| Lessons from the Darkness
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that
this is one of the
worlds largest cities, with all those attendant glories
and dangers, New
Yorkers tend to be fairly aware of their environment.
And, as a city always just slightly on edge, everyone around
me in the lobby
of 55 Broad Street, where I had just arrived to attend a meeting,
when the lights in the lobby flickered. Actually, it was more
like a wave,
up and down, in and out, for a few seconds before they went
But they did go dark and all of us in the lobby looked around
with the kind
of facial expression that means: what the hell? There was
a ruffle of
anxiety as everyone looked out onto the street to see if the
was related to some loud noise or some external event that
The same thought was in everyones mind: was this the
result of a terrorist
But then, the lights flickered back on and I got on the next
went up to the 29th Floor, where my meeting was to be held.
When I got off
the elevator, I stepped into a dark corridor with many of
the employees of
Stevens Travel Management staring out at me through the thick
they couldnt open because there was no power.
Innocently, I had stepped aboard the last regular elevator
to ascend that
day, powered by a sudden surge, I discovered later, of emergency
took it and then kept it on the thirtieth floor.
It appeared to all that simply that building had lost power
and so I entered
through a back door and went into my meeting where we commented
upon the odd
fact that the building, one of the most wired in downtown
New York, didnt
have better back up.
Then, a voice came out of the emergency communication system,
a small red
box with remarkable volume, informing us that the power failure
was not just
the building but also much of the downtown area.
We did our meeting; interrupted regularly by the voice in
the red box,
informing us that the power failure was statewide. Then region
it became international. Not just the United States but Eastern
I decided then it was time to leave and I walked down twenty-nine
The streets were filled with the milling crowds, looking around
People were frustrated as their cell phones wouldnt
work and there wasnt
any information flowing out.
It was anxious because everyone was afraid that this might
well be an act of
terrorism and there wasnt anybody at that moment saying
What it was, ladies and gentlemen, was what has become known
as the Blackout
of 2003, the worst power failure in the nations history.
Luckily, 55 Broad Street is not a far walk from the apartment
and I headed
there, every block or so trying Tripp on his cell from my
cell. When I
walked into the building, Jose, the afternoon Concierge, was
heading past me
to help an older woman. As he passed me, he gently touched
me on the arm
and said to me softly, Mr. Tripp is upstairs.
As I walked on toward the stairway, I felt myself choking
back tears. The
most important thing for me to know was known.
So, as we passed through the day of darkness, I learned the
first of my
lessons from the darkness.
Lesson number one:
The safety of those we love is at the top. Know that, and
you can manage a
Lesson number two:
Have a battery-powered radio handy. Television doesnt
electricity. When Tripp and I left the apartment we carried
battery-powered radio. We were very popular as a source of
news for people
on the Esplanade. Thats how we heard that the President
had declared this
NOT an act of terrorism.
Lesson number three:
Fill your bathtub with water. We were lucky, as our building
running water. Most other buildings in the city did. You need
flush a toilet.
Lesson number four:
Have an emergency supply of drinking water. By the time the
the shelves of bottled water in stores looked like a ravaging
carpenter ants had cleaned them out.
Lesson number five:
Candles. Have a supply of candles around. Its amazing
how comforting a
little light is when there is only darkness. Not to mention
you can use
them to read.
Lesson number six;
Remember to have flashlights [but have candles, too]. The
dont always last as long as the emergency. That was
one of the things we
discovered as we descended the stairs without our flashlights.
Lesson number seven:
There is nothing like a pair of comfortable shoes. A pair
from SoHo, stranded in mid-town, paid fifty bucks apiece for
flip flops off the feet of strangers to replace their expensive
ease the pain of the fifty block walk home.
Lesson number eight:
Have food, non-perishable, food. You get awfully hungry waiting
something as simple as electricity. Besides, you need something
you on the walks you will take foraging for the food you dont
Lesson number nine:
If you are about to leave to go someplace, if you have the
slightest urge to
go to the bathroom, do it. There were people stranded for
up to nineteen
hours in elevators. Something like a million people were on
trains in the greater New York area and those in subways had
Lesson number ten:
Have cash. ATMs dont work with out power. Nor
do credit card machines.
Cash is king. Keep some in an envelope in the same place you
food, the water, the flashlights, candles and every other
you can think of.
Lesson number eleven:
Have something to read. It got awfully boring under the emergency
Penn Station if you had nothing to read.
Lesson number twelve:
Have a cell phone that lets you carry a spare battery. The
before the power but its electricity that charges those
Lesson number thirteen:
When in doubt, throw it out. The city has been rife with food
from spoiled food.
There are many more, Im sure, but these are the lessons
that come to mind
while writing this.
Once we thought it wasnt terrorism, there was a sigh
of relief and everyone
sort of shrugged and went: power failure? Well, hardly a reason
hysterical [unless you were one of those trapped in elevators
or on the
Before the beer could get warm, restaurants and bars were
Tripp and I sat with our neighbors on the sidewalk, listening
to our radio,
sipping Amstel light while waiting to see how long the lights
In our case, it was a little over twenty-four hours. The
city was getting
just a little testy but the major crisis of Friday morning
coffee for the caffeine-addicted population.
I got mine from the little cart on Liberty Street; they brought
generator to power up and had a steady block long line of
patiently for their caffeine fix as well as an egg sandwich.
By mid-afternoon, a few people were beginning to whine on
NPRs call in
show. But after the whining started, one woman phoned in,
everyone listening that we had been without power for less
hours. How would we like to be in Baghdad where it was 122
degrees in the
shade and where they havent had power or water for months?