A week ago, with 666 Burger in Rockaway.
Franz lives in Zone A. There was four or five feet of water through the lobby of his building, but when there was cell service enough to send texts through, he was making fun of some pompous neighbor for not moving his BMW S series to higher ground. He was stuck in his apartment until the flood waters receded, and then made his way to a family member’s home on Roosevelt Island.
Frank’s mom lives in Rockaway. He grew up there.
There was never any doubt that they would go to help, but this is why Rockaway, rather than Staten Island or Red Hook. Also, Red Hook seemed to have the greatest number of volunteers, since it was easier for less affected Brooklynites to get to. They wanted to go out on Thursday or Friday, but were struck by how hard it was to find gasoline to power the generator. My roommate offered them a chance to siphon from his 3/4 full tank, but apparently, not all cars are siphonable. I spent hours glued to the internet and texting friends and acquaintances who drove, trying to find someone with an older model or a jerry can.
In the day the truck sat idle, Franz talked to businesses to see how they could help. Warby Parker, an eyewear company, and Mishka NYC, a pop cult-y boutique, stepped up and generously donated to cover expenses for food and propane.
By Saturday, a friend of a friend who runs an autobody shop drilled and drained a gas tank to fuel 666 Burger’s generator. We could now cook and charge phones for people. Our crew met at Restaurant Depot to load up on food and water. (RD is a secret to most of the civilian world, but if you have friends with a restaurant/business account, you should exploit them for the relief effort. Your food budget will go twice as far as if you purchased from a consumer wholesale club.)
Frank was dubious of the number of volunteers who showed up. There were eight of us in total, a number sure to stress out the shocks on the burger truck. I was dubious of the number of us. Frank brought his truck to manage the extra cases of food and a few extra bodies. We had to stop for fuel at the Robin Hood of body shops en route to manage.
En route, what we saw was shocking. Broad Channel was piles of debris. A glance at the bay side showed the bellies of small craft protruding from the reeds. Yards had tipped boats next to the houses. Everywhere, mountains of debris.
Traffic slowed and we were surrounded by lines of cars. The ones with brakelights on were packed with volunteers and stuffed full of donations. The ones that weren’t moving had fogged windows and hip high lines of mud from the floodwaters.
At a standstill in traffic, one of the guys started cooking for the crew. We wouldn’t have time to eat once we got there. As the sandwiches made their way up front, we crept past a couple of NYPD officers directing traffic in biting cold. I asked the officers if they wanted a couple of hot sandwiches. One started to decline out of politeness. Her partner eyeballed her and I handed them my & Franz’s lunch through the window. (Sorry, not sorry, Franz.)
We pulled up near a midway point between St Francis and another relief station. We appointed two expert crew members on the grill and split the rest of our group to canvas the neighborhood and tell people we were there. People nearby queued up immediately. Farther out, we were glad for the extra manpower, because people cleaning out their homes with no electricity need to do it during daylight hours and don’t have time to break to walk 5 or 7 blocks for food. I took the harbor side, talking to neighbors and taking delivery orders. A neighbor painted signs on downed boards with the location and “FREE HOT FOOD” and held it in the back of Frank’s truck while he drove the other side of the peninsula. We planned to stay ‘til dark, but people kept coming. We stayed ‘til they didn’t.