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Blackout Anniversary

Just under the wire to say that a year ago today was the Great Blackout. Where were you?

I was at home (in Brookline, Massachusetts) on the computer when the phone rang. It was my younger brother, Josh, in New York Cty, calling to ask me if I knew what was going on. As I had left the TV news on in the living room, and the TiVo was recording its buffer, I was able to start describing the news to him and I learned of the blackout as I told him what was going on.

I served as the point person for my younger brother, my sister-in-law, and my mother for the next few hours. Josh had to sleep overnight in Manhattan. Rachel had to care for their new baby daughter, and I gave her information on New York City emergency lines and hospitals. And my Mom stayed home.


Some friends and I were vacationing on the Outer Banks of NC when the blackout hit. One of the luckiest things that's ever happened to me -- instead of sweltering and being inconvenienced in the city, I was in an air conditioned beach house steps away from the ocean. *g* My friend's roommate, who was back home, called her in NC to ask us what was going on -- because they couldn't get any news on the TV or radio, obviously, so they had no idea why the city seemed to be without power! Craziness. My biggest inconvenience was that I had to make sure to watch The Amazing Race that night since my VCR wouldn't be taping it back home. ;)
Newark Airport.

I was flying down to North Carolina to visit my sister-in-law and my infant niece (my brother was in the Middle East courtesy of the US Army at the time), and the best fare/time I'd managed to get was on CO (instead of my usual flight, the DL Connection non-stop BOS-RDU).

I was in the airport waiting for my second flight and the fire alarms started making a horrible racket. I couldn't see a fire, and couldn't figure out what was going on, until I realized that the lights were out in the food court restaurants. (Lots of glass, sunny day; it wasn't obvious that the power had cut out by noticing a change of light level.)

This after I'd already spent a few minutes looking out the windows of the terminal at the skyline of Manhattan, so my immediate thought was "what now?"

My pager and cell phone were still working, amazingly, and the pager's news updates were coming in talking of a huge blackout. I called my wife in Cambridge, who said that we still had power, and settled in to wait to see what would happen.

In the event, our flight to RDU did in fact eventually leave; I got there, got the rental car, and drove to Ft. Bragg. It had very little effect on me, as it turned out; certainly nothing like the effects it had on most people in the affected areas!
My pager and cell phone were still working, amazingly

Not so amazing! I'm sure you know this already, but: smaller cell sites have battery backup to feed the whole site, that generally lasts "up to" four hours (basically a whole wall of large plastic gel-filled boxes: think car batteriesx4, but a few dozen of them), and major sites have their own backup generators.

Up to the individual company as to what constitutes "major," of course. ;)
I was the only member of my family safe at home in Boston. Mom, Dad and sibs were in NYC at a wedding, which went on despite the outage.
Chloe called me from her apartment in Brooklyn scared that the power company had turned off her power 'cause she was late on a bill. I called her back, when one of my ex's from virginia called me haveing heard on the news there that boston was one of the cities affected. actually, the news in various parts of the country, if i recall, was saying for a number of hours that boston was affected, which is why i called various relatives in pennsilvania and the DC area re-assureing them i was fine. It took me a while, but i was able to call chloe back (it took a while for chloe's cell phone to recieve and open signal or something) and re-assure her that this wasn't her fault, and explained what i was seeing on the news, and THEN i had to calm her down, and tell her "no honey, i REALLY don't think the government is lying by saying it's not terrorists. I really think it was an accident."
I was at sea. No really - I was sailing in Labrador with my father and some friends. We'd been staying in uninhabited harbors most of the time, and had no method of being contacted, except for a gigantic military-style satellite phone that could only be used for life-threatening emergencies. A couple of days later, we got to Battle Harbor - a sizeable town for Labrador, with maybe a hundred residents in the summer. Several boys came down to the dock to see the sailboat, an oddity in that area.

They asked us where we were from. Boston, we tell them. Their faces light up, and in their nearly impenetrable accents, they start telling us that the entire East Coast was blacked out, that it was a total disaster, no one knew what was going on, etc. etc. Fearing the worst (family stranded? hospitals without power? nuclear meltdown? terrorism?) I hauled up a hill to the general store and begged my way onto the phone. After 20 minutes of trying to get a connection via Labrador's delightful telcommuncations system ("HELLO? HELLO?") I finally managed to get my mother on the phone, who told me that...

The power never went out in Boston, and everything was fine.
I was in a foul mood that day because the apartment that I was living in at that time was being worked on. The upstairs bathroom was being redone and the carpenter onsite had broken through the floor into the ceiling below and ruined some of my stuff that was in my Bathroom.
(Later, we found that they did it on purpose to try to gain access to the entire house. They robbed my landlord a few days later.)
While I was fuming at home, watching the workmen rip apart my wall to get to some pipes, I laid still on my couch trying to get cool. It was getting warm in my room. I was watching a TV show about makeovers, then I heard a big "kerchunk." It was strange because it sounded like it was both inside and outside of the house. I ran downstairs to look outside and I realized that the stoplights were out as well as people's lights across the street.
I called my husband at work and asked him to come home immediately. He told me that the lights were out there too. We thought that something fishy was going on but as I turned on my radio, I realized that it was more than New York City. My husband kept me posted as he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge home. (It was no problem we lived 10 minutes away from the bridge and he works in Lower Manhattan. The Bridge was very crowded and it was actually a great night for us. Peter took out my Telescope and we stood outside and looked for Mars and the Moon. We saw both.
Our Landlord made coffee and we went to the store together for supplies. We knew it was going to be a long night. I lit my many candles and stayed outside all night until we coueldn't stay awake any longer. There was a party going on. Everyone was outside having a good time. Too many people couldn't climb up to their apartments so they spent the night outside.
We got our lights back 2 days later.

Not an issue. It was like the one in 1980 and 1965.
I was at work that day, up near Columbia University. I walked home, (three miles, about an hour) down Broadway, admiring the street fair attitude of everyone. One college guy was getting a kick out of directing traffic. Ice cream and meat would spoil, so there were massive cookouts. A lot of merchants, knowing customers couldn't use credit cards, were selling on the honor system. When I got home, I called down to the village to see if my grandparents needed any help, but they insisted they were fine.

When the dark and heat got too oppressive that night, people in my building went door to door inviting everyone down to a sing-along of cheesy nineties songs. All in all, I was pretty proud to be a New Yorker. We know how to finesse a crisis.
I was working technical support at the time. It was rather nice to hear the phones get much quieter that afternoon after a crazy morning. [Actually, I think I was on a call when that person's power went out.]
I was about to enter the Holland Tunnel heading into Manhattan with Deborah.

December 2016

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