You can read “Blackout: Part 1” by clicking here…
Once back inside my building I exchanged a few sentences with my Albanian doorman Marjan, whose brother was the super. These guys knew all the gossip. They were the word on the street. Marjan (who the building’s older residents called “Mike” for some reason) gave me the info he had on the blackout. The whole northeast is out, he said. He went on to tell me that there had been a problem at a power station in Ohio that caused the whole thing and that the authorities didn’t think it was done on purpose or by terrorists.
I thanked Marjan for clueing me in and ascended the seven flights of stairs to my apartment on the top floor and tried to call Yves. He was downtown working on a record he was producing for his friend and bandmate, Kevin. Kevin lived above the White Horse Tavern on Hudson and 11th Street and had a pretty sweet recording set up in his apartment. As far as I knew they were working on vocals and percussion overdubs that day.
My cell phone was useless. No call would connect. Our home phone was a digital cordless handset that relied on power from it’s base to function. There was no dial tone. I went to the hall closet and dug out my old corded, analog, plug-it-right-into-the-wall phone and gave it a shot. Yes! Dial tone! Too bad no one else had an old phone like that anymore. I’d only kept mine because of its late 80s kitschiness. The casing was made entirely of clear plastic, so you could see all of the gears and inner workings of the phone which had been assembled with vibrantly colored parts. It even lit up when it rang! Without a similar piece of antiquated technology on the other end of the line though, there was no connection to be made. The phone just rang and rang.
I stood around for a couple of minutes reviewing my options. It was unbelievably hot inside the apartment, so I certainly didn’t want to stay there. I thought about going back downstairs to hang out with my neighbors and Marjan, but they would just be standing around listening to talk radio and lamenting the loss of their refrigerated goods. Boring. I decided to opt for adventure and head down to the village to meet up with Yves. I grabbed a bottle of water, and packed my messenger bag with my useless cell phone, my wallet, a notebook and a pen. (In case I got any lyric ideas on my journey). I grabbed my pack of Camel lights and my trusty Zippo, threw on some $5 GAP flip flops and took to the streets.
It was a mere four and a half miles from 711 West End Ave to the White Horse Tavern, that was nothing. I’d be there in less than two hours. I was used to taking long city sojourns. Towards the end of my tenure at the studio I used to walk home from Times Square to the upper west side. It was great exercise and not only allowed me to listen to more music, but also to bank enough Weight Watchers points to drink wine when I got home. A win win, for sure.
I headed south on West End, I figured I would take it as far as I could and then cut over to Hudson St. at 14th. I opted to leave my earbuds out so I could hear what people were saying on the street. I wanted to gather as much information as I could about the blackout and people’s reactions and solutions. There might be information I needed for my journey too.
People were gathered in front of their buildings on West End all the way down to the 60s. Kids were playing on the sidewalks. Adults were trying to remain calm, but were definitely on guard. There was a palpable tension. We were living in the post 9/11 New York City, so that was always under the surface.
On my journey I learned that the technical failure at the energy company in Ohio was due to a faulty alarm system. An alarm failed to tell the workers to transfer power from an overloaded system and, zap! The whole Northeast was fried. I remember thinking that it was kind of weak that something so simple could throw so many people into darkness.
More and more people were heading south with me as I crossed out of my Upper West Side neighborhood and into the West 50s.
I met a woman who was walking because she lived downtown and was unwilling to fork over the outrageous fees she had been quoted by several midtown taxi drivers. We talked for a few blocks before she turned to head east.
I walked for about 10 blocks with a man who appeared to be in his late 40s or early 50s and worked in midtown but lived in New Jersey. His commute was usually an easy one, he told me, but today he wasn’t quite sure how he was going to get across the river. He had heard there was a shuttle set up at the Lincoln Tunnel to get folks back to Jersey, so he was headed that way. He told me he had a friend on the east side that he could stay with in a pinch, but would prefer to get home to his wife. We talked about our jobs and our families until we parted ways right before I passed the Javits Center. He told me to “take care” and I wished him luck getting home.
On my way east and in the last few blocks before 11th St. I walked by bars selling discounted beer and restaurants that had already come up with special deals to minimize their losses in the face of the massive cooler outage. By tomorrow they would be out thousands in spoiled food if they didn’t find a way to mitigate the situation. People were out in droves so there were plenty of takers on these deals. It was after work hours by that time anyway, although I’m not sure anyone would have stayed at their desk if given the option. It was like the greatest happy hour deal in the history of happy hours.
Everyone I encountered downtown was calm and orderly, even somewhat celebratory. There was an air of conviviality on the street, like we all sort of knew we were a part of history in this moment and we would deal with the melted ice cream tomorrow. We New Yorkers, as a group, had gotten good at dealing with disaster and it was a relief to know this one was simply electrical. There was still no foul play suspected.