Boy, I’m madder than the Big Bad Wolf when he couldn’t blow down the Three Little Pigs’ brick house because of the horrible job the city did answering its phone during Hurricane Irene.
Look, you all know I was the first one to cheer Mayor Bloomberg for creating the 311 system to report problems in the city. Heck, I got the number on speed dial, and you may have noticed that when you call on any given day, instead of saying, “Hello, 311” they say, “What is it now, Carmine?”
But I’ll tell you this: don’t call when there is an actual emergency!
That’s because during the “Storm of the Weak” (as the Bay News ingeniously dubbed Hurricane Irene on its cover last week) I couldn’t get anybody at the city to take my report that the power lines in front of my building — where I live! — were doing a dangerous dance with a nearby tree.
Now, when I have something to screech about, you know it’s for good reason. And here’s the reason this report needed to be taken: those power lines are above a crosswalk that leads to PS 212’s schoolyard! Imagine the disaster if they came down, and were shooting sparks all over the kids playing kickball, or dodgeball, or ringolevio, or Johnny on the pony or whatever the heck the kids play today on the off chance that they are outside.
Now’s the point in the column where I explain how it all went down: when my eagle eyes spotted the problem, I called 311. 311 connected me to Con Ed, who said the trees needed to be pruned by the Parks Department. So I called Parks. Once connected, I got a recorded message saying Parks wouldn’t take my pruning request because — well, I don’t remember. So then I called 911 because I assumed that this was a very dangerous situation. But 911 sent me back to the Parks Department! And guess what happened when I asked to speak to a live person. You hear that noise? That’s the sound of me slamming the handset of my phone down on the receiver! So I quickly re-speed dialed 311 and explained my odyssey with the human being that answered; she affirmed that Parks Department was not taking pruning requests — but then said she was not taking the report. Why? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this: wouldn’t the city like to know that this tree was having its way with the wires? My numerous attempts to get anyone to take my complaints were futile, and I finally gave up.
With nobody to grouse at, I sat down in front of the old Zenith and spun the dial to channel 7, which did an excellent job of covering the storm — and this is coming from the guy who is the first one to pooh-pooh meteorologists that try to scare the wits out of everyone every single time two snowflakes fall. ABC had its entire crew covering Irene’s handiwork, and almost lost a reporter or two covering the beaches. And our staff here at the Harway Terrace took a page from channel 7’s book and — just like the station did at its studio — had the majority of our maintenance crew ready to brave Irene’s wrath with mops, shovels and rags.
Now, you all know that the buildings I live in are even bigger than me. Harway has two 19-story buildings with 360 families, and we were determine to meet any emergency — such as any of our 4,000 windows blowing out, the need for sandbags around our boilers, and elevator breakdowns (which we had in both buildings), with our staff. Our great staff also warned residents to stock drinking, cooking and — that’s right, I’m going there! — flushing water (there’s nothing worse than having one left in dry dock!).
Normally, the buildings induce 40-50 mph winds because they are the tallest ones for miles around.
And I’ll tell you this: when it gets windy, even this fatty has to hold on for dear life. I’ve been knocked over a couple of times in the past!
But thankfully, when it came to the “Hurrican’t” the damage in our area was very slight.
But some weren’t as lucky as we were. In my family, I personally had loved ones who didn’t get off so easy. For instance, my brother-in-law suffered tremendous flooding right here in Bensonhurst, my niece in Staten Island suffered loss of power; my great nephew in Belle Harbor saw his entire formal dining room in his basement floating — with everything destroyed including his family’s clothes; my daughter in Wantagh was powerless for five days, and all her food went bad! Worse, my nephew here in Bensonhurst lost all the delicious figs from the tree in the yard.
So everyone has a memory or a dozen from Irene’s visit, and I hope she never comes back. So here’s a Big Screecher shout-out to all our city services that kept the disasters to a minimum — with the notable exception of 311 and the Parks Department and those stupid answering machines.
Screech at you next week!