It was a bit after 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I had stepped out of my work office to run some errands and was about to go back into the building. As I walked through the doorway, all the lights in the building seemed to go down. As I approached my desk, everyone was utterly confused as to what happened. Some people were complaining that they hadn’t saved their files in a while and lost their work, others were just chatting, waiting around for the lights to come back on.
Even after a few moments later, the lights were still down. People started to gather around in the courtyard in front of the building. We then started to realize that the power was not only down in our building but also the neighboring buildings on the same block. People were looking out the windows from other buildings, others looking down the streets to see what was happening.
It took a while before I heard from someone that the blackout was happening not only in our block but in the entire city that inhabits 8 million people. It was another while when we started to hear from the radio news that this blackout was happening at a massive scale. It spanned from New York City to Tronto and to Detroit. The immediate thought to everyone’s mind was, of course, a terrorist attack. The scene was all too familiar. Some terrorist must have blown up a power plant somewhere to cut down the electricity. The financial damage as well as the social damage would be astronomical even if the blackout was to last a few days. My next thought was: if it is a terrorist attack, I must say it’s kind of clever. Every security strategist in the country has been suspecting another airplane attack. Or perhaps some attack on the transportation system. Or maybe a bomb. But a blackout as an act of terrorism? That was completely unexpected. Random and startling. Not that I consent terrorism of any form, I thought it was kind of creative.
The streets were filled with people. Every block was grid-locked with cars trying to make their way out of New York City. Yet, people were surprisingly calm and relaxed. The majority of us had had the lesson less than 2 years ago: 9/11 in 2001. That day was just as sunny. The sky was just as clear. The difference was, there was no smoke in the sky in downtown Manhattan. There was no light anywhere, either. Every single store on Broadway was dark. Even the traffic lights were off. It’s only in these extreme situations that you realize how much our lives are dependent on simple things like electricity. It’s almost dangerous to take such things for granted so naively.
I have been living in New York for about 6 years and there have been only two times when I crossed on foot the Williamsburgh Bridge, the bridge that spans across the East River from Lower East Side to Williamsburgh where I live. By the time I arrived home around 8pm, the sky was getting dark. It took exactly 2 hours and 10 minutes to walk home.
Of course, it was incredibly inconvenient not to have electricity. But then it made me realize that this was the way people use to live a century or so ago. At the same time, it was refreshing to experience such conditions. No light, no TV, no computer, no radio. My life seemed so simple all of a sudden. Part of me wanted this simplicity to last although I knew that it wouldn’t.
The next day, the power started to come back gradually in several areas of the city. It was about 24 hours after the blackout that we gained the power in neighborhood. By the late evening, all of New York City seemed to be back to regain their power. Unlike 9/11, there was relatively no harm to humans. Yet, like the last major disaster, things were back to normal almost scarily quickly. That’s a good thing, I suppose.