I Survived the Blackout of 2011—and 1965!

I have now officially survived two major blackouts in my lifetime. The first when I was 10 years old and living in New York. Back then, the lights went out on the entire northeastern seaboard, affecting some 30 million people. Worse, thousands of New Yorker’s found themselves stuck on elevators and subways throughout Manhattan.  Luckily, I was with my family in our apartment in Queens when it happened.

Where were you when the lights went out? The blackout of 1965 made the cover of Life magazine.

The second ended just moments ago. (Welcome back, computer, and all my endearing electrical gadgets, appliances that have shaped and supported my way of life!)

It started innocently enough. I was at home with my daughter watching one of our favorite all-time films, Grease.  Danny Zuko (aka, John Travolta) was just about to swivel his hips for the dance contest scene. All of a sudden, the film faded away, as did all the technological gadgets in our home. You could hear the whoosh of them all dying.

At first I thought it was a momentary thing, affecting just our condo unit or our building. A quick text message to my office and I discovered the outage was there, too, over 20 miles away. Soon, I learned that it was county wide, spreading to two other counties in California, parts of Arizona and south of the border to Mexico. Uh-oh.

Was it a terrorist activity, in anticipation of September 11th? Or an anti-government plot by someone who didn’t want to hear President Obama address the nation to talk about his plan to spur jobs?  This last one was plausible since, after all, the black out started at 3:38 p.m. PT, and the president was to speak at 4:00 p.m. PT.

Or was it human error by a worker in Arizona?

Human error wins hands down!

I sprung into action. As soon as Josh, my son, returned from work, we headed to our local Ace Hardware store to stock up on flashlights, candles and batteries. But when we arrived at the shopping center and saw a line of people trying to get into the hardware store, panic ensued (OK, it was me panicking) and so I ordered Josh to go to the grocery store, stat, and try to buy the items we needed there. “Get ice, too!” I shouted as he headed off.

I soon was allowed to enter the hardware store (There were too many people in the store and, as such, they were limiting how many could enter at a time). The folks at the Ace store were very smart, and had gathered all the supplies that were in demand, to a table in the middle of the store. With tons of people surrounding the table, grabbing at the batteries and flashlights, I found myself putting a dozen flashlights and what was left of the batteries, in my shopping basket. The panic in me was telling me this was no ordinary outage, and that we could be looking at not having electricity for days, maybe weeks.

My son sent me a text. The grocery store was closed. In fact, every other store in the shopping center had already closed, to avoid looting, I suppose, and so Ace was it. Thank goodness, for Ace. The clerks were so helpful and calm and helped everyone get what they needed.  Luckily they had plenty of supplies—though they had already run out of lanterns by the time I arrived.  I got a second text from my son.  It said, “Buy candles.” Only I thought it said, buy candy. So I did. Like a madwoman, I added a dozen candy bars to my basket, and probably would have taken more if available. What can I say, but that I wasn’t really thinking? My adrenalin was running at peak.

When it was time to pay, Ace, bless its little heart, let me use a credit card, even though their system was, obviously, down, too.  Which was a good thing, because I didn’t have much cash and the ATM system was out of commission. By the time we left, the line to get in the store was 40 to 50 deep.

On the way home, we looked for a cell phone store so that I could buy a phone charger for my car. Mine had lost its ability to charge some time ago, and I had never gotten around to replacing it. Now, with my iPhone’s battery at 30% capacity, I was in desperate need.  The first store (Verizon) we came upon was closed, naturally. The second one, AT&T, had their front door open, but when I approached they told me they were closed (but were keeping the door open for air).  I pleaded my case and won! They sold me a charger, but only if we could pay with cash and with exact change, at that. Luckily, between Josh and myself, we had the exact amount. Barely enough, though.

The outage in my area lasted 11 hours. I know this because the lights came on while I was sleeping, around 2:30 am this morning, which woke me up.  Now, I can watch the news and get the whole story.

Here’s the upside to a power outage: It makes for quality time.

Quality time to spend time with Sarah, Josh and Josh’s girlfriend, who I’ve come to adore very much. The four of us sat around the kitchen table with our candles (yes, I did get some) and flashlights, reading old-fashion magazines and books, and taking turns cranking the lever on the crank radio, in order to listen to the news. We also ate up all the ice cream in the house (this was more of a chore than you can imagine), as we hated the thought of all those caramel and chocolate Drumsticks going to waste.

Outside our home, all the neighborhood children and families gathered outside. It was like one big block party, everyone chatting, speculating and getting to know each other.  A shared camaraderie. I met Yolanda and her three children, who just moved into the neighborhood earlier this summer, and got a chance to catch up with some other neighbors.

Later, we took a walk with Henry.  It was a beautiful, balmy night and, with no lights on anywhere, the stars and moon shined brightly. It was a heavenly sight. Peaceful, too.

So, now I know. Keep a secret stash of cash on hand for when ATM’s go down. Buy a lantern, as soon as Ace gets more in stock, so that we’re ready next time.

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33 thoughts on “I Survived the Blackout of 2011—and 1965!

  1. Pingback: I Smell a Rat! | Monica's Tangled Web

  2. Buy candy!!!!!

    It was at that point in the story that you reached my level of panic for disaster prep. What if the lights go out and we don’t have any more Jr. Mints?!?!??!?!?! THE HORROR!!!! I bought candy and ice cream before battening the hatches for Hurricane Irene. I was more worried about that than flashlights.

  3. Monica, I was in Puerto Rico when hurricane George trampled the island and we were without electricity for exactly 30 days. Trust me, I felt like I had died and gone straight to Hades. Have you ever had to wash clothes with a wooden washboard? The ones our grandmothers had to use down by the river? Yeah, those. Oh my goodness! I blame that for the onset of my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I say this because I know how horrible a blackout can be. That anxiety you were feeling, my friend, was all too real. I’m glad your Ace hardware store had enough to go around. Try standing in a four-hour line for a bag of ice only to be told they’re out when there’s only five more people in front of you! Brutal! I’m glad you’re okay and back to normal! 🙂

    • 30 Days??? What year was that? Wooden washboards? Say no more! Your experience sounds far worse than my “brush” with blackouts. I was bracing myself for 48 hours, but 30 days, and I’d be throwing in the towel! Now I know. You’ve got the most expertise when it comes to surviving blackouts. I cannot hold a candle to you. Nor a flashlight, for that matter 😉

  4. 🙂 I can’t stop smiling after reading your post. I am an Indian and have lived in the US for a few years. When I first came to the States, I was amazed to realize that there were no power cuts unlike in India where a few hours of power cut every week is a routine thing. Every house has a power backup so the lanterns and candles are stocked up but rarely put to use.
    Ofcourse, the power backup wouldn’t have lasted for 11 hours. I remember old days from my childhood when there was no provision of using an inverter or power backup and we would spend hours in dark singing and telling stories until the houses lit again.
    Digressing a bit from the topic but it sure is a different world in the developed nations. I believe there are a lot of things that people take for granted that are a luxury for others 🙂

  5. Wow, Monica, you guys acted fast! I’m impressed with your Ace Hardware and ATT adventure. Such a good point about the cash. Hadn’t even thought of that!

    • Ace Hardware had me at, Hello. I will always shop their first, when I need hardware type stuff, I mean. They’re really all about the customer, and they’re going up against two huge hardware chains, Home Depot and Loew’s.

  6. —Monica,
    such a beautiful reminder about spending quality time together as a family. To Really talk. Take a walk. Enjoy the silence.

    I always LOVE your posts & dear messages for us.

    • Thank you, Kim. I’m glad you see that. I was actually a little disappointed when I woke up this morning and discover the lights were back on. My son was, too, because that meant he had to report to work. Oh, well, at least we’ll be ready next time. 🙂
      I’m so glad you like my posts. I like your comments!

  7. I’m a little disappointed that my continous barrage of preparedness messaging hasn’t reached you! I obviously need to just write up a list for you! Ha ha. The kids and I walked down the hill to our friends house after bbq’ing our dinner. Loads of neighbors out walking their dogs and just enjoying the quiet evening. You are correct about the kids, they saw it as a great adventure!

    I must say your bit about the candy text is one of the funniest statements I’ve heard yet! I can totally picture you and it is cracking me up.

    • That’s ok, Ace Hardware said they’re going to send me a list of items to have on hand in an emergency. I swear, the text said candy. I can’t help it if candles looks like candies. In times of crisis, it’s easy to mistake an “l” for an “i”!

  8. We have power outages regularly, thanks to thunderstorms or tornadoes. Consequently, we tend to be prepared for this sort of thing — stashing away batteries, fresh water, candles, etc. One thing you can’t really prepare for is the sudden shock of being in the dark, without your electronic toys!

    • Amen, to that! The shock of not having all my gadgets is so true. When my son got home from work and found our home to be too warm (no AC), he just said, “I’m going to my room and turning on my fan.” Ha! Wishful thinking.

  9. I was in New York during that outage and I remember I had to walk 58 blocks from work to our apartment in the pitch dark. Yes, it was scary, but it was before 9-11 and no one thought of terrorists…we thought human error. I remember making jokes with strangers as we trudged along in the dark. Your post is a good reminder to have a little cash on hand, a cellphone charger for the car, and of course a stash of candy! Love that.

    • Your little photo has me thinking you do not look old enough to remember the 1965 outage, let alone walk 58 blocks in it. But yes, glad I could serve as a reminder of what to have on hand–and probably, too, what NOT to do. 😉 I have a friend who is always prepared for a crisis. I need to take to learn to be proactive about being prepared.

  10. Literally laughing out loud when I read about the candy! Our neighborhood was the same with everyone out and about. It was a really cool feeling.

  11. Aha, there is something that my husband’s veganism is good for. We had no meat in the freezer to worry about with the power outage. And our milk is soy, so I have plenty on hand that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. And for light, well, my husband is an avid hiker so he has battery operated headlamps. So we took our vegan food and ate dinner on the back patio by the pool and when it got dark, we ready by headlamp. I’d have to say that my husband saved the day!

    • The only meat we had in the house was bacon. My son was so worried about it. I told him that this kind of meat, cured and salted, survived the pilgrims. It could survive our power outage. Not to worry!

  12. In case of emergency, always have chocolate on hand! Somehow that seems to comfort me in times of stress – not too much, mind you, just a tasteful amount :-).

    I was living in Upstate NY when the lights went out in 1965 and remember it well. I was a latchkey kid and the only one home at the time. I remember thinking it was just our house lights that had gone out, but when I looked outside, I saw no lights whatsoever. It was a very eerie, spooky feeling.

  13. We walked Lola last night, too and so many people were out. After our walk, we cooked hot dogs outside and ate on the porch by candlelight. Not exactly romantic, but it was great quality time.
    I’m very glad to have the power back today and also that our hot spell seems to have ended. Now I have to clean out the fridge, though. I think everything in it is a lost cause. Haven’t opened the freezer yet to see how the ice cream made it. I wish I would have thought to eat it all last night like you did!

    • I have an outdoor grill, but no propane! You know what we ate? Leftover, cold pasta from Andiamo’s! So, in essence, you saved the day! That’s all I had in the house that could be eaten without cooking! I guess I owe you one. 😉

  14. Buy Candy — too funny, Monica. However, your tips at the end do get me thinking. I already have plenty of flashlights and candles (and probably a bit too many Dove pieces at that). I hadn’t even thought about having cash on hand because many times my wallet is down to just a few bills since I use plastic most of the time. If such a freak accident can happen there, it can certainly happen here.

  15. I’m glad you survived. I thought of you when they said your area was without power. My oldest was always afraid of the dark as a child (and maybe just a bit as an adult), so I’ve always had a good supply of candles, camping lanterns and batteries!

    • I need to get myself a camping lantern stat. Apparently we’re not out of the woodwork. Local news is reporting that the electrical system is fragile and more outages likely. Fingers crossed that they’re wrong! Thanks for thinking of me! 🙂

  16. Living in Florida we regularly have power outages. Luckily, they have been short lived and I do find that the time without power is a quiet time of bonding with kids and neighbors. Everyone talks to each other, in person and we play card games and board games to pass the time. And, we always finish the ice cream too!! Glad you powered up again.

    • It’s one thing to have an outage on your block or just in your neighborhood. It’s quite another when the entire region is affected. It’s scary, and stressful. I’m so glad it’s over!

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