Anyone familiar with the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx knows that on any given day, the neighborhood is bustling with activity. Locals with their two-wheeled shopping carts make the rounds of the fruit stands, bakeries and delis. Cars circle the streets scanning for a parking spot. Parking illegally for a minute or two, drivers play hide-and seek from the elusive but always present ticket agents.
The two diners opposite each other on Crosby Avenue, George’s and Quality Cafe, are normally crowded for breakfast, brunch or a quick take-out order. All of this goes on under the constant rumble of the elevated number six train.
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On Sunday, August 28, 2011, the morning after a visit from Hurricane Irene, the area is transformed into a ghost town. With a few exceptions, shops are closed. The streets are empty. New York’s complete transit system is still shut down since noon Saturday, for the first time in its history. The silence is unnatural.
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From Westchester Avenue at Middletown Road by the Hutchinson River Parkway, to the last stop of the six train at Pelham Bay Park, hardly a human can be found in the early morning hours, giving the area an eerie feel.
The normally busy hub at Pelham Bay station is empty of buses and waiting taxicabs. The train station is closed and taped off as police officers patrol nearby. Below, the usually bumper-to-bumper I-95 is deserted. Across the highway, Pelham Bay Park is littered with fallen trees; their trunks snapped like toothpicks.
Considering what could have been, this area of the Bronx dodged a bullet. Some downed trees, a few power and cable interruptions and minor flooding can hardly be called devastation. Perhaps the most important lesson one can take from Irene is the reminder of how small we are in comparison to the power of nature.
Eventually, a few residents emerge. They cross the overpass into the park to watch in awe at the aftermath of Irene. It’s windy with a dismal and steady mist, as the tail end of Irene still swirls on the radar maps. On a sunny summer day, the shifting branches give a soft and reassuring rustle in the breeze overhead. But today is different. The park seems dark and foreboding. Irene’s winds make the shifting branches sound like rattling bones. The park visitors look up warily at the canopy of branches overhead, snap a few photos, and quickly move on.
Domenick Pilla is also the National Cultural Issues Examiner
©2011 Domenick Pilla
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