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Thirteen Years Ago Today - Great Northeast Blackout

Thirteen years ago today was the Great Blackout of 2003, which hit much of the northeast United States and parts of Canada.

Where were you?

I was at home (in Brookline, Massachusetts, which did not lose power) on the computer when the phone rang at 4:33 PM. It was my younger brother, Josh, in New York City, 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 Mom stayed home.

I recorded NBC Nightly News that evening and the Today show the next day, and a few months later I gave the VHS tape to Josh so he could see what he missed.

As I mentioned above, Massachusetts (and pretty much most of New England) didn't lose power. After one of the major blackouts a few decades before, the people in charge in New England had decided to set up a series of switches that could be opened should there be a power surge that might lead to a shutdown. Thanks to their foresight, I was able to help out my family as I described.


I was in NYC, in its epicenter. I say that because my neighborhood was the last to get power back. We went from Chelsea down to the Village because there were restaurants reopening down there, and finally Chelsea got power and as we saw the streetlights go back on up 9th Avenue, nothing had ever been so wonderful.

A friend who couldn't get home to the Bronx made her way to our apartment for the duration; having a houseguest made it easier for us to keep our chins up, somehow. We went to a fun and surreal dinner party on another floor where the guy who lived there had a dinner party already planned and he wanted to cook and use as much of what was in his refrigerator that night. Luckily we had gas stoves and our water wasn't pumped electrically. I'm not sure if that's true of our current building, but the friend who camped out with us now lives in Manhattan in a complex with a generator, so she's already on notice we may ask for the favor to be returned!

And of course we went through it all again with Sandy.
Thank god that the weather that day was not like the weather today.

That was during my stay-home dad period. I had taken the kids out to pick up the local newspaper, in which I'd been interviewed about my debut fiction publication. Just as I turned to the page, and pointed out that Daddy was famous, the lights went out. We went home to relax by candlelight and flashlight, and camp on the cooler first floor. My wife didn't make it back from Manhattan until very late that night. Quite the adventure.

I am very grateful that the people in charge thought ahead.

December 2016

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