Welcome to the Blackout History Project
August 14, 2003 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to the Blackout History Project. With all the hub-bub today, josh m. marshall of talkingpointsmemo posted a link to an associates history of two other nyc blackouts. marshall says:
    The Blackout History Project...which covers the social history of these events, what happened, people's reminiscences in written and recorded formats, and so forth. The site also has a great deal of information about just how blackouts happen, what these 'grids' are that folks are talking about, and how various forms of electricity deregulation which have taking place over recent years have made an event like we've seen today much more likely.
take it easy nyers and anyone else blacked out.
posted by asparagus_berlin (21 comments total)
doh, if you are blacked out, you probably wouldn't be reading this. sorry, going to bed now.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 9:58 PM on August 14, 2003

Well, it's the thought that counts, isn't it?
posted by zztzed at 10:45 PM on August 14, 2003

I'm blacked out in Queens and reading this...

(the good side: back up generators at work)

(the bad side: I'm at work at 2:00AM because I can't get home.)
posted by KnitWit at 11:00 PM on August 14, 2003

Our power came on in northwest Queens sometime this morning, which is why I'm here with you now. (Hi guys!) Yesterday afternoon I was just previewing a comment to Dr. Weevil telling him where a quote he was wondering about was from (his comments aren't working -- Doc, if you're reading this, it's the Eumenides!) when the computer wheezed to a halt and the lights went out, except for the emergency lights in the hallways. After trying futilely to call my wife (our home phone is one of these newfangled models that needs to be plugged in) I joined the exodus (walking down to the lobby; fortunately our offices are on the third floor) and headed east through the crowds on 42nd St., then up Second Ave. to the Queensboro/59th St. Bridge, where cars and people competed peacefully for the roadway. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Fortunately, my wife had packed grapes in with my lunch, and they were the perfect pick-me-up during the long walk across the river and north through Queens; every half-mile or so I'd stop and munch a few. (I half expected to run into jonmc, who I saw on the subway the other day, or Vidiot, both of them fellow Astorians.) After almost two hours I reached the apartment (occasioning great relief on the home front) and put up my legs. Man, my dogs were barkin'. Dinner by candlelight, and we could see the stars out the window. Not bad.

And the subways won't be working for another six to nine hours, so I won't be going in to work today. I'm crushed, crushed I tell you.
posted by languagehat at 4:51 AM on August 15, 2003

Still blacked out here in midtown Manhattan. No juice, no WiFi but thanks to the laptop battery and the phone line (who knew dialup could be such a reliable approach :) ) I'm back on air :)

Generally, things seem very quiet and friendly.
posted by TNLNYC at 5:04 AM on August 15, 2003

Alive and well here, languagehat. I took the same route as you except I hoofed it all the way up from Hudson St. (down by the Holland Tunnel to Jersey and waaaay downtown). Scene on the bridge was somethin' else, huh?
posted by jonmc at 5:11 AM on August 15, 2003

Just came back up in Brooklyn. As a visitor/new resident in NYC, I gotta say I'm damn impressed by the good humor and kindness I saw exhibited from the moments the lights went down. The subway train had just pulled into downtown Brooklyn when it flickered to blackness. Upstairs on the street was a mild, milling madhouse, the bus ride back to Park Slope turned into a funny adventure and the hang up at the corner bar with new friends was laid back, relaxed and hilarious. Way to go people! For me this was another piece of evidence that in fact, humanity may not be doomed.
posted by Bones423 at 6:05 AM on August 15, 2003 [1 favorite]

My wife and I were hoofing it home last night across the Manhattan bridge at about 5:30 -- the main lower roadbed had been cleared of traffic and was a mass of pedestrians -- one could look across to the Brooklyn Bridge and see the same thing there. On the bridge they were still evacuating people from stopped Q trains -- and those folks looked pretty thoroughly melted. Coming off the bridge, you could see the Williamsburg Bank tower clock, stopped at 4:10.

Two sights I appreciated in Brooklyn -- one was a group of black motorbike riders at the intersection of Tillary and Flatbush, approached by an Orthodox Jewish guy -- after a brief conversation, he jumped on the back of one of the bikes, and they all sped away.

On Fourth Avenue at Dean, one of the many self-appointed traffic cops, this guy a shirtless, hairy hero with a four foot braid draped over one shoulder, directed traffic like he'd been born to the profession. Over on fifth, the neighborhood kids with flashlights (it was getting dark) were out doing much the same thing, less efficiently, but they were keeping things moving. And at least one pizza joint (presumably with gas fired ovens) was serving slices by candlelight -- a long line for that place.

It sounds like quite a bit of Brooklyn, like much of Manhattan, is still down. We've had power since about 4 AM, when the streetlights coming through my wide open, unshaded windows, woke me up.
posted by BT at 6:36 AM on August 15, 2003

On the heels of Bones' comments, I have a question: In previous blackout episodes, we've seen TV coverage of looting --- really excessive looting. I haven't seen any TV coverage of looting from this blackout.

Were people just ridiculously civilized? Is it a NY thing only, IYHO? Would LA have been different?
posted by yesster at 6:40 AM on August 15, 2003

sweet. joshfilter.com
posted by specialk420 at 6:58 AM on August 15, 2003

yesster, In regards to looting, and having been on the streets during the 1977 NYC blackout, I can tell you that today's New York is a far, far different place than it was in those days. The 1977 looting broke out at 101st Street and Broadway, when a car pulled up to a shuttered furniture store, a couple of guys got out and tied a chain between the frame of the car and the shutter, gunned the engine and pulled the shutter off. People ran into the store and began carrying things out. After that, the looting "spread" as they say, all across Manhattan and the other boroughs.
In 1977, West 101st and Broadway was one bad neighborhood. You still had actual poor people comprising a majority in the surrounding blocks. Today, well, it would be difficult imagining anyone who could afford to live in that area actually looting. Except as a kind of post-modern kick. Also, the nation was still spiritually vibrating to the intense alienation of the late sixties and the early seventies, and looting, violence and disorder to have some kind of acceptable political justification -- like graffiti.
posted by Faze at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2003

Oh, christ.
posted by Hildago at 7:18 AM on August 15, 2003

Here's my rather unexciting and overly long story of being stuck in Newark and getting home to Jersey City. Self-link, obviously.
posted by Tin Man at 7:38 AM on August 15, 2003

Question for you NYCers and other blacked-out people:

What was your first thought when the power went out? Did you think, "Damn, the power went out?" or "Maybe it's terrorism..."

My first reaction was, "Oh a power outage sucks, but I'm not surprised." (I.e., the grids are interconnected, I've been expecting California type energy situations on the East Coast for awhile.) It never occured to me that it might be terrorism. But my boyfriend was surprised that it never crossed my mind, and maybe I would have thought differently if I was actually in NYC yesterday.

On TV I saw the reporters interview all the freaked out people, the people who kept referencing terrorists and 9/11. I wondered last night if the reporters specifically chose those people, or if a vast majority of Northeasterners were freaked out.

posted by jennak at 8:01 AM on August 15, 2003

My story from 1965: did homework by candlelight, went to bed. I was 8 years-old. End of story.
posted by tommasz at 8:07 AM on August 15, 2003 [1 favorite]

Jennak: My first thought was that there was a major grid failure, but there were people I work with who were convinced it was a terrorist attack. My wife was in a store that had a radio on. She said most of the people listening thought it was terrorism.
posted by maurice at 8:36 AM on August 15, 2003

I thought of terrorism as a possibility, of course, but a call to my brother in California confirmed that that was not being treated as a possibility. Not being the paranoid type, I thought "OK, it's just the Blackout of 2003" and hit the street. And I didn't see or hear of any freaked-out people; the reporters definitely sought them out.
posted by languagehat at 9:26 AM on August 15, 2003

For a couple of minutes after the initial outage, my mind entertained the possibility of terrorism. My office is within spitting distance of ground zero and a few co-workers seemed to be briefly flashing on that initially.

But then logic takes over and I realized that Al Qaeda would've had to plant employees at like 20 different power companies to pull this off. And for what? "May the suits of the infidel be stained with sweat and the beer in his fridge be warm like the rivers of Gehenna!"

Prolly not.
posted by jonmc at 10:06 AM on August 15, 2003 [2 favorites]

It very quickly seemed non-terrorism to me (although I wasn't sure). First, because terrorists have to my knowledge been about dramatic acts of destruction and straightforward murder -- not about infrastructure damage (yes, the WTC attack did a lot of infrastructure damage, but it was clearly secondary) -- that is, what jonmc said.

Second, because it seems I've been hearing for ages about how vulnerable we are to this kind of thing. There have been warnings about the fragility of the grid for some time -- so I assumed that the likely accident had probably just happened.
posted by BT at 10:25 AM on August 15, 2003

I was less shocked hearing about the power outage, which happens all the time (though obviously not on such a large scale), than watching the thousands of lemmings in Boston's office district run to their TV monitors murmuring to each other about the "terrorists!"

Man, what sad, frightened people we've become. The terrorists have won.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:33 AM on August 15, 2003

i'll black out by midnight, but that event will be unrelated to the availability of electricity.
posted by quonsar at 11:54 AM on August 15, 2003

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