Let’s Party Like It’s 2003

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Northeast Blackout of 2003, as Wikipedia officially calls it. Basically, every single New Yorker who was around back then has their very own “survival story” and I’m no different…

Such tales can easily classified into one of two categories, and thankfully my experiences fall into the didn’t suck column. Because I had narrowly missed being trapped in a subway train for who knows how long, again thank God; was in Manhattan, earlier in the day, for an EA presser on the behalf of Nickelodeon Magazine. When it was time to type up my report in my home office, which was in Bay Ridge, DEEP south into Brooklyn, my iMac suddenly died. And stayed dead.

When the power remained out for longer than expected, everyone in my neighborhood began roaming the streets, looking for answers. There was the slightest tinge of fear and dread in the air, given that 9/11 was not that long ago. Thankfully the corner deli guy had a radio (plus batteries), so everyone could heard the news and find out what had actually happened.

I distinctly recall talking to a friend on the phone, who was still in Manhattan; I had a cell phone, which still wasn’t super common at that point, and which also means he didn’t own one. So we conversed via pay phone, in Times Square to be exact; with so many people in the area and so many voices, including lots of tourists, who tended to be on the dumb side even back then, it’s easy to understand why the truth was having a hard time making the rounds, amidst all the speculation and rumor floating around (again: 9/11 kinda/sorta just happened).

When I told my aforementioned friend that the news had reported a massive power outage, I then heard him telling everyone around him (there were apparently long lines of people at every pay phone, waiting to call someone), and distinctly recall all laughing they shot back at him. Whatever.

It was another insanely hot and humid summer day, and there was no way in hell I was sticking around the apartment all day long with no AC. While strolling around my neighborhood, looking for ways to stay distracted and cool, I passed by the deli on the other end of the street, which was in the process of being closed by its proprietor. He gave me over two dozen Spongebob Squarepants popsicles, knowing that they wouldn’t last long. And they cooled me down, but you can only have so many in a row. Five to be exact.

Officially bored, I called another friend and we made plans to hang out, at his place (he had a basement apartment, which I theorized would be cooler). I walked all the way to Sunset Park, going up via 5th Ave. The stretch from 88th St to 35th St was legit the longest block party I have ever encountered. Back then, that entire section of Brooklyn was almost entirely populated by working class, Mexican families; seemingly every single occupant of every house I passed by was out & about, young & old, grilling meats & consuming cervezas.

Only now, looking back, do I realize what a truly remarkable scene it was, the kind that make you proud to be a New Yorker; am assuming all those people are gone, cuz that area has probably been entirely gentrified… last I was near those parts, I saw lots of condos going up. Predictably.

By the time I got to my friend, he had managed to contact another pal, who had a car. Once again, thank God I wasn’t in Manhattan, where I heard traffic was a fucking nightmare; things were nice and controlled in the parts of Brooklyn that we drove around. We ended up hitting a bunch of bars surrounding Prospect Park, where they were practically giving beers away, since they’d all go bad otherwise. We all got pretty loaded, and yes, there was a drunk behind the wheel of our car. But everyone on the road was going super slow, it was okay.

At a certain point, late in the evening, I found myself stumbling across Prospect Park proper in the dark. Then, out of nowhere, a police chopper came swooping in and I was hit dead-on by a spotlight. On the megaphone was: “GET OUT OF THE PARK, RIGHT NOW”. But it wasn’t directed at me; there were… no joke… over 50 people in my immediate vicinity, all fucking in the park, under the blanket of darkness. Am surprised I didn’t step on anyone’s head or a boobie.

Eventually I was dropped off home and had the drunk munchies. But I knew I needed a real meal, some protein… some meat… some animal flesh. Had been looking forward to what I had in mind for dinner the couple hours leading up, and it was finally time to feast upon… a cold can of Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. Which I ate straight out a can. I felt like a survivalist, a real man’s man, eating “raw beef”, in the glow of my Game Boy Advance SP, which lit up my entire space.

Was going to have a few more Spongebob Squarepants popsicles for desert, but my fucking roommate at the time had eaten them all. Wasn’t too shocked; dude was a home body so he probably never left the house and needed a way to stay cool throughout the day & night… or perhaps he ate all twenty or so popsicles in one sitting, cuz he was weird like that (clearly I’m still pissed about it, fifteen years later). I went to bed worried about the pending loss of novelty of the blackout the following morning. But by then, the power had kicked back on.

So, yeah, an amazing time. Hence why, for the longest, I believed the city should have a mandatory blackout once a year. But I don’t believe that anymore… cuz the city’s not the same, and frankly, its denizens couldn’t handle such a thing. The 15th anniversary has made me realize that the Northeast Blackout of 2003 might be in, sad to say, the last time I truly loved NYC.

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