Yesterday evening I had just finished a volunteer shift directing trash traffic at a cultural event at the Abrons center on the Lower east Side and went down to take the train home at Delancey-Essex street station. It was a little after 7:30 PM, and the station was crowded.
A woman’s voice was making some kind of shrill announcement from the PA system, but because of the crowd, a J train on the Brooklyn bound side of the upstairs tracks and a really loud amplified busker down on the F platform all I hear was “all trains holding in place.”
I had already swiped my card and was sorry I had gotten off the M-14 A bus, which would have gotten me across town to better train choices.
But I had no idea, right? It was one of New York’s little surprises.
I checked my Bus Time app; there was another bus in 3 minutes. But just then a train pulled into the Manhattan bound J/M tracks. Salvation! I bounded up the steps just in time to jump on a southbound J train. I was hoping for an M to take me to West 4th, but an A train at Fulton would do.
When I got to the A platform at Fulton Street I started getting a better picture of the situation, hearing things like “power outage” and “stalled trains.” There was a nearly empty A train sitting in the station and hoards of people milling about on the platform in a state of absolute confusion.
Ever the consummate New Yorker I dashed off to the 2 and 3 line upstairs, which would get me home. It wasn’t my first choice due to the fact I knew the 1 train was ending at 96th street and I would have to bus it to 145 to get back on another 1 train for the one stop trip to 157th, my home station. But I was running out of choices.
A Brooklyn bound train pulled in, so at least I knew this line was moving. After 10 minutes a crowded uptown 2 train pulled in and I miraculously got a seat thanks so t gaggle of confused tourists. God bless the tourists, at least sometimes.
It turned out to be an exercise in futility, the train stopped for 5 minutes at each station and crawled at a snail’s pace between stops. It took 45 minutes to reach 14th street from Fulton. I seriously debated getting off at 14th but by now a clearer picture of the little surprise was emerging.
“Due to the loss of power in some stations, we have significant delays in both up and downtown service,” the conductor kept saying. Not knowing which stations lacked power I thought it prudent to stay on the 2 despite the slow going.
“This train will be going over the local tracks, and will not be stopping at Columbus Circle.” Came the next bit of news.
So I braced myself and kept my nose in my New York Times crossword. Saturday’s nonetheless.
I finished it by the time we got to 42nd Street. We stopped at 50th, and I was surprised until I remembered we were going local. By now the “being held in the station by supervision” was down to 2 minutes instead of 5-7. (Yes, I was timing it.) As the train slowly rumbled forward I wanted to see what all the rumpus was about on 59th street. As the train pulled into the station I encountered a sight I’d never seen before. The station was completely dark, illuminated only by the light from our passing train. Spooky indeed. I snapped a few photos on my iPhone for posterity.
The train actually stopped at 66th, which was totally dark except for the countdown clocks, which read “2 to 96.” Truly eerie stuff. I wondered what other stations were in darkness, and if there were trains with people on them stuck in stations. I knew now this was serious.
I worried about my wife Danusia, who texted me she was going downtown to pick up her bicycle, which she’d left at her job in the Village. I kept texting her “no trains” to no avail and settled for one last “ride safe.”
Being a savvy New Yorker I thought I’d outsmart the crowds and get off at 72nd, where I could possibly catch the M-5 bus all the way home or if I was lucky, a cab. A cab would be impossible to come by at 96th street with the crowd alighting from the subway looking to get uptown fast. So I got off at 72nd.
When I went upstairs I was surprised to see that south of 72nd street there were almost no lights on! It wasn’t just the subway. And there wasn’t an empty cab in sight. I raced down the stairs and was lucky enough to catch another 2 train to 96th.
The crowd waiting for the busses was beyond immense; there were thousands of people standing in the middle of Broadway waiting to mob the first bus that came. I got in front of the crowd ready to fight my way onto a bus when I miraculously spotted not one, but two cabs on the downtown side of Broadway.
I maniacally dashed across Broadway narrowly missing the front of an approaching subway shuttle bus and jumped into the closest cab and told him where I wanted to go.
I was met by a real rarity in New York nowadays, a white guy behind the wheel.
An aged hippie who railed against every mayor since Wagner and told me the Larry Silverstein guy had sent the planes into the World Trade Center so he could make some money.
“That’s why they killed Kennedy, too,” he added. I didn’t ask him to elaborate.
As he drove up Riverside drive (The Henry Hudson was packed, he told me.) and ranted about bikes and Ubers and Lyfts I noticed he hadn’t turned on the meter. When we got to my building he acted surprised and said “oh, boy, do you think you can pay me in cash? Like twenny bucks? You think that’s fair?”
I handed him my last twenny and spotted my wife pushing her bike up the building entry path. I was glad she made it home safe.
Watching the news later I found out that it was an isolated area on the west side that had been affected, and it seemed weird that some lights went out and others didn’t. I noticed channel 4 NBC news was having a hard time broadcasting while ABC news was clear quality. I also learned that yesterday was the same date as the great blackout of ’77, July 13th.
I remembered finding out about that one over the phone. I was calling the Sutton Theater on 57th Street where my then girlfriend Anna was working to tell her I was on my way to pick her up. The manager answered and in a weird voice said, “Can’t talk now. The lights. The lights,” before the phone went dead.
I was at a payphone on the corner of Washington and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn, and as I hung up I glanced at the Manhattan skyline at the river end of Washington Avenue. I could see the Empire State building, and I watched in amazement as the lights in it went out floor by floor, then block by block until it got to where I was standing. The police sirens started almost immediately.