2003 New York City Blackout

Bob Faber in Times Square during blackout 14 August 2003 768x1024
Matthew in Times Square during blackout 14 August 2003 768x1024

Bob Faber and I met in New York City on Thursday, 14 August 2003, for a five-day weekend vacation. I flew from Denver to Newark, New Jersey, and took a light rail train, a NJ Transit train, and three MTA New York City Subways to get to the hotel. Dinner was approaching, and I suggested that we take a subway downtown to Chinatown or Little Italy to get something to eat. Instead, we decided to just walk around Fifth Avenue, look at some of the stores, and find somewhere to eat. We walked down to Saks Fifth Avenue, and as we were getting off the elevator on the sixth floor (by the Armani suit section), the power went out. Employees shephereded customers out of the building down the emergency-light illuminated escalators, and we emerged on the crowded streets with everyone else.

Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, had predicted that the loss of power in New York would be reason for panic:

The plane was above the peaks of the skyscrapers when suddenly, with the abruptness of a shudder, as if the ground had parted to engulf it, the city had disappeared from the face of the earth. It took them a moment to realize that the panic had reached the power stations - and the lights of New York had gone out.

But there wasn't much panic. (Again, I assert that Atlas Shrugged first and foremost remains a good train story!) Instead, it was kind of fun: we had just happened to plan our vacation for the blackout! What do tourists in NYC do when the power goes out? Walk over to Times Square to take some pictures!

Thursday 14 August 2003: The New York City Blackout

Crowd at start of NYC blackout 14 August 2003 1024x768

The most noticeable thing about the power failure was that is quickly demonstrated how many people are in New York City. When most of the people decide to evacuate skyscrapers in a short period of time, that's a lot of people on the sidewalk! When the sidewalk runs out of room, the people move to the street in front of the bus.

I am particulary glad that I wasn't one NJ Transit train late or on a subway when the power went out. As Bob and I walked toward Central Park, we saw a MTA New York City Subway emergency exit open and a pretty large group of people climb out. As much as I like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, that would not have been fun.

Times Square crowd 14 August 2003 1024x768
Times Square crowd 14 August 2003 1024x768
Dark Times Square sign 14 August 2003 1024x768
Times Square crowd 14 August 2003 1024x768
Man taking picture of Times Square crowd 14 August 2003 1024x768
Dark Times Square sign 14 August 2003 1024x768

As Times Square started to fill up rapidly with people exiting buildings, Bob and I walked up to Central Park. Many of the park drives are closed during the summer for walking, biking, and skating, so there was plenty of room. We walked around for a while and, as the sun started to lower, decided to head back to the general vicinity of the hotel. At this point, traffic was becoming a very big mess. Sixth Avenue was particularly blocked. Several cross streets leading to eastbound bridges were blocking traffic completely, so we were actually able to stand in the middle of a New York City avenue during rush hour with no oncoming traffic! Later that evening, the police started to occupy every intersection, so traffic moved much more smoothly.

Blocked traffic on Lexington Avenue 14 August 2003 1024x768
Bob walking in middle of blocked avenue 14 August 2003 1024x768
 Matthew walking in middle of blocked avenue 14 August 2003 1024x768

Thursday night, our hotel was completely without electricity, and running water was not available on higher floors. Our room wasn't entirely dark, though. We had booked a budget room, so we had a wonderful view of the building next to the hotel. Our room faced the other building's emergency exit stairwell, which was brightly lit all night.

Friday 15 August 2003: The Extended New York City Metropolitan Walk

 Bad Things Happen When You Leave The City 15 August 2003 1024x768

Bad things happen when you leave the city. Or, in our case, when you visit the city.

We still didn't have power in the hotel on Friday morning. Fortunately, Friday was already designated as the megawalking day, so we decided to go ahead with the walk around the city. Parts of Manhattan, such as Rockefeller Plaza, had electrical power, and we stopped for a bit to watch a live news broadcast. After a brief breakfast at a cafe operating in crisis mode, we walked down Seventh Avenue past Pennsylvania Station to the World Trade Center site.

Traffic entering tunnel 15 August 2003 1024x768
Taco Today changed 15 August 2003 1024x768
World Trade Center site 15 August 2003 1024x768

Not that it's particularly important, but I was surprised to see that there was still a Mexican restaurant in the space of what used to be Taco Today on Church Street. (See the New York City Walk from 4 July 1999 on the Favorite Metropolitan Walks page. Now it's called Burrito Mariachi. They were closed.

NYPD in front of NYSE 15 August 2003 1024x768
News broadcasts for start of trading 15 August 2003 1024x768

We walked down to Battery Park, but the Statue of Liberty wasn't operating due to the power failure. We then walked around to Wall Street. As we were walking, the power came on in lower Manhattan. It was very odd: you could actually feel the power as the skyscraper air conditioners resumed operation. Broad Street security was very tight, but we sat down for a while to watch the live broadcasts as the NYSE resumed trading.

After Wall Street, we walked past City Hall and over the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge walkway was very crowded and well occupied by police academy trainees. Brooklyn had electrical power, so we had lunch at Blimpie and stopped by a store to get more water and Gatorade. With directions from a police officer, we walked back to Manhattan over the Manhattan Bridge. By the time we got back to the hotel at 5:00 pm, the power returned, and it was nap time!

Walked to Brooklyn 15 August 2003 1024x768
Manhattan Bridge 15 August 2003 1024x768
View of Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan Bridge 15 August 2003 1024x768

This extended Metropolitan New York City walk was one of the longest single-day Metropolitan Walks I've ever done. It lasted over eight hours and totaled 47,875 DigiWalker clicks for a distance of about 23 miles.