Here’s the thing – I don’t know if I just have horrible travel luck, or if I’ve traveled frequently enough to accumulate a collection of war stories, the trauma of which tend to overshadow the successful trips. Either way, those moments that become history rarely seem significant at the time.
Last week, I attended ABILA’s International Law Weekend. The conference itself was a fantastic experience. Not only did I learn a lot, but it was an incredible opportunity to build on some of the ideas and principles that took root while interning in Uganda. Further, I learned some hard truths about opportunities in international arbitration — a little disappointing for a Vis Mootie like myself! But the information was invaluable, I met some incredible people, from practitioners and professors to students, and enjoyed was what supposed to be a whirlwind (hahaha get it?) New York adventure.
But alas. I, like many others, didn’t realize the significance of the looming storm until I found out that the MTA was shutting down at 7 p.m. on Sunday — just a few hours before I was supposed to catch a bus out of the city. My dear friend Alice, from high school-college-life, and I were going to spend the day exploring the city together, but these plans were derailed by impending disaster. Bless her for braving hurricane to come out from Long Island, if only for a quick bowl of soup and a hug at Penn Station. Step 2 was an attempt to catch an earlier bus from Chinatown, back to Cleveland. That effort to haul my ass (and belongings!) to Chinatown was when I first realized how truly enormous Manhatten is. When things are so accessible, size/time/distance means something different… Anyways, step 2 was a fail.
Sitting inside a dumpling take-out joint, I weighed my options – and well, at the time, I couldnt’ think of any. My Chinatown bus was cancelled. My Greyhound was supposedly cancelled but I wasn’t 100% sure. But Port Authority and the MTA were about to shut down so… I picked up my things and went back to Harlem, where I had been staying with a fellow former ILI-ACLE intern.
And as it turns out, despite the terrifying howling winds, that tiny little corner of Harlem was, in fact, HURRICANE-PROOF. Amazing. I slept in, and then my hosts and I essentially just worked from home all day. At some point, I bought candles, a lighter, non-perishable foods, and filled up pots of water, in case we lost power. But we didn’t. My hosts and I just went on working, occasionally taking breaks to help with consulting interview case problems.
While I was incredibly fortunate, I know many others were not. Friends and family scattered all of the city are still struggling without power, and the extent of the devastation not so far away from where I remained hostage to the damaged transit system. In my second (or third?) attempt to get out of the city, a cab driver encouraged me to take pictures of trees fallen on cars, the eerie darkness of lower Manhatten, the crane dangling precariously at the top of a building… when that plan failed, I found myself without cell phone service below a certain point. No way of communicating to the outside world. Another cab driver offered me apples and water, immigration advice, and stories about his wife bringing warm chappati to evacuees.
I did finally make it out of the city on Thursday – I drove with my aunt’s friend’s niece to Springfield, MA, from where I took a train from Albany and another train to Cleveland. I didn’t arrive until early Friday morning but at that time, after being duped by the Chinatown bus (guess it was my turn!), and left in limbo with Greyhound, I figured a confirmed way home was the best option, for my sanity. I returned JUST in time to take the MPRE on Saturday, after missing over a week of law school classes. I’m so grateful that albeit prolonged, my journey was relatively painless, that I had friends and family at every step to “rescue” me, and keep me warm, dry, and well-fed during this hurricane. But so much for my well-intentioned plan to network, be proactive, and do the right things.