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.