17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Memories of the NYC Blackout, 2003

This week is the fourth anniversary of the 2003 Blackout in NYC. Just about everyone living in the city at that time can tell you "Where they were..." when the city went dark.

Here are some of my own memories of that day. I remember:

* ...eating at a deli in Astoria with DH and Noe (then 8 months old). Half-way through our meal the lights went out. Not a big deal in Queens during the summer time when the high use of AC units create frequent power surges. We ate and waited for the lights to come back on so we could pay our tab and leave.

*...we had no cash to pay for our food and, of course, any electronic payment option was out. The cafe owner made us wait for the electricity to come back on. The restaurant was on a corner and its floor to ceiling windows which made it heat up very quickly. DH had to leave for work. He is a journalist and his news instincts told him to get to his newsroom. I finally told the owner we had to leave but would return later with cash for our food. He seemed much more concerned about his rapidly rotting produce than our bill.

*...the initial feeling of panic and chaos on the streets before a terrorist attack was ruled out. I felt like I had a very tiny glimpse of 9/11 during that small space of time.

*...having to cross Northern Blvd. in order to return home. Let's just say it was something akin to playing a game of real-life Frogger with Noe in a stroller. Just when I was ready to give up crossing that street and find a friend's house to seek refuge, a burly dude on a motorcycle came to my aid and gave me a personal escort across six very aggressive and angry lanes of traffic. Safe on the other side, I turned around to thank him....but he was no longer in sight.

*...my super (also a member of our ward) running water hoses from our apartment building out to the sidewalks so that thirsty commuters could get cold water and avoid the sudden run-up of prices on bottled drinks in the neighborhood (gotta love those bodega owners). During the Blackout, the entire subway system was frozen There was a literal flood of people walking across the Queensboro Bridge into Queens from Midtown in order to get home that night.

*...hanging out on the stoop of our apartment building talking with our neighbors late into that night. It was too hot and too dark to go inside.

*...giving Noe a mini flashlight so he wouldn't be scared of the dark. It mostly ended up in his mouth.

*...barely sleeping that night, not sure when DH would be home and if he was safe in the city. Thankfully, the city stayed peaceful, but DH worked in the newsroom all night and walked home the next morning.

*...our elderly, very Irish Catholic next door neighbor knocking on my door early the next morning asking if she could buy Noe more formula.

Mostly, what I remember about the Blackout of 2003 was finally feeling a sense of security and community in my Queens neighborhood, a feeling that I had lacked since moving from Portland the previous year. That day I went from "tolerating" this city to truly embracing it.

What are YOUR memories of the Blackout of 2003?


  • Here are a couple of my memories:

    HOT, HOT, HOT!!!!! Obviously being without air conditioning and I remember the EXACT moment the AC came back on: sleeping on-top of my sheets at about 4am.

    Walking the streets of Astoria. Tons of people were out. DH and I (we were then engaged) ate at a pizza place with my roommate. They must've had a gas stove or something b/c they were the only place serving.

    Buying several popsicles on the street afterward for 25 cents a piece. The delis were practically giving away all of their ice cream and popsicles because they were melting so fast in the heat.

    I remember it got VERY creepy at night once the sun went down. No street lights, etc.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 8/16/2007 08:44:00 PM  

  • Oh wow, has it really been 4 years already?


    Stripping down to a tank top and short shorts, throwing 6 month old Simon in the bjorn and walking across the street to a bodega to buy batteries for the radio. Having lived in NYC through 9/11, I was out on the street corner FAST looking for news. Everyone was in the streets, yelling what information they knew (and it wasnt' much for a few hours). I too felt secure in my little Astoria neighborhood.

    Husband at work, no way of reaching him (didn't have a cell phone yet - oh the horror!)

    Walking over to Marions house and being frustrated that she wasn't there...then worried about where exactly she was.

    Husband walked home across the Queensborough bridge - we were so happy to be reunited.

    Carrie and Kage walked over with their girls and we ate the fudgesickles out of my fridge before they melted - we talked on my stoop until it got too dark.

    Simon slept in a diaper with the window wide open - the champ slept all night long, no fuss. I laid on our couch in front of the open window with ice packs on my body, rotating for cooling effect - husband passed out in similar fashion on the bed.

    Waking at 4:30 AM ( I think?) to power, sweet power. AHHHHHHHHH....

    And once it was all over, I loved that once again, I had lived through another historic NYC moment.

    But mostly I was glad that I had AC...
    posted by Blogger chloe at 8/16/2007 09:00:00 PM  

  • I had just moved to the city a week before the black out! I didn't have any friends or family yet, to turn to. I hardly knew the city. I did not know how to get home, and I was in Manhattan (Chelsea).

    Luckly a very kind co-work offered me his coutch to sleep on for the first night. He was 29 years old, 6'3", 230 pounds, with a shaved head, gotee and tatoos up and down his arms. He looked tuff but was an old softy. He had 3 roomates and I felt vey safe.

    He and I walked around the village for a few hours. It was like a forced holiday, or party for everyone. Such a good feeling of fun and excitment in the air.

    So so many people out on the street. People dancing around fires in garbage cans singing and playing music. Gosh there were just so many people out on the street.

    On the radio they were saying the water was safe, and to check on your neighbours to make sure they were okay and drinking water.

    And people kept saying "If it weren't for Sept 11, it would have been a lot scarier. We delt with a major terrorist attack, a black out is nothing."

    The next day after the subway was working again I went home.

    A truely memorable time.
    posted by Blogger happy nanny at 8/17/2007 07:29:00 AM  

  • Ahhhh yes, the blackout. I have a particularly good story for this one!

    My husband, sister-in-law and I headed into Manhattan that day - them to go shopping, and me to bring my new 6-week-old baby to my old office to show him off. No stroller, just the bjorn. I spent time visiting with various co-works and then, as I was changing his diaper and getting ready to go, the power went out.

    First, we thought it was just the floor of the building (they had been having circuit overload problems). Then just the building. Then the block. Then the city... that's when we decided to leave. We walked down 11 flights in a pitch-black stairwell (with my friend walking in front of me, scared to death I was going to trip and drop the baby) and hit the street, where we started to learn it was the whole east coast. I got in touch with my parents very quickly, who reassured me it wasn't terrorism, which was a blessing. I then set about trying to find hubby and sis, mostly by calling his cell incessantly. (circuits were a little overloaded, as you can imagine!)

    Oh, and one of the first things I did when I hit the street was to spend the only cash I had ($2) buying waters from our regular hot dog guy in front of the building. Didn't gouge me at all on the price, and I thanked him for that.

    Once hubby finally found me, I sat down and nursed Max in the lobby of my office building, and then we set out. We were considering staying at my co-worker's place "until the power came back on" but we were all supposed to be flying out the next morning (hubby and I to Wyoming, sister-in-law to overseas!) so we wanted to be home to get ready for those trips. Little did we know that it would be DAYS before we could fly out.

    We walked home the ?? 6 ?? miles. We crossed the Queensboro bridge just as the sun set, and I sat down in the middle of the sidewalk and nursed, people streaming by me on all sides. I spent the night wearing as few clothes as possible, not sleeping much, trying to call airlines to find out what was happening. At 4:30am, I was standing in my kitchen, trying to nurse Max while touching as little of our bodies together as possible, and praying to Heavenly Father to help me know how to get through the next (very hot) day with no power. And that's when the lights came on.
    posted by Blogger marian at 8/17/2007 07:31:00 AM  

  • My mom, 14 year old sister, 17 year old brother, and I were sitting on the 7 train at Times Square when everything went pitch black (the train doors hadn't closed yet, we were just sitting at the station). I immediately started to panic, told everyone to hold on to each other, and that we should just sit tight and wait. It was pitch black for probably 10 minutes, with everyone on the train and in the train station screaming and crying about a terrorist attack. I was super freaked out.

    Eventually some police officers came down the stairwell (if you know the 7 train, you know that it is in the sub-sub-basement of the station) and started guiding people out with flashlights. We had been school clothes shopping for my bro and sis so our arms were literally full of packages, which made the stairs with the masses of pressing people a little difficult to navigate. The four of us made a chain and my mom kept screaming "Don't let go of each other!"

    Once we got to the main underground part of the Times Square station, all the exits were clogged shut with people pushing against each other to get out. Everyone was panicking. I was getting nervous that we were going to get trampled.

    Then my little bro said he remembered another way to get out (to this day I still don't know how he remembered this). He led us down a completely pitch black tunnel for about 5 minutes, with us feeling our way along the wall. He was right--at the end of the hall there was another exit. So we finally were able to get above ground, but everything was still total chaos. All of Times Square was filled with people and cars. Traffic had completely stopped. Everyone was honking, and lots of cars had their doors open with their radios on full blast so everyone could hear the news. Once we heard that it wasn't a terrorist attack we felt a very relieved.

    The rest of our story is less exciting--we walked home to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge along with thousands of other people. My mom started feeling nauseous part way across the bridge and we thought she might have heat stroke--so we made her sit down on top of our bags to rest. A nice man came up and asked her how she was feeling, and gave her his half-drunk bottle of water. My mom gulped down all the water fast--she didn't care at all that a complete stranger had been sucking on it all the way across the bridge.

    Once we got home we opened up all the windows and played cards in candle light. Oh, and the restaurant down the street (O'Neill's) invited everyone in the neighborhood to a big BBQ--they said they figured it was better to have people eat their meat for free than for it to rot. Everyone on the whole block was sitting on the street in front of O'Neills eating burgers, talking, and laughing.

    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 8/17/2007 04:06:00 PM  

  • I don't remember THE MOMENT...but I do remember starting to feel scared, so I walked to Carrie's house and I think she was just leaving after having written a note saying she was going my MY house. We then decided to go to Chloe's house b/c we were worried about her. So, 2 strollers, 2 kids, and a dog later we were there eating fudgsicles.

    Then it got dark and we were like....CRAP...this is dangerous. I think Carrie had a flashlight and we walked QUITE A WAYS home with the worst guard dog in the hood (no offense Sugz!), and a teeny tiny flashlight. We felt grateful that we got home safely.

    But that was NOTHING compared to NO POWER FOR 1 WEEK LAST SUMMER.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 8/17/2007 05:13:00 PM  

  • It was definitely NOTHING compared to what Kage went through last summer, but it was way more FUN!

    I do remember trying to stay calm about the situation - I was prone to panicking since 9/11. When I finally got too scared to stay by myself at home, I gathered my bag and the baby and was going to head to Kage's house down the street. Just as I was reaching for my front door, the buzzer rang. It was Kage. We were apparently on the same page.

    I remember eating fudgcicles on Chloe's stoop and then walking home in the dark and realizing it might have been a better idea to head home a little earlier. There was still a little fear of looting. But everyone was calm, people were eating outside by candlelight, people were watching a tv hooked up to a generator in the back of a pickup truck.

    DH was working at the courthouse at the time and decided to go home with a friend to Brooklyn because it was a closer walk then home to Queens.

    The thing I remember most though, was being worried about my niece (age 23) and nephew (age 19) who were visiting us at the time. They were in the city that day. I had no idea how they would ever get home and I had no way to contact them.

    Luckily, they remembered a few key things about where we lived and were able to ask friendly New Yorkers how they should get home. They walked from Chinatown to the 59th st bridge over to Queens and finally made it home at around 10pm. I was so proud of them! We cooked up some frozen burritos on the gas stove and huddled around the 72 hour kit AM/FM radio listening for news. I finally put on my swimsuit, jumped in a cold shower and went to bed wet so I could fall asleep.

    That is one of my favorite NYC memories (and for my niece and nephew as well).
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 8/17/2007 06:02:00 PM  

  • Jen pretty well covered our experience of the blackout. I did in fact walk to work, going down Queens Blvd. to the 59th Street Bridge. It was there I had the first of many surreal images of the night.

    It was amazing seeing that mass of humanity going out of the city (I thought that this must have been what it was like on 9/11) and I felt like a person swimming upstream since I was one of the few people walking in instead of out.

    I weaved my way across midtown till I got to my office in Times Square around 6:30. It was nice to see the faces of my colleagues, who were happy and stunned to see I had WALKED to work.

    At one point, probably around 10:30 or so, I looked out a window and saw that Times Square, this nerve center of activity and bright lights, was PITCH BLACK.

    The blackout had truly been a great equalizer. Times Square was no longer Times Square; it was just another part of the city without its power.

    Just for the heck of it, we decided to take a quick walk after we had finished putting the paper to press (thank you, emergency generators) and what we found was a sense of community.

    People were sitting out on sidewalks talking to each other; Cop cars and cabbies parked their cars in front of bars so that they could flash their bright lights into the establishments and give the customers some light to see their food and drinks.

    Everyone had heard horror stories of the blackout of 1977, but it was becoming clear that 2003 was going to be different and that New Yorkers were going to be at their best in this moment of crisis. Even as a non-native, it made me trhilled to be a part of this great city.

    Because it was so dark, I didn't walk home till the next morning. After sleeping at my desk for a few hours, I got up at 6 a.m. and began the four-mile walk back to Queens. By then, parts of Manhattan and Queens had power again, and in the quiet early morning hours, you could sense the slow return to normalcy.

    I walked into my apartment at 7:30, so happy and relieved to see my family again. I wandered over to Noe's crib, where he was sleeping face up. He opened his eyes right then and saw me, and smiled.

    It was the happiest ending I could hope for after a surreal night.
    posted by Anonymous Jen's DH at 8/18/2007 08:24:00 AM  

  • I lived a block from ground zero at the time, so when the power went out all my neighbors treated it exactly the same and really helped me out. They told me to get out, but make sure that I had everything I would need because I may not be able to get back in.

    I lived on the 18th floor, so I grabbed my three kids (baby in backpack) and hiked down 18 floors. By the time we reached the bottom it had been determined that it wasn't a terrorist attack so we hiked back up to wait for dh to come home from work.

    We were scheduled to feed the missionaries that night but we couldn't get a hold of them. We figured they wouldn't walk all the way down to us. We were very surprised when they showed up. They climbed 18 flights and we sat around eating everything perishable and pop-tarts for dinner.
    posted by Anonymous dede at 8/18/2007 08:35:00 AM  

  • These are all such great stories to read! I'm really enjoying them, thanks for sharing everyone, and thanks Jen for starting this in the first place.

    Growing up in Vermont, I was used to being without power (we lost power at least once, if not more, each summer and winter due to storms) but I didn't realize how incredibly rare it was for New Yorkers to be without power. It wasn't until I was hiking home with a coworker (a native NYer) and she kept saying things like, "Well, I guess I'll just watch a movie tonight." or "Maybe I'll finally get my vacuuming done" that I realized she really couldn't wrap her head around life without electricity!
    posted by Blogger marian at 8/18/2007 11:40:00 AM  

  • I was at work and we just thought it had gone out on our floor. Then the building, then the block, then the city, then the states. At that point we realized it was time to go home. Me and a co-worker started heading to Brooklyn (from Union Square area). We loved the scene, pretty much everyone was friendly and in good spirits. Most of our conversation was coming up with all the scenerios that people were probably finding themselves in: the commuter who has his car on one of the elevator lifts and won't be able to get it down; the person who had eaten their meal but hadn't paid yet and only had a card; the person stuck in the elevator that could have easily walked down the three flights but was too lazy; etc.

    I got home to Park Slope and wandered around waiting for my wife. She got home a couple hours later and our group of friends all got together and we all hung out by candle light eating melting ice cream sandwiches enjoying our friendships.

    Then a long night of sweating. Then the sweet sound of AC at 4:00 in the morning. One of my best NYC memories.
    posted by Blogger Rusty at 8/18/2007 03:39:00 PM  

  • Those were fun to read! I work for an electric utility (in the southeast, not in NYC). We do our best to keep the power on all the time. It's funny how in the last 100 years electricity has gone from being a novelty, keeping a few lights going, to an utter necessity. Almost no economic activity can take place now without it. Believe me we take our jobs very seriously.

    In this heat we've had in the past few weeks in the South, we've met record demand with no forced outages and even so, 30 something people have died of the heat. If the power went out a lot more people would die. Our whole network is maxed out at times like this. The utility grid is probably the most complex system that exists in developed nations. We meet the demand moment by moment, whatever electricity is used is what we have to generate.

    The drought deprived us of most of our hydroelectric capacity this summer too. We take electric power too much for granted, perhaps, but it's great that we're able to. I'm glad that we have power available here so much of the time. I feel bad for those in Iraq where it's only on an hour or two a day. Imagine trying to live like that!
    posted by Anonymous Tatiana at 8/18/2007 07:58:00 PM  

  • carrie, I forgot about your niece and nephew, that was a LONG walk....good for them. I think I would have freaked pretty good if I had been them.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 8/19/2007 06:51:00 AM  

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