It's often easy to be all upbeat and chummy the day after a huge storm. As I wandered across Long Island Tuesday, I saw neighborliness, "What're ya gonna do?" shrugs and heard kind words.
For a few on Long Island this storm brought death. For their loved ones this is a tragedy, not an inconvenience.
But for most of us a disaster like Sandy creates a break in routine that is itself exciting. The relief of being safe, and knowing our loved ones are too, also warms our hearts.
Along the South Shore in Massapequa and Seaford, practically every traffic light was out, which led to a passive sort of "let's all go 35 mph and be very cautious" motoring style. Of course, this idyllic pattern was broken up occasionally by the official bird of Long Island traffic, thrust out of car windows at that psychotic minority of drivers who insisted on driving twice as fast as everyone else -- folks were feeling kindly, after all, not saintly.
The powerless traffic lights were so lulling that when I occasionally came upon a working one, my first thought was, "Hunh. I think I might have to STOP FOR THAT!!!" My second thought was, "The light has power, which could mean . . . the coffee urns at the gas station on the corner have power. Praise the mochaccino saints and slam on the brakes."
The 7-Eleven on Route 25A between Smithtown and Kings Park hosted hundreds of mostly pajama-clad patrons by 8 a.m., waiting patiently as four brewing machines squirted java as fast as physics allows. A Dunkin' Donuts in Massapequa was swarmed like an oasis in the desert at 3 p.m., with a line of 40 people, quivering from anticipation and withdrawal, snaking around the building.
Owning one of the few small businesses that has power after a catastrophe is like winning a lottery with really demented rules: You get an awful lot of money, but you have to work as if your life depends on it.
And the few operating businesses and working lights only highlighted how widespread the devastation from Sandy is.
In the residential, canal-lined neighborhoods near Babylon Village, the borders between backyard docks, lawns and streets had, in many places, disappeared. Water coursed through homes, boats perched tipsily on grass, and neighbors commiserated. The roar of chain saws was accompanied by the hum of pumps as residents expelled water from their basements. A line of cars tried to reach houses that front the Great South Bay -- each of them giving up a few hundred yards shy as their drivers realized that too much of that bay was still pooled in the streets.
All along Sunrise Highway the destruction was evident.
But for sheer messy madness and community coming-togetherness, the Nautical Mile in Freeport might be the winner. Every building has been impacted, and while the boats in the water seemed to have fared OK, the ones stored across Woodcleft Avenue on blocks were scattered like toys kicked by an ill-mannered giant.
When I entered The Bamboo Bar and Grill, I got a wonderfully warm greeting from a woman who, seeing my notebook and camera, mistook me for this week's version of the Messiah: an insurance adjuster. But the crowd was still nice after it realized I wouldn't be cutting a check.
The place wasn't open for business, but owner Joe Hughes was providing friends, regulars and locals with the gathering place and alcohol they needed.
His bar had taken three feet of water and the higher ground he moved his car to hadn't been high enough: "It's done," he told his girlfriend. "There's seaweed on the dashboard, and salt water in the drink holders."
But Hughes, far from focusing on his losses or the coming cleanup, went from friend to friend, eliciting their tales of loss and comforting them. In return, they provided him the same support and love.
That's the kind of behavior I saw Long Islanders exhibiting all day in the wake of superstorm Sandy. If we can keep it up, we'll be all right.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.