Angry New Yorker

Monday, August 18, 2003
Notes After the Blackout

New York, N.Y. - Out here in Queens the power returned at 3:05 p.m., Friday, roughly 23 hours after the grid went down.
I was very lucky yesterday, in that I'd just gotten out of the subway on Lexington and 77th and was walking west toward Central Park to serve a subpoena on Rupert Murdoch, of all people, at 3 East 77th. I get to the building and the doorman's in front with a flashlight. I say to myself that's weird... not strange, just weird. He yells across the street to the doorman in the building across "Hey, Jose, you got power over there?" No, says Jose. I'm bemused, but not detered and attempt to serve the subpoena anyway.
But then I look up the block and the traffic lights at both ends are dark. Hmmm.. this doesn't seem right. People are starting to mill around and come out of buildings like clowns from those old tiny trick cars. I walk back to Lex to see if any trains are heading downtown, and one glance down the subway staircase tells me the power is completely
out. No one around me is quite sure how extensive the loss is, yet. I get my wife on the cellphone, the last call I'm able to make all day, and she says the power is off at 47th and Sixth. I know then immediately that this is more than a little outage and tell her to sit tight. I pass a guy who asks "where is power off?" I answer "well, at least down to 47th street" and a woman on the corner interjects "I just got off my cellphone and its off at least down to 39th street." I turn back to the guy "how's that for an instant update?" We laugh and I
start walking again.
Walking downtown from 77th to 47th I notice the streets steadily growing more crowded and gridlocked.
Amazingly, however, I did not see ONE car accident in the entire exodus attributable to a lack of traffic lights. Around sixth and Rockefeller Center the streets were nearly pedestrian malls and gridlock was total. Grabbing a few bottles of water I reached my wife's building, asked the guard if everyone was out (no), and waited. Somehow my wife was able to cal l my cellphone, then, but the outbond cell circuits were completely jammed. Her building had a massive generator running and they not only still had lights, but AC, which was extremely welcome after the long walk. People were huddled on the street around parked cars listening to the news reports -- "Detroit's out" "Cleveland is out" More than a few people were asking "Is this another terrorist strike?" My first inclination was along the same lines... if I were a terrorist why bother with having to deal with security at the border if I could simply knock out some towers in Canada and have the effect ripple down into the U.S.? No fuss, no muss.
My wife came down with a few co-workers and we joined the streaming exodus heading uptown toward the 59th street bridge. The mood was jovial, the tone light, and everyone was simply taking in the pure
strangeness of the situation. Bars were dark but crowded with people drinking beers. Sidewalk vendors were doing a quick business, but not gouging anyone -- $1 for a bottle of water; the regular price.
At the 59th street bridge we took the upper level, and the crowd essentially took over the right lane while cars inched along in the left lane. The lanes coming west into Manhattan were stopped dead, and I actually felt sorry for the drivers foolish enough to have decided to try and drive into Manhattan - they were going nowhere fast, and would
be going nowhere any time soon. On the bridge there was absolutely no breeze, but a flock of news, police and other helicopters buzzed Manhattan likes seagulls behind a fishing trawler. We waived to the folks passing in the Circleline below on the East River... they saw us and waved back. More than a few women were walking in their socks,
heels in hand, and on the other side of the bridge we saw a family trying to walk up against the human tide into Manhattan, each one wheeling a large red suitcase behind them. Good luck was my thought.
Once off the bridge the crowd seemed singleminded in heading up Queens Blvd., but we'd had enough of the slow pace and decided if we were ever going to make it home we needed to pick up the pace. Cutting a block over we found the sidewalk nearly empty and started the long trudge east.
Passing Greenpoint avenue most of the small stores and delis were open, but controlling access. We bought some cherry Italian ices, which definitely hit the spot and keep on walking. Meeting up with Queens Blvd again the crowd was quiet, tired and very sweaty. A number of families living nearby set up little water booths
on cardboard cartoons and handed out free glasses of water to passers by. The police started to make appearances, but I still hadn't see any car accidents, and Queens Blvd. is known as the Blvd of Death here in NY for the numerous pedestrian fatalities that occur each year. (Maybe fewer traffic lights are the answer?).
At LeFrak City, near where Queens Blvd hits the LIE we split off onto Woodhaven Blvd and headed south. The crowd had thinned, but was still walking, though at time point my feet were killing me and I could definitely feel a blister or two. At this point we'd been walking about 2.5 hours.
After another 1/2 hour it was starting to get dark and we had roughly another two miles to go and were bushed. I popped into the street, stuck my thumb out, and in a few minutes we were sitting in the back of this guy's Jaguar. He dropped us off a few blocks from home and kept on going to see if he could find his wife.
Everything was completely, obviously, dark at this point, and the nearly full moon hung in the south east sky, with a brilliant Mars off to its right. Out came the candles, the propane lantern, the battery radio, and the blackout of 2003 began.

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