Two Starkly Different Sides of NYC, Post Sandy

I just got home from several eye-opening experiences that left me flabbergasted for completely different reasons. The majority of my day was spent in the Lower East Side, where I was happy to help my good friend bleach out and put back together his eight year old jazz bar, Louis 649. His entire neighborhood was devastated in the floods – not only did the waist-high waters wreck everything it touched, but the salt water corroded appliances that would have otherwise kept business running once the power returned. We watched as the neighboring wine bar threw away over 100 pounds of meat that has gone bad and they are one of thousands.

Every street and avenue is piled high with bags of spoiled food from grocery stores and restaurants – a chilling sight when you think about all the people without any food right now. But even with all this devastation, the mood on the street while somber, is not angry. The community has come together in a huge way. There are residents cooking food via gas grills on the streets and handing out free meals to crowds of hungry people. And they aren’t all homeless either, like one might assume to see in a line for free food. They are people that look like you might see them in line at Starbucks, or at school, intermingled with homeless, all in need of the same thing.

It was pretty incredible to see and a very humbling experience for many. While we were cleaning up at Louis, three strangers stopped by to volunteer and help clean the bar! All three of them are without power in their own homes and here they are working in the dark with us to help my friend, whom they had never met, get his business back together. It melted my heart to witness so much good going on, something so beautiful, regardless of the ugly circumstance.

At the end of the day, my friends and I went further downtown to check on a friend’s apartment while he’s away. We were fortunate to find a taxi and our driver did something unheard of in the City, he waited for us to check on the apartment before taking us all the way back uptown, making two additional stops. (To all you non-NY’ers, that’s a really big deal!) While waiting patiently, the driver received an alert that his company had run out of gas. He was really nervous about what this meant for business, understandably so. However, he didn’t let this news effect how he treated us.

Once we reached my friend’s apartment uptown, I got out to hug them goodbye when a young married couple slid into the back seat of the cab telling our now off-duty driver, “80th and Park”. This was three blocks away from where I was also going, so the driver waved for me to sit in the front seat, rather than telling them that it was actually my ride.

The wife glared at me and said “Excuse me, what do you think you are doing?” to which I replied from the front seat,¬†“I’m going to the same place that you are and we’re all supposed to be ride-sharing…”

Mind you that it is not normal-New York right now. Cabs are few and far between. Mayor Bloomberg stressed the importance of carpooling in cabs: it’s not only the nice thing to do, but it’s logical. Mrs. Mean snaps, “I know what a ride-share is and that’s not what we are doing.” I started to respond when she threw up her hand and added, “Whatever, I don’t want to talk about it.” She then dismissed me and resumed to texting on her phone. I couldn’t believe this lady.

The driver put his hand on my seat belt and shook his head as if to stay ‘don’t leave’ as he took off from the upper west. What an awkward drive that was! I wanted to turn around and tell this miserable woman that there are people downtown volunteering in very bad conditions right now, and if sharing a taxi with a stranger for ten minutes is the one good thing she does today, I’m sure it won’t be the worst thing either. I wanted to ask the sad sap of a husband how he could just sit back and listen to his coo-coo-for-coco-puffs wife bully a young (ish) girl and taxi driver. But I stayed silent – because my eyes were welling up with tears and I didn’t want them to show. After such an emotional week and an especially overwhelming day, this woman’s meanness got to me. I was on such a love-high from the good deed fest happening downtown and this grinch-ess stuck a needle right through my happy balloon. I couldn’t help but see the irony, that she was on the upper west side – a beautiful part of town unscathed by the storm and yet she was acting so ugly – the complete reverse from what I’d seen earlier.

When we reached our destination – the cab driver refused their payment. He said, “I wanted to throw you out of my car, but instead I drove you here and I don’t want your money. I am showing you compassion and hoping that you will learn what it is like to receive goodness so that you can one day give it to others.” He then told me, “Don’t let unhappy people take away from your happiness.” How amazing was this prophet on wheels? I wanted to tell them off in the worst way but what he did was infinitely better – and much classier.¬†They didn’t say thank you to him or even acknowledge me, they took off to be miserable somewhere else and thankfully I went in another direction.

At the end of the day, I guess what I learned is there are two types of people: The givers, those who resist darkness during ugly times and choose to emit light and beauty; and the receivers, who are still learning by receiving on how to do the same.

Keep giving, they’ll learn.

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