For about 10 minutes, I thought I caused the Northeast Blackout of 2003.
The following is an excerpt from a larger story I’m working on detailing my adventures that day…
When I finally made it to Hudson and 11th, I stood in front of the White Horse Tavern and looked up to see the edge of my friend Kevin’s roof deck. I was certain they would be up on the roof. It was the best place to beat the heat. Kevin and his girlfriend, Alexis had tricked out the roof deck earlier that summer with lights, chairs, a table and a cooler. Everything necessary for maximum summertime enjoyment.
Kevin didn’t have a doorbell. He would often leave the downstairs door unlocked and rely on his intimidating brindle pit bull, Athena, to alert him to the presence of visitors with her substantial bark. There was only one other apartment in the building, on the floor below. I approached the building’s main door, it was locked. I knocked loudly. I didn’t hear Athena. I knew it, they’re on the roof!
I pulled out my useless cell phone and dialed Yves to no avail. All circuits were still busy. I crossed the street so I could get a better view of the roof. I saw movement. I shouted at the top of my lungs, Kevin! I got nothing, so I tried again Kevin! Kevin Brennan! Yves!
People on the street thought I was nuts. Someone sitting at an outdoor table in front of the tavern yelled at me, shut the hell up! I don’t know if I was actually annoying him or if he was playing the part of pissy New Yorker.
Just give me a minute, I spat back. I know they’re up there. KEVIN…YVES!! I tried again as loud as I could (which was really loud).
About 2 seconds later I saw their faces appear over the ledge. They were all smiles and shouted down to tell me they would let me in. I turned to the beer drinking “shut up” guy and said, I told you they were up there! That wasn’t so hard now, was it? He looked shocked that my old-school ‘hood-girl doorbell had actually worked. We both sort of chuckled. The moment had trumped the feud.
I re-approached Kevin’s door just as Yves was flinging it open. We embraced. He said, I was just about to leave to come to you.
I beat you to it, I said. I didn’t want to hang out with the neighbors so I figured I’d come find you guys.
I’ve been trying to call you, but the cell phones are dead. Did you walk here?
I sure did.
We headed up through Kevin’s place to the roof. There was a cooler of beer and a bottle or two of whiskey. Alexis was there and Alfredo, the percussionist from Kevin’s band. They’d been working on overdubbing some percussion tracks when the power failed. Alfredo’s wife Ava had come over when the lights went out as well, she only lived a few blocks away. We had a party brewing.
I regaled them with tales of my journey southward and was rewarded with Jameson and Yuengling and by nightfall, we were all pretty well lubricated. Someone brought out Kevin’s acoustic guitar and Alfredo had exciting percussion toys for us to play with, soon we had a full fledged jam session going. Kevin and I were the main vocalists. We played some of his songs and we covered The Band, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Billy Preston, you name it. We rocked it.
The block housed several small buildings that were connected to each other and plenty of other folks had had the idea to head up to their roof for relief from the sweltering heat. It didn’t take long for the party to grow. People popped over from other roofs to join the jam. More guitars arrived. Our little band was growing.
We had our own private club up there, the price of admission was a good attitude, an appreciation of music and a bottle of booze. What started as a “disaster” turned into an amazing night filled with friends (new and old), music and a sense of camaraderie that only comes from sharing a unique experience.
We expected the lights to come back on at any moment (although I think we would have been disappointed if they had). We passed the evening with that expectation right below the surface of our revelry. We rocked that roof party until about 3am, our collective subconscious all the while knowing that any minute now this will end.
Yves and I decided we should make our way back to the upper west side.
Fueled by alcohol and my positive experience on the trip south we walked out prepared to make the trek back north on foot. Once we left the shelter of Kevin’s roof though, that idea seemed daunting and scary. The streets were desolate. Things that seemed so cool earlier like the lack of traffic signals and street lights, were incredibly eerie in the morning’s wee hours. The moon had been full two days prior and so the celestial orb was still casting plenty of it’s reflected light onto the earth below. It lit our way, but also served to exacerbate the eeriness of the empty city streets that were now illuminated by only the occasional set of headlights and the moon’s spectral glow. I was, all at once, exhilarated and terrified.
A cab approached and we flagged him down. The cabbie wanted eighty dollars for a ride that usually cost twenty. I told him to forget it. I wasn’t that scared! I told myself that I’d walked here and I could suck it up and walk back. We headed north on foot for about 5 or 6 more blocks but I was really spooked, so Yves flagged down another taxi. This guy was more reasonable, fifty dollars. We agreed that was fair and got in.
The city was like a ghost town as our yellow chariot cautiously navigated the route to our building uptown. The few cars we passed on the trip had drivers who agreed on their own give and take method of crossing intersections. They had no choice but to be communicative in whatever way possible.
I had never seen the sidewalks so empty. It was like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller.
We arrived at our building shortly before 4am and walked up the seven flights to our apartment on the top floor. Someone had lovingly maintained a row of supermarket santeria candles that lit the path to the upper floors all night. The sun would be up soon enough though, rendering their efforts irrelevant.
We stepped into the apartment and found it only slightly cooler than when I had left it at 4:30pm the previous afternoon. I was exhausted and still sporting a pretty decent buzz, but I went around the apartment and lit every candle in my massive collection anyway. I didn’t want the experience to end. I was prepared to stay up until at least sunrise talking over the evening’s adventure, but after about ten minutes on the couch with Yves I was fast asleep. He blew out all of the candles and put me to bed.