Blackout 2003

Blackout 2003

The City lost power on a sunny afternoon.  By nightfall, it was dark, eerily calm.  All was fine, though, and there were few major problems of any sort.  After September 11th, this was just a diversion, a minor annoyance.  New Yorkers dealt with it, took it in stride, and came away not much worse for the wear.</p />
</p><p>Picture courtesy of The NY Daily News.

No Power. No Problem. No Panic.

After what New Yorkers went through on September 11th, the blackout of 2003 was little more than an annoyance, a diversion, a notably different day during a long hot, humid, rainy Summer.

It had been a beautiful sun-drenched day, if perhaps a little more than warm. It was the first day of no rain in just one day short of two weeks. What began as a gorgeous Summer day turned into a powerless afternoon. Back before the events of twenty-three months ago, this might have been considered a major event. A day of great note.

After the experience of September 11th, this was a walk in the park, a piece of cake. No big deal. Nothing your basic New Yorker couldnít deal with.

A sense of peace and calm prevailed throughout the city. No power. No panic. No problem.

This was not a catastrophe. We were not under attack, and weíd been through similar events just like this in 1965 and 1977. If anything, this was easy to cope with. The 13 straight days of rain was more off-putting and annoying than this power outage.

It doesnít really feel like a blackout when the power goes out at 4:06 PM, in the light of day.

When it happened I was in Lower Manhattan, in the Telecom and Financial District, around the corner from Wall Street. A meeting had been scheduled for 3:00 in our New York City offices, located a few blocks south of Ground Zero. A short meeting, but potentially opportune enough to make it worthy of the trip in to the city office.

Had the guy we went in to see arrived on time, we might have been out of the office and on the way home when the power went out. But he was tardy, and we were in the discussion process when the lights went out, the computers failed, the phones went dead and dark, and that eerie quiet, the one that is so stunning when all the machines and gizmos and doodads stop making their electronic operating noises and buzzes and hums . . .all disappear. A deafening silence, as the phrase goes.

Looking out the windows from our 10th floor suite, we saw people milling about down below on Broadway. Very few cars. Not much consternation or appearance of any major problems. The opposite of September 11th. This was a matter to be dealt with, as opposed to an attack. There was no sense of chaos or fear. Peace and calm. Weíve seen what it is to be in threatening and uncertain moments.

This? Hey, it was a blackout. Weíve been through this before.

Portable radios, cellular phones that access the web ñ information about the blackout from as far North in Canada as Ottowa, to South Jersey, and even as far west as Detroit and Cleveland ñ made this a curious turn on a sunny afternoon.

The Mohawk-Niagara Power Grid went down, and service was lost throughout a vast region of the northeast and part of the upper Midwest.

The biggest question, the major concern, was simple: how long until the power is restored?

Many wondered how would they get home, if that included a subway ride, or going over a bridge or through a tunnel to the outer boroughs, Westchester/Rockland, Connecticut, NJ or elsewhere. New Yorkers, though, are by and large a hearty bunch. A long walk, a friendís place to crash (given the circumstances) a chance to hang out and take part in a spontaneous citywide block party , even just leaving it all to chance and seeing what might happen . . . was the mood, the order of the evening.

Despite being on crutches these days as I undergo Physical Therapy for my knee problems, I chose to leave our 10th floor offices and try making my way down the stairwell. A moment after coming to this decision, word came from the building fire alert system that anyone still occupying any of the offices had to leave; the building was being evacuated.

After gingerly descending 4 flights, once of my colleagues yelled from the bottom of the stairs that the emergency generator elevator would pick me up. So I rode down the remaining 6 floors. The building guys were as accommodating and helpful as could be.

From the office to the parking garage is just a few blocks. The streets were full of people, but there was an incredible calm throughout the area. Only some busses and a few police vehicles were moving around, and here and there an occasional car.

There's a Wall Street-types bar around the corner from the garage. Their door was open, a bunch of white-shirt/yellow-tie types were hanging around, eating pizza and drinking beer. It was sort of a yuppie-esque block party

At the garage, courtesy of it being 5 blocks south of Ground Zero, and a City Emergency Services facility, the elevator was working, so I didn't have to climb 4 flights of stairs.

I took West Street to the West Side Highway (aka, The Joe DiMaggio). Drivers were polite and considerate. Law abiding, and being extra careful. It was a long, slow crawl, getting to the George Washington Bridge.

The drive home was a long one. But again, common sense and peace prevailed. I listened to the radio, hearing about the roads and how power was coming back on, mostly to the north. Well, I live to the north, and when I got back to these parts, most of the lights were on.

Traffic lights were either out of order, blinking yellow, or just not working. In most of the busier intersections there were police cars, with officers in teams of two directing the traffic.

After September 11th (and note: my city office is a hop skip and a jump from Ground Zero), this afternoon and this evening's interruption of life-as-we-know-it was nothing. Piece of cake. A walk in the park.

Yes, the drive home was much longer than usual. But eerily calm, and actually pretty pleasant.

Much will be written about the events of this day. Some people were stuck in subways, surely many an elevator came to a halt while occupied. Some romances may have been sparked by the events of this afternoon and evening. But, given the humidity and the heat, one would doubt the nine-month later blackout baby boom will occur as it did back in 1965. But that was the Fall, with crisp Autumn evening weather. This one was during the hot, sticky, sweaty and clammy season.

But mark my words: this was a mellow and well-handled emergency. I have no idea what went on upstate, throughout South Jersey, or in the other states and Canada.

New Yorkers and those in the Metropolitan Area - - - simply dealt with it, and tomorrow, the Friday after the Thursday Blackout - - -will be another day.

Thanks to the many who sent e-mails, left me voice mail, and inquired as to my well-being and safety. Greatly appreciated.