“There is a w–r problem in Hoboken. There is a w–r problem in Hoboken.”
The intercom jolted me out of sleep Sunday morning and for the second time in a month my life was disrupted by a broken water pipe. The first was a 2 a.m. alarm in London for a leak that that sent me and hundreds of guests into the cold outdoors for more than two hours. Four weeks to the date later, after horrific terror attacks in Paris and lockdown in Brussels, another building announcement shook my routine.
No cooking. No washing dishes. No showering. I hadn’t realized how essential running water is to modern life.
Bottled drinking water is enough to keep the body alive. Electricity and the Internet give the appearance of modern comfort. But when time comes to eat meals and wash up, a dry faucet keeps the soul in disarray.
The garbled apartment intercom in the midst of global shock was a disturbing way to begin a weekend morning. Would this require another evacuation?
That night in the London hotel, I took my cues to get out from wailing sirens, slamming doors and anxious voices; a man down the hall frantically packing his suitcase.
Is this a drill? I’d asked. What’s going on?
I don’t know. I don’t know!
He disappeared and I decided to leave the hotel as well. Only an employee on the street calmed my fears.
It’s not a fire. We’re so sorry to have to do this to you, but there’s a broken pipe, he said.
And all the guests could do was wait in 45-degree darkness by townhouses near the British Museum.
A month later, just outside New York City, all I could do was wait, walk past the closed mall to find a place to eat, and hope the occasional trickle from the faucet would turn into the comfortable stream. We are so used to high water pressure.
The next evening the trickle too was gone, and arguments by the front desk with the doormen added to the gloom.
At least my neighborhood wasn’t flooded. I saw pictures of water-filled streets in Hoboken. A school closed. The morning after the London hotel fire alarm, I walked up slick steps onto a soggy rug in an electricity-less lobby, a far cry from the shiny concierge that greeted guests the night before as ‘We’re up all night to get lucky’ streamed from the club nearby.
When thriving nightlife gets abruptly cut off, it’s the spirit that hurts most. I wasn’t in Paris after the terrible attacks, but I walked some of the streets one night just a few weeks before. I wasn’t in Brussels during the lockdown, but I wandered there one evening. Recent events there hit what those cities symbolize for modern culture.
And so Sunday night, after the initial intercom announcement in my apartment sounded too much like a “war problem,” I escaped with a friend to a lively Mexican taqueria where old movies and music blared in a low, cozy room lined with Lakers and Dodgers paraphernalia. L.A. love.
I love New York. This is the city where strangers in pizza shops are concert artists and where great institutions from the financial to artistic thrive. This is the city surrounded by water channels to the rest of the world. Whatever happens, whether 9/11 here or 11/13 elsewhere, these cities will stand strong because their cultural currents still flow.
I’ve heard the water has come back on in my building. Brussels has lifted part of its lockdown. Paris is striking back. And people gather in Herald Square for the beginning of a Miracle on 34th Street season.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for running water.