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NYC Blackout 2003 All Too Flat Style
Just after 4pm on August 14th, 2003, most of the Eastern Seaboard lost power, including New York City. No one knew exactly what happened for a while, and in today's political climate everyone assumed the worst. Fortunately it was due to some power explosion up in Canada that had a rippling effect into the US.

Ben works in the same building as the Bloomberg LP data center, so you better believe they didn't lose power. We only knew something was wrong because no one was replying to anyone's e-mails. That, and we saw billows of black smoke pouring out from one of the power plants on the East side.

Because there was still power, (including air conditioning and a freezer of ice cream), we all stayed at work, but most everyone was reloading web pages to see what happened. There were no reports for at least 10 to 15 minutes after the smoke, and possibly up to 20 or 30 minutes after the actual blackout. Pbbt. They call this the information age. Ha!

Fastest News Online News Reporting (Unofficial):

  • Bloomberg Professional Service - They had headlines scrolling by on the screen much sooner than anyone else, but it's probably not fair to count them in this survey
  • CNN.com was pretty quick to get a red "breaking news" banner up, but they were kind of slow to report any actual news
  • ABC was actually pretty quick, with the first bit of useful information I saw ("The power is out in NYC").
  • Yahoo News and NYTimes.com were big losers, not reporting much of anything until after the building was evacuated.
  • CNN televsion got the first interview with Mayor Mikey B, so they get credit for that, but you couldn't watch the news feed online, so they get minus 5 on that front.

    At this point, Ben set out on his rollerblades to find Arin and Kennyb, who were walking home from work. Definitely gave up on that pretty quickly. There were a lot of people outside!

    Actually, rollerblades were possibly the fastest mode of transportation for the day- way faster than cars, people, or even bikes. With millions of people in the street, no one could particularly go anywhere, except the dudes on rollerblades. And the one guy on a Segway. I'd like to take this time to urge the NYPD to hurry up their testing and get our City's Finest out on Segway scooters ASAP!

    There was actually a strange phenomenon occurring that was difficult to see without skates. There would be huge pileups at intersections, filled completely with cars and people. They would be in such gridlock that the streets around them would clear out completely. There were stretches of entire city blocks with no cars at all, while others were so jam packed no one could move.

    The next phenomenon to note was the tremendous volume of people with cell phones up to their ears. It was strange because no one got a signal. We asked every person walking by with a phone if they had a signal and they all said no. So why were they holding the phones to their ears?

    Most Reliable Cell Phone Provider in an Emergency

    Sprint No service
    Cingular No service
    AT&T No service
    Nextel No service
    T-Mobile No service
    VoiceStream No service
    Verizon Yes Service!

    Yes it's true! Verizon Wireless had service! Well there you have it folks! 34 million Verizon subscribers can't be wrong. I could almost see that guy walking around saying "Can you hear me now? Good." What's his name? Jared? Didn't he used to be fat or something?

    At this point it was around 7pm, 3 hours after the power went out. That's just an estimate because the only clock around was the giant clock thingy in Union Square (that no one but Vogelsteins understand) and it was pitch black. Weird.

    At this point it was time to head home and see if Arin and Kennyb were around. It was COMPLETELY PITCH BLACK in the hallway of Ben and Arin's apartment. In fact, the only way we all met up was because Kennyb was lighting his path with his i300 palm pilot cell phone:

    Finally, Ben, Arin and Kennyb all met up on St Marks Place to sit on the front porch and drink their last few cold beers before everything started heating up. It was pretty fun to loiter and drink on the streets. There were plenty of people doing it, so we had some toasts with some random passersby.

    The logic about drinking on the streets was as follows: the cops probably had better things to be doing at the time than writing us up for drinking in public. It's okay to break the law if the police are distracted. Which brings me to an important lesson:

    ATF has been sorta planning a prank on the City for some time now. Most likely the prank is never going to happen, in part because it's vandalism and we were scared of getting arrested or fined. The point is, this would have been an AMAZING time to pull off an illegal prank! It sucked that we didn't have our stuff together and ready to go. A word of advice to pranksters out there: always have a backup prank planned in case there is a city-wide disaster that will distract the police while you execute.

    Anyway, since we missed our window of opportunity, we'll show you what we would have done if we were better pranksters:

    I'm not sure if these Citibank ads are nationwide, but they are plastered EVERYWHERE in NYC. Sometimes 2 or 3 on the same block. They basically consist of a cute little phrase that says there are more important things in life than work and money. I guess that's supposed to make you give them your money? Anyway, some of them are actually kinda clever:

    One key thing to note is the Citibank logo is on every single one of these ads, which lends itself nicely to the following:

    The plan was to make googly eyes (or possibly stickers with drawings of googly eyes) and completely desecrate every single ad in the city. Brilliant, no? Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with this prank:

  • This company spent a lot of money on this ad campaign, and it's not so nice to go and vandalize all their hard work
  • If we put hundreds of stickers around the City, they would need to be cleaned up at taxpayers expense
  • Two-thirds of us work for a financial company, and the aforementioned corporation is quite a big client
  • The person who OWNS the company that two-thirds of us work for is the mayor of NYC, and the one who has to pay the workers who go out and clean up after us
  • None of these things would be a serious problem, except that the first thing we would do after pulling off this prank is rush home and post it on an internet site that gets 10,000 visitors a day

    Anyway, at this point we ran out of beer so we head over to Village Farm, the corner shop you might remember from the Teeth in Coke Myth. They were letting in 5 people at a time, so there was a line out front. We waited in line and then split up to get the essentials- a 6 pack of Belgian beer, a bag of pita, and a tub of hummous. Here's a nice picture of the checkout line being run by candle light. I told them they were almost out of Garden of Eatin' Tamari Ginger chips, but they didn't seem so concerned. I also got pissed because they had a sign in the window that said they take American Express but when I tried to pay with one I was denied. Bastards.

    Now it was after 7pm and we were getting frustrated with all the traffic and chaos that was still going on. So we decided to take the law into our own hands and begin directing traffic. These pictures pretty much speak for themselves:

    By 8pm, there was no real sign that the power was coming back on, so we decided to head up to Times Square- we figured it's not so often that Times Square is completely dark, so we wanted to go take a look. Couldn't see much.

    We began the 35 block walk up to Times Square. It was actually really strange out. There were a ton of people everywhere. And it was really dark. Light is one of those things that you really take for granted. There were some headlights, but for the most part you couldn't see much. The City seemed pretty split between people who were annoyed at the whole situation, and people (like us) who were really psyched to be out and about.

    There was another amazing phenomenon in the City. Now that most restaraunts were closed and people were faced with the possibilty of actually having to cook for themselves, the entire City hit pizza shops like it was their jobs. Here's a picture of a typical pizza joint during the blackout:

    Here's a crazy shot of the Empire State building, looking quite dark. It was supposed to be lit up white- shows what the people at Time Out NY know!

    The following a whole bunch of really dark pictures of Times Square. Not sure what else you expected.

    A picture of Ben and Kennyb drinking beer in front of a very dark NASDAQ:

    At this point I would like to mention that the beer wasn't just us. The ENTIRE CITY decided to get drunk as soon as the power went out. In fact, the huge bar in Grand Central Station was sucked dry by 4:40. That's 29 minutes after the power went out. 29 minutes folks! The bar was dry!

    Here's more Times Square stuff- this image has been photoshopped so you can almost see the giant Cup O Soup ad. But not quite. It was pretty dark.

    Honestly, standing in Times Square in the dark is a very strange feeling. We could see stars. It was so creepy.

    This is the same Toys 'R' Us from the Harry Potter 5 debut. Looks a little different this time around.

    This last picture really sums it up, doesn't it?

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