The Night New York City Went Dark (and what I did about it)

As the NY Times reports, this event occurred forty years ago on July 13, 1977. While the city was without electricity, businesses were looted, riots erupted and thousands were arrested. “It was a narrative of pay phones, portable transistor radios and battery-operated flashlights. One in which the glow of the city came not from smartphones, but from taxis, cigarette butts and candlelight bouncing in apartment windows.”

I was living in an apartment with my partner on the corner of 14th Street and 5th Ave. We were on the 11th floor with a dog recuperating from an operation. It was nighttime and suddenly the lights went out. Looking through the window all we saw was darkness. There had been brief outages in the past, but they had not lasted long.

Walking the streets, traffic lights and sidewalk lights were out. People  marveled at the difference and did not seem overly concerned.

Soon problems materialized. Our elevators stopped working. Three times a day we had to carry our dog up and down 11 flights of stairs. The electrical pumping of water up to our floor ceased operating – an unmitigated disaster.

We were fortunate that on the ground floor there was a Gristedes Supermarket. Soon, without freezers operating, frozen food was no longer available. Fresh fruits and vegetables were wilting. Much of what was in our refrigerator after a couple of days had to be discarded.

A few crowded bars and restaurants had a generator. There was Shakespeare’s Pub in the East Village where we commiserated with others over a drink.

After two days or so power was gradually restored to parts of New York City. In our case, living in Chelsea, we had to wait three and a half days until the lights came on. Before that happened I was mugged near Union Square Park but unharmed walking our dog.

In 1977 the  NYC mayor was the ineffectual Abraham Beame. He was soon replaced by the loquacious Ed Koch, the occasional liberal, who ran to the right of other candidates on a “law and order” platform. He disappointed me as he was not supporting gay rights and within a few years he was ignoring the desperate needs of a growing HIV population. The crack epidemic was also beginning to surge bringing in its wake increased violence and crime.

For various reasons we soon decided to leave NYC and come to the leafy suburbs of Teaneck New Jersey, with a backyard and more space. I think the blackout was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I still have a T-shirt: “I SURVIVED ‘BLACKOUT ’77’ NEW YORK.”

When arriving in the Garden State the reformer Democrat Brendan Byrne (a living legend) was our governor, followed by some good and not so good successors. Later Sandy and Irene duplicated some of what had happened in 1977, and we have been burdened by our current discredited governor.

New Jersey had long been important to me. My mother and her ancestors came from Newark, and at the time my sister was living in Summit. To this day I have no regrets about coming to New Jersey.

Do you have a story about moving to New Jersey?


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