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The Post-Sandy Quest: Coffee ... And a Shower

Heesun Wee
Thursday, 1 Nov 2012 | 5:17 PM ET

The Northeast is flickering toward normal life after Hurricane Sandy, as some subways, buses and airports began running Thursday.

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But with power still out for thousands, industrious residents in the region are roaming their neighborhoods for basic necessities.

Whether by car in the suburbs or on foot in Manhattan, each morning triggers a daily quest for everyday comforts including coffee, food, a power outlet and the holy grail — a hot shower.

(Read more: Trains Roll, but Northeast Struggles Back From Sandy)

Just ask Janice Yoon, a lower Manhattan resident, who hasn't had electricity since Monday night.

Yoon is grateful she's safe and that her apartment is intact, while so many others in the region have suffered real tragedy. But it's a daily challenge to forage for the comforts of home and remain upbeat.

"I'm managing okay. There was no major damage or harm," Yoon said. "At least my water is working."

Retro Family Life

Across the river in suburban New Jersey, MaryKate Lesnevich and her husband have been without power for days and headed to upstate New York Thursday for refuge. The couple has two children, aged 5 and 7.

The past few days have been a scramble for daily comforts including makeshift meals and games for the kids. Schools are likely to be closed into next week in Scotch Plains, N.J., she said. The kids, meanwhile, have been playing "flashlight tag" in the basement.

For those with families in the region, the storm's aftermath has brought the added challenge of what to do at home with kids but without TVs, video games and smartphones. Parents have dusted off old-school board games and Barbies to pass the time. Some have busted out the knitting needles.

"We can't do this indefinitely," Lesnevich said. "But you don't want to get upset in front of the kids because it makes them uneasy."

A Tale of Two Manhattans

Back in Manhattan, Yoon stumbles from her apartment and heads zombie-like for any mode of transportation that will take her north to work, electricity — and that much-needed, first cup of coffee. An attorney, she gets caffeine near her office. "It's comforting I have that morning routine," she said.

She can buy lunch and dinner in the neighborhood before heading back south, and camping out for the night with a few candles and a borrowed flashlight.

Yoon's routine also illustrates the two Manhattans that have emerged after the storm: one uptown with power and business as usual; one downtown that's pitch black at night. Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" renamed the darkened lower Manhattan "little North Korea."

Tired of being cooped up for days, Upper West Side residents filled sidewalks yesterday. Children decked in Halloween costumes went trick-or-treating among local shops on 72nd Street.

Runners, meanwhile, zipped around the edges of Central Park, which has been off limits since the storm. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the New York City Marathon will proceed as planned Sunday.

"The marathon will go ahead," New York City Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg told CNBC.

(Read more: Hurricane Sandy Special Report)

NYC Marathon: The Show Must Go On
Mary Wittenberg, New York Road Runners president & CEO, explains why the decision was made to go ahead with Sunday's marathon, despite widespread damage in Lower Manhattan.

But once you head south and cross roughly 31st Street on the west and 39th Street on the east, that's when Manhattan starts to go black at night.

Con Edison plans to have power restored to Manhattan by Saturday, said Sara Banda, a Con Edison spokeswoman. Con Edison said most customers' power will be restored by next weekend, Nov. 10 and 11.

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Searching for Power Outlets

As each day without electricity drags on, another task is finding outlets for smartphones, including Apple iPhones. Mobile devices have served as lifelines for many stranded in the region. Even if telephone calls and emails don't go through, texting sometimes is possible.

From Starbucks to community centers in the suburbs, residents are gathering to power up devices, grab a snack and share Sandy war stories. Chances are any available socket already is taken — and there's a line too.

At 41st Street and 3rd Avenue, some have camped inside a Chase Bank ATM kiosk and plugged power strips into the wall outlets so many people can power their devices. The ATM kiosk is among the first powered businesses north of 39th street along the east side of Manhattan.

The kiosk has become a modern-day campfire to power devices, play board games and share a cup of coffee. "It's like Mecca," said Melissa Shuffield, a Chase spokeswoman.

Mobile users are also sharing tips for making iPhone and Android batteries last longer. Tip: Reduce your screen brightness.

A few lucky residents including Jessica Wasserman are packing two mobile phones and powering them off, when not in use, to conserve battery life. Wasserman, who lives in lower Manhattan, also lost power Monday night. The following morning she packed light and walked uptown to relatives and friends. "People definitely are not suffering alone. That's the good thing," she said.

In addition to power, some must search for gasoline. Power outages at gas stations and a distribution bottleneck has triggered a fuel shortage in the New York metropolitan area that may not be cleared for at least a week. (Read more: Why East Coast Gas Shortages May Not End for a Week)

The Holy Grail: A Hot Shower — Towels Included

And if you're lucky to get your gas tank filled, there's one, sometimes elusive, everyday luxury: a hot shower.

Yoon, a lower Manhattan resident without power, has been relying on friends. "I feel like a hobo carrying around my towel and toiletries, bumming hot showers off my friends," she said.

Others needing to bathe are heading to a local gym — no membership required. New York Sports Club, which has roughly 60 gyms in New York City's five boroughs, began offering free showers Wednesday to anyone stranded with a valid identification card.

"All the managers, we agreed and thought it was the right thing to do," said Gary Meyers, manager of the New York Sports Club at 62nd Street and Broadway.

Gym visitors affected by Sandy have included stranded international travelers and local New Jersey residents without power. On an average day, the gym goes through two large bins of towels. "Yesterday, I went through six," Meyers said.

Next task: laundry.

"This morning I was trying to catch any mode of transportation and I had a huge bag of dirty laundry," said Yoon. "I'm a modern-day refugee."

—Christina Cheddar-Berk and Jill Weinberger contributed to this report.

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