the blackout beef blog

Updated August 20, with pictures

We’re back. Time Warner somehow managed finally to push the right remote control button exactly two days after electrical power (but, for our building, not their cable) was restored to Chelsea. We now have our connection once again, for email and the internet, and of course for television as well (although I haven’t looked, and now have no need for its sad contribution to news reporting).

As you see, Barry and I have been pretty much out of touch with the world since Thursday morning (We left the apartment early in the afternoon to visit the Metropolitan Museum, where we were when the power went off). This means that I have little idea of what has already been said on line about the events of last week, so I’m going to limit my comments to personal experience – and I guess I’ll use the opportunity to let off a little steam.

First of all, I am so f ___ing furious about the spin we were getting, and still get! Yes, New Yorkers were wonderful, but the people everywhere at the very top (of the political, energy and communications heaps) who are supposed to be responsible for our security and basic services should be boiled in oil. Instead, we're forever hearing this counter-productive, counter-revolutionary crap about how well we made it through.

For most New Yorkers, at least for those with batteries and portable units, there was nothing but radio for word about what was going on, and that is another problem about which we should be hearing much more from both the cord and remote phone industries. We can at least ask whether it was necessary for our only source of information to give us only what they or the authorities thought would calm us poor children, rather than any real information. I only remember hearing over and over again about how relaxed the City was, about how there was one cooling-off shelter in each borough (one in each?), about calling 311 rather than 911 unless it was a real emergency (how were we going to call any number?) and about the mayor expecting power to be restored very soon, in hours, pretty soon, well, . . . soon, or maybe by some time on Monday. The only practical information I remember hearing (and this from public radio, where I should have expected real reporting and real questions to be asked) was the situation at the airports, certainly not a priority even for New Yorkers not stuck in subways or trying to survive without food or water.

New York did so well, I’m almost surprised we don’t hear some people saying, “Bring it on, again!” - the idea being that we should regularly have this kind of opportunity to prove our mettle and our civic sweetness. Besides selling papers and airtime, it helps the economy – or so the reasoning might go. Even though we know there was no power overload this time, that it was the transmission and other systems that failed, I expect nothing to be done to prevent a recurrence, except what will further enhance the profits of the decision-makers at the top and their paid operatives in Washington, state capitols and cities. Alaskan oil drilling, tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, nuclear energy and countless other destructive rapes of the public and its weal, come to mind immediately. Hey, does anyone remember ENRON? Does anyone recall the vaunted and still very secret Cheney energy meetings that were supposed to result in miracles? The only miracles were the obscene profits of those whose conversations are still kept from us.

Second, do we really have to submit to "Blade Runner"-like assaults by police helicopters? We hardly slept Thursday evening, and the problem was not just the dark, warm, airless room. It was less the heat and humidity that arrested sleep and more the horrendous and mindless whop-clack of the police helicopters (infra-red cameras directed below them in a neighborhood "security" watch) passing every few minutes and hovering directly overhead for a few more, while occasionally and disturbingly shining searchlights onto the ground and the walls outside our rooms. Not knowing at the time how many days and nights this might continue made it even more horrible and obscene.

Can't the police walk, or pedal, or even drive cars anymore? Did they have to terrorize us (disturbing what peace we might have hoped for) in the name of combating terror (keeping the peace) by remote, and in fact secret, control? These may be rhetorical questions, since there is little doubt that helicopters are considered more fun, more manly, than the alternatives, even as they are less risky for the individual officer. If the police were only interested in preventing lootings or controlling what they consider to be the threat to order represented by the large public housing units in our neighborhood, they would have announced they were going to be haunting us all beforehand, but even after the fact you don't see any report of their overhead presence, at least in the print media. I figure it's something like the approach our cops use to catch speeders. In the U.S. they usually try to catch them by hiding; in Europe they are interested in keeping them from speeding in he first place, so they are very visible, especially on dangerous sections of roads.

And finally, why on this tight little island of Manhattan has no one apparently even thought of setting aside at least one or two north-south avenues for emergency vehicles and some routes for pedestrians alone? Why, in the great emergencies unfortunately not unexpected these days, do 10 million people on foot have to compete with the idiots who choose to drive private cars in Manhattan?

Walking down from the Metropolitan, we saw a couple of women try to force their Oldsmobile across Fifth Avenue on 52nd Street through the huge crowd of pedestrians. They nudged a woman pushing a baby carriage. At that moment there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands of pedestrians visible on Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street, and only a handfull of cars and SUVs, each of them carrying but one or two people. And yet the machines still seemed to think they had the right of way – they wouldn't even pull over when an emergency vehicle was blasting its horn immediately behind them, until people on foot engaged the drivers. All this a habit of 50 years, encouraged by the authorities in the name of "keeping [vehicle] traffic moving."

In fact we ourselves were really very little inconvenienced, especially compared to the problems experienced by so many others, and compared to what could have happened to all of us.

There are a few pictures below. For the fun part of the blackout, and more pictures, go to the next post, just above this one.

The images, from the top: 5th Avenue, Pennsylvania Station, Public Library steps across from the station

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Published on August 19, 2003 3:51 PM.

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