effect it would have on the whole neighborhood. Within hours, dozens of small business and homes would be inaccessible for days—or weeks.
I watched the fire consume my favorite fry place, and then make its way to an old bodega. The sad and confused faces of the crowd stubbornly looked on as the flames burned brick after brick, while cops yelled “move back!” and fireman sprinted.
“Hi, I live here,” I said much later that night. I was standing on 1st Ave, exhausted and concerned. Yellow tape blocked the entrance to my street.
“Can I see some ID?” The cop looked at me incredulously. “Only residents can access 7th Street.”
“Uh… My ID is from Virginia.”
“You don’t have a New York ID?”
I looked at him, confirming the previously stated. Then I rummaged around my purse, slightly panicked, and found a letter from my grandmother, addressed to yours truly.
“That works,” he said apologetically.
When I got home, I shut the bathroom window, plugged in a fan, and let ashy air circulate out of the tiny room. As I got ready for bed, helicopters began to hover with a constant whir-whir-whiring that would last the whole night. I wasn’t going to sleep a wink—but then again, at least I had my bed.
New York is a resilient city; you have to be prepared for both the expected and unforeseen highs and lows of life if you’re living on an island with 8 million other eclectic human beings, all of whom are fighting for jobs, for lovers, or even for space.
But occasionally, you get to witness New Yorkers fighting for other New Yorkers. Free coffees were passed out, hotel rooms were set up for the homeless, and clothing drives began the next day. If this city knows how to do anything, it’s how to make something happen overnight.
So as I walk down the middle of my street, and thank God my little corner of this world is still intact, I am grateful to see some small bit of beauty amidst the chaos of this cold spring.
Here's what one (admittedly kooky) plumber had to say about the East Village explosion. For privacy purposes we shall call him "Alfonso" from XYZ Plumbing Company.
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