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Remembrances of the 2003 Blackout

I didn’t really realize I was supposed to remember, until I read about it being remembered in the paper yesterday morning. So here’s what I remember.

Late afternoon, Midtown Manhattan, the lights and my computer go out. I look out my office door, all the lights and all the computers are out. So is my phone. So are the lights out on the street and in the offices across the way. I call someone in NJ on my cell — not really noticing at the time just how remarkable it would seem to get a connection — to have her check the news. No word yet.

So we hang around for a little while, and I get educated on things like the importance of POTS lines and hand-cranked transistor radios. After we learn that this is, in fact, a Very Big Deal, I decide to head for home. Here’s the way it went:

Other than the part that actually goes over water, I walked this whole thing.

It was pretty well established that Penn Station, my usual Escape From New York, wasn’t an option. It’s mostly underground so there’s no lights, plus the trains are electric. I stroll past Port Authority Bus Terminal, but the tunnels are closed for lack of illumination too. So I trudge over to the ferry on the Hudson River.

Fast forward three hours in the blazing August sun. Thorough chaos, no announcements, dribs and drabs of people getting onto the only two boats available. Thousands of people trying to get one of the few cell connections, there’s no communication with the outside world. Finally around 7-8:00 I get on and go over to Weehawken. I have no idea where I am, other than being in New Jersey. But that’s ok, neither does anyone else. There are busses out front but nobody knows where they’re going. I overhear some women saying, “let’s just walk down to Hoboken, it’s not far.” So I give that a try.

It’s far.

At one point I found — a miracle! — an open supermarket. The line wrapped all the way around the inside of the store but it was worth it just to get a bottle of water! Round about 11:30 I finally trudge in to Hoboken, after walking down streets so dark I couldn’t see my feet underneath me. The trains — another miracle! — are running and I get on one. By 1 a.m. I’m finally home in bed.

I learned a couple things later on. If I’d just settled in and waited a few hours I’d actually have gotten home faster. But who knew? The last big blackout like this lasted days. Also, that the work I was rushing home to do had already been dealt with by the Washington office. (But did I get credit for setting up procedures so that they could actually manage it if I weren’t available? More like “hm, you’re more dispensable than we’d thought.” But I digress.)

And that’s what I remember of my odyssey. Fun times in the big city. Now I work six minutes from home and I’m feeling better about that all the time.

Tom

Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he’s also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

8 thoughts on “Remembrances of the 2003 Blackout”

  1. Yeah, ain’t working 6 minutes from home grand?

    I’ve got a good disaster story. It’s 1989. The big one hits. The Loma Prieta earthquake. I’m home with my kids. The two girls are in the kitchen with me. The boys are in the living room with a friend (an adult). The thing had a kick to it like no earthquake i’d ever been thru before. Some ahake sideways. Some go up and down. Some rolllllll. This one did all of those things. And when they roll, you can’t walk, and i didn’t know that until this time. Especially a 7.2 earthquake. I tried to run to the living room to get the boys but i couldn’t walk. So i take the girls and we jump under the kitchen table. I’m worried about the boys. The refrigerator starts to literally walk across the room. I kid you not. When it was over we were all ok. The friend took the boys under the front door for protection. That was one memory i will never lose. The aftermath with the Bay Bridge collapsing and peoples cars falling into the bay. Two kids trapped in their for what seemed like days and may have been. The city of San Francisco was devastated by the loss of their Embarcadero Freeway onramp. One section of the city’s homes destroyed.

    I know you’ve got a worse horror story Tom. But i’m not gonna ask you to recount that. But in a few weeks, it’ll be impossible to forget.

  2. Well mine was certainly larger in scale, but at least no one I cared for was at risk.

    I know it probably sounds heartless, but when I was in SF a few years ago I was at the Embarcadero, and I thought a freeway would not have enhanced it. We also stayed pretty close to the Marina District — right across the street I guess — and it looked great. But anything sitting on landfill like that neighborhood is is going to be in trouble in a quake.

  3. Yeah, the Embarcadero is all the better for losing that freeway truth be told. It’s just that is was there for a long time and people were used to it being there. But now i’m sure they’re kinda glad it’s gone. Altho, not for the reason it is. It looks so much cleaner now without it. The whole wharf area looks a lot better now.

  4. A lot of people thought the WTC was an eyesore and should have been torn down too, though nobody much admits to that anymore.

  5. I remember having the World Series on the TV back in 1989 when all of a sudden the signal cut out. Black.

    I was in Florence Italy on 9/11/01, some asshole Australian said “so it’s gonna cost allot for you yanks to rebuild those buildings”. I replied “to hell with the buildings I’m more worried about the people in them, and besides I always thought they were kinda an eyesore”. He shut up. I really think he thought all Americans were callous assholes. And that was before president bush had a chance to do his “magic” around the world.

  6. I got so worked up from the memory of that day that I forgot to mention that the 2003 blackout was just as intense here though on a smaller scale.
    It was a bar night so we lit candles. After awhile it was apparent that nobody was coming in so we went across the street and drank Pinot Grigio with our neighbors on their porch. It was actually kinda fun not being able to see our bar from across the street in the pitch black.
    In 1998 we had a local blackout and the bar was packed. We lit candles and Joe played his French accordion while I video taped. Years later a couple came in and asked us if we remembered that night. I played the video and they were blown away with the memory. It was their first night together and since got married and what not.

  7. I remember before I left the office listening to reports coming in on the radio, how it stretched across Canada all the way to Ohio. We were blown away by the scope of it.

    Didn’t it start because of a line problem somewhere near Cleveland? Anyway, it was kind of funny that with such a widespread occurrence by the time I got home to Maplewood the power had never gone off at all there. We had it much worse after that bad storm in June, when our power was out for something like 33 hours. After I got home in the ’03 blackout it was kind of like a mini-vacation waiting for power to come back at our office.

  8. Yeah it did start here in Ohio somewhere. Our power was out until about 6:00 a.m., only about 12 hours. The catch was that the power was out throughout the whole area for at least that long.

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