I'm sure everyone had their own crazy way of dealing when the power went out, their own stories about getting home, banding together, and roaming the streets of New York, Detroit, Ottawa, Texas, California, or wherever they might have happened to be. (Note: the very idea that the power grid has "nodes" which can knock out power in multiple cities in multiple countries is just plain ridiculous.) I'll start with mine. Please feel free to share yours in comments below...
The way I saw it, it was our IT guy. I was at the bench in the back dealing with a computer when he reached over, fiddled with something, and turned off the power to the whole bench. I was just about to reproach him, when I noticed that he'd also managed to turn off the power to the entire store. Then someone ran in through the back door, saying it was the whole block. At this point, we started telling all the customers to go home - one customer, I heard, actually called upset that he'd been "hung up on" in the middle of a sale, and when informed that the power had gone out in what we'd now learned was all of New York, said that he didn't care, that this was very important, and that someone had better call him back in 5 minutes to complete the sale. Sheesh.
Anyway. All of our biggest and baddest employees stood by the front door with the security guard to make sure no one took advantage of the confusion to walk away with a computer or two. The elephant in the room (or is it a gorilla?) was definitely whether or not this was a terrorist attack, and, if it was, what terrible things this would mean for the country at large. People had girlfriends stuck in the subway, family members they couldn't reach - word was that the Manhattan Con Ed plant was on fire!
After about half an hour, we decided it was time to walk home. At some point, it was going to be dark, and if we weren't inside yet, it was gonna seem real dark. And real scary. So I started walking uptown with my friend Brandi.
Now, I went on a little bit in my last entry about a sort of resurgence, a renewal in my faith and love for New York, brought on by the hipness and the lights and the downtown scene. This walk brought me to terms with the rest of New York, the monuments, pavilions, and parks sprinkled absurdly throughout the city. The strangely flat buildings, the abandoned high-rises with one inhabited apartment.
We walked up 10th Avenue for a while, and at one point, we saw two guys in shirts and ties, loudly directing traffic at an intersection, yelling "C'mon," "Move move," and other such invectives. How nice, I thought, that they are expending all this energy for the good of their fellow New Yorkers. I noticed, however, that they seemed to let cars from the right through while holding most of the cars coming straight through. This was when I realized that they were just trying to get their friend's car through the interesection so they could get home. I mean, the noive!
At this point, cell phones were still not working at all. We were beginning to hear news reports from the informal car-listening sessions along every street: It wasn't a fire, it was a "programmed shutdown;" the FBI did not suspect anything suspicious. (Interesting use of language, I thought.) I still think that if the FBI had suspected any terrorist activity, they sure wouldn't have told us - who wants the whole country to flip out during a power outage?
We turned left around 34th St., walked over to the Javits Center, and kept walking up. We took a break at 59th St. right before the highway. Brandi's AT&T phone had started working a little bit; my Cingular phone was of course absolutely useless. We made some calls, drank some water, and kept on moving.
This was the worst part of the journey. We decided to walk up on the side of the highway, and, in my infinite wisdom, I forgot just what puts the "high" in highway. Those of you who know me well will know that I have a terrible fear of heights. This did not help.
We walked slowly up the highway, separated from the street by only a thigh-high concrete structure, as the highway grew steeper and steeper. I started to get a little worried, but after a fairly short time, the concrete was topped by a tall fence, and my worries went away. We walked many blocks like this, when suddenly, out of nowhere, the fence just stopped short. And the shoulder started getting thinner and thinner. The ground was littered with crap and sewer grates, while cars drove much much too close for comfort. Tripping and falling over the side was the only thing on my mind as I stared at the ground straight ahead and focused all my energies on maintaining my balance, lightly touching the concrete guard for support. Every time a car came too close, I would shudder and return to my intense focus. Brandi walked behind me, cool as a cucumber, checking CNN on her cell phone. This was when we found out the power had begun to come back on. Up ahead of us, a man in a suit and tie was trying to hitch a ride down the highway, and he succeeded. I was too focused to consider such an option. I walked for maybe five hundred miles or so in that state, and we got off at the very next exit on 72nd St.
We took another break at Riverside Park, and watched the Upper West-Siders walking their dogs and strollers as if this were a day like any other. We spotted a bunch of 20-somethings in the back of a pickup, driven by an older guy who they probably didn't know. We saw another would-be hitchhiker trying to get up Riverside Drive - he failed.
On the way uptown, we spotted a monument in the 80's that looked strikingly familiar. I thought about it for a bit.... It was the place where we took our high school senior yearbook picture! [Insert quick trip to the high school yearbook for confirmation, followed by 20 minutes of time-wasting reading high school yearbook messages here.] This monument is basically a set of stairs with two human size tables in front of it, possibly for performing surgery on. Or something.
Kept walking through Riverside Park. Brandi had names for the sections from the kids she used to work with. We passed the "dinosaur park," which looked really fun, and the "boring park," which looked really boring. At about 106th St. it occurred to us that it would probably be dark soon. Very very dark. We started walking much faster.
By the time it started getting really dark, we were at about 125th St. and Broadway, where shit was just totally different. There were people EVERYWHERE. Waiting for buses, waiting to cross the streets, just everywhere. We went over to Amsterdam to get a little breathing room.
Cop cars were out, with flares at every intersection to light the way. We noticed a few buildings with lights on. Hmm. People were just hanging out in front of their buildings, playing chess, blaring music from their cars. We passed a guy selling candles whose sales pitch was "Candles! What's up?! Candles! Hollah!" We passed couples dancing to salsa music on the sidewalk. We passed a bunch of bodegas that were still open, selling vital supplies out their side windows. We passed a restaurant selling roast pork and roast chicken in pans right out front for 3$. The chicken was good.
I finaly got home around 9-ish to an absolute pitch-dark building. I have never seen such darkness - it was brighter with my eyes closed than with them open! With the help of my trusty keychain light, I made it upstairs, made a few calls, devoured my chicken, and plopped into bed. Couldn't sleep worth shit though.
Hours later, I was woken up by a ticking sound outside my window. So no power, I thought to myself, and now this godawful noise! It's like a Chinese water torture, dripping slowly onto someone else's head. I tried to get back to sleep, and then I remembered...the noise is coming from the air conditioner...it's water dripping onto the top of it...from the air conditioner above...which must therefore be on....
And with that, I sprang out of bed, turned on all the lights, and began my day. No Internet until just a little while ago. No subways. Streets probably too crowded to take buses. But I've got my lights, my keyboard, my iTunes, my air conditioner, and my memory of New Yorkers coming out of their shells for just a second and running amok without hurting each other. And I have this event to remind me that the way things are - where we go every morning, what we do, and how we do it - is just the way things are, not the way things have to be.