Why Chebeague is a Better Place to be in a Blackout

Thursday, July 14, 2003 found me in sweltering New York City, where I was to conduct two interviews that day and another two the next, then fly to Logan on Saturday morning for the drive back to Maine.

Near the end of the first interview the lights went out. Immediately a voice began coming over the intercom, repeatedly announcing a blackout and that only one elevator of the usual six would be working until the power was restored. The second interview was to be at 5 p.m. The interviewee didn't arrive, and efforts to reach him via cell phone were to no avail. It turns out the blackout had substantially interrupted cell service.

I waited until six, now hearing over the intercom that there was no more elevator service. Realizing that the scheduled interview was not to happen (it turns out only no one was allowed to enter the building once the blackout started), I descended the twenty-three flights of stairs to the ground floor. It seemed pretty much like a piece of cake.

People were sitting and lying around everywhere at street level, not knowing how to get home, hoping the power would soon go back on. I walked several blocks to a downtown street, and soon a bus showed up. Getting into it required a fair amount of pushing and squeezing. The minute the bus began to move, stopping and starting incessantly due to the uncontrolled traffic (no stop lights), I realized my legs were jello. I had heard stories of how it is harder on one's leg muscles walking down than up, but this was my first experience of this phenomenon. I simply lacked the leg muscle strength at this point to maintain my equilibrium while attempting to stand in the lurching bus.

My only option was to shoe horn myself off the bus after about five minutes of little progress in stop and go traffic, and head to Greenwich Village, my destination, on foot. Fortunately walking was much easier than the standing-on-the-bus thing, although the sidewalks were very crowded, and crossing the street was a dicey situation.

In less than an hour I was at our apartment, my business attire totally drenched in the 93 degree heat and high humidity. I felt my way up the pitch black stair well to the fifth floor apartment, but was unable to get the key into the door lock in the complete darkness. So it was down to the lobby to borrow a flashlight, then back up the five flights again, then down again to return the flashlight before ascending the five flights again, to collapse in a tired, sodden heap. Finding candles for reading light, I soon found my eyes closing, having arisen at five that morning for the drive to Boston and the flight to New York, not to mention the blackout complications.

The sirens wailed in the city all night long, and I heard the next morning that there had been quite a brawl a half block away during the night, but I slept quite well. I awakened surprised that power had not yet been restored, took a cold shower in the darkness of our windowless bathroom, dressed and headed out to find some breakfast and a paper. Nearly everything was closed, the streets eerily silent. I was able to procure an apple which served as breakfast. No papers, so except for hearsay I was literally and figuratively pretty much in the dark as to what was going on, or what the outlook was. I was told that power had been restored in midtown, so I dressed and headed there for the day's interviews. A bus ride and a long, hot walk brought me to the building where the interview was to be held. Closed. No power there after all, and no information as to when it might be restored. I was unable to reach the interviewees by phone, so it seemed my only course was to go back to the apartment, gather my things, and try to get to the airport. Again I was drenched upon my return.

Calls to limo companies were to no avail. Cabs were few and far between, and the few occupied, so I decided to go back uptown to the bus station and see if I could get a bus to Boston. While awaiting the bus, a cab pulled right up in front of me, a passenger emerged, and if you don't think I can move fast when motivated, you should have seen me whip into that cab! Without this bit of good fortune, I might have been marooned in New York for another night, and still might not have been able to get to the airport for my Saturday morning flight back to Boston.

LaGuardia was a mess. No lights or air conditioning, no computers. Mobs of hot, tired people. A shortage of airline personnel. After an hour and a half in line, I was finally told that since my shuttle ticket was for the next morning and the computers were down, they could not change my ticket and there was nothing that could be done. Fortunately a sympathetic supervisor got me aboard the three o'clock flight, which left at four. I was back on Chebeague by nightfall.

I had travelled all the way to New York and back for what turned out to be one interview, I had had a day and a half without a square meal, my leg muscles ached, and folks on Chebeague were enjoying the best days of the summer!

Now I have been on Chebeague for a number of blackouts over the years, and some have lasted for quite a time. In contrast to my New York experience, they have in every case seemed like adventures. Just light up the candles, maybe a fire depending on the season, and get out the scrabble game or a favorite book. Maybe go for a walk in the moonlight. Maybe even have friends over for a blackout party. Provisions are not a problem, friends and neighbors are ready and willing to help in any way, and all in all it's generally a pleasant interlude.

So my advice to anyone unlucky enough to be in a blackout is to try to arrange for it to be on Chebeague!


Eldon Mayer