My 2003 New York Blackout Experience

IT STARTED IN QUEENS

On August 14, 2003, I encountered an experience that showed me how important connectivity truly is. I had recently been promoted from a pharmaceutical sales representative to a Regional Trainer. I was asked to travel to New York to work with a tenured and very successful pharma sales rep. This was going to be my first time in New York, so I scheduled the field visit on a Thursday and planned to stay the weekend.

This sales rep, let’s call her Amy, took me to work in Queens for the day. I had a hotel reservation at the Marriot Marquis in Midtown that evening. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, Amy and I started discussing the best way for me to get to the hotel. She needed to be back on Long Island for a conference call at 5 pm, so she wanted to drop me off at the train station at 4:00.

I didn’t have any cash on me, so I asked her to stop by an ATM machine.This was a move that benefitted me in more ways than I could have ever known at that time, as it caused me to miss the scheduled train. Around this time all of the traffic lights started blinking yellow. It was strange, we thought, but we moved on to find a taxi station so I could catch a cab into the city. Then, Amy left.

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

At the station, I learned that all power was out in the city and no cell phones were working.Everyone feared this was a new terrorist attack. The last cab at the station said he would take me to the city, but we needed to leave immediately. I talked him into letting me make a call to my mom on a pay phone. It was short, but I quickly communicated the situation, told her I loved her, there may be a terrorist attack on New York, and goodbye. Just the words any loving mother wants to hear, I know.

After I hung up, a sweet Australian woman named Margaret approached me to ask where I was headed since I had the last cab available. When I told her, she said that was two blocks away from where she was headed with her coworker, David. She asked if they could join me, and off we went.

It turned out no cars were making it into the city at this point. Trains were shut down with people trapped inside, so everyone in Manhattan who lived outside the city was now traveling in herds on foot across every bridge in town. Our cab driver dropped us off in front of the 59th street bridge. As I watched the thousands of people coming in our direction, I opened up my suitcase, changed my heels to running shoes and started our journey.

THE JOURNEY INTO MANHATTAN

Everyone on the bridge was traveling the opposite way that we were. I felt like I was playing Frogger with every person in New York that day, all while dragging a suitcase and computer bag with me.

It took a long time to cross that bridge, but there was a hotel at the end handing out water and letting people use the restroom, in the dark I might add, so we made a quick pit stop before heading toward my hotel and Margaret’s apartment. Her apartment was off 7th Avenue and 48th Street. My hotel was off 7th Avenue and 45th Street, three blocks away.

We arrived at Margaret’s apartment first, shared a laugh and said our goodbyes as they pointed me in the direction of my hotel.  Then, David said “Why don’t we walk down with you to make sure you can get in the hotel? I believe the lobby is on the 7th floor.” They were nice enough to walk with me, and sure enough, no one was getting into the hotel that night. People were all camping out on the sidewalks and laying on suitcases. The picture on the morning paper the next day was taken at that exact spot. I could have been one of them had it not been for a lucky connection made by chance.

newyork blackout - people walking on highway due to power outage
(Photo by Jonathan Fickies/Getty Images)
newyork blackout - Thousands of New Yorkers walk along the Brooklyn Bridge
(Photo by Anthony Correia/Getty Images)

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

After discovering there was no hotel for me, Margaret turned around and said, “Well, you’re coming with us.”  She said I could spend the night with her, and the three of us would sit on her balcony and have wine and cheese.  I could not believe the kindness she was showing a total stranger.

Now, Margaret neglected to mention that her apartment was on the 36th floor.  This was important because all elevators were out of commission and stairwells completely dark, except for some good Samaritans standing with lighters and flashlights to help guide us.  David offered to carry my suitcase, and I carried his computer bag along with mine.  Let’s just say that was the best workout I ever had in a suit.

We made it to Margaret’s apartment, but by this point, I had a terrible migraine.  I was really sick. Margaret walked straight into her only bedroom, replaced the sheets for fresh ones, and told me to rest in her bed.  She said she would sleep on the couch after she and David enjoyed their wine and cheese.  I was also lucky that Margaret had plastic gallon jugs of water we were able to use to flush the toilet.  Without these, it could have been a little awkward.

I woke up feeling much better the next day and Margaret said we would go to her neighbors on the 42nd floor for lunch.  They were so kind and welcoming to me.  As we were eating lunch with the windows open, we started hearing loud cheers from the streets.  Then, the clicking started.  Something on their stove started clicking, and though I am not sure what it was, it meant the electricity was back on!

After lunch, Margaret helped me hail a cab to the airport.  Although I was unable to get a flight that day, I took a cab to the SoHo Grand where I stayed the evening and enjoyed a great meal.  I flew out the next day with a grateful heart and quite a story to tell.

WHAT I LEARNED

I think about this adventure at least once a month.  Manhattan has a reputation for being a very fast paced city where no one cares about you.  The former may be true, but definitely not the latter.  What I received from New York that day was acceptance, understanding, compassion, and teamwork, partly because these are woven into the threads of New Yorkers.  However, for me on that day, much of it occurred because of a chance encounter.

When I started considering leaving my last role, I thought of this experience.  My role was very broad, and I would work with over 30 suppliers a year.  When it came to finding suppliers for projects, I would either receive company names I already knew from procurement, do an online search leading me down the rabbit hole of the internet, or email my contacts and wait days or weeks to find an answer.  I wanted what I had in New York, a perfect match of people who could help me in my time of need, but I know this usually doesn’t happen by chance.  With the new supplier search engine my team at Source Explorer has created, now it no longer has to.

 

Follow Source Explorer on Twitter