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.

The Princess and the Gal From Queens

No doubt you’ve heard that there’s a royal wedding afoot. Which reminds me of the last royal wedding and of course, remembering that wedding causes me to reflect on just how alike Princess Diana and I were. We had a lot in common, she and I.  Birds of a feather, if you ask me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I never thought I was a princess.  But there have been times when I would have preferred to live like one.  And sure, I’m a Latina and she was born in England. There’s no denying that there are a few differences. But here’s what I’m really getting at: For a while there, Princess Diana and I led parallel lives.

First, there’s the obvious things.  She was a princess and I hailed from Queens. You can’t get more royal than that. Plus, we both wore our hair short, though she’s a blonde and I’m not.  And we were both rather shy in our youth, especially at public appearances, though hers were televised and photographed incessantly, while nobody followed me around—whether to the mall or to the grocery store. In fact, the only paparazzo I knew was my father. He was always snapping photos, which was very annoying. So, I can totally relate to all the attention the princess received.

Then, there’s the fact that Princess Diana and I each married in the same year, though her wedding was a bit flashier than mine, and she married in the perfect month for weddings, June.  As for me, I was newly employed, with little vacation time, so I had to schedule my nuptials during the holidays, just after the New Year. It was a mere four degrees in New Jersey that day, with the wind chill factor putting the temps way below zero. Miserable weather for a seemingly auspicious start.

Princess Diana and I were married the same year! Though mine was first.

We each wore fairytale wedding gowns, though mine was off the rack and the sales lady practically bullied my mother and I into making the purchase. I’m sure, Princess Diana had a slew of people helping her with her gown, and I doubt any of them tried to push her into buying wholesale. Her gown became a fashion icon and is currently touring the states.  Mine spent years stored in a box somewhere, until I dropped it off at Goodwill one day.

Our first borns were boys, and mine was every bit a prince until that is, he started walking and terrorizing our poor cat.  When the princess and prince visited the U.S., a gala dinner at the White House was held in their honor. At the time, I was working at an office just a few blocks away. There, she got to dance with John Travolta, who I happened to have a major crush on, ever since seeing him in Grease.  Turns out, Diana had a crush on him, too! You see? Parallel lives, indeed! Coincidence? I think not!

We both married men with cheating in their hearts, and our divorces became final around the same time. Which is about when our parallel lives began to part ways.  She became a jet setter, jaunting all over Europe and tripping the light fantastic.  While the only tripping I did was on my way to pounding the pavement in search of a job.

Yes, Princess Diana and I were kindred spirits, though we never met and she never did respond to the 47 letters I sent her, in which I described all our similarities. Sigh. Maybe I’ll have better luck with Kate. After all, I’m just certain she and I must have a good deal in common!