I wrote this piece shortly after the blackout on August 14, 2003. Since I didn’t have a blog then I never posted it anywhere. As a matter of fact I totally forgot it existed until today. All the talk of the 15th anniversary of the blackout jogged my memory.

So here is my story of the blackout.

I was working at Marvel Comics on 40th Street in Manhattan. The lights went out at 4:11 PM. We all trudged down the stairs blissfully unaware that anything “historic” is going on. As we were milling around on the sidewalk I first I heard that the whole block was out of power. Then I heard some one say that it goes all the way up to 57th Street. Okay, I thought, I may as well go home. So I made the decision to head off to the Port Authority bus station as soon as possible. Along the way I kept hearing things. From people on the street and from the little hand held radio I had with me. This was blacked out, that was blacked out until I finally heard that the whole eastern seaboard was blacked out.

Now, whenever you here the phrase “eastern seaboard” you should know you are in trouble because the only time it is ever used is in some kind of disaster. East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, Texas Coast, North Atlantic Coast, and Pacific Coast, these I hear all the time. I can point them out on a map. I don’t even know where the eastern seaboard begins and ends. They kept saying, on the radio, that “the whole eastern seaboard all the way to Detroit is blacked out.” Detroit? That’s six hundred miles from the sea. I’ve never even heard the Northern, Southern or Western seaboards even mentioned. So do they exist?

In Bryant Park with the Marvel Crew.

Meanwhile, I get to the bus station by 4:30 and find it closed. The sidewalk is packed with people but the station is closed. I turn around and head back to Marvel. I pick up Dan Carr and Jerry Kalinowski outside of Bryant Park and tell them that the Port Authority Bus Station is closed. Not what they wanted to hear. But a bunch of people from the office were headed over to the bar in the park to kill time and sort things out. What got sorted out was that this was a big blackout and getting home was going to be difficult. The Jersey people started for the ferries and the Long Islanders started heading for Queens. I live in Rockland County (NY), the red headed step child of NY/NJ transportation on a good day so I knew neither of those options would help me. I stayed in the park by myself and started looking around for people I might know. After a couple of laps I heard a voice calling to me and it was Matt Maley. He had come to the park to look for me, yeah we were just a couple of country boys heading for the trees.

So, stranded together, (Matt had to go all the way up to New Paltz) we came up with a plan to wait and give things a little time to clarify. We did a couple more laps around the park to see if anyone else we knew was there but found no one. Then we sat and listened to my radio for news (not much except for my favorite quote from the Niagara Mohawk power station guy who said, “We have no idea what this is”) and did some sketches. People were generally having a good time in the park and it hardly seemed like a blackout. We decided that 6:30 was a good time to check out the Port Authority bus terminal.

As Matt and I arrived at the terminal things did not look good. There were more people than before and the sidewalks were full. We walked around just trying to get some information if and when buses would be running. There was no real information. They were trying to run some buses from 41st between the stations but they weren’t being loaded and where they were going was a mystery. Still, we moved to 41st Street because that’s what we were told but let me tell you there was desperation and a little panic in the air at 41st. I didn’t want to get home that badly (plus my odds were long that any of those buses were going near my stop) so Matt and I retreated to 40th. As we were retreating there was almost a bad incident as, I think, a bus was moving forward with people in front of it trapping them against the back of another bus. The bus was stopped in time and panic and injuries averted. Well, I think averted because we were leaving as this was happening but there was only shouts of “Whoa, whoa, stop” and not screams.

At 40th street we had a decision to make. It was about 7 PM and we either were going to wait for a bus or walk to John and Sue’s in Brooklyn. I estimated that, best case, we would not get a bus until ten PM. And like I said that was optimistic. So we made the decision to walk to Brooklyn.

Only a block into our walk I hear a strange voice say, “Spare change Mister. Spare change for a hotel room.” I had my New York blinders on and was paying no attention to the beggar but it struck me as odd that some one would beg for hotel room money. I looked up and there was Pat Giles, and no, he wasn’t really begging for hotel room money. Pat had come from Penn Station and happened to wind up in our path. He told us that he was thinking about getting a room for the night but didn’t think his prospects were good. We told him our plans and he said, “Hey, I got a sister in Brooklyn so I’ll walk with you.”

So the three of us were off. Not a bad walk. Two hours and twenty minutes (for Matt and I) of pleasant conversation and attempts to reach loved ones by cell phone (about half were successful). As we reached the Brooklyn side of the the bridge, Borough President, Marty Markowitz was there with a bullhorn welcoming us to Brooklyn where the real New York begins. We parted ways with Pat at Atlantic and Court as he headed to his sister’s.

On the Brooklyn Bridge with Matt and Pat.

Matt and I reached John and Sue’s only to find they hadn’t arrived home yet. No biggie, because during one of our cell phone calls we found out that Keith Karchner was over at Steve Hughes and Megan Walsh’s apartment just a few blocks away. We got on the phone to Steve and told him we were on the way over. We passed the evening sitting on the roof discussing where the hell the Eastern Seaboard was. At about 11:30 PM we called Sue and Matt and I went over to her place to spend the night. John rolled home at about midnight after the days aborted attempt to take Metro North up to Beacon.

The following morning I heard two women out on the street talking, one of them said that there was no subway service. Not a good beginning to the day. Then the power come back on in the apartment at 8 AM so there was hope. We took stock of our options: Port Authority Bus Terminal- closed, Subways- not running, Grand Central- not closed but not running trains, PATH trains- running on a Saturday schedule and some NJ Transit trains were running. We checked with a car service and there was a half hour wait for a car to Manhattan. We thought about heading for Port Authority in hopes that the busses would soon start running but then we heard that the bus station didn’t have all its power back. It also was not likely to start running busses soon. So we decided on New Jersey. Two of the NJ Transit lines ran up into Rockland, one to within a couple of miles of where my car was parked. It was the Pascack Valley line for us.

Keith came over and we were ready to go. He said that cabs were easy to catch this morning so we skipped the car service and caught one. Sue had already advised us to take the Brooklyn Battery tunnel and not the Bridge because she heard the tunnel was clear. The cab driver asked us which we wanted (the tunnel is $4 and the bridge free so I guess the tunnel is the less popular choice) and he was visibly relieved when we said the tunnel so the bridge must have been a mess. We made it to the Christopher Street PATH station in record time. There was no traffic. If we had a car we could have been home in no time. Just before we left the cab I heard, on the radio, an announcement of which NJT lines were open. They didn’t mention the Pascack Valley line. Bad news but we soldiered on. After a brief, comical interlude with the three of us trying to find exact change ($1.50) for the PATH train we were on our way to Hoboken.

At the Hoboken Terminal we found ourselves trying to get tickets for a train that wasn’t running. The Pascack Valley line wasn’t running nor was the Bergen line. There were no trains north. But, I was told, they were running busses whenever they could up to Suffern (a Rockland County town on the Bergen line). If we just sat in the waiting area they would make an announcement when a bus was ready, maybe one would be ready in an hour. Not wanting to sit down and just wait we looked around for people with more information. No one had more information so we went back to the waiting area and had a seat. I called my sister, Jennifer, to pick us up in Suffern once we got there. We just had to get there. After 45 minutes of sitting and listening to barely audible messages over the PA system a man came by to take us (and a hundred others) to where a bus was supposed to pick us up. Fifteen more minutes later we were among the lucky ones who there was room for on the bus.

Keith and I in the New Jersey train station.

The bus ride was, thankfully, uneventful except for the fact that the driver was having a little problem with the route. This, of course, was due to the fact that we weren’t on a bus route and we were stopping at train stations so it was to be expected. One last little SNAFU was that we were let off on the road outside of the Suffern train station but there was no way into the station from where we were. Jenn came and got us, though. And then it was on to Nanuet to pick up my car. We were at my house be 3 PM where Shari Lynn picked up the boys to bring them home to New Paltz.