To make a call Wednesday afternoon, planner Maura Griffin stood at the corner of 20th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, an intersection rumored to harbor a pocket of live cell phone signals. There, the founder of Blue Spark Capital Advisors -- who has been trapped in her blacked-out Chelsea neighborhood since the arrival of Hurricane Sandy -- got a call out, no small feat in some New York City neighborhoods.

“It’s very strange,” Griffin told Financial Planning. She wasn’t just talking about all the people around her holding their phones aloft in the hopes of grabbing a connection. “Usually where I’m standing right now, people would be dressed up and crazy for Halloween. I don’t see anyone at all in costume.”

On a holiday that revels in fake frights, the reality of everyday life became so strange for Griffin and her neighbors that apparently few have taken the time to think about costumes this year. It’s a stark departure from the annual norm, during which police hold back tens of thousands of outrageously costumed revelers for the nearby Halloween parade. This year’s bacchanalia was canceled, thanks to the unprecedented damage on the island and elsewhere throughout the East Coast. “It’s hard to have a party when your apartment is dark,” Griffin observed. 

She would know: Griffin has spent two days and nights without power (and with only faint water pressure) at the eighth-floor home she shares with her 16-year-old son. The two would have left the island on Tuesday, she said, but her car is marooned three blocks away, high up in a garage where the elevator isn’t working. Tantalizingly close and yet so far away.


Griffin had passed one line snaking out of a 7-11 convenience store, allowing people to charge their cell phones. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Griffin’s doorman had juiced up her iPhone in his car. That kept her going for a short while. But to get back to work, she needed a better solution.

On a walk on Tuesday, she and her son passed a church with a sign taped on a door: “Come inside and recharge your phone.” Inside, about 30 people sprawled on the floor, on a small stage and against the wall, which offered an abundance of outlets. Griffin declined to disclose the location -- “It’s a secret place,” she said.

She's been spending four to five hours at a time there, often waiting for a half an hour after arriving to plug in. “I’m so happy I found it because it’s allowed me to set up an office," she said. "And it’s warm.” Since the storm hit, she said she’s now been able to contact all of her clients. One even offered Griffin and her son a place to stay uptown -- but since she keeps hearing rumors that power will return soon, Griffin said she is staying put for now.

That means working at the secret church or at home, however. Her real office, up on the 25th floor of a lower Madison Avenue building, has a computer that usually lets her conduct research and work in her clients’ accounts. But right after the storm, she walked uptown to find the building dark. Worried about the contents of her office, she scanned the building’s exterior to make sure no windows had blown in. Thankfully, the glass panes looked fine -- although when she’ll be able to go inside is an open question.


For now, she’s working off a laptop, monitoring client accounts and spending her time studying for the CFP exam. The 15-year financial services industry veteran, who is now an independent fee-only planner, expects to be taking her exam at an as-yet-unannounced location in Manhattan in just over two weeks.

“My aim is four to five hours a day studying. The darkness gets in the way,” says Griffin. Keenly aware that the pass rate is only 52%, Griffin has been turning down social requests from friends who are gathering to lift a glass and bolster each others’ spirits after the storm. Instead, when not playing Scrabble or listening to Calvin play guitar in the evenings, Griffin is nestling up with her CFP exam study materials and reading by the odorous light of Glade scented candles that she picked up at nearby markets. 

It’s all she could find after her stash of normal candles ran out -- but she's making do. “They’re not going to push the CFP exam back,” she laughed, “just because I’m having trouble reading in the dark.”

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