A Story on a Storm
Updated: Jul 27
In 2012 I was supposed to run the mother of all marathons: New York. It was on the top of my bucket list and it felt like something I had to do to prove myself.
You can imagine what such an endeavour means. A marathon… the months of injury-prone training, special diets and a bill of over 5000 bucks are but a few things you need to endure. Yet, I endured them. And finally, in November that year I arrived in The Big Apple to run the run of all runs.
Then hell froze over.
You might remember that in 2012 New York was hit by hurricane Sandy. It was a devastating storm, killing many and destroying more.
When that freakishly strong hurricane finally subsided, I was in a very strange kind of mood. I wasn’t thinking of the damage or the victims. All I could think of was whether or not the marathon would be cancelled. The best way to describe it, is to say I was in Super-Sporty-Mode. I was a fanatic, squarely focused on my goal. After months of intense training I just wanted to run and finish that damn marathon.
For hours I sat in front of the TV in my hotel room watching the news to find out if the marathon was still on. While waiting for Mayor Bloomberg to give us a definitive answer, I decided I should keep up with my training. So, I did what any self-respecting Dutchman would do: I hired a bike.
Now most of you would probably not recommend biking through the car-overload that is downtown New York City. For a guy living in Amsterdam though – a city filled to the brim with bikers - NY is a breeze. Any experienced biker knows that cars are never the problem: it’s the other bikers. And compared to my hometown New York has very, very few of them.
So, I revelled in my bike ride in the after of the storm. Racing downhill from 55th Street, deftly avoiding cars and Bugaboos, I didn’t see a lot of hurricane destruction just yet. But around 33rd the first sign of trouble appeared: the traffic lights had stopped working. I slowed down, trying to guess how many people would be out of electricity from that point onwards. A hundred thousand? A million?
I took the turn towards Broadway Avenue, started weaving through the streets of Lower Manhattan looking for my next kick. I was being a ‘ramptoerist’, the Dutch term for disaster-tourist. I wanted to have fun looking for destruction and mayhem.
What I found was silence.
I had been to New York often. But never had I experienced the city so utterly bereft of sound. New York is supposed to have never ending noise. The lack of this typical background chatter gave me the feeling of being in a vacuum. Streets were deserted, 5th Avenue eerily quiet… I felt like Will Smith in that scene from I Am Legend, standing in a deserted city, dead centre, on Times Square. Not a single soul around me. But this was no film. This was reality. And there really was no one.
My heart was growing heavier. But fascinated, I decided to press on. I came to Wall Street and remembered the Occupy protests, which I had walked into accidently in 2009. This time there were no bankers, no protesters, no hot dog stands… nothing. Even the building site of 9/11 was deserted. The only indication of human activity were the flowers left for the victims of that tragedy.
Reaching the bay overlooking the Hudson, I decided to take the ferry to Staten Island to see if I could find more juicy disasters. Only a handful of people were there with me. All huddled down under their hoodies. Broken by the storm.
Arriving in Staten Island I made my way along the coastline. What I found there can only be described as sheer destruction. Buildings were torn or razed to the ground completely. The vibe was anxious, aggressive even. People were suffering, guttered by the storm. Their tension was filling, even thickening the air. When I finally found a 90-foot long boat swept whole onto the shore by the river, it finally started to dawn on me: this is truly terrible. What am I doing? I stood silent for a while before deciding I had had enough. I turned around and headed back.
My bike ride back in Manhattan was synonymous for my feelings: uphill through the twilight. The dark veil of natural disaster slowly wrapped itself around me. So many people had lost their lives. So much devastation… I had forgotten the marathon. The next day I became a volunteer for disaster relief.
That, my dear readers, is our opening story. I didn’t achieve anything. I have no action photos of myself reaching the end of that run. I was broke and broken and I never tried to run another marathon ever again.
I had nothing.
But as a story… it sure as hell beats me saying: “I crossed the finish line”.
And it became the reason I started writing about storytelling. And why I've started this blog to tell you more stories.
May they inspire!
Rogier van Kralingen