The power went off in our midtown building. I think our team was working on a pitch or something. Since none of the computers could work and the AC and elevators had shut down, we were released to “work from home” and to “think about the pitch”. Yeah, right. Hall pass! One of our bosses generously tapped a copywriter from our team, much to his dismay, to continue working in nearby Bryant Park. I remember seeing his sad face as we waved goodbye and headed to the emergency exits. Sorry bro. We descended twelve floors down a pitch black stairwell to emerge on Madison Avenue in the sweltering August heat to a thoroughly confused New York City.
It was a Thursday which was perfect because that was pick up soccer day. I footed it thirty two blocks uptown for my weekly game with the whole crew at Riverside Park. People showed up slowly. Each with their own story of having to descend twenty something floors down an emergency stairwell but the game went on as usual. One of the beauties of the beautiful game is you just need a ball. I remember it was a particularly fun game. We played well into the darkness until it was absolutely impossible to see, because what else were we supposed to do? Time seemed totally irrelevant for once in NYC.
After we could play no more, we all sat in darkness on the patch of grass adjacent to the Hudson and talked of our theories of what was actually happening. It was post 9/11 and pre iPhone, so we tried our best to piece together little bits info we got via texts from people who could still watch TV. There was a breeze off the river and in the distance, we could see a glow of lights somewhere deep in New Jersey. We tried to convince ourselves that the power would return any minute and we’d all get subway rides and cushy elevators back to our air conditioned apartments. Well, that never happened. Instead we all succumbed to the reality that we would either have to slog it home or be eaten alive by the mosquitos. We all parted ways from our little breezy spot and started on our walks home. I lived in Astoria, Queens.
I exited the park and started my surreal stroll across the pitch black city. The streets were teeming with people carrying flashlights but otherwise total darkness. I remember one building with an emergency generator, but the only other illumination was candlelight from the packed restaurants and bars. Each place I passed was filled with sweaty people escaping their airless apartments and drinking to make sleep possible. It wasn’t a bad trade off. Everyone was having a great time. The chaos and danger that one might expect when NYC goes pitch black in the punishing heat of August was no where to be seen. As I zigzagged the blocks from the Hudson to the East River, I remember feeling really great about this town. What could have been a terrifying night of chaos was actually an amazing night of urban civility. We had not long before seen some unthinkable shit. I think we all learned in the days after 9/11 that niceness goes a long way when things is go bonkers.
I found the entrance of the 59th street bridge and joined the silent human mass of thousands walking across the East River into Queens. We just followed each other without saying a word. Sometimes I’d look back at the surreal sight of a completely black Manhattan and the only sounds of the city were human. Things got a little rowdier as we approached Long Island City. I thought for a moment that this is where the night might take a turn. The 59th bridge dumps off right at the notorious Queensbridge projects. But not tonight. I stepped off the bridge right on to a bus that offered the only taste of AC that I was to feel that night. The bus drove up me 21st and that was the moment I learned that there was a bus stop directly in front of my house on Ditmars Blvd. Serendiptity.
I walked through my front door to find our resident couch surfer Kwame on the verge of psychosis caused by heat, boredom and strumming the the same three guitar chords for hours in our dark suffocating living room. My inner boy scout kicked in and I remembered the leftover box of italian ices in the freezer. I dumped what was left of the half melted lemon ices into a pitcher, poured the remainder of a plastic Costco-sized bottle of off-brand vodka on top and mashed it together with a big spoon.
We took the pitcher out on our back porch where we found all of our neighbors from the block on their porches with candles, booze and whatever was salvageable from their fridges. It was good to be home. It was good to be in Astoria. We sat out there well into the wee hours and drank until we thought we could sleep.
Eventually I made it upstairs and sprawled out on top my linens. Even though I was drunk and exhausted, it was still a struggle to fall asleep in the heat. I finally managed to doze off. A few hours later, I was awoken by the clicks and buzzing sounds of a house coming alive with electricity. Suddenly I felt a poof of cool air come up my boxers as the fan at the foot of my bed kicked in. Relief. I smiled. I count that moment as one of the best perks of living way out in the boroughs. The next two days continued with brutal heat and buses brought refugees to our pad from other parts of the city less fortunate in getting their power back. But I’ll never forget that night. That little puff of air up my boxers was magic. It was New York City magic.