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May 17, 2002
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1977 (New York City Blackout)
In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
In July of 1977 I was 19 years old and dating an Afghan man, Ebrahim. I lived at home with my parents in Ridgefield, NJ. Abe and I took the Path train over from Hoboken (where he lived) to the Village that night. I believe it was a Tuesday night. We were eating in this restaurant called Amy's having salads.
While we were eating, we heard a humming-type of sound and then the lights went out for a few seconds but then went right back on again. I said to Abe, oh, it's just a brown-out, no big deal. A few minutes later, the lights went out for good. I really thought they would go on again soon. We got up and ran out of the restaurant. People were pouring out of buildings. Abe was saying, take the food! take the food! I was wondering why he was so intent on taking the food! He is from Afghanistan and thought it was some kind of nuclear war. I explained what it was and he dumped his food in the garbage. We tried to call his roommate, Gregg, in Hoboken, but when I picked up a pay phone all the lines were crossed and I could hear several people talking at one time. The traffic lights were out and police on horseback were directing traffic. We eventually made it up to 42nd Street. People were looting all over the place. Breaking glass windows and making off with TVs, stereos, etc. There was glass all over the sidewalk. At that point my one shoe broke (they were rubber flip flops) and Abe was pulling me towards the Port Authority.
The Port Authority had lights on. We were making our way to the floor where we would get the bus back to Hoboken. At one point, the lights went out - we were on the escalator going up - and it was pitch black and the escalator stopped. But the lights went back on a couple of seconds later.
We got the last bus out to Hoboken. The bus driver wanted exact change. To this day, I always have tons of change in my wallet. I was giving change out to everyone on the bus. One lady said "God Bless You" to me. I told her I was glad to help.
When we came out of the Lincoln Tunnel into Weehawken, I was never so glad to see New Jersey. When we looked across the river to NYC, it was so eerie not to see the lights of the buildings. All you could see was just hulking shadows.
I will never forget that night and I'm sure wherever Abe is he never did either. To this day, my parents never knew I was in New York that night - much less in a blackout.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I believe it happened because of the heat. ConEd couldn't keep up with all the people running their air conditioners day and night.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
I believe it is just an overloading of too many people using their air at one time or it could be attributed to an accident like a car crashing into a pole or a bolt of lightening could do it, too.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Both were significant
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
It was significant because it happened over such a widespread area and just shut down everything from traffic lights, phones, etc. Plus it happened at night which didn't help matters either. I believe it took about a day to restore power in NYC. A lot of my friends that worked in the City were off the next day.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
It just made me want to get out of NYC as fast as I could. We had to use our wits and act fast. It didn't affect me in a bad way at all. It really was an adventure and it's a story to tell people about. Everyone always is interested in hearing about it.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I had a general idea of how widespread the blackout was. I knew this was no minor power outage. It was something to hear about it on the news and see the footage after I was home in my house in New Jersey and being removed from it.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
There is no comparison. We have had normal power failures in my town that have lasted a few minutes to a few hours due to a bolt of lightening or whatever. This was just catastrophic in my opinion. Much different than a power failure in the suburbs.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
They were just unprepared for the heat and handling the large volume of air conditioners that were running. I'm sure they are better prepared now. I think they did the best they could. It could happen anywhere.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
In 1965 I was just 7 years old and remember it vaguely. I remember playing in my living room with my Barbies with the TV on and then everything went dark. The one in 1977 - I was out in a big city with an Afghan man who thought it was the Cold War. It's different being in your house than being on the streets of New York.
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Other (please specify)
If other, please specify:
I am more careful about leaving lights on in a room if I'm not in there. I won't leave a radio on in a room if I'm not listening to it or a TV for that matter either. I don't leave the air on all day except it it's really hot out. I just turn it down low because I have a cat and I don't want anything to happen to her.
This is how the story goes: In November of 1965 the lights went out in New York and crime rates temporarily dropped; there were widespread reports of extraordinary cooperation and trust between strangers caught together in the power failure. In July of 1977, little more than a decade later, the lights went out again in New York. This time, a devastating wave of looting and arson broke out. Does this story ring true to you? Explain why or why not:
It does ring true, very much so. I was there and saw first hand the looting and the fires on the sidwalks and in the streets. People went crazy. It was like being on the set of a disaster movie.
Story #161, The Blackout History Project, 17 May 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/161/>.
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