Jennifer Smith, daughter of writer Ed Smith, grew up in Springdale – living a normal, regular life in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
As life progressed, she found herself pursuing higher education and careers which would bring her far beyond the realm of Main Street and Little Bay Road.
Smith eventually attended law school in the United States thinking that such an education would allow her opportunity to ultimately return to her home province and represent people in the courts here. However, she soon discovered that was easier said than done.
“Turns out there’s a lot to go through to come back to Canada to practice law with a US law degree,” she said. “It takes a few years and a lot of money, so I’m in the process of working towards that now.”
In the meantime, though, Smith isn’t putting her expertise to waste. She now works with a law firm in New York City, with an office in the middle of Manhattan in the city that never sleeps.
Last week, she was one of the millions of people who were affected in some way by Superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast coast of the United States, including New York City.
The damage caused by the storm has been much reported and publicized as millions were left displaced, without power, heat, food, water or many of the basic necessities that those in the Big Apple have grown so accustomed to. The foundations that makes a city the size of New York is crucial to ensuring things keep moving and functioning – and without it, it opens things up for mass confusion and turmoil.
“Probably the biggest thing that people not living in New York City don’t realize is how terrible it was that mass transit was down for days,” she said. “That really causes chaos because everyone relies on it.”
Smith says in the wake of the storm, its easier to see that though New York City is one municipality, it’s in fact made up of large islands that aren’t as closely connected as it sometimes seems.
“I think people take advantage of things like the subway, and how quickly it connects the city. You can go from Brooklyn into Manhattan in 20 minutes on the subway, but no one realizes just how far that actually is, until they’re forced to find some other way to get there.”
For Smith, after the storm shut down the New York City Transit system, she decided it was time for a walk. Leaving her apartment in Brooklyn, she left for her trek into the office, and arrived over two hours later, catching a bus at the last leg of her journey, and sitting up in a luggage rack because of the over crowding. Something, she says, that caused her to realize many of the things that have come second nature to most, are actually luxuries that are too easily taken for granted.
“Coming from Newfoundland, I always was fascinated with things like the Subway, and the mass transit system – but New Yorkers don’t realize what they have sometimes, because they know no different.”
Smith’s life growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador has given her a few more perspectives on the chaos facing the place she lives now. For one, while Sandy caused a lot of destruction, she says she wasn’t flinched by the weather, as she’s seen much worse in her day.
“I wasn’t overly impressed by the force of the storm where we were, because we’re sort of used to it back home with the blizzards and rain storms we have during the year,” she said.
On a personal level, she says while there are many who faced catastrophic outcomes of the storm, the building she lives in had the basement flooded which left them with no running water or heat after a fire sparked once some of the water receded.
“I’m surviving, because it isn’t foreign to me. I’m showing people in my building how to conserve water, and stuff like that – Girl Guides is coming back,” she said with a laugh. Others she says have lost power where they live, and are at a total loss, while Smith says it sounds like familiar territory to her.
“People I work with have no power for the first time in the lives,” she said. “That’s amazing to me, because back home it was nothing strange for us to lose power in a storm. Then people without heat are coming in and saying ‘I haven’t been this cold in my life,’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I have.’”
As for when life will be back to normal, Smith says they still aren’t sure when she’ll receive heat and water again, but right now she realizes there are a lot of bigger issues that need to be dealt with.
“The stuff you hear about on the news are the major things – when power will be back in the blackout zone, when the Subways will be back, stuff like that – but apart from that there are so many small, isolated cases that people are dealing with, and we have no idea when that will be resolved.”
Despite it all, though, Smith is confident that her life in Newfoundland has prepared her for what she’s now facing. The lessons of the small town in Green Bay have paved the way for surviving the Big Apple after the storm of the century.