The Great Blackout Of 2003

I looked away from the videoconference link to Los Angeles for an instant, fixing my gaze on the florescent lights overhead. They throbbed twice, dimming to brown, then faded to black.

The entire MTV News Online New York team assembled paused unsteadily, rose from its seats, and shuffled in place. I awaited the thermonuclear blast that would surely follow. The building’s facilities manager came on the p.a. and breathlessly gave us very little information, except that he was breathless, which was enough for me. We shuffled some more, then finally struck out for the stairwell, down fourteen flights and onto an increasingly crowded Times Square.

Reminded of September 11th, and the bomb scares and evacuations that followed closely thereafter, I wanted away from the building, and fast. I repaired to an island between Seventh Avenue and Broadway, stood in place, and waited for the Jumbotron, news tickers, and massive neon signs to flicker back on.

I stood there for nearly twenty minutes, singing U2’s ‘Until The End Of The World’ under my breath as tourists giggled, New Yorkers grimmaced, and cops did their best to manage the onslought of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I picked up scattered bits of news from passers by and car radios: all five boroughs, the entire northeast, as far as Cleveland, not terrorism, and so on. I began to calm. Maybe it wasn’t the end of the world, but it would make for an interesting night.

I found my brother milling about Sony Studios, snagged his extra keys, packed a quick bag, and hopped on my bike. We rode up to his Upper West Side apartment, and quickly repaired to the rooftop with two Red Stripes. Neighbors began emerging, one by one, like Alice from the rabbit hole, blinking into the now setting sun. ‘It’s going to a be a daaaark night,’ one woman said ominously from her window.

We whiled away the sunset, and well into the moonrise, sharing beers and laughs with the neighborhood. The Upper West was a field of flickering candles. Some launched fireworks from their terraces to a roar of approval. We clung to our transistor radio, marvelling at the scope of the outage, polishing off the remaining beers, acquiring more, and snacking on cheese and crackers. All things considered, it wasn’t so bad.

Somewhere after midnight, my brother disappeared to some other rooftop gathering somewhere, I stumbled down five flights, my bike on my shoulder, and pointed myself down a pitch black Columbus Avenue. I rode slowly to appreciate the city’s silent blackness. Shadows lumbered along the sidewalks: many were out walking, others were just sitting on curbs and stoops, watching, waiting. I detoured through a Times Square straight out of ‘Vanilla Sky.’ It was nearly empty, mostly silent, and completely dark.

Back home, I threw the windows open, and passed out on top of my sheets to the drone of CBS’ generators. I slept fitfully, and woke with a head heavy with hangover. The brain actually swells when pickled, I remembered painfully.

Power returned this afternoon around 3 p.m. Cell service resumed shortly thereafter. My land line dialtone came back about 8:45.

And so we survive, again, something meaningless, for now: A dark night of the soul. A bleary stillness which reminds us how vulnerable we are, how dependent we are, and how much we still need each other after all.

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