I was listening to a sweet jazz trio in the east wing of Grand Central, pausing to absorb the groove, when poof: mood lighting! The jazz trio, kudos to them, continued to play until the emergency sirens whined, ushering people out to the streets. I slipped out to sidewalks rapidly filling with ambushed commuters, all calmly wondering and theorizing about why, what, and whom. "Building must have blown something." "Na, it's the block transformer; see the people over there?" Not once did I hear the word terrorist. I swam through the crowd, heading east towards the UN, the crowds thinning as I moved into the residential Murray Hill area. An overpass beckoned, as did friendly NYers asking if I knew anything. Nope. (Is everybody with a 'big' camera a knowledgeable newsie?) I got a well-formed opinion about the UN and a friendly grin as I finished the film in my camera.
To my disgust, I couldn't find the usual handful of film I try to carry in my camera bag. I had just finished the last roll I had, the rest of my now precious handful of film back at the Marriott! I squeezed into the crowds around Grand Central so I could cut through to the Marriott, but was denied entrance. It dawned on me that I should probably ignore the Marriott (including the afternoon IDSA session), find some film locally and play photojournalist. A nearby drug store had no lights, but could (thankfully) take VISA. Estimating the blackout wouldn't last for long, I bought 2 rolls. (Everybody say 'Stimpy, you iiidiiiot!') The crowds were getting thicker, and there were lots of fun people on the streets, including servicemen checking their multitude of devices.
By now I realized that far more than 'just a block transformer' had technical difficulties. All of Manhattan was on the move! Avenues were filling with people streaming north and south, blocking traffic. A true critical mass! Interestingly, the majority of the mid-island east-west streets did not clog. The walkways of 5th Ave and 42nd Street overflowed, blocking traffic in both directions. A sprinkling of bewildered people joined the New York Public Library lions (with the occasional person on top of the lions). I witnessed an original version of zip-off pant legs to make walking in the heat more bearable. In Bryant Park behind the library, some slept while others people watched.
I ambled passed closed subway stations towards the Marriott, considering it past time to check-in and attend to the official explanation/expectation. After many eloquent and effusive stories about the neon and bustle in Times Square, seeing the famed Times Square dark was amusing. The official line at the Marriott: "Sir, nobody is allowed in until we get electricity back." "Yea, understandably. Forecast?" "3-4 hours minimum, sir." "Cool!" "(smile) In the meantime, sir, get some good photos." "Oh yea!" I launched for the streets, then the photographers' nightmare struck: the realization that I had in my possession 10 bucks cash, a kick-ass camera, a really cool situation, enough clothes to stay warm for a while, a hungry tummy, and enough film for two or three more shots. Let the debate begin: food vs. film. For others, the debate was how to get home...
I succumbed and bought some sustenance. The street vendors were making a killing, raking in the cash. The selection of film was measly, but I found an acceptable roll, winced at the price (and like a fool didn't negotiate) and counted what I had left for food: a buck thirty-five. And now one more roll of film, sustenance for my camera. I could wait for food, but not for film. I headed back in the direction of Grand Central, toward the pharmacy that I had found my first film at in the hopes they still accepted VISA. The occasional abandoned delivery truck adorned the roadsides. Grand Central was still closed. I finally realized the trains and subways that were in transit when the electricity disappeared were likely not running. Stalled, stationary, suspended in animation with tasty commuters inside. What a fate, what a vacation from commuting. What a place to wait. The police and firemen, so valuable during 9/11, were getting another workout.
I found the lights out at the pharmacy (no surprise), but the door locked, much like other stores. Those that were open were cash only now. The small local stores were doing just as well as the street vendors, lines out the doors. Water, beer, flashlights, food, batteries, and candles seemed to be favourites (in that order). Sigh. Just how hungry are you, Peter? Just how long is this going to last? I hunted for functioning ATMs without success and settled into wandering and photographing. The people had thinned on some streets, leaving more space for cars and transport. Of course, the lack of traffic lights made a vehicle a liability, until Joe Blow stepped up to the plate and umpired stops and starts. Joe would do a shift at a major intersection, then eventually head off, maybe replaced by another Joe, maybe not. A couple sections of town still had power (including traffic lights), whether from some big generators or just an isolated line on the power grid, I don't know.
I strolled northwest towards Central Park, planning for a pre-dusk saunter through the park and arrival at the Marriott by dark. I didn't fancy being IN Central Park without any lights. I will admit to doing stupid stuff and it may be a new era in Central Park safety, but I'm just a little west coast boy with some fancy clothes, a nice camera and no black belt. The local pedicabs were doing very well. Any vehicle and driver willing to carry people was loaded. After being accustomed to streets flush with people travelling out of the city, my wander through Central Park found a surprise. Many people were taking the afternoon off as a plus, a chance for a little extra treat, or even just the usual. On my way into Central Park, as my hunger increased and I berated myself for leaving my film behind (a photographers no-no), a forgotten pouch on my camera bag revealed my traditional handful of film! Score! And doh! I could have saved my 10 bucks for food!