16, No. 17
28 - Sept. 10, 2003
A Day Without Power Shines Light on Things that Matter
by JO ANN JENKINS-WILEY
The Aug. 14 blackout may have cut power to all the things that allow us to go about our
normal business, but in a way it helped illuminate some of life's joys as New Yorkers
demonstrated to themselves that they could cope just fine with some very difficult
It was not clear what caused the sudden outage but it had many thinking it was some sort of
terrorist attack. People scrambled to find battery-operated or car radios to listen for news
reports or instructions. "They got us now," said a pedestrian running to his car.
Fortunately, U.S. officials were quick to rule out terrorism.
It was just a major power outage that set Bronx residents who worked in Manhattan on foot
for home. It would be close to 32 hours before New Yorkers would be able to travel by
subway and trains.
"I had to walk from 59th Street to get home," said one of my neighbors. Another Bronx
acquaintance told me he had walked all the way from 9th Street to get home.
Non-working gas pumps had drivers stranded in many instances. "Looks like I am your
guest for the night," said my brother, a Long Island resident who admitted putting off
buying gas until after work. "From now on, I will never wait to buy gas if I know I need
it," he vowed.
"Because of the traffic lights and gas being out, congestion was awful," said Manny my
landlord. "Can you imagine? It took me seven hours to get here from 21st Street on the
Police patrolled the Norwood area on foot, instructing all businesses to close to preempt any
foul play. Most stores and restaurants cooperated with authorities, but a few saw the
blackout as an opportunity to increase prices on items in demand such as batteries ($4 each)
soda ($3 a bottle), bread and water.
There was a calm, peaceful quality to almost everything here in the Bronx. Without
electricity, the noise of air conditioners, televisions, video games and other modern
conveniences disappeared. Even the urgent songs of cell phones eventually faded
Yet people actually remained in pretty good spirits. They didn't seem to mind not being able
to use their costly toys. While Con Ed worked to restore power, people were restoring the
art of conversation. People arranged chairs for passersby to stop, sit and chat a
Dinners prepared on grills added to the community atmosphere and replaced the usual
outdoor hustle and bustle with laughter and fun. Ice cream was a cool elixir for the
evening's summer heat as Mr. Softee swirled cones of chocolate and vanilla for many
As the day wound down and darkness grew, the flashlights and headlights were all that were
left to create silhouettes of the trees against the night sky.
Power returned intermittently the next day to the area between 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.,
allowing residents to resume the use of their toys and modern way of life.
Jo Ann Jenkins-Wiley is the Norwood News' bookkeeper. She lives on Reservoir Oval in
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