It was about 4:20pm when the power first went down, I was sitting on the 4th floor of the ABC No Rio building in the computer lab. Every thing went down except for the fan and a light bulb in the stairwell, which continued to run on residual power for about one minute before dying. We assumed it was just local and would only be a matter of waiting an hour or two.
I’m not sure when the scope of it really hit me. I was walking up toward Ave. A to find some food when the city’s mood suddenly reminded me of the morning of September 11, 2001. Crowds of people were listening to radio news on blasting car stereos. All the street lights were out, creating the effect of cars and trucks becoming more cautious while bikes and pedestrians seemingly “jaywalked” with reckless abandon.
More and more people were out on the street as the evening set in. All of the trains were out of service. All the bridges off Manhattan were open to pedestrian traffic and many people living in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx made the long walk back home. Seeing the endless flood of people walk off the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn with a bridge sign stating: “BROOKLYN: WHERE NEW YORK BEGINS” was a magnificent sight.
As a squatter, I was overjoyed at the idea of the entire city being reduced to candle light. I was also quite pleased to see how friendly and neighborly people behaved. Several people and even some restaurants were giving away food that would have rotted otherwise. My friends and I dumpstered gallons of “trademark” ice cream that would have melted had we not passed it out at Tompkins Square Park. Later in the night people built a bon fire in the performance area near the center of the park. The fire was fueled by the wooden barriers that had been built around the trees to keep people from climbing them. The party went on much into the morning and people openly slept in the park.
I heard many stories of people not being allowed into their hotel rooms because no one could confirm who rented what room. There was very little looting; in fact Times Square was reportedly festive all night with drinking and street performers filling up the street.
The lights came on in the east between 9 and 10. People in the park were hollering, bellowing and booing. I chimed in. The east village was one of the last parts of Manhattan to be put back on the grid. It was an amazing energy and people remained in good spirits for sometime after.
We can learn from this, but learn what? What effect does electricity have on the human body or society in general? Does the earth benefit from having miles upon miles of electrical wire wrapped around it? Why celebrate in the face of chaos? What liberation can be extracted from a simple break in routine? One thing’s for sure given the chance people will rise to the occasion and relish in freedom.