Vol. 16, No. 17  Aug. 28 - Sept. 10, 2003


A Day Without Power Shines Light on Things that Matter


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 circumstances. 

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 East Side."

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 away. 

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 spell.

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 buyers.

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 Norwood.

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