A Nuyorican in LA: Watching Hurricane Sandy From Afar with Nostalgia and Hope

PHOTO: Downed tree in Rego Park, Queens, where the authors sister lives.Jessica Ortiz/ABC/Univision
Downed tree in Rego Park, Queens, where the author's sister lives.

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last week, I made sure I kept in close touch with the family and city I left behind when I moved to Los Angeles 3 months ago. I was in New York City for Irene and many hurricanes before and unlike other Big Apple residents, I didn't consider any of them busts. Hurricane Irene left my tiny second floor Corona, Queens apartment damp from cheap carpet and a drippy ceiling. I know how moderate rain storms in the past have shut down subways, a transportation lifeline for millions. Snowstorms have had a similar impact on the city so I expected Sandy to be harsh. But I had no idea. No one did.

Angelenos are the most spoiled people when it comes to weather. I miss rain and chuckle when every drizzle becomes a storm watch and when wet ground from an overnight shower becomes cause for my 5-year-old's elementary school to have indoor lineup -- lest the kids get sick with 60 degree temps and moisture. When it has rained here, my kids and I run outside with excitement. While I love waking up and seeing palm trees out our window, I long for crisp fall East Coast air and the mosaic of colors that comes from falling leaves.

My 5-year-old daughter, pretty in pink, at school on Halloween in Los Angeles.

But it's easy to get used to the sunny days and 80 degree weather. There is only one wardrobe in Los Angeles, with layers when temps get below 60. Yes, below 60 is considered cold here. When the temperature is in the high 50's, my kids and I pile on the blankets and raise the heat. We put on chunky sweaters and sweats. We shiver here while in NYC we would consider high 50's lovely on November. We do not pull out the parkas and Uggs though, the way I see parents and kids walking to school on LA "chilly" mornings. It's hard not to roll my eyes and giggle watching moms and kids drink hot chocolate while donning wool hats and gloves. Exagerados!

What would Angelenos do during a hurricane? Would their earthquake preparedness skills help them make it through or would they be washed away? I know my family back in New York City was prepared. My sister left her Brooklyn basement apartment for the safety of my mom's fourth floor Queens co-op. My mom, who recently retired after years of working in retail, stocked up in canned food, water, and candles but also decided Sandy offered a great opportunity for a Rican feast of pasteles and arroz con salchichas. My stepmother's name is Sandy so I knew my mother was not about to let another Sandy mess up her life. My sister brought wine. My cousin who lives down the street arrived at my mom's with her dog and beer. Two of my sister's neighborhood friends came by my mom's house with whiskey and more alcohol. A full hurricane party was in effect and when I, wearing shorts and a t-shirt called from my veranda to check in on my family, I actually felt like my kids and I were missing out on something.

My mom's hurricane survival kit in Rego Park, Queens included Puerto Rican pasteles, booze, and velas.

The morning after the storm brought a new, sad perspective. I still wished I was in New York City but it was because I wanted to help. My dear friend Syd from Far Rockaway had to evacuate with her mother and she is understandably traumatized by the devastation. My best friend from high school Sofia and her family have no power in Ozona Park and are running out of gas. My hairdresser's mother almost drowned in Howard Beach. My family was lucky. My mom's neighborhood never lost power. Some stores lost awnings and some trees were downed. My sister's basement apartment miraculously suffered no damage. My 5-year-old daughter's family were safe and with power in Flushing and Corona. And I feel helpless in Los Angeles.

My friends Cris Escala and Sofia Oyola in Ozone Park, Queens, have no power and are running low on gas.

When I first saw the images on television from the Lower East Side, the Rockaways, the flooded subways and Queens-Midtown Tunnel, I actually cried. I survived 9/11 and the citywide 2003 blackout. I remember what it is to walk across bridges and boroughs in a crowd of stunned people. I know what it is to try and get to work without a train. It took my sister, an early childhood special education teacher in a New York City public school in Brooklyn hours to get to work on Friday. My 5-year-old's father's dental lab on 34th and Park Avenue is without power. When he doesn't work, like many, he doesn't get paid. And they are the lucky ones who still have their lives and homes.

As I write this, a news report shows Latino families in Staten Island waiting for food, water and warm clothes as temperatures drop. Meanwhile the local temperatures near Downtown LA are expected to go up into the high 80's, perhaps even the 90's this weekend. My kids and I are lucky but I still am anxious to return. Neither rain nor snow can keep a NuYoRican away from what will always be her city, her home.

Follow Maegan "Mamita Mala" Ortiz as she chronicles her adventures as a Nuyorican in LA, including her musings on different Spanglish accents and slang, her quest for the best schools for her daughters, how she gets around without a car, and the story of how the self-proclaimed original "Twitterputa" fell in love and ended up here in the first place.