I am guest blogging (glogging?) today for Allison, as August is a very long month, and she would like a small break. Spoiler Alert: I am a fan of parenthesis. If parenthetical statements irritate you, you should probably skip today's blog--and maybe even the whole damn day.
Anyway, today, you and I will be talking about blackouts. Not the kind that happens when, say, (hypothetically) you drink too much "Purple Haze" at an APT party and wake up on your own living room floor the next morning, unsure how you got home (though the trail of discarded clothing, crushed Honeycombs, and crushed Honeycombs-laced vomit extending from your front door to your floor-space, paints a complete--if not pretty--picture). No, today we're talking about the kind of blackout that happens when a rapidly aging energy grid collapses suddenly, plunging the entire East Coast into darkness. Just such a blackout occurred 9 years and one day ago (a time segment which feels at once pressingly recent, and impossibly far away). For a lot of reasons (some which I will share, others which I will keep carefully folded in my heart), this is one of my favorite moments as a life-long New Yorker. It also involves Allison (as do many of my favorite moments since I met her).
Let me set the scene for you. It was a hot-ass August day. People turned on air conditioners on for their air conditioners. If it were a Michael Bay film, there would be several quasi-ominous scenes of foreshadowing: a woman sees a transformer smoking, but rather than call Con-Ed, she lights a cigarette off the flames and jokes with her friends about "Green-Freaks" (this movie's name for people who care about the planet)--she's also 18 months pregnant; a group of children runs through a field of switches, turning on lights and TVs willy nilly; an old man (the neighborhood crazy person) gently urges a child to conserve energy as said child obliviously makes a daisy chain of generators and car batteries.
Anyway, it was hot and electricity basically died. I forget the exact reason why but 1) I'm too lazy to look it up; and 2) I was so distrustful of media at that point I probably didn't believe it anyway. The only important take away was that it was NOT terrorism, which, frankly, was pretty much everyone's first thought (it being just shy of two years since 9/11). Once non-terror was established (which, in retrospect, was relatively quickly given the lack of communication devices that could actually be turned on) the whole mood of the city changed. Yes, it was hot, yes it was inconvenient, but when compared with the alternative--it was no big deal.
At the time I worked in midtown--just two blocks from my good friend (and Allison's sister) Lorraine. Cell phones ceased working almost immediately as everyone on the eastern seaboard tried to dial their moms simultaneously. Luckily, Lorraine and I had an emergency meet-up plan, which we promptly forgot, but which also somehow worked. We found each other pretty quickly. The problem was that Allison, who had just started working a bit further downtown, had not yet been looped into our (failed) plan schematics.
We decided we would fight our way through the hoards of New Yorkers migrating in all directions at once and head downtown to find her. However, I was still in somewhat frilly work clothes, and being that I had my softball gear with me I thought, why not change into track pants and cleats and at least be comfortable while we plow through the masses.
Since my building had been evacuated and everything was pretty much closed, my only (perhaps not ONLY) option was to change in the ATM lobby of a nearby Chase. This may sound slightly like an excuse for exhibitionism, but the soul-scaring experience of junior high phys ed left me exceedingly good at changing without revealing even the tiniest bit of skin. This, however, would be the first time I tested my skills in a lobby that was 2/3 floor-to-ceiling windows. Just as I finished my (fairly awkward) transformation, I look up and see Allison being swept along with the sea of people past the bank. Perhaps this does not seem particularly amazing to you. But when you factor in the chaos of 4 million people milling about the streets of Manhattan, it's pretty special that the one person we were looking for, happened by at that exact moment.
Reunited, we proceeded to walk over the 59th Street Bridge for the second time in as many years. While part of me was haunted by memories of the last time we'd made this crossing together, and there was something distinctly unsettling about leaving a darkened city skyline behind us, I found myself in good spirits. There was a swell of relief and camaraderie that seemed to buoy all of us. When we got to Astoria, I spent my last $12 (a large chunk of that of that being loose change) on beer. Allison, Lo and I hung out on the stoop of their first Astoria apartment (unofficially also MY first Astoria apartment given the number of times I crashed there). Steeping in the humid night air, we just talked and laughed and watched Mars slink up over the black silhouettes of the nearby apartment buildings. It’s not exact, but I generally mark that moment as a personal turning point in my healing. It was the first time in almost two years that the drifts of anxiety and sadness that had buried me for so long finally receded enough to reveal the shards of what would slowly become a reconstructed faith in the world around me.
Of course in the Michael Bay version of this story that’s the exact moment the evil alien robots begin crashing to earth, but that’s another post for another day…