Friday, November 2, 2012

NYC Marathon and Hurricane Sandy

I have seen a lot in the fitblog-world about this topic. People who signed up for the marathon and now aren't sure if they should go. People who live in NY/NJ area who are incensed that the marathon will go on. I admit I don't know very much about the marathon route or whether those areas are ready for the race. But I do know about hurricanes...

I grew up in South Florida. The first hurricane I remember is Andrew. I was 5. I don't remember much of this, but I do vividly remember me, my sister, my baby brother (he was born only a month before), and my mom huddled together in my parents' king size bed while the storm raged outside. Andrew devastated Miami. There were fish in the streets, I remember seeing that on TV.

Over the years there were more. My freshman year of college, Orlando was hit by 3 in close succession: Charley, Frances, Jeanne. They cancelled rush week and early registration for the fall semester because of the first 2. The last one hit on my 18th birthday, bummer. I remember repeatedly missing my exit on the highway on my way to college because the sign for it had been blown away by a hurricane. Then there was 2005. Most people rightly remember 2005 for Katrina. But I remember Wilma. It came backwards across the state, from the gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic. I remember us huddled again, this time in a hallway. I remember a terrible howling noise and my mom SURE that there was a tornado and we were all going to die. This one knocked out power and water for a couple weeks, we had to get a new roof, and we lost the screen over the patio (actually it clung by one of 4 corners to the house and flapped in the wind for several hours which might have been worse). Still small potatoes, compared to many.

When I moved to Houston, 3 months later Hurricane Ike hit. I will focus my analysis of the situation on Ike because it was my first as an adult and the most recent. Ike devastated Galveston Island and much of a city called Kemah which is on the coast (that's about where I lived when I first moved here). Imagine, if you will, that only a week after Hurricane Ike, there was a marathon scheduled in Houston. By a week after the hurricane, much of the area still didn't have power (the last of the people to get power waited close to a month). Some didn't have running water. Some people still had standing water in their living room. For some the water had receded, and communities were coming together to strip insulation and upholstery and drywall before it started to mold. People were waiting in line for gas, for ice. Some people had gaping holes in their roofs which would later be covered by blue tarps for months, until they could be repaired.

It was not the time for a marathon. It was not time to take police from their jobs of cleanup, first-response, or just being home with their own families and dealing with their own damage in order to direct traffic. It was not time to take resources from the locals for tourists. If there is bottled water a bus full of gas, you need to drive that bus to a community that has no running water and give the water to them. Not for marathon promotion, marathon support.

I understand that the marathon is a great infusion of money to a region that will desperately need those tourism dollars in the coming months of recovery. If the marathon was a month later, I would say by all means, go, enjoy, buy things from local businesses as they try to get back on their feet. Then you would be a help. But a week later, you'll be a hindrance. I grew up in a tourist area that also happened to be hurricane-prone. You do not want to be in a hurricane-impacted area as a local. You definitely do not want to be one as a tourist.

Things to think about before going to a post-hurricane zone:
  • Is there power where you will be staying? If there isn't, don't go. It will suck. I promise.
  • Is there running water where you will be staying?
  • Is there transportation to get you from where you are to where you're going?  In Houston there is no public transit, so it would be a question of is there a rental car and gas? (Gas is a big one. If there was gas in a station but there's no power, you can't get it out. If not, it has to be trucked in, along with every other damn thing.) In New York City, it's a question of subways and trains and taxis (which use gas). Are they running a limited service? Then the locals need that to go about their lives. Are they running at all? Can you even get from your hotel to the start line? To restaurants?
  • Are the restaurants open? A lot of small businesses take months or even years to bounce back (one business affected by Hurricane Ike just opened back up a few months ago. That was close to 4 years they were closed). Restaurants that lost power have to throw out all their food and order more. Many will be closed. Many more will have a limited menu and a skeleton staff.
  • Are there attractions? If you are going to fly to NYC for your fabulous marathon weekend, you might be kinda bummed to find out that there's not a damn thing to do otherwise because most of the places to see are closed. Statue of liberty? Probably not. Empire State Building? Who knows?
  • Can you get your plane ticket refunded/rescheduled? The answer is probably yes, usually airlines suspend rebooking fees during hurricane times. If you can get a refund, I think your choice is easier.
Honestly, I think you shouldn't go to run the marathon. (I think the marathon should have been cancelled, but it's too late for that.) You could go volunteer for the Red Cross. You could defer until next year. You could take the money you might have spent on hotel and food and fun and donate it to the relief efforts.

Let's talk about deferring. You could defer to next year. Then you will be part of a comeback, a rebirth, a city rising from the (in some cases literal) ashes of a terrible hurricane. It will be better then. Better for New York, and better for you.

I know that you trained hard. I know that you don't want to give it up. But I also know what it's like post-hurricane. And I don't think it will be enjoyable.

No comments:

Post a Comment