New York City is almost back to normal, with lights mostly restored and 80 percent of the subways running. But the schedule is less robust, and people are packed in body to body, determined to get where they're going. Outside the city, in Staten Island, the Rockaways, and parts of New Jersey, it's another story. My aunt and cousins in New Jersey are in a world of hurt, no lights, no heat, no food, little gas in their car, and my 82-year-old aunt is recovering from a nasty case of shingles.
She has all her children and grandchildren around her, so that is good, but on the phone this morning, they sounded desperate. My cousins waited six hours in line for gas yesterday, then found some firewood on their way home, which they packed into every inch of their car. The seven of them are now sleeping huddled around the fireplace, the only source of warmth. I asked them why didn't they come and stay with us in New York. Aunt Winnie has space, my mom has space, and so do we. My cousin said, "How would we get to you? The roads are impassable with live wires and downed trees. The bridges are closed. And we have to conserve the gas we have. Besides, we can't afford to leave the house and allow the water pipes to freeze and burst because that would be another problem we can't afford to fix."
They couldn't take their mom to the hospital because it's overrun, and they couldn't refill her prescription because the pharmacy was closed. They had to fax it to a pharmacy in another state and have it delivered. They had to go to a hotel to fax it. I felt so helpless. All I could do was text my cousin information about FEMA and wire money. And they are the lucky ones. Their house was not destroyed. No trees fell on their car. The have family members who will send money, and bring them to a warm lit place if they choose. If they can hold out for another ten days, power will probably be restored and life will be back to normal. Not so for hundreds of thousands more.
I can tell you, for people in the situation my New Jersey family is in, voting is not a consideration. They are Obama supporters, but they will probably not venture out to find a makeshift polling place this Tuesday. Their considerations right now are far more immediate and basic. How do I know? Because even though I wondered whether they would be able to vote, I knew in the same thought that it would be unforgivably stupid and crass to ask the question.