I’m walking home from the Red Cross building, where I spent the day out front answering questions about blood donations, volunteer opportunities, etc. It was tiring but enjoyable. It’s really nice to have had something to do besides watch the news all day.
I spent the morning in a Disaster Relief Training session, where a Red Cross Air Incident Response team member spent four hours putting four hundred people through three courses that usually take eighteen hours: Introduction to Disaster Assistance, Shelter Operations, and Mass Care. I was surprised to learn that the Red cross normally responds to eight to fifteen incidents per day in the New York City area, all with a small staff and just six hundred volunteers. I also got the feeling that the Red Cross is grateful to the thousands of people filling out Spontaneous Volunteer applications, but that we weren’t really that useful — we’ll help the most by coming back several weeks or several months from now and doing unglamorous work after the rubble has been cleared. The Red Cross is being remarkably non-passive-aggressive about it, but I get the feeling that they don’t want to waste too much time training hundreds of people that will only be available to help for a few days. Even though I’ve volunteered for them for two days, I still kind of feel that they’ve invested more in me than I’ve given back, and I plan on sticking around and helping out later on until the balance is at least equal.
Today, the competition for jobs was intense. Out of an auditorium holding four hundred volunteers, there were requests for 24 standby workers for shelter shifts. John McGee, the volunteer coordinator, started to cut down on the number of hands for spots by calling for volunteers only born in randomly chosen months. That worked for about ten seconds, until all the type “A” advertising executives and marketers in the room started looking around shiftily and getting to their feet. “Sure, I was born in October! Sign me up!” On the way out, I spotted a woman with a clipboard looking for people to answer questions, and insinuated myself into the line.
The cops on Broadway and Houston weren’t gonna let me home last night. There are cordons across 14th street, and another more aggressive one across Houston. The cops are only supposed to let through area residents; you have to show your drivers’ license to get past them. New Yorkers never, ever, get their drivers’ licenses updated, though, when they move from wherever it was they lived last, so most people still have their California or Montana licences from fifteen years ago. Lots of folks are showing utility bills or paystubs instead.
When I got to Broadway and Houston on Tuesday night, the cops were agitated, swapping hostile-civilian stories.
“So this one lady holds up her cell phone and says to me, ‘…Tell Channel Two News that you won’t let me home!’”
“…So what did you tell her?”
“I took the phone and I said, ‘She can’t go home!”
I walked up to them and I asked if I could cross. They told me I couldn’t, that the city below Houston was under martial law, that the concrete dust would damage my cornea. So I walked to Mulberry street and the cops there checked my license and let me through. My apartment was just fine, though there’s an acrid, plasticy smell in the air from the huge fires.
Funnily enough, the roadblocks have created a macabre downtown velvet-rope party. The few people on the streets are looking at each other, thinking “okay, so you actually live here, and you live here…” Funnily enough, the people still around aren’t the beutiful ones. All the lean, seven-foot-tall fashion mutants that you see all the time on Spring street are not in evidence. They must have come from Jersey.
Mulberry street was supposed to host the Feast of San Genarro this week. There are decorations stretched across the street, and carnival trucks parked in ranks from Canal street to Houston, but every one of them is shuttered, and the street is empty.