Just my luck.
Last Thursday, I left New York’s JFK Airport at 2:15 P.M. After an especially comfortable United Airlines flight, I deplaned in Los Angeles and soon learned what I had left behind.
One hour and 56 minutes after I departed New York, my town went dark, along with much of the East Coast, the upper Midwest, and eastern Canada. TV monitors at LAX showed CNN’s live shots of thousands of people standing in front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal with nowhere to go. Seemingly bigger crowds packed the Hudson River piers desperately seeking some way off of Manhattan Island.
“Lucky you!” Angelenos responded when I described my close-brush with powerlessness.
It may be difficult for non-Gothamites to understand, but I actually feel terribly unlucky to have escaped the Blackout of 2003 — the largest in American history.
From the West Coast, I watched TV images of my neighbors sleeping on the steps of the main post office, dancing beside spouting fire hydrants, and drinking not-quite-cold beers by candlelight. I heard idyllic stories of people sitting on the sidewalks of New York and admiring the constellations overhead. All the while, I kept thinking: “I wish I were with you.”
There is something exhilarating about being among eight million people from around the globe when adversity amplifies the usual pressures of living in America’s biggest city. New Yorkers’ “tough courtesy,” as one commentator put it, vividly appears when snowstorms cripple the metropolis or when crowds at parades seem on the verge of chaos, yet maintain control, no matter what. September 11, of course, was the crucible that extracted the best from nearly every New Yorker. Autumn 2001 was filled with confusion, horror, and grief as well as constant acts of kindness, grace and generosity.
A desire to experience this blend of hardship and humanity makes me wish I had spent the Blackout of 2003 seeing how eight million people calmly lived as if Thomas Edison never had.
Speaking of light bulbs, let me offer one bit of advice amid my regrets for barely missing last week’s events: From this day forward, every American should carry a key-chain flashlight.
Thanks to advancements in L.E.D. technology, flashlights simultaneously have grown smaller and brighter. My CMG brand flashlight attaches to my keys and sits quietly in my pocket. Had I been stuck in the subway or had to flee down a long, pitch-black stairway last week, I could have extricated myself and others with quite a few lumens of lithium-battery-powered brilliance.
I bought my light after reading about some people who were trapped in an elevator during the February 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. They were in total darkness until someone used the glow from either an electronic wristwatch or a calculator to pierce the dimness ever so slightly. That helped them cut through the dry wall in front of the opened elevator doors, squeeze into an adjacent men’s room and run downstairs to safety.
With the risk of another attack still with us, I purchased my tiny light for about $18 and have carried it around since. I urge everyone who reads this to do the same. In addition to many sporting goods stores, Brookstone and PhotonLight.com sell key-ring flashlights online. My CMG-04 Mini Task Light turns on with a slight thumb squeeze. A small metal tab slides over that switch to generate a constant light beam that can run constantly for 12-14 hours before the unit’s battery needs replacement.
You never know where you might wind up in the dark. Whether it’s another blackout, an earthquake, a hike that drags on past dusk, or a terrorist attack, a key-chain light will boost the odds that you and those around you will reach safety. And in less-menacing circumstances, these handy devices are perfect for reading maps and recovering things that have gone astray in movie theaters or under restaurant tables.
So, please do yourself and others a favor and start carrying a key-ring flashlight — just in case.