Ten Years Later: Remembering the Blackout of 2003

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  • c/o wnyc.org

We inched our way through the streets of Chinatown, listening to the radio and learning that the blackout was regional, but that terrorism was not suspected. This was important to hear, especially back then, but probably also now. People were advised to stay indoors and be careful with candles and were reminded of the riots and looting and fires that happened during the blackout of 1977. But this was not that. Driving through downtown Manhattan and over the bridge and into Brooklyn, there was no sign of anything except camaraderie and good humor. The people in the streets were laughing and talking and I felt bad about being in a car. I was also losing my fuzzy, drunk happy state and just wanted to see my son. I asked the women (who were going to Bay Ridge) to drop us off in Park Slope, even though we were going to Windsor Terrace (“It’s very nice there,” one of the women had said, “so good for families.” “Well,” I said. “I guess so.”) I wanted to walk. But the women—and my friend—wouldn’t hear of it, and they dropped us off in front of the daycare and that was the last I saw of them. My son, and the other kids, didn’t know a thing was wrong, but then one-year-olds don’t know everything, and we went home and climbed up the 6 flights of stairs and had a cookout with our neighbors on the roof and, I don’t know, met new people but made no friends and I drank some good wine and then we went back to our apartment where I made sure there were no candles burning and I let him sleep with me in my bed that night, wishing that my phone worked so that I could talk to my husband.

The streets were quiet that night. There weren’t any more sirens than usual. And then in the morning, everything was working again. I was woken up by the phone ringing and didn’t even think there was anything odd about that, and picked it up and heard my husband’s voice and he told me he was coming home later and was annoyed that he missed all the fun.

“Yeah, it sure was fun. I would have hated to have missed it.” I don’t remember why I was spiteful, other than that I was maybe lonely. But that is always reason enough.

There were t-shirts made. “I survived the blackout of 2003!” But then, so did everybody. I was talking about the blackout last week and someone who wasn’t here for it (and what’s strange to me now is how many people I know who didn’t live here ten years ago) said, “Oh! Wasn’t it really dangerous? Weren’t there lots of riots?”

No. It was not really dangerous, and there were not lots of riots. It was a quiet night of talking to people you were never going to talk to again and getting into cars with strangers and drinking too much because there was nothing else to do and feeling unconnected and connected to everything all at once, and the big deal of it was that it wasn’t a big deal at all. So it was pretty much like every other night, and it was pretty much what you made of it. The big deal about surviving the blackout was that everyone survived the blackout. Long considered a tough city that chews you up and spits you out, New York proved in one night that even if it chewed you up, it had no teeth anymore. You’d be just fine.

Here is the one thing, though, that I learned from the blackout. Never go day-drinking in Manhattan. Little old ladies in Lincoln Continentals aren’t going to save your ass every time something bad happens.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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