Friday, August 15, 2003

Now that the power is back (for now? I hope it stays on!), I thought you might want to hear what happened to me, and later, us.

Yesterday afternoon, I was at my desk, enjoying a frappuccino from the Starbucks in my building's lobby, when the overhead lights went out. The computers and lights in our cubicles stayed on, so at first we thought someone had just turned off the lights in the computer room (there are light switches for our office outside in the computer room itself). Then I noticed that the large A/C units in the room were off as well. Our desks, PCs, and servers are all on a large battery backup system, that's why they stayed on. Maybe it was just our room, I thought. No, the rest of the floor was off too. Then came the announcement from the building management that the power was off in the entire building. Immediately, I packed up my laptop and grabbed my cell phone and Blackberry off my desk. If we were about to evacuate, I wanted to have everything with me. I was also thanking God that I hadn't waited a few more minutes to get my coffee, or else I could have been stuck in the elevator.

Then my boss told us to start shutting off the file servers gracefully, so that the battery system could stay up longer. For the next two hours, we shut down servers, figured out what we wanted to leave running as long as possible, and I watched the local news over the Internet. Our Internet connections and firewalls were still up, so as long as I didn't have anything important to do, I relayed news to others. The biggest debate was between marketing people and our web site management group, about what message to put on the firm web site and how to get it there.

Finally, around 6:15, my boss announced that we had done all we could and that we were leaving. We raided the cafeteria for water and snacks: I took a few bananas, some almonds, and water bottles. One guy loaded up his duffel bag with all sorts of junk before my boss told him to stop. Damn looters. :) We walked down to the 19th floor where someone offered us a ride on the freight elevator the rest of the way. The elevator got us to the 5th floor and stopped there, so we walked the rest of the way down.

So it was about 6:30 when I set off with David, who lives at 1st and 64th, about 24 blocks south of me, and Hazem, who was the looter I mentioned before. In addition to the food, he also carried his laptop and his smelly gym clothes in his bag. I kept cursing myself for hauling my own laptop with me, but guess what I'm e-mailing you from now? Anyway, we walked up Broadway to City Hall, then went up Center Street past the courthouses, to Lafayette Street, to Fourth Avenue, to Park Avenue at 14th Street. Along the way we kept trying to call our wives on our cell phones, to no avail. Hazem's Blackberry/cell phone combo device died on him, so he kept stopping to find paper clips or other pointy objects with which to poke its tiny "reset" switch. We passed a massive crowd heading for the Brooklyn Bridge, lots of people walking in both directions, and all sorts of signs of New Yorkers helping each other out. One mission near Canal Street moved its food service outside and gave dinner to anyone who wanted it. Lines at payphones and sidewalk vendors were orderly, and the bars were crowded with people who either gave up walking home or lived in the area.

Around 14th St. Hazem stopped at a payphone to try and call his cell phone provider for help. David and I left him there; David said he was slowing us down with his huge bag. At 23rd St. we turned and headed east to 1st Avenue. By now the sidewalk traffic was mostly moving north and the car traffic was severely backed up, with everyone trying to get to the Queensboro Bridge to Queens or further uptown. At a few intersections, regular folks helped the cops direct traffic. Past the Bridge at 60th Street the car traffic almost disappeared, and with no streetlights, it was extremely dark. But there were still plenty of people on the streets, and most of the restaurants were open by candlelight, so we were able to find our way. David went home and I was on my own for the last 25 blocks. My pocket flashlight showed me the way, especially up the dark stairs to my apartment. Liz was just fine when I got there, though she was a little scared and a lot lonely, with just the cats for company. I got home at 9:10, about 2 hours and 45 minutes after I left my office. Today, my legs and back are sore, but not excessively so. I may forego a big bike ride this weekend, though.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to keep cool and listening to the party outside in front of the bar downstairs. Around 11:30, for me much earlier than usual, we blew out the only candle we had and went to bed.

Partly because of the heat, and because of the situation, I slept for a long time, but I kept dreaming of the power coming back on when we woke up. Unfortunately, it wasn't. We took cold showers and ate energy bars for breakfast, not daring to open the fridge to see how the food was doing. About 11:30 we ventured out. While lots of businesses were closed, many others were open, including grocery stores and delis. Heading south down Lexington Avenue, we were about to turn and head for Central Park when I noticed that the stoplights were on a few blocks down. Around 75th Street, the power was on, so we stopped in a store to get an extra flashlight, another candle, and a transistor radio. For me, the worst part of the situation wasn't the lack of power, it was the lack of communication. The last news reports I'd heard were at 6 PM the night before, and waking up I had no idea if the power problems were getting better or worse. We found a pizza restaurant on 2nd Avenue that was serving everything but pizza, so we had lunch there. (Apparently the pizza oven chefs hadn't made it to Manhattan yet.) After lunch, finding no other place with power and room for us to sit down, we went home, around 2:30 PM. We still had no power, so we napped, listened to news reports, and read. Finally, a few minutes before 6 PM, I heard a few beeps and buzzes, and saw the LED panels on our electronics light up. On the street, people cheered and cars honked as lights went on in the restaurants and stores.

Life will get back to normal in short order. Unless I hear otherwise, I'm supposed to be at work tomorrow morning at 7 AM to turn the computers back on. Hopefully I won't be there long and I can try to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Our cell phones are working again, but circuits are still busy. If you left me a message, I'll check it when I can.

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