I rarely use the words “porcelain” and “rooster” in the same sentence.
But just a few days after Hurricane Sandy struck Manhattan, a porcelain rooster was the centerpiece between the worlds of the electric light and of urban darkness.
Supply chains are the strategic corporate tool for conveying value from one end of society to the other. They are also subject to all flavors of disruptions given the level of complexity that many attain while in motion. Disruptions such as cargo delays, tangled logistics. And weather.
Two days after Hurricane Sandy swept portions of the Atlantic Ocean into New York, the Hudson River and East River had found their way deep into Lower Manhattan and had prolonged their stay. Most subway services were still spotty at best if not fully suspended. Bus services had not been restored. It was cold and damp. And it was 1:30am.
My singular mission of the night was to carry a 30-pound cardboard box containing a 3 ½ foot tall porcelain rooster 12 blocks back to my car. Intended as a long overdue birthday gift for a friend, the rooster was to become a trophy for inserting myself directly into a convoluted supply chain. My shoulders reminded me how heavy the box was.
From a distance I must have appeared to be a giant cardboard box with legs.
Due to a confusion of supply chain logistics between the retailer and the courier service, the massive package in my arms had just voyaged from west coast to east coast and back again at least twice. Being frustrated by the interrupted flow made worse by the storm, I had to literally take the problem into my own hands. If this could happen to a 30-pound ceramic rooster normally found only on the pages of wedding registries, I was wondering just how the rest of the economy would fare as the fear of interrupted gas and food delivery in and out of the city continued to loom.
When I passed 58th Street, the infamous broken crane of CNN and YouTube fame was leering down at me like a disapproving parent.
It was during this labored introspective walk, amidst this uncertainty of power restoration to the city, that the reflection on technology and society shined most brightly for me. This moment was humankind’s intersection with that 150-year-old technology called the electric light and its triumphs and its obstacles. Wandering through these half-lit New York City streets, where somewhere just below 45th Street, the entire city was bathed in total darkness. Peering into the void as I trekked by, I was certain that this was what being in the labyrinth with the Minotaur must have felt like. The beast we all fear yet desire is the dependence on electricity.
Passing next by Columbus Circle, I walked by the “Discovering Columbus” installation by Japanese contemporary artistTatzu Nishi. In a place where Columbus is normally invisible to the churning traffic around him while perched atop a 20-foot column, Nishi had constructed a scaffolding to allow viewers to walk to the top of the monument and greet this patron saint of supply chains in person. I felt a sense of honor to be hand carrying a package to its destination under Columbus’s watchful eye (or perhaps it was just my forearms starting to ache).
By the time I made it back to my car, prize in hand, I had to use some of my Tetris skills to position it into the back seat of my sedan, whose design engineers had obviously not imagined its use for freight transportation. I was exhausted. And hungry.
Despite the surrounding electricity outages, you can always count on New York City to have a 24-hour pizzeria to be within reach that is always powered and open, regardless of circumstance.
I was the only customer at Ray’s Pizza in the wee hours, with the union of pineapple and ham on my Hawaiian pizza itself also a modern supply chain evolutionary relic of the tradewinds long blown past.
I stared out through the neon sign as a light, rainy wind slid past, carrying a cargo of street rubbish. A news report on the television was praising local utilities crews on moving quickly in restoring electricity to an apartment complex. “We’ll take it one block at a time,” said the man on TV.
I took another bite of my pizza. I was just one speck in the middle of a sea just starting to wake up again.
Published January 29, 2013 by Austin Lin
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.