Scoping Out Our Off the Grid Options

A Tom and his drone story

We all agreed that the hollow below would make a perfect place to live if ever the world descends into dystopian reality. Food supply would include wild dogs, feral cats, squirrels, probably rats, plentiful ducks. One of us remembered from scouting days that the bark from the thicket of birch trees could be used to construct shelter, although exactly how would require a refresher course. Additional research would also be necessary to discern which weeds were edible. And, although the dams that once steered Long Island streams into the reservoir were long gone, a sizable marsh spread out across the central basin. A water purifying device went on the list of supplies to secure.

To get a better lay of the land, Tom launched the drone over the old Ridgewood Reservoir. Built in 1858 to supply water to Brooklyn’s exploding population, it was in use until 1959 and eventually drained in 1989. Few other places in the city have turned so wild, a fine home, indeed, if society ever falls apart.

This was back in early January when such talk seemed a fun fantasy to spin among ourselves. By now, others may be thinking about the reservoir along similar lines.

We have two more just in case.

The Hole, a neighborhood inches over the Brooklyn border with Queens, has potential but presents some challenges. People already live there and have for a very long time. Yet, it’s one of those weird places that you don’t know about unless you’ve been told it exists. Every now and then some reporter/blogger wanders out there and responds with a mixture of disbelief and outrage. The neighborhood sits 30 feet below the surrounding area and lacks municipal infrastructure for drainage and sewage.

Creeks for streets, vacant lots turned to grassland, the place feels haunted. Various bodies of people who annoyed the Mafia were found buried in one of the fields, with the possibility of more spread around in others. The ghosts of the Federation of Black Cowboys remains in the stables taken away from them when the health of the horses came into question.

The residents are understandably wary of strangers. We kept an official distance the few times we came upon someone out walking or sitting on a milk crate beside a trailer. We’d raise our masks to smile a greeting but didn’t receive a single one back, most times not even a recognition we were there at all.

The true value of the Hole for survival purposes is in the abundant supply of abandoned houses hidden behind corrugated fences and overgrown fields. Among all of Tom’s many talents, he’s a hell of a carpenter and I’m nothing if not intrepid so long as you keep me away from power tools. We could certainly fix up one or several of these houses for a nice guarded compound. We’d also try to make an alliance with the locals and share what we ransacked from the nearby Food Emporium on the other side of Linden Boulevard.

Recently, Tom sent me photos of Fort Tilden that he took a few years back.

You know the last scene in the original Planet of the Apes when Charleston Heston is bravely riding on a horse along a beach with his hot primitive girlfriend? Fort Tilden is a lot like that, a wreckage of a warrior time. As is the case every time Tom sends me photos of his solo outings, I was pissed and jealous but continue to love him and the photos he sends me.

The youngest son had been furloughed from his job and needed a break from sending out resumes last week so we went to the fort ourselves. It was the kind of mother-son excursion you have when your son is in his thirties and you’re pretending you are, too. He’s young enough for adventures but old enough not to be embarrassed to be seen with his mother; I’m young enough to pretend I can still climb over walls and scurry on my knees through thorny bramble and old enough to know this may be a very dumb idea. But time spent with adult children, especially now, are not to be so cavalierly dismissed.

Fort Tilden would probably be our last survivalist choice because, like all ocean front properties, many people already have their eyes on it. A few of the structures Tom photographed are gone and we’d have to fight for what remains. Food would be problematic, too. We’d have to rely on non-existing fishing skills and the nearest market is in Breezy Point, locally known as the Irish Riviera. The little bungalow community is packed with generations of firefighters and police along with the kind of admirably hardy time-tested protect-our-own sort of people that helped each other rebuild after Hurricane Sandy decimated the island. Being Irish ourselves, in addition to the son knowing a few families there, may provide us with some acceptance but we’d understand if it didn’t.

Still, he and I investigated the fort for options. If the afternoon wasn’t completely reassuring, we still had a marvelous time visiting former batteries and ammunition buildings turned into art galleries.

Left unexplored were sand filled, cave-dark corridors that were too reminiscent of zombie hideouts.

Photo credits: Tom Doherty, Alex Finan


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