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The Free Republic of the Rockaways

Direct Action

In the immediate run-up to the presidential election, there was much punditry as to what effect Hurricane Sandy would have on the outcome. Could it be that God, usually thought of as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, by virtue of His impish sense of humor, had decided to withhold the presidency from the Mormon asset column? After years of skulduggery and billions in super-PAC spending, the storm was throwing a last-minute monkey wrench into the race. Yet out here in Rockaway, New York’s hurricane epicenter, November 6 was not merely the thankful culmination of the desultory exercise of whatever is left of American democracy. It was Day Nine of the Sandy epoch, a wholly new kind of time.

The Free Republic of the Rockaways

Where the storm never ends, anarchy reigns, and people find their own ways to survive.

By Mark Jacobson
New York magazine
Nov 11, 2012

In the immediate run-up to the presidential election, there was much punditry as to what effect Hurricane Sandy would have on the outcome. Could it be that God, usually thought of as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, by virtue of His impish sense of humor, had decided to withhold the presidency from the Mormon asset column? After years of skulduggery and billions in super-PAC spending, the storm was throwing a last-minute monkey wrench into the race. Yet out here in Rockaway, New York’s hurricane epicenter, November 6 was not merely the thankful culmination of the desultory exercise of whatever is left of American democracy. It was Day Nine of the Sandy epoch, a wholly new kind of time.

It is a continuum that invents its own progressive reality, as witnessed by the ever-growing trash pile in the Jacob Riis Park parking lot. Giant dump trucks were lined up in front of the old bathhouse built by Jimmy Walker in 1932 for “the recreation of all New Yorkers,” ready to deposit their loads. Each truck was piled high with 36 cubic yards of what used to be people’s worldly possessions. With each cubic yard weighing 600 to 700 pounds and the drivers averaging four runs each day, that added up to slightly over 100,000 pounds, or 50 tons per truck per day (they’ve collected nearly 480 million pounds so far). There was plenty more to pick up, as revealed by a drive across the peninsula’s ethnic full spectrum, from Breezy Point’s cop-and-fireman gated paradise in the west, to the diverse old-school nabe around Beach 116th, out to Far Rock’s hard-knock world in the east. When the moon and the tides conspire to send fifteen feet of ocean water smashing across a less-than-a-mile strip of sand to meet a near-equal torrent from the bay, treasure can become trash in an instant. The lot behind the apartment houses at Beach 105th Street was filled with a hundred vehicles aimed at crazy angles like a freeze-framed ­bumper-car ride.

They’d never go again. And even if they could, there was no gas, of course. Not that this was any fault of a Far Rockaway resident named Sadiq. Originally from Georgetown, Guyana, Sadiq had spent the better part of the previous weekend trying to import a large quantity of what he called “motion lotion” in 55-gallon drums from Scranton, Pennsylvania. “I thought I would be the big-time petrol black marketeer. But we had a lot of leakage. Our drums were faulty.” Originally, Sadiq planned to sell his gas for $20 a gallon, but had second thoughts. He felt ashamed and couldn’t bring himself to “take advantage.” He wound up giving the fuel away to fellow livery-car drivers, most of whom had spent the week waiting in endless lines on the other side of the Marine Parkway bridge.

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