“I think we blew a fuse.”
My coworkers and I checked the fuse boxes, but that wasn’t it. The power station just across the East River in Manhattan was spewing nasty black smoke, groaning like it was going to explode.
“Fuck it – let’s get out of here.”
The streets in my Brooklyn neighborhood had a slight Armageddon feel – kind of exciting, kind of frightening – lots of battery-operated radios and mini-TVs already in effect, stores closing, people carrying bottles of water, canned goods, and six packs of beer. Everyone seemed to be trying unsuccessfully to call each other on cell phones.
On my way home, I realized I was going to have to climb nine flights of stairs with my bike. It wasn’t pleasant. But a couple of hours later, when I heard about tourists and commuters having to sleep on cardboard in Manhattan streets, I realized we had it easy.
When I finally got upstairs, I was exhausted, drenched in sweat, and swearing, however briefly, that I was going to quit smoking. My landlord, an artist who also lives on my floor, was running around delivering candles. My neighbor was waiting for me in the hall.
“We need to go to the store and get food and water. You might want to take a shower as soon as possible, too. The water tank is gonna run out.”
I took a shower and headed up to the roof to join my neighbors. There, 12 stories above the East River, just across from Manhattan, I had a beautiful view of New York off the grid.
We all had memories of being up on this roof, watching the towers fall just a few years ago – watching police lights across the water, masses of people walking along the riverside and across the bridges, transistor radios blaring, phasing in and out and delivering frantic news reports.
But as the sun began to set, painting dark buildings red, more stars than New York had seen in years came out to play. A cool summer breeze blew, neighbors and friends began to gather, and soon we had a party on our hands.
The propane grill fired up, the bottles of booze passed, a stand-up bass player and percussionists playing music and laughter as we tried to decide who’d go down to see if any beer was left anywhere in the neighborhood. Flashlights moving around on the streets below, reminding me of the many nighttime trips I’d made out at Burning Man.
I got my sleeping bag and brought it up to the roof and fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, there were sleeping neighbors and empty liquor bottles scattered everywhere.
We went back downstairs to our greenhouse-hot apartment. I used some water from a jug to wash the important parts (yet another Burning Man experience replayed). My next door neighbor stuck her head in to say hello before she headed off to the Hamptons, fortunate enough to have connected friends and a car to take her to one of the few places where power had been restored. We grumbled a bit, and settled in for a long day.
Soon after, a friend showed up and we decided to head to the park to hang out on a mayor-mandated Friday off. Lots of people sitting in the shade with picnic food, dogs and children. We hid our Tecates in paper bags, until our bladders finally demanded we leave.
On the way back to our apartment, a loud cheer rose up from everywhere and I turned around to see window fans spinning, stop lights working, and people everywhere dancing in the streets.
For a short time during a major inconvenience, we formed community again – delis, bars, and restaurants selling food and drinks on the cheap, people old and young opening fire hydrants, friends and neighbors dropping by without notice, people checking to make sure we were all accounted for and as comfortable as possible, and a time to reflect on things like being off the grid and what New York really looks like at night.
Have you ever been caught in the dark?