Santiago Lopez, 64 of Sunset Park, has no idea what is going on with Winter Storm Juno. He has no cellphone or television to learn about the forecast, so he is unaware of the incoming snowstorm. He can’t read the newspaper because he is blind. He also has no family to warn him.
“I can only see shadows, no more,” said Lopez early Monday as the snow was starting to fall in this working class, immigrant community in Brooklyn. “As long as there are people walking on the street, it says the weather is not that bad, and I’d stay.”
Disabled and jobless, he makes money by singing upbeat ballads and playing his accordion every morning in his neighborhood. He spends one hour on a block, then moves to the next one. He makes $5 a day at most.
Before he went blind he used to be a roofer. But as his vision worsened, he could no longer do the job and had to rely on savings to pay his $320 rent.
He used up the last of his savings to hire his old immigration lawyer, to work out a deal with his landlord to suspend his rent. It was the same lawyer who helped him get his green card in 2002, 16 years after coming to this country from Mexico.
But his Social Security card and the green card were stolen and they have not been replaced. He carries around a certification from Maimonides Medical Center that says he donated blood at their blood center, to prove his legal status.
“I don’t have anything else to prove my identity,” he said.
When bad weather comes, Lopez stands under the eaves of the shops along the street. He helps shop owners with cleaning and other odd jobs. In return, they let him perform there.
Laia Diaz, the owner of the laundry on 4th Avenue, said that when Lopez started singing in the neighborhood years ago, she recognized him right away.
“He was on television in 1991,” said Diaz. “He went into the UN building with a gun and got arrested. But he is a nice man in life.”
But Lopez said the gun charge was a big mistake.
“My friend wanted me to keep his gun for him. I did, I carried it everywhere. I didn’t speak English and had no idea it was illegal,” said Lopez. “I was just visiting the UN.”
As the snow falls, Lopez sings, but no one stops to listen.
Customers at Fairway Market on Second Avenue scour the meat department for any remaining food. Photo Credit: Ben Shapiro
Only a little over two years removed from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers were flooding the supermarkets as Winter Storm Juno was beginning its decent on the city.
“It wasn’t this bad, I don’t think so. Sandy was different because by the time we realized how serious it was, everything was cleaned out,” said Mary Vays, Tudor City. “It’s a good thing, we all know what happened during Sandy.”
Vays, 42, was shopping for her daughter and husband at a mobbed Fairway Market in Murray Hill today. The large supermarket chain’s supplies were running low at 2 p.m., and the line for the register spanned halfway across the border of the store.
“I just walked around, and I have never seen a line this long, it’s crazy,” said Vays, who has been living in the same neighborhood for seven years.
Despite the rush of customers before the heavy snowfall, the excessive register line, which spanned almost 50 yards back and merged with the group of customers eagerly awaiting cold cuts, moved rather swiftly and did not appear to take longer than 15 minutes. The store’s employees got people in and out of the market, but there was still only a limited supply of food for its patrons. Vays, who keeps kosher, was disappointed but not overly surprised to see the limited kosher section out of food.
“The kosher section was cleaned out, so out of luck there,” said Vays, who teaches Fashion Design at three different colleges in the city. “The kosher section was very upsetting. All the Jews came and took all the food, it’s been cleaned out for a while now,” Vays joked.
Although she was unable to buy any meat products for her family, Vays was able to secure pertinent food items, which in her mind included water, cereal and milk. She was not alone in purchasing water from the supermarket, as almost every customer on line had varying amounts of bottled water in their cart. Unique to Vays’ cart though was baby formula, which like any new mother was atop her shopping list.
“My first reaction was to find baby formula because I have a newborn at home, and then come out and get stuff that we might need for the apartment,” said Vays.
Going to the supermarket is not the only way Vays plans on preparing for Winter Storm Juno. After listening to weather experts she plans on removing items near the windows because winds are projected to be high. With snow already beginning to fall as she was concluding her shopping, Vays trusts meteorologist’s predictions regarding the incoming storm.
“I don’t think they are going to make a huge mistake, maybe a few inches here or there,” said Vays. “With technology as it is these days, I believe they will be able to forecast how much we are getting.”
Shallen Ferreira, 27 was stocking up on groceries at Morton Williams in Greenwich Village Monday morning, before the worst of the snowstorm hit the city. Photo by Joanna Bouras
Residents were bundling up and stocking up this morning to prepare for what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted will be the worst snowstorm in the city’s history. With a high chance of power outages, halted traffic, and over two feet of snow predicted, it was mayhem at the markets.
Morton Williams grocery store in Greenwich Village, was filled with anxious shoppers trying to stock up with flurries already coming down. Lines wrapped around the perimeter of the store as customers scrambled to grab what was left.
“I’m scared and the fact that everyone else is so scared just makes it more terrifying,” said new Soho resident Shallen Ferreira, 27, who moved to the city two weeks ago from Mexico with her husband.
She heard that most stores were closing between noon and 2 p.m. and didn’t want to be stuck home without food. She said the store was already falling behind demand and that she was having trouble finding items as simple as deli meats.
“The first thing I grabbed was water and Dr. Pepper,” she said. “I have Dr. Pepper first thing in the morning, it’s my coffee.”
Having grown up in St. Louis, Mo., Ferreira is no stranger to snow, but not the up to two feet forecasters are predicting.
Losing electricity was the least of her worries.
“We had a few outlets out so I left the electrician, a complete stranger, at my house with my cat who attacks people,” said Ferreira,as she placed packaged meats in her cart. “I hope I don’t go home to see he robbed me blind.”
With minimal taxis and cars on the roads, Ferreira is worried about how her husband will get home from work later tonight. It is mostly delivery trucks and snow removal vehicles.
“We didn’t use the subways in Mexico, they were considered dangerous, she said. “But it’s hard to keep spending $30 on a taxi each day, and today you can barely find one.”
Although Ferreira is not a fan of the snow she told her husband that if they can get the door to open she would build a snowman on their terrace.
Roel Arriesgado of the Philippines stands for a photo in an empty Times Square. When Winter Storm Juno hits later today it will be his first experience with snow. Photo credit: Megan Jamerson
As temperatures dropped to 25 degrees late Monday morning and the snow began to accumulate on the sidewalks and neon lights, only the brave stood snapping selfies in Times Square. It was a race against incoming blizzard conditions from winter storm Juno.
According to Times Square Alliance statistics, Duffy Square the northeast corner between 46th and 47th street, had over 107,000 visitors this time last year. Today, there were only a sprinkling of tourists and ticket sellers and not one costumed character.
“We are trying to make the most of the last hours of our trip,” said Thomas Hewes of Oxford, England.
Hewes is on his last day of a week long vacation with his girlfriend. He anticipates their flight home will get cancelled later today, so they decided to venture out for a little more sight seeing. He said he is a little skeptical of what he called dramatic news reports and laughed at the storm nickname Icezilla.
“American’s have a way of exaggerating the weather” said Hewes, 26.
On the other side of the square, Stephen Velasquez of Washington Heights stood bundled with a clipboard greeting the slim number of pedestrians walking by. He is a ticket promoter, selling day of tickets for tonight’s Broadway shows. He says the winter weather advisory hasn’t slowed purchases just yet.
“Mondays are typically slow in general, and while the weather doesn’t help much, it’s mild right now,” said Velasquez.
Velasquez, 25, is a veteran of harsh weather conditions. He experienced last year’s record breaking winter and says he is prepared for what ever may come later today.
“I’m ready for it,” said Velasquez. “I’m wearing new boots, I already did my groceries and have water at home. Hopefully I won’t have to work tomorrow because it may be a ghost town”.
When he gets word that the subways are shutting down, he said he will call it a day so he can make it home safely.
Not everyone at Times Square was as experienced with winter weather. Roel Arriesgado, 36, stood with a large grin and three warm layers as his picture was taken.
“This is my first experience with snow ever and I love it,” said Arriesgado of the Philippines. “I’m amazed and very happy and chilled inside and out”.
Arriesgado, had been sightseeing since early morning. In attempt to see everything on his list before the storm hit he got an early start. He had already seen Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the 9/11 Memorial was next on his list. He said he wasn’t disappointed with the storm forecast, it was exciting instead.
“This is like a whole new world, a whole new thing for me,” said Arriesgado.
New Yorkers got a little reprieve from the bitterly cold conditions that hit the city as well as different parts of the country over the last few weeks.
The mercury hit a high of 45 degrees around lunchtime on Monday afternoon because of warmer winds coming in from the south.
But that relief could be short lived, as seemingly arctic-like weather will force temperatures into a downward spiral overnight. They are expected to remain below seasonal averages for the next few days.
“Earlier it was fine, but now you can feel like it’s getting colder. I can already feel it,” said Amara Fofana, a sightseeing tour bus ticket vendor for Skyline Tours, which offers two-hour trips through midtown and downtown Manhattan.
Fofana spends eight hours a day in Times Square enticing tourists to ride one of 18 double-decker tour buses operated by the company.
Dressed in a hoodie and a windbreaker, the 39-year-old said he managed to sell roughly a dozen tickets on Monday. When the weather gets colder, he said, he relies on a different sales approach.
“I tell them about the heated downstairs of the bus,” he said. “The downstairs fills up quickly in the winter time.”
Big swings in weather, like the uptick that greeted New Yorkers early Monday afternoon are not uncommon for the city, said Edwin Gerber, assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science.
“New York lies within a storm track, a region between the cold Arctic and the warm subtropics,” said Gerber. “When the jet stream wobbles poleward, we tend to get warm air from the south and west. When it swings cold, it’s wobbling the other direction, bring(ing) cold air from the north and west.”
Even with the warmer break on Monday, Fofana said this winter has been one of the coldest he has seen and is afraid the frigid temperatures might freeze up his bottom line.
“I sell tickets by commission. If I don’t sell tickets, I don’t get paid at the end of the week,” he said, cupping his gloved hands over his mouth.
Skyline typically sells 500 tickets a day, but is lucky if it can sell a few hundred when temperatures plummet, said supervisor-dispatcher, Johnny Morales.
“We had some people out earlier, but as you can see there’s no one coming in. It’s definitely dying down as it gets colder,” he said.
Morales, 26, said being outdoors in this kind of weather all day also presents other challenges, including personal safety.
“You’ve definitely got to stay warm,” he said, ducking into a bus full of rows of empty seats for shelter.
The Journal of the American Medical Association says people should wear appropriate clothing when outside (notably hats) and limit the amount of time outdoors when the weather is extremely cold to prevent getting frostbite.
“When we get the customers here we take them inside (the bus) and explain to them the route,” said Fofana, which helps both the vendors and the customers stay warm.
Willisha Norris, 42, who purchased a ticket, said she was planning on doing a lot of indoor activities while touring the city.
“I want to see the Empire State Building and I want to go up in there. And I got my little tickets and I’m very excited right now and I want to go ahead and go to the Gucci store in Macy’s,” she said. “But I’m okay with this weather, as long as it’s not snowing.”
The Weather Channel expects an overnight low of ten degrees with winds coming out of the northwest Monday evening followed by a high of 20 degrees on Tuesday and a 14-degree overnight low.
“If it really drops I have fur on. I’m not going to let the cold stop me,” Norris said, showing off her heavy fur coat. “I’ve got my gloves. We have shelter, cold and strength and we’re blessed.”
The Bowling Green Farmers Market is a warm place to be on the first day of spring.
Nestled underneath a canopy of Washington Square Park’s barren tree branches, “Cornbread,” 49, peered out over the checkered chessboard in front of him, beaming a gap-toothed smile at passers-by, beckoning them to take their place in front of the pawns and rooks scattered about one of the park’s many chess tables.
“Take a seat! Take a seat!” Cornbread pleaded, shifting the plastic chess clock into position next to the board. “And while you’re at it, make a three dollar donation. A man’s gotta eat.”
Unlike most of Washington Square Park’s visitors, Cornbread is one of the city’s estimated 2,648 unsheltered homeless, a hardheaded group that prefers the freedom of a park bench to cramped, rule-laden shelters and missions.
“I’d rather sleep on the streets than stay in a shelter,” said Cornbread, who said his name came from “living on nothing but cornbread for the longest.” “I don’t want to deal with the shelters. If I have to be miserable, at least it’s self imposed.”
And with snow shovels collecting cobwebs and temperatures much warmer than average, the stubborn lot are given all the more reason to brave the elements, leading to less winter traffic at local shelters like the Bowery Mission.
“We still have a pretty steady flow of 130-140 men looking for shelter, and meals, but it’s definitely not as high as usual,” said Matt Krivich, director of operations and a nine-year veteran at the Bowery Mission.
“I’m guessing with five to six inches of snow and colder temperatures, we’d see a lot more people,” he said.
Instead of choosing the Bowery Mission, Cornbread treks out of the park during the evening, first to his “stash spot” where he keeps his collection of cold weather gear hidden from the desperate hands of his unsheltered comrades, then to his sleeping spot of choice, above a heating vent just outside of the United States’ Postal Office at Seventh Avenue and Houston Street.
“This isn’t a real winter,” Cornbread said. “We’re out in the sun right now. It feels like we’re out on a beach right now.”
Under the same sunny skies, Larry Reddick, 47, held up a cutout picture of “Shameless” star William H. Macy next to his face.
“Look at this guy, now look at me,” Reddick said, pulling off his winter cap to reveal his disheveled locks. “I could be his stunt double.”
Reddick hardly comes close to occupying a television screen; instead he spends his days and nights occupying Washington Square Park’s benches, playing the part of Adam, assigning names to the parks’ resident creatures. There’s “Choco,” a stout, Hershey-hued curmudgeon of a pigeon, and “Stinky,” the aptly named odorous squirrel. But his favorite is “Rosy,” one of the park’s two massive hawks that patrol the skies, snatching up the likes Stinky for an afternoon snack.
“There used to be five black squirrels in the park,” Reddick said, clutching his hand-me-down binoculars that dangled about his neck. “But thanks to Rosy, there’s only three.”
Like a homeless cartographer, Reddick is exacting in his surveyance of the park. So much so that he can point out each of the 109 “rat-holes” that cover the small stretch of park from Washington Square West to the park’s fountain-adorned core.
But it’s this sort of exacting nature that helps Reddick survive the winter.
“I’m not gonna freeze out here,” he said. “I didn’t come to New York from San Diego unprepared.”
Part of that preparedness is bag upon bag stuffed full of donated cold weather gear.
“I got snow pants, I got jackets, I got a mummy bag in here that’s good for 25 below,” Reddick said.
Reddick was quite adamant about sleeping outside, saying he preferred his spot at the top of the steps of Judson Memorial Church, but said it didn’t hurt that this winter was particularly warm.
“It has been a mild winter, but I’m not worried about sh**,” Reddick said. “Bring on the snow, I can’t wait.”
Unfortunately, not all of New York City’s homeless have the resources, or “spots,” of Reddick and Cornbread, nor do they share the same sentiments about the warm winter.
Larry Jackson, 56, speaks in muted tones, his hands too cracked and sore from the cold to shake hands. After losing his “dream job” as mortician in sunny Los Angeles, Jackson hitchhiked across the country, arriving in New York City on his last dollar and dying hope for work just eight months ago.
“When I came here it was nice and warm,” said Jackson. “Now, not so much.”
Unlike Reddick and Cornbread, Jackson is a newcomer to homelessness. He has just one blanket, and few friends among the vagrants of Tompkins Square Park.
He says he only opts for the Bowery Mission as a last resort, instead choosing his meager sleeping spot on a bench on the windy banks of the East River, where he says he “won’t be bothered” by those looking to take advantage of him.
“I just want a sleeping bag,” Jackson said. “God willing, if I can just get a sleeping bag, and a nice spot to squeeze into next to a building, I’d be good.”
While the warm winter continues to rage on, Cornbread, a 13-year veteran of the New York City streets, knows that those ill-equipped, like Jackson, face a grim future.
“This cold isn’t a joke,” Cornbread said. “I know two people who died out here. They were just sleeping out here, and they died.”