Friday, August 14, 2009

[Lifestyles] Blackout

Think back for a second and try to remember where you were 6 years ago today. Most likely if you lived in the north east section of the United States or in some parts of Canada you would’ve been in darkness. A total and complete Blackout.

Picture it!

New York City.

The Date is August 14.
The year is 2003.

It was one of the hottest and humid days of the summer when all of a sudden, just after 4 in the afternoon the day long power outage began. Lucky for me, I just got home from work and began to work on my novel. My mother was out grocery shopping and my grandmother was in the living room with her friend, talking as they watched Judge Judy. Out of no where, everything thing around just shut down. My first thought was: “Oh crap, did I pay the bill”. It took me a second to locate the receipt in a draw and exhale a sigh of relief.

So I was really puzzled on what was going on, now. I ventured out to the living room where my grandmother asked me what I did to turn the TV off. Just like my room, the whole apartment was without power. I told both of the ladies that I was going to find the Super, in which my grandmother told me NOT to because she didn’t want any trouble. For some reason she thought we would get in trouble and get kicked out of RENT CONTROLLED apartment if we complained or asked for help. I really didn’t want to spend the time to explain so I just left. In the hallway a young girl was braiding some boys’ hair and inquired if the power went out in their apartment. She told me yes nonchalantly, as if it something like this happen everyday. Through the stairway window, I could see the 3 train was stuck on the elevated tracks behind my building. The traffic lights and store around were completely dark inside. Cars were cautiously moving to and fro. People were stumbling around in the state of confusion. I walked one floor down where a crowd of people had collected talking about the outage. Many thought this was another ploy by the new landlord, but after informing them that everything was dark outside as well, many started to take out radios from their apartments. After a few minutes of hearing what we all knew, everyone pulled out there cell phones and started making calls since they all said that there home phones (all cordless) were no longer working.

By this time, my mother was making her way up the stair drenched with sweat and carrying the empty shopping cart and I informed her of the situation and after some choice words, she joined the conversation, briefly. We went back into the apartment where I went into my room and pulled out a box buried in my closet. It contained an old corded phone that worked just perfectly. Funny, how everyone in this digital age forget the benefits of a corded phone.

After making a few phone calls, my mother and I rambled around the house to see what supplies we had. It’s funny when you realize how unprepared you are for an emergency when it actually happens. Our family had two little battery operated portable televisions, a container of matches, about 6 flashlights and there were no batteries or candles in the entire house. I couldn’t believe it at all. This presented a minor dilemma. We would have to go out and get as much as we could before people lost there damn minds and did something stupid. It was too late for that. When we went outside cops cars raced pasted our building like a bolt of lightening.

Great. I wasn’t even a thought during the 1977 blackout, but I was going to witness it reincarnate itself in 2003.

Most of the stores on Rutland Road, which is the little shopping strip in my neighborhood, were closing or would not allow anyone in expect for one store right next to the Sutter Ave./Rutland Road 3 train station. It was a small little discount store that people were starting to gather around. Thankfully we managed to get inside within a few minutes. The store was total dark besides that light coming from the outside. One of the employees stood in middle of an aisle, blocking so no one could further back into the store. We scooped up as many batteries as we could, but the small space was no match to the massive amount of people trying to get in.

A guy started, about 18 – 20, started to push pass the employee. The employee pushed back and all of a sudden the store erupted in chaos. It was a blur really, much of it went by so quickly that I moved on instinct. The guy and his friends started a fight that spilled outside of the store. In retaliation that started to throw whatever was in front of the store at anything that moved. A woman and her child were in the middle. I pushed my mother to the side and grabbed the baby carriage to move it out of the way. The child’s mother was screaming hysterically and asking why. When the coast was clear we ran out of the store, breathing a sigh of relief. As we walked the child’s mother kept screaming, yelling and saying: “Why are you people like this!” I placed my hand on her shoulder and told her sternly that she needed to take her and her child home as fast as she could. I don’t know is she realized that even through I could tell she was a fair skinned Spanish woman, she looked Caucasian in a neighborhood that mostly African-American or Caribbean.

For the rest of the afternoon, the family sat around the televisions hearing the updates as they came, watching the interviews with people as they walked around in the blazing sun and saw the Mayor lie about how everything was okay. After the sun went down, my neighborhood fell into total darkness. There was this eerie silence through out the streets only disturbed by the occasional car or pedestrian. By candle light I wrote in my journal, documenting the events of the day and thinking for cool things to combat the humidity.

On the morning of the 15th, the streets were once again deserted, but as time went on, some stores would open while others were completely shut down. Grocery stores that had there own generator limited the amount of people enter while others only sold perishables like milk and meat. Once the power was restored later that afternoon, people wanted to examine the causes. Was it Con Ed? Terrorism? Sponge Bob Square Pants? But like all things in this world everything started to go on as if nothing had happen. The aftermath of Blackout 2003 was seen in neighborhoods like Flatbush for months afterwards. Several stores were broken into, looted, and in one case a sneaker store was burn down, but you didn’t hear about it on the news. The Mayor constantly talked about how nothing went wrong besides little pockets.

Yeah right…

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