Never in my life did I think that I’d have to feel my way home. Guided only by the familiarity of my neighborhood, I walked in almost complete darkness, risking the probability of stepping in dog excrement. I gained total respect for the blind when I crept along the halls of my apartment building feeling for the entrance to my home and guessing which key to put in the lock.
I have this theory that electricity was restored to the more affluent areas of New York City before the poorer residential areas. My neighborhood was without electricity for 25 hours so I had a lot of time to formulate that idea.
I was watching Arthur on PBS that fateful Thursday when the TV screen, lights, and fans died in my apartment that afternoon. Immediately, my godfather yelled at me from his room blaming me for the power outage. We soon found out from a car outside blasting the AM radio station that the blackout had affected all of New York City and reached points as far west as Detroit, MI. and as far north as Canada.
I was sent outside to buy candles and batteries in whatever store was open at the time. After a long, dark wait to pay for my four huge candles and bunch of batteries at the 99 cents store, I went back home to grab a camera and see what I could find out from talking to people. I spoke to people who had walked at least 10 miles by the time they reached me at my nosy spot on Queens Boulevard. I saw the long lines to use payphones because cellular service was down. I heard of women’s shoes being thrown over bridges because the heels were intolerable. Bottled water was passed around without charge. I saw people scrambling to get inside sardine-packed cars that were offering rides to those who couldn’t take another step.
I was able to think in the absence of the hum of the air conditioners and the pigeons’ grumbling outside my window. I realized that for the first time in my life I felt small compared to how big the world really is.
You never really think about how dependent we are on electricity. If we didn’t have the cars, subways, and planes to get us around, our transportation today would probably still be by horse and boat. We wouldn’t have the cell phones that we so desperately need to be “in touch” with everyone. We wouldn’t have the convenience of the Internet to communicate as instantly.
But what if you weren’t so “high-tech”? How do you get rid of the instinct to turn on the light when you enter the bathroom? What if you didn’t have cash on you when everything was shut down? What would you do if the elevator was out and you live on the 15th floor? What if you are dependent on a machine that keeps you alive?
People think I’m crazy when I say I actually enjoyed living through the blackout in New York City. But think about it – how often does that happen to your neighborhood? It made me think of profound things that I wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t lived through it. I knew I was living history and I have the pictures to prove it.