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nyc blackout 2003

NYC Blackout of 2003

On August 14, 2003 there was a widespread power outage throughout the Northeast.  I was working for a film studio in midtown, and remember seeing the fluorescent overhead lights flicker and go out, followed by my computer screen shutting down.  Everyone stepped out of their offices wide-eyed.  September 11 was still a recent memory for all of us, and thoughts of another terrorist attack was fresh in our mind's eye.

Since the subways were down, we all left the building and I started the long walk back to Brooklyn. With no electricity anywhere, verbal communication was how we passed along that the New York state power grid went down. Instead of being afraid, we were all relieved. There was a surge of happiness at being alive that shot through everyone I encountered.

nyc blackout 2003

The summer heat brought us out to the streets.  Stores and individuals alike were busting out their portable grills and cooking the perishables in their freezers. The smell of fresh corn and chicken that would've just gone bad was everywhere. Music and dancing filled the streets via battery powered boom-boxes or makeshift bands of guitars, drums and brass.

Whoopi Goldberg

NYC was like a third world country using whatever was at our fingertips to experience this fleeting joy. We weren't going to die today, so instead we lived these moments to the fullest. Our class structures had broken down into a common humanity. The actress Whoopi Goldberg was a sort of ringleader, becoming a self-elected mayor of the block party. Suddenly she wasn't Whoopi the celebrity, but a matriarch guiding us towards fun.

Crossing the bridge into Brooklyn at twilight, you could still hear music and laughing from both boroughs. It was a stark difference from 9/11, where a cloud of dust had drifted from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Brooklyn Promenade. Today, you knew everything was all right.

nyc blackout 2003

The walk was long and full of high emotions, so as I traveled through the streets of Cobble Hill I felt exhausted and spent.  I was about two blocks from my house when I passed five beautiful Puerto Rican women on their stoop drinking Margaritas. They asked me to join them but I felt too wiped out. With a smile, I said maybe next time.

The next morning, I awoke and smacked myself in the forehead saying, "What were you thinking? That was a golden opportunity!"  But the power was back on, and I felt the afterglow of that day-long glimpse into all that is great, diverse, community-based and compassionate in New York. Sometimes, the city can feel full of strangers.  At other moments, I can see we're all weirdos in solidarity living on an island off the coast of America.

Even though I looked for them, I never saw the Puerto Rican women ever again.


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