Unbelievably, the outage in my particular part of Manhattan is over
I stayed at work for as long as I possibly could, knowing that darkness and cold awaited me later. By the time I left at 7:03 p.m., it was windy and frigid outside and the bench in the booth by the bus stop sign was too cold for anyone's behind. The Number 20 arrived late and even the aisles were packed with people -- an unusual situation for a bus in Battery Park.
I exchanged monosyllables with the driver and left him alone because he had to negotiate his way to the freeway without the drivers on cross streets even knowing it was his turn. We rode through darkness and I saw queues of hooded pedestrians with flashlights swiveling and shrinking as we passed.
We got to my destination faster than I ever remembered getting there before -- the driver must have skipped half the route. He let me off at 14th Street and 8th Ave -- I almost missed my stop. When I looked around, I was surprised to see traffic lights functioning on 14th, and even streetlights twinkling on the uptown side. Restaurants were fully lit over there on 15th and beyond. I made out candles in one, but the full overheads next door announced that both places had power, actual power.
From 13th Street down -- the downtown side of the street -- only the road flares were visible in what would have seemed black glass behind the first receding block, which was still slightly illuminated by the lights on the other side.
I stood beside a bus stop sign in the dark in front of a candle-lit bodega. The mustachioed child inside was still selling whatever stock the owner had left. I didn't go in because I made out my bus in the distance.
I didn't think the bus driver would see me, so I jumped up and down and waved at the 14-D as it approached.
I shouldn't have worried.
For three blocks going south, everything remained dark outside my passenger window but for the occasional traffic light. How could the driver even tell where he was? I wondered how I'd know when I was close to home if the window beside my seat was going to remain that uninflected.
Then on Broadway, the streetlights and the occasional drug store seemed to be fully lit. By Union Square, both sides of the street were white with neon and all the shops were open. You could see customers waiting for the cashiers in Whole Foods. It felt miraculous.
As we continued to drive, the other passengers and I became apprehensive. Surely the light and power were going to stop. We assumed our places near the projects would still be submerged in shadow.
We turned the corner on 14th and C: Con Ed's electric works were torchlight-bronzed and functioning. In the seats behind me, an African-American older gentleman and a younger Latino man held hands. "Look like Verizon doin' they business," the older man said.
"It sure does, baby," the younger man agreed. "Weren't none-a this on when we left."
All the way home, the streetlights and storefronts remained lit. Everyone was relieved or pleased, nodding or simply grinning. The people on a New York City bus usually look bored and annoyed. They didn't look that way this time.
"I can't believe the lights are on," I whispered to our white-haired driver.
"I know," he said. "I dint think they'd be on eitheh. My wife said they lit around five."
When the bus driver let me off, I jumped through the doors and ran to my building. I can't tell you how overjoyed I was to see the awning lit, the lights in the hallway when I entered. It was thrilling to unlock my door and glimpse the brightness inside through the crack.
The first thing I heard was my television tuned to the news channel, as it had been just before the power went down. The bland newscasters' voices greeted me as I put away the leftovers I'd taken home from the cafeteria, thinking they'd comprise my main meal for the weekend. I took the milk I'd tried to keep fresh out of what had been the tepid freezer. The liquid was already partly frozen.
I hadn't watched TV in years before the storm, but now I felt reluctant to turn it off. For the past six days, my only company at home had been the voices of those stagey weather announcers on my crank-powered radio. You get attached to voices when you're alone in the darkness and I definitely felt that. But then the spell broke and I switched off those alarmists' hypnotic mantras.
They're the reason, after all, that we tend to ignore true disasters. They make ordinary events sound so dramatic that the real ones don't seem
* * * * *
It feels amazing to have light, heat and internet service -- to type this message at home on my personal laptop at last.
Imagine how it would feel to live in a place where you lacked these things. Maybe life is actually better than we think. Perhaps ordinary things are exquisite luxuries.