3 Years Ago today...

...the lights went out. I was on the 13th floor of an office building in Midtown, in the midst of a benefits meeting for the job I had just started that Monday. Our room was so brightly lit by the sun, we barely noticed the power was out, until we heard people screaming and pounding on the doors of the elevators outside the conference room.

We walked out onto 41st Street in a haze. At first, we thought it was just our building. Then, we saw the streetlights dark on each block, so we thought it was just the neighborhood. Then, people started to use their cellphones, and couldn't get through, so we realized it was something bigger. As the Midtown rumor mill continued to churn, we heard other rumors: "it's the whole east coast! It's every major city in the U.S.! It's a terrorist attack!" Being only two weeks removed from first moving to New York, I was trying to take it all in stride, but was naturally nervous. I didn't partake in the free alcohol at the bars I passed - I just wanted to get home.

My boss, a die-hard New Yorker, looked out for me. She walked back towards her high-rise on the Upper East Side, and took me along, suggesting I take the 59th Street Bridge. At the time, I wasn't even familiar with New York terminology to know she was talking about what I had known as the Queensboro Bridge. She gave me $20 and wished me luck, and if the power was still out in the morning, she insisted that I not come back to work.

...My most vivid memory of the whole experience was at the approach to the bridge. It was pandemonium. Pedestrians were sharing the road with cars, and throngs of people trying to escape Manhattan scaled the retaining wall that separated the upper deck of the bridge from the lower deck. As one reached the top, they would help pull the next one over the wall. I opted for the lower deck, since I was in nice clothes, and it was still about 85 degrees outside.

About midway across the bridge, a man had collapsed in the midst of his brutal walk. The fellow bridge-crossers sprung into action, trying to find a way to get him out of harms way and off to an emergency room. They flagged down a FedEx truck that was stuck in the mob of people. The driver opened the back door, and people hoisted him into the truck. Myself, along with about 10 other people, ran down the bridge, shouting at people to make way for this FedEx truck. I only hope that the teamwork I witnessed that day saved that man's life.

I eventually descended into Queens, where I stopped at a Mr. Softee truck for something cold. It was the first time, and to this day, one of the only times I ever had Mr. Softee. While in line, I met a woman who confessed that she was pretty much lost. She was trying to get to Brooklyn - Bay Ridge, I think, about as far away as you can get and still be in the city. I told her I was headed toward Brooklyn and she could walk with me.

We struck up conversation on the way, talking about the kind of camaraderie we had seen, and just how unexpected it was. I admitted to her that I was new to the city myself - and this wasn't exactly what I expected on my fourth day of work in New York. I guided her into Greenpoint, and rushed up and down my apartment building's pitch-black stairwell to offer her a map and steer her in the direction of home. I didn't think much of it at the time. I saw New Yorkers rushing to help others, so I did just the same.

Three days later, when our cable was finally restored, I came across this missed connection on Craigslist. It was a woman thanking everyone for helping her get home during the blackout, including a story that sounded strangely familiar:

To: the girl I walked across the 59th St. Bridge with, the guy I met in Queens and walked to Greenpoint with, the guy at the car service in Williamsburg, the guy going to Staten Island who I shared a car with...

I only moved to NYC a year ago. I've been spending that year trying to convince people back home that New Yorkers really are nice and good people. Yesterday's blackout gave me more evidence to prove my case. I met some extremely friendly and nice people. Extra thanks to the guy in Greenpoint for getting a map. Extra Extra thanks to the car service guy for being trying to be fair about getting people cars in the order they came. I'm still glad I moved here and I'm still going to convince people how nice New Yorkers are!
Sure enough, it was her. I was a Craigslist Missed Connection. That day changed my perception of just how New Yorkers can bind together in times of crisis, and memories like these make me proud to be a New Yorker.

7 Moments of Idiocy:

Blogger Jaime said...

Hey, great story. I only had to walk about 3 miles home (in stupid heels, and yes, I now keep other shoes at work), and I also missed a lot of the revelry because all I could think about was just getting into my own apt. I live right off the Brooklyn Bridge, and all night I could hear people's footsteps on the walkway. It was crazy and awesome.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Marjorie said...

Yeah for Beth! Is she still at that "soon-to-be-defunct-ad-agency?"

Missed alot by being 6,000 miles away.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Christopher Robin said...

Wow that was three years ago! How time flies. I was in Ottawa (Ontario) at a conference when the lights went out. I walked across the bridge into Hull (which is in Quebec and on a different power grid) to join everyone else from Ottawa for dinner.

The best part was walking back to the hotel and seeing everyone just chilling out on their front steps with candles and beer. Makes you wonder if the world wouldn't be a better place without power every now and then.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous maple said...

My friend and I bought groceries in a pitch black grocery store...we used our flashlight to help a lady find peanut butter.

10:45 PM  
Blogger PJ said...

It doesn't take a crisis for people's good nature to come through and I think you might find people's idea of New Yorkers is changing.

I didn't have a spot of trouble when I was in NY and found people (except Starbucks employees) to be friendly and polite. I've spread the word ever since that NYers are very nice people once you get to experience it for yourself.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Karen ;- ) said...

You can't be both a New Yorker and a Rhode Islander, ya tool...

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Meredith said...

My brother and I were chilling at my parents house, a few days before I moved to LA. (My anniversary is tomorrow!) The power went out. My mom called and said the power where she was was out. My dad called and said teh power in Syracuse was out, as well as Ottawa. Yikes. Nice goodbye dinner that was.

12:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home