Sure there were some indications that people were gearing up for Sandy’s landfall: On Sunday, the U-Store ran out of peanut butter and most restaurants on Nassau Street were closed. But for the most part, the atmosphere on campus in the run-up to Hurricane Sandy was that this would be nothing more than a particularly rainy day. As a friend from Long Island who had gone home for fall break sent me pictures of her town that had flooded during a pre-storm surge, I sat, fed and pampered, in my quad in Witherspoon Hall. Outside may have been rainy and windy, but inside I was warm and dry. I spent the evening doing homework and assuring friends and family that I was safe.
Which is not to say that the storm itself was not impressive. If anything, Hurricane Sandy was a lesson in cliches. The wind howled, the trees danced, the rain pelted. It was 7 p.m. on Monday and the Frankenstorm had arrived. The wind had picked up throughout the day until the trees outside my window whipped and bent at impossible angles. The streets outside were uncharacteristically empty as the students and employees on campus tucked in, hunkered down, huddled up and waited. Soon the daylight too had fled and I listened, rather than watched, the storm.
The next morning was silent. After hours of wind, its absence was disquieting. The leaves that had only yesterday resiliently denied the coming of winter were flung everywhere, crammed into the forgotten corners of campus. Downed trees and bent poles attested that the storm had done more than take off a few leaves.
Yet, for the majority of students on Princeton’s campus, that was the extent of the storm: one night of wind and rain. Two minutes of power outage before the cogeneration plant kicked in. Three worried texts from loved ones. Forget flooding, forget blackouts, forget cold showers and canned food. The storm was gone.
Hurricane Sandy was the first time that I saw the Orange Bubble as more than a Princeton joke. On campus, students could go to the dining hall for food, the gym to workout or the library to study. The University provided pizza, Taco Bell, board games and Princeton Garden Theatre movies. As Cynthia Cherrey, vice president for campus life, said, “Time and time again our students have responded to challenges with a remarkably upbeat spirit, and it was evident during this storm.” How could we be anything but upbeat? We had lights, running water, heat and wireless Internet access. For everyone outside of Princeton’s campus, the storm didn’t end Tuesday morning. It had only begun. Even just across the street Princeton residents were without power. The relative luxury on campus was obvious when students who lived within walking distance of campus trickled back to spend the night, shower or eat a warm meal. People going to the gym walked past Princeton residents checking their email on the computers in Dillon Gymnasium. Starbucks was packed with people using the bathroom, using Wi-Fi or grabbing a cup of coffee.
But, it wasn’t until I ventured outside of Princeton Township that I really understood the luxury of the Orange Bubble. With Amtrak down due to tunnel flooding and NJ Transit suspended indefinitely on account of damaged power supplies, I rode down to Washington, D.C., with my dad. Along the way, traffic lights were off, roads were closed, rest stops were powerless, lines snaked away from the few gas stations that were open. As we drove south, cherry pickers were on their way north toward New Jersey and New York City to help out with the relief effort.
This is not meant as a criticism of the student body, who merely adapted to the comfortable circumstances on campus, but a thank you to the University staff who worked tirelessly during and after the storm to keep those of us on campus safe. Something as delicate as a bubble isn’t created spontaneously. During the storm, Princeton’s bubble was maintained partly due to the strength of its infrastructure, partly due to the benefit of having a cogeneration plant on campus but mostly due to the spirit of the people who work inside the bubble, keeping it afloat for those of us within. I’ve always been aware of the luxuries here on campus, but never more so than after Hurricane Sandy.
Rebecca Kreutter is a sophomore from Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.