15 Years Ago Today; The Northeast Went Dark

It was fifteen years ago today when a massive power grid outage found the lights going out on Broadway and well, pretty much everywhere else as well in this section of the Northeast. Are you old enough to remember this happening? I do and I was temping at a major investment banking house at the time doing some sort of technical hoodoo. I wasn’t writing any Metal articles yet but the time was drawing near for that to become the case. The photo below was a satellite image of the states and that sizable section of complete black on the East Coast was us. Good grief.

The incident occurred just after 4pm and of course everyone was still hard at their tasks. I remembered a “disruption” in the PC performance and vaguely recall a generator going on but it would be a short thing as my co-workers and I stopped what we were doing to figure this out. It wasn’t long before all were sent out of the building to make their way home in whatever fashion they could. The concern was what could have caused this to happen. Could it be another act of terrorism and had something destroyed power in the city? It didn’t seem to be the case and everywhere I looked, the people seemed collected and on the calm side which made moving about easier despite their being thousands of people at every turn. A friend had suggested we try to get a bus out of the city so I veered in the other direction towards 57th Street and once there determined that there was no way to get on a bus unless you rode on top of it like you see in those train videos from India. We still had daylight on our side so a hasty trek was made down Broadway with the plan of walking over the bridge back into Brooklyn and somehow getting to my apartment on 86th Street in Bay Ridge. Was I really walking home from the city? I guess I was and as I neared the Brooklyn Bridge I mused to myself that it was only 90 or so blocks once I got over the span. That’s doable right? Right? I remembered people walking too slow over the bridge and as someone who moves on the quick this was killing me but I am also chatty and made some travel companion friends along the way. One of them said that her friend was waiting on the other side and would most likely take me at least halfway to Bay Ridge since they had to go that way themselves. Getting to this dude took me about 7 blocks out of the path that I needed to stay on and of course when the woman and I found him, she got in and the ride was not extended to me. Truth be told I wouldn’t have given a complete stranger a life but also I guess that he was hoping to “get some” from his female friend with his “Knight in Shining Buick” rescue display. With her being a nervous wreck the whole walk I didn’t that was going to happen and I laugh at this today since I had hoped he wouldn’t after making me lose pace that much distance and being sidelined. A seven block veer is a problem when the night is coming up soon and the notion that there will be 0% light to guide you home is on your mind. I was both happy to have kept her company and also to have been rid of her since she was walking too slow anyway. I guess its safe to say that if we are ever in a “The Walking Dead” scenario that the slow pokes will not be in my command of the New Saviors at all.

As an IT Guy I had a mobile phone but it wasn’t doing anything except powering on. During the trek I couldn’t call anyone to tell them I was making my way back since the towers that let these mobile phones work were out of commission. Sure some of the phone booths were functional but there were lines to get to them and at this point any hesitation meant a later than planned arrival home to my two cats (Shadow and Spook) who were going to be getting hungry by this time. I did get to 4th Avenue and just trekked as fast as it was possible for me to do. I was in “decent” shape but not excellent and I guess that I had already clocked in about four or five miles just getting from my office at the Investment Firm From Hell into Downtown Brooklyn. My musing of the “only 90 blocks” from a short time earlier was shot down when I realized I had about a half mile to go before the streets were numbered and not named. Sigh, a minor miscalculation. Thinking back to the mobile phones once more finds me remembering that I didn’t take any photos of the adventure and it might have been because my phone didn’t actually do this. It was a flip phone but my memory is dark on whether or not it snapped images. Back then so few of them did but if this had happened today I am rather positive that almost the entire blackout would be documented on peoples Facebook Pages and YouTube channels the moment that power went back on. Let’s also not forget the endless amount of selfies in front of a dark this or that. I had made it as far as the forties on 4th Avenue before it was pitch black with the exception of the stars above. Some cars would pass the journeying peoples by and offer them a ride for $20, $30 or $40 bucks depending on how far they were going. Idiots.

Though I am recalling the journey in a larger sense I don’t really recall much of what was going through my mind. I mean I do vaguely recall being mad that I didn’t have my Discman with me (which was still one of the common entertainment devices of the day) since it would have assisted with the pacing. By the time that I got to 65th Street I was on automatic and walking a lot slower since this was a crazy distance but like the old Steven Wright line used to say “everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”. This evening, we all had the time since there was not a lot of options to get to our respective spots. It was completely dark for the trek through Bay Ridge and occasionally you would come upon people who were outside and shined flashlights on the pitch black you were walking in. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was like walking in a room that has no openings and is just black all around you. Back then I lived on 86th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway and I had made it as far as 82nd Street when I first lost my footing and went crashing down into the sidewalk. “Ouch” I said along with a few quick expletives. I picked myself up and shook my head to clear it and wondered why my knee was throbbing and well, I had cut it and it was bleeding. I guess I fell harder than I assumed and oh yeah, my pants leg was ripped there as well so it was a two for one. Oh well, I was pretty much at the finish line. In my old building I lived on the top floor and with no elevator to ride in, a six flight group of stairs is wonderful on a newly cut open knee. Once home I grabbed my flashlight and hopped into a shower because I was more than soaked from the journey and now had blood on me from the cut which didn’t look too bad but was just on the messy side. My pants were not fixable so went right into the trash. After taking care of the girls and drinking about a half gallon of water I crashed hard. It had to be around 11PM so the whole experience took me about six hours to do.

Power was restored in the wee hours of the morning and with the summer heat I turned on the fans to full blast. I was afraid to use the air conditioners in the event of blowing out power here in the apartment. The next day I called into work and said I wasn’t coming in and part of it was based on how much soreness and pain I was in from the marathon of a walk and the other was that the trains had not yet been restored to full service. My boss didn’t like that at all, but was also one of those bosses that didn’t like much of anything if I was the one doing it. Good times but I didn’t like them either LOL. Don’t worry, I left that assignment for more money not long afterwards so it was good. I had the feeling of rubber legs for a couple of days after the blackout and the experience left me feeling tempted on purchasing a set of roller blades or a skateboard to help zip along should something like this ever happy again. I didn’t buy either of those and fortunately we haven’t had another incident like this. Hopefully you enjoyed this recollection and I wonder what your experience was like if you were in the city that day. Feel free to share it down below in the comments and if you are interested check out some NY Times footage about the event and click the Wikipedia entry at the bottom for the whole details.

Official Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003#New_York_City

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