Ten years ago yesterday, Ohio's FirstEnergy northeast power grid went dark, shutting off lights as far north as Ontario. Over 50 million people were affected; here's what I remember.
When the lights first went dark I thought my apartment had shorted a fuse. The circuit breaker checked out, so I went in search of the super, who wasn't home, so I left the building hoping he'd be nearby. That's when I saw the Long Island Rail Road train sitting quietly on its tracks, no lights in sight.
My family was about to leave for a weekend trip to Maine, where a cabin in the woods was waiting for us, a weekend with few to no other people in sight. With an evening drive ahead and the highways a mess, we decided to postpone. But the car had a tank full of gas and there were still a few hours of sun left, so off we went for a drive.
At the neighborhood's busy intersections, homeless people had taken it upon themselves to direct traffic. Crowds had formed around a couple corner stores, with music playing off battery-powered radios. We stopped to check out the scene and soon got pulled into what turned out to be an impromptu block party. With freezers on the fritz, convenience stores were holding ice cream parties with fast-soupifying pints of Ben & Jerry's and Haagen Dazs. Power be damned, our neighbors were determined to have a good time. We left for Maine the next day, but not without having some ice cream first.
When I think about the New York that I love, I return to that night and the city's resilience in the face of crises we can only face together. August has been rough on Old New York, and the memory of moments like that (and their more recent recurrences) is what keeps my faith in this town alive.
The 2003 blackout wasn't all fun and games, of course; it crippled hospitals and trapped commuters underground—a costly, dangerous moment in city history that proved a formidable test of our emergency response systems. But that ice cream block party—itself a form of emergency response—has stuck with me, its memory becoming warmer and warmer by the year.
So that's my blackout story. How about yours? Did you have a candle light cook-out or an ice cream block party of your own? Tell us in the comments.