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The Blackout as Experienced in Midtown Manhattan & the Clinton Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] The Blackout as Experienced in Midtown Manhattan & the Clinton Community Garden
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sat, 16 Aug 2003 14:29:33 EDT


This is long, unedited and personal, and only partially about community 
gardens, so don't feel you have to read it.  I'm just sending it out for those 
folks who want to know what one of the 50 million folks who experienced the 
blackout felt about it. 

This was actually the third NYC big blackout that I've experienced - in 1965, 
I remember looking out the a window of the  hebrew school that I attended a 
few afterschool afternoons a week, and watching the lights on the Empire State 
building go out, floor by floor - and then watching the lights flicker in our 
classroom.  We were sent home with packets of Chanukah candles and matches.  
It was fall, 6:30 pm, and upper Broadway, usually full of light and noise, was 
dark except for car lights and buses, whose artificially lit interiors ( what 
an old term  -artificial lighting !) seemed eerie.   My mother had filled the 
bathtub and sinks with water (refugee wisdom)  as we lived then, above the 6th 
floor (the height above which water does not naturally flow from our 
acqueduct system and has to be helped by electrical pumps) we could flush our toilets, 
have water to cook  and wash with.  

The old upperwest side apartment that we lived in, then, was awash with 
candlelight,  our having them on hand for sabbath and those special dinners when 
candles were appropriate.  (Can you imagine, a dinner without the television on, 
where the main attraction was the food and conversation? When people actually 
"dressed" for dinner, because dinner itself, and the company was considered 
important? ) 

In fact, like many European refugee families, we kept the television - viewed 
as a disreputable piece of equipment in the closet, in those days -  like the 
vacuum cleaner.  It took a major event, like political assasinations or  the 
Watergate hearings, for example, for  the tube to be left out for a few days.  
Our nickname for it was the "liar box."  Right after Ed Sullivan, or a 
special show, it went right back in the closet, and never on school nights.  My son, 
now a teenager, was raised with Sesame Street, but I still feel that maybe my 
folks were right on that one. 

The apartment was so old, that we still had a gas wall fixture in the 
livingroom that had not been electrified with the others , so with coaxing, a new 
wick, and a globe from one of the candlsticks, we had both gas and candlelight in 
the livingroom for a little after-dinner chambermusic. The building was lousy 
with musicians - with Broadway & the Concert Halls closed,  we had enough 
adults to play the Beethoven Septet and Schubert Octet.  

Borrowing the A-Clarinet of one of the adults ( I only had a school lent Bb 
for band, then)  I sightread the adagio of the Mozart clarinet quintet for the 
first time with a string quartet before being called into the kitchen to wash, 
"and not break" dishes with the other kids.   

Before bed, we wallked  up the stairs to  the roof and saw the stars - in 
those days, the remaining smokestack industries and the light from our buildings 
made them all but invisible.  School was cancelled the next day - but the 
power was on in the afternoon.  Somehow, electric light was less magical. 

The second blackout in 1977 found me behind the bar in an upper east side gin 
mill.  We bought out the candles from a hardware store across the street, and 
lit them when it started to get too dark. The cash registers were 
mechanically cranked open, no credit cards, and we kept serving as long as the ice and 
beer stayed cold.  As it was summer, we emptied out after a few hours. As I was 
the new guy, it was my job, to "put out those g-ddamned candles."  On the way 
home, the traffic in front of the old Roosevelt Hospital was jammed - an old 
lady threw an old cop's whistle out the window at me,  ordering me, in effect, 
to direct traffic, which I did for about three hours until a cop showed up, 
but not until an emergency oil delivery was made to the hospital.  While there 
wasn't looting in Hell's Kithen ( too many shopkeepers on ninth avenue, sitting 
on chairs all night with rifles and pistols) many appliance stores were 
cleaned out to the walls.  Ambulances kept running all night, carrying  cops and 
looters cut by plate glass.  The detrius, fires and general bad feeling from 
that blackout ( much of Bushwick in Brooklyn was devestated) frightened us all.  
The joke at the time was, " have you picked out your TV yet - it's only a 
matter of time until the next blackout!"

And in 1978 - 25 years ago - the experts, the government and all of the suits 
insisted that a new blackout would be impossible!  

Right! Hmmmm.....

Last Thursday, I had just gotten back, my suit drenched with sweat, from an 
interview for a job a lawfirm.  Having placed shoe trees immediately in my 
"good shoes", the suit carefully hung to dry, along with my bow-tie, I got in my 
garden clothes, ready to harvest some tomatoes, basil and peppers for dinner.  
My son, just home from his summer job, was on the computer, and then the 
lights went out.  The transistor radio went on, and said, and I don't know how they 
knew this so fast, that it wasn't terrorists, but a major blackout.  We ran 
downstairs to get D-Batteries, two more flashlights, candles ( blue Santeria 
candles in tumblers were all that were left) three bags of ice for the bathtub.  
At that point, the telephone exchange near us hadn't burnt out, so we knew 
that my wife the nurse would be stuck at the hospital she works at overnight 
where there would be auxilliary power.  

Hundreds of thousands of people, like on September 11th were all slowly, 
peaceably walking home, trying to get lifts out of town as the subways and major 
commuter rail links had gone out of service. But this was different, because 
while Sept 11th had only affected one small area of town severely ( the area 
below Canal Street) the rest of the town had water, electricity, transportation - 
all eerily normal, with helicopters and military jets overhead, and of 
course, no truck deliveries for a few days. 

Once New Yorkers all took a deep breath and realized that in the words of 
Walt Kelly's Pogo (note: a Possum character in a now defunct, but beloved comic 
strip) "That we has met the enemy, and he is us,"  and that some guy in a short 
sleeved shirt with a tie, pocket protector and ballpoint pens had screwed up 
instead of somebody malevolent, we  coped - and mostly with good humor.  I 
headed to the garden where folks had brought extra candles, set up a few barbecue 
grills in the back, to cook the meat that would be spoiled in their 
apartments, and discovered that most of the nearby blocks had turned into mini block 

Stoop sitting, basically, folks who brough chairs out to sit on in front of 
their tenements on hot evenings, or sat on the steps is largely extinct in US 
cities.  But with the loss of airconditioning, water ( in tall buildings) 
television and non-battery powered radios, people came out and actually started to 
talk to their neighbors.  I kid you not - it reminded me of when I grew up in 
this city, when during the summertime, most folks were out sitting on their 
stoops talking, or listening to the ball game, because it was too hot indoors.  
I'm pleased to say that I saw alot of seniors out in the streets - folks had 
knocked on their doors and were looking out for them, inviting them into the 
relative cool of the streets, where at least there was a breeze.  Not a few were 
carried down by neighbors in chairs.  


Now, we're used to this kind of neighborliness in the Clinton Community 
Garden, and many folks partake of it - we have 4,000 keys out in the neighborhood 
for our third of an acre space. But to see it open up, with folks bringing down 
beer, soda, and the contents of their refrigerators that would spoil to 
share, in city blocks so dense that many people don't really know their neighbors, 
was amazing.  

The garden stayed open later than it usually does, but when the candles 
started flickering out, most left, just before midnight.  And in the 90's heat, we 
watered more than a few folks down with out hoses. 

Blessedly, this time, we had limited looting in Brooklyn - a sneaker and 
mobile phone store - and about 20 arrests.  Maybe Sept. 11th changed some 
behaviors, or maybe everyone has enough TV's now -

To only have enought closet space to put the TV's in with the rest of the 

Best wishes and thinking of the folks in Detroit who still don't have "juice"
Adam Honigman
 <A HREF="http://www.clintoncommunitygarden.org/";>Clinton Community Garden</A>

With the blackout, some stores were selling everything they had that could 
spoil - about 30 blocks up from where I live, Zabar's a gourmet deli, took to 
selling most of their perishable stock on the sidewalk in front of the store, 
handing free bread out to those folks who didn't have cash - all the ATMs were 
out of order too.  

After having gotten our emergency stuff ( as well as a few gallons of water, 
just in case) into the apartment - I got the dogs downstairs for their walk ( 
carrying our 17 year old Scottie, Butch who despises going on paper) and 

<< Subj:     [cg] Re: community_garden digest, Vol 1 #1516 - 5 msgs
 Date:  8/15/03 6:09:56 PM Eastern Daylight Time
 From:  dboekelheide@yahoo.com (Don Boekelheide)
 Sender:    community_garden-admin@mallorn.com
 To:    community_garden@mallorn.com
 Hi, all,
 As the Quakers say, I'm holding community garden
 friends in New York, Toronto and other affected cities
 in the light through the blackout.
 Well, one bright spot, community gardens can show
 their worth as a source of food - and as a place where
 people can link up in a crisis.
 I fondly remember the last huge blackout in New York,
 back in '77, when I was a kid from California
 backpacking around. My girlfriend, a fellow traveler
 from Denmark, and I put the darkness to very good use.
 You never know what good can come from a crisis...
 I did hear that the Iraqis are sympathetic if not
 overly worried, since this is a mild dose of what they
 have been living with over the summer, only Baghdad
 temps are 20 Farenheit degrees _hotter_ than NYC, if
 you can imagine, in the 120 range! (pushing 50 C). On
 NPR, a reporter passed along some of their helpful
 hints, like wrapping up in wet sheets and sleeping on
 the roof. And forget living in tall buildings...
 Hang in there. I'd ask our local power company, Duke
 Power, to send some help, but we all remember what
 happened when they 'helped' California a couple years
 back. We're still enjoying the fallout from that.
 What's that Arnie says, 'Have a nice day...'?
 Don Boekelheide
 (sympathetic in) Charlotte, NC
 PS do check out Mars, it is amazing. In the
 southeastern sky about 9-10 PM. Should be a great view
 without the city lights >>

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