August 16, 2003
I survived the Blackout of 2003.
On Thursday, Aug. 14 New York City was paralyzed shortly after 4 p.m. by a power outage from points unknown that literally cut off all electricity in major cities such as Toronto (Canada), Detroit (Michigan), Cleveland (Ohio) and in the New England areas, as well. Apparently, something – either a power surge or a lighting strike – tripped the circuit breakers designed to prevent an overload, and blew out all of the generators out of commission.
"I view it as a wake-up call," said President George Bush, describing the blackout as "an indication we need to modernize the electricity grid."
I was at my desk frantically typing up my daily news stories – and way behind in my deadlines – when the lights went out. Then all of the sudden . . . everything went bzzzz. The lights were off and my computer went black. All of my work was gone.
"FUUCK!" I yelled out.
I thought it was a nagging power outage and that everything would be back on line in a minute or so. I figured something like this would happen: As temperatures soar to 100 degrees, power consumption would be at an all-time high – with air conditioners, fans, cooling systems running at full capacity – which, could cause a brief city-wide power outage. But I would never expect a 24 to 48 hour-long blackout.
When I looked out the window and saw that every neon sign on 42nd street was out and throngs of people were roaming the sidewalks bewildered . . . I was like, "Houston, we have a problem."
My building had to be evacuated – and I was assed-out on the streets of NYC on a sunny afternoon.
I was among the 50,000-plus commuters who were stranded outside of New York's Penn Station Thursday afternoon waiting for the trains – NJ Transit, Long Island Railroad, subways, etc. – to start running again. I bought two small bottles of Poland Spring water for $3 a piece. (Those damn vendors were making a profit off those bottled waters during the blackout.) In my messenger bag, I had some granola bars. That would be my dinner for the night – water and Quaker raisin-nut granola bars.
Cell phones didn't work at all. But lucky for me, I have text messaging on my celly. So I "text messaged" (e-mailed) my brother to tell him that I was okay. For the rest of the afternoon, I sat on a parked car near a local firehouse – just a few blocks from Penn Station – and played games on my celly. The fire station had the radio on blaring the news and I was able to find out what the hell happened to all of the lights.
By nightfall, anxiety had filled the air. People were wondering if they would ever get home to their loved ones. It was also hot. Things cooled down a little bit when it got dark, but it was still unbearable. I was able to keep cool with my bottles of water.
That night, I began to set up a little sleeping area on a corner not too far from the Madison Square Garden Theater. The venue is right next door to Penn Station. Plus, that's where most of the people were congregating at. So I set up a little spot on the corner. The only light I had was the backlight of my cell phone. I was actually reading VIBE magazine's 10th Anniversary issue with the backlight of my cell phone. Plus, there were some scented glass candles lit on the ground – thanks to a couple who bought them at a store just minutes after the blackout – which provided some reading light for me. My ass was literally sitting on the hot block, waiting to get on a train – talk about hanging out on the corner.
It was about 10:30 p.m. and it was time for me to hit the bed, er, I mean the streets. I was ready to catch some ZZZs right on the corner. But thank God for the lady with the bullhorn.
"The trains are running," she yelled through the mouthpiece.
"Thank you Jesus," I said to myself.
There was a mad dash for the doors and I said to myself, "There's no way, I'm going to make it home any sooner by bum-rushing the doors." So I sat my ass down and waited until the crowd thinned-out so I would be able to walk through the doors and hop on a train.
By 11:15 p.m., I was heading home to New Jersey. A little funky and a little dehydrated, I was so happy to be on an air-conditioned train heading to the garden state.
By 2 a.m., I was sitting at home with a tall glass of cold water and watching complete coverage of Blackout 2003 on CNN.
There were other diarists who also survived the blackout of 2003. Blogger Michele Catalano reports on the front lines of what it was like living in the darkness out in Long Island, New York. HardCore is in Detroit and as of this posting, some people reportedly won't have any utilities until Sunday. Web designer Jason Kottke offers his observations on the blackout. And finally, surf over to textamerica's "Blackout Site" and check out all of the fascinating pictures of Blackout 2003 via people's own camera phones – it's amateur photojournalism at its best.