I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway

Acts of kindness and human nature collide in the Blackout

On August 14th, it seemed as though New York City had become a world where many of the usual rules didn’t apply�from walking in the middle of the street to offering a stranger a ride in your car. People tried selling flashlights for $50 apiece and water for $5.

But more than anything else, we probably used our feet to get us farther than we’d gone in a long, long time.

No need to rush
There are only 12 blocks between my office and my boyfriend Andy’s apartment building in Times Square, but it took me a half hour to navigate my way through the maze of hot cars, horns blaring, and hot bodies pushing up against each other.

When I entered his darkened lobby I almost collapsed.

But I needed him to sign me in to get beyond the lobby, and the phones weren’t working. Emergency workers wouldn’t let me go up. I thought I’d made the trip for nothing until a woman walked in and asked me if they were allowing residents up into the building. I said yes, but would she mind signing me in as her guest? Shortly after we began the journey (her to 10, me to 11).

Egg rolls and pizza
An hour later, Andy and I made the 23 block journey down to my apartment, where I knew the gas stove and water would be working. Along the way, we saw clusters of grumbling, unhappy commuters standing in front of Port Authority Bus Terminal . In the muggy afternoon heat tensions seemed to just simmer.

Then a few blocks down we walked by throngs of people quietly wilting on the block-long steps of the Post Office . Enterprising restaurant owners were selling the last of their egg rolls and pizza. People were spilling out of bars, buying the remainder of the beer on ice.

Salsa music played on my street until the wee hours of the morning. We grumbled but got the earplugs out of the nightstand.

Foraging in a dark land
On Friday morning, we still didn’t have power and had very little food left. One enterprising grocery store was allowing people to go in to shop with flashlights. We felt slightly mischievous as our flashlight joined the other beams of light shining on everything from the warm broccoli to the still-viable artisanal cheeses. The blackout might have been so much more manageable if other shop owners placed some trust in their customers like that.

Warm water, hot coffee
That same afternoon, I had no working phone but wanted to go visit my elderly friend Sally. I slowly ventured up the 10 flights to her apartment and found myself in a pool of sweat as I rang her doorbell.

When she opened the door she was wholly surprised to see me standing there with a bottle of water. Ushering me into her apartment, she said, “Well, if I’d known you were coming I’d have asked you to bring me a cup of coffee.” Putting down the water and wiping my face with a napkin, I thought, “Hot coffee at a time like this?”