Bittersweet insight into one dark night in New York
Manhattan before the lights went out. Picture by MT Rainey
By MT Rainey
I’m in another New York City blackout. Major outage west of midtown to Jersey City. Hell’s Kitchen got cold. Times Square flickered. CBS went quiet. Gridlock ensued. Tempers frayed. The thirty-degree heat intensified, unmitigated, “unchallenged, unconditioned”. Quite prosaic really. Compared to the last one.
On another hot summer evening in 2003, a major blackout took out the whole of the U.S. Northeast for around 18 hours. I was in the West Village with friends and people who became friends. Restaurants had no power to cook or refrigerate and many closed. But some small bistros stayed open. Candlelight, bread, cheese and wine was plentiful.
As the evening wore on you could hear the spontaneous combustion of many happy social gatherings on the stoops and doorsteps, balconies and rooftops of New York. Pitch black. No light for a thousand miles. No one wanted this gift of an antediluvian dream to end. A starry firmament rose over the silhouette of Jersey City. Strangely romantic. A light breeze blew over the Hudson. We could have been in Greece. I’m sure everyone who was there treasures this bittersweet insight, this strange gift. That night.
“Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe
And I will buy you a bottle of wine
And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and
Smash our empty glasses down
Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers
A round for these friends of mine
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil, who
Keeps me in this tourist town
Come on Carey get out your cane (Carey get out your cane)
And I’ll put on some silver (I’ll put on some silver)
Oh you’re a mean old Daddy, but I like you
I like you, I like you, I like you
Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam
Or maybe I’ll go to Rome
And rent me a grand piano and put some flowers ’round my room
But let’s not talk about fare-thee-wells now
The night is a starry dome
And they’re playin’ that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the Matalla Moon
And MT’s recollection brought back happy memories for some of her friends, who had also been there that dark night.
John McCabe said: “I was living there during that blackout. It’s one of my best memories of New York. The Red Lion in the village had ‘wise guy’ ice and we played the board game Operation, sitting out on Bleecker Street with an ice bucket full of Coronas.”
John Garland added: “I remember it well – about 4 in the afternoon and I was in a meeting (As usual in advertising!) At first we thought it was some terrorist thing. As the minutes ticked by with no sirens we thought just a power cut, will be back in a bit. There was no TV, no news, no information.
“After about an hour, I gathered some of my department, about 40 folks, and we adjourned across the street to a restaurant terrace bar. It was hot outside but pleasant under the umbrellas. No ATM’s, no cash and the credit card machines were out too – but they knew me there and we ran a tab.
“We kept thinking the power would be back soon but no – and no one could get home if they lived out of the city. So those that lived in town with great generosity offered, spare beds, couches or floors. We stayed at the bar until about midnight and had a thoroughly great time before heading off into the night and to our various temporary accommodations.
“The real fun part was a day or so later when I presented my $3000+ bill to finance … The best team building exercise ever!”
John McCabe recalled: “The day of the blackout we stocked up for a house party. We had a four bed ground floor apartment with huge terrace on the Hudson at Battery Park. When the blackout hit at four, we were the most stocked up abode on the island. Lots of people sleeping over that night.”
Allison Rainey remembered this: “I remember walking up and down to our 24th floor apartment buying matches in the deli downstairs.
“The Japanese restaurants were giving away fish and it was being barbecued all around the block. The friendliest of nights in a frightened city. All too soon after 9/11.”
Bill Wallsgrove said: “Lovely writing – as ever – certainly captured an imaginative moment.”
MT’s recollection certainly pleased Alex McBride who wrote: “Fabulous account of a surreal night in Manhattan – who better than Joni to sing it out – love the connection.”