Sandy and BBC
The power went off at about 7 pm. I heard a burst and saw a flash at the end of the block; then everything went dark. That was before Sandy even landed. For a short while, we could get NPR on our Ipad, until we couldn’t. Verizon network must have collapsed along with the Atlantic City boardwalk. We lit up candles and opened a bottle of wine. There wasn’t much else to do.
The following morning, when I turned on my Blackberry, there was an email from BBC Russian Service. They’d already called me on my home phone, not knowing it was dead, looking for a first hand account from a Russian hurricane survivor. I emailed back and got an immediate call on my cell. The producer wanted to know what hardships we’d been experiencing and how flood insurance worked in the U.S. We agreed that her show host would call me back an hour later, after I could listen to the media and drive around to assess the damage in my neighborhood.
It turned out the damage wasn’t so easy to assess. Our two cars were parked in the garage, behind the door that worked on electricity (a small fact we overlooked the night before). As my husband walked around the block, where a tree sliced through a neighbor’s house, I called my niece in Texas, who provided me with the most detailed update on Sandy’s damage. When the BBC call came, it promptly failed. I moved around the house, in search of a spot with the signal, from the second floor to the first, all in vain. The only place that gave me two bars was outside the house, by the side door to the garage. I wedged myself inside, between the garbage can and my locked-in car, relaying the post-hurricane experience to the Russian BBC host stationed in London, who was going to play it an hour later to the audience of listeners all over my former Motherland.
The host wanted to know about our hurricane preparations, the U.S. flood insurance, and the food that was going to spoil in my refrigerator. “Some anti-American voices here say it’s God’s revenge for the American imperialistic war-mongering,” he opted, which made me think of 1980 when the Leningrad University Dean scolded me for marrying a capitalist and thus betraying my Motherland. I glanced down at my notes spread down on the lid of the garbage can, although I knew there was nothing there about American imperialism or God’s revenge. “It’s climate change,” I said wearily, looking outside the garage where it began to rain again. “It’s global warming,” I said, adding something about fossil fuels and people vs. nature, before I realized there was silence on the other end of the line. The reception was lost.
The next day, crouching by an electric outlet at Starbucks, I listened to the podcast of my interview on the BBC website. It ended with my words about climate change and global warming aimed at my former country’s God-fearing citizens, and that – despite a long-term prospect of no heat or power or Internet at home – made me smile.