A couple of hours ago I received the text from my Mom I had been waiting for all week: “We have power!”
“Yahooo!!!” I responded, because my family in the suburbs of NYC had been without electricity for 144 hours. (I was also without power earlier this week, but this was only because I blew a fuse while trying to simultaneously use a space heater and boil water for tea in my electric kettle. )
As a kid, a power outage is one of the most exciting things that can happen. Hotels may be more exciting, but only if they have a pool and/or hot tub and your parents let you watch the TV from your bed. While my enthusiasm for hot tubs and TV in bed had not decreased, my longing for the adventure of walking to bed with a candelabra like Belle in Beauty and the Beast no longer remains. Even in my brief hour with no electricity, I was annoyed that I couldn’t plug in my soon-to-be-dead computer. Which seems completely ridiculous considering that my family went without power for six whole days.
I think that everyone, maybe even the kids, will think of power outages differently post Hurricane Sandy world. Halloween was cancelled, and no kid wants to miss out on the one night a year they get candy simply for being four feet tall. A nine-year-old I mentor through Kids Hope USA thought Hurricane Sandy was a literally hurricane of sand, and that conditions weren’t as bad by the time it got to Michigan because there simply wasn’t as much sand here. She was so genuinely concerned about the people that it did effect that I didn’t have the heart to correct her, although I probably should have.
Even if you are still a die-hard blackout fan, you have to admit that the anticipation is the best part. Hearing the thunder, watching the lights flicker, helping Dad put batteries in all the flashlights, and wondering if you will get to stay up later because no one knows what time it is are all more memorable than a simple night or two without power. Unless a tree falls on your house or you spend the day making a huge snow-fort, people stay inside, read, play Monopoly, and cheer when the lights turn back on, which they always do.
In 2003, something amazing happened. The power went out, but it wasn’t because of a storm that threatened people’s lives and properties. It was the unexplained northeast power-outage. I was thirteen, my brother Andrew and his best friend Ryan were eleven, and my sister Abby has just turned eight. It was a time before thirteen year olds (or eleven year olds, or even eight year olds for that matter) had cell phones. It was a time when I owned a bright purple boom box with an antenna that I played my favorite CDs on, which were The Beatles 1 and the soundtrack to 13 Going On 30. It was August, so my siblings and I sat outside on the front lawn, gathered around my boom box, and listened for updates on the mysterious occurrence. The power had been out in the New York metro-area all day, and no one knew why. Maybe it was the mystery that made it all so exciting. Maybe it is the nostalgia of all of my siblings being together, sitting outside in the hot summer, talking to neighbors as they passed, watching the evening slip in to darkness.
It must have been Maureen, Ryan’s mother, who suggested we go for a walk to the park. I say this because it was also Maureen who suggested we ride our bikes to the end of the pier on September 11th, 2001. From there, we could see smoke rising from the south. At eleven, I was old enough to go but still not old enough to understand.
We walked on the boardwalk and through the park. We weren’t afraid, but it was very quiet and very dark. We could see the stars. I later discovered that srat-gazers in New York City could see the Milky Way for the first time in decades. We looked out to where we could normally see the lights on Long Island, and the water might as well have been the Atlantic. We ran in to an old woman who had a telescope pointing towards the sky. This is the part when my memory gets rusty. Was it an old woman with a creepy grin or a friendly grandmother out with her grandson? Was it a magnificent telescope set up on a tripod, or was it small and accordion-like, such as a ship captains’? I do know that the woman showed us the stars. We even saw a planet—Venus, maybe—and we were amazed. We thanked her and I knew that I was experiencing something magical, that I had seen another world just by going for an aimless walk in the dark.
Parts of the boardwalk we walked on that night are now drifting into the Long Island Sound, torn up by the high winds. A few days ago, Abby described my hometown as a “disaster zone,” with hour long waits at the gas station and “so many power lines down. It’s insane.” The adults want a warm shower and to get back to work and kids want their Halloween candy. The teenagers want school for the socialization (and probably some Halloween candy as well), but are enjoying being allowed to have co-ed sleepovers at the houses that have heat.
The strangest part of being in Michigan during this craziness is not that it makes me nostalgic for power outage stories, but that it makes me wish I was in New York City, because I still think of New York as my city. I want to stick with my family and my hometown through this hard time.
Instead, I’m just watching.
Here’s what I’m looking at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/01/us/sandy-POD-index.html