The Final Toll

Hurricane Sandy wreaked terrific havoc on safe, sleepy towns that had never before known the true meaning of natural disasters. The destruction that followed can be seen readily: a new landscape along the coast has emerged, deeply gauged by scars and burns that may never heal. Picking up the pieces is never easy, but the recovery process is already in full swing. Houses can be rebuilt, communities will return, the daily grind will inevitably resume. The path may be long and winding, but eventually, day by day, we will get there. However, so many questions still remain, despite optimistic forecasts projected by distant reporters. What about the lives that were demolished along with all of those homes, those safe havens for so many years? What about the dreams washed away with so many sticks of furniture, reduced to unsalvageable trash even worse than average pollution? Not everything can be repaired.

Losing electricity for a week, my household was among the lucky ones. Everything is back to some semblance of normalcy; I have a warm, bright home again, full of fresh food and easy access to more. There was absolutely no flooding in the basement, even with our typically permeable foundation. Most of all, I still have my family.

Suddenly, after the worst seemed to be over, we were dealt one final blow. It was a delayed reaction, but a very close friend of mine now has slipped away, another victim of Sandy not to be tallied in the body count, but in the hearts of hundreds. Health in a Hurry, my place of work and second home for over seven years, is gone. We are closed for business.

The food business is a tough place, harsh and hostile to newcomers. After surviving through some precarious times before, it was a lurking fear that our cozy cafe may still be in danger; when the hurricane winds came, they finally blew out the lights.

Health in a Hurry changed me, as a cook and as a person. Walking in there at 16, I didn’t know a single thing about real food prep; the most I could muster were tofu pups skewered and grilled over an open gas stove. The real value of those countless hours invested into thousands of meals were not numbers on a paycheck, but wisdom gleaned from my boss, mentor, and best friend, Sue. She continues to inspire me, taking this turn of fate as an opportunity for a new start, on to bigger and better things. I’m still trying to learn from her example, even if it won’t be in the kitchen from now on.

Sandy can wipe buildings off the face of the map, but she can’t even take away our memories. From the good times and the bad, I will never forget a moment of it. From the time I lost my grip and spilled miso soup all over the interior of a fully stocked fridge to the torture of rolling raw collard wraps well into the wee hours of the night, I have learned both patience and humility. Just as many times, hysterical laughter could be heard from across the tiny parking lot, as we fumbled and found humor in our silly errors. I will never, ever be unable to picture the exact moment when Sue, searching for her missing eyeglasses, curiously realized that they were in fact inside the oven, baking at full blast. I will proudly recall my very first wedding cake, the incredible stress that it created and the impossible success that resulted. I will miss dearly our Thanksgiving catering marathons with all hands on deck, dancing and thrashing about the miniscule kitchen as everyone churned out vast feasts for so many tables. The scent of sage and onions still lingers if I think back hard enough.

Health in a Hurry will always be a part of me, an indelible mark that will never wash away, no matter what sinister outside forces conspire against us. Saying goodbye to such a dear friend is the last thing I ever wanted to do, and so, I won’t. I’m still taking it with me in my heart.