Friday, August 15, 2003

State Of Emergency

I know, I know, the situation is not that dire, and yet I feel the need to be sensational on my own blog :-)

Last night I left work at around 7:30. On the way back to my apartment, I felt as if I was in Deep Impact or Armaggedon, or another one of those infinitely forgettable disaster movies. People thronged the sidewalks while cars clogged up the streets. Drivers got out of their cars to talk to each other. Cars parked crookedly in the middle of turns in the middle of intersections. Random people directed traffic so people like me wouldn't get run over. Walking in Manhattan can be a hazardous activity on a normal day. All bets are off now that all the traffic signals are off.

As I was about to enter my apartment, I walked past a bunch of residents that were loitering outside. Two girls waved at me, which was a highly unusual phenomenon for me. They were my roommate's girlfriend and her friend, who looked Korean and had a name suspiciously similar to my roommate. They were waiting for my roommate to get home but he never came, so I let them in to use the bathroom. Because we were all bored as hell, they started digging through my roommate's stuff to find something to entertain them. Unfortunately for my roommate, they found his porn. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't there with them to see their discovery because Korean girl was changing into my shorts since her jeans were too hot. I wonder what flavor of porn my roommate enjoys. Plain vanilla stuff like Playboy and Penthouse? Foot/leg/booty/tit/s&m fetish rags? I know he's not gay, but I thought about how hilarious it would be to find Black Inch (some black gay porn mag I once saw in a newsstand) in his drawers.

Anyways, we all went out on the balcony to sit and observe the people on the streets. It felt pretty awkward because they didn't really have anything to say to me and I didn't have anything to say to them. They started smoking and offered me a cigarette which I declined because I find smoking utterly repulsive.

After about 30 minutes of sitting around and doing nothing, I left the apartment to try to find some food. It felt so weird walking on the streets in almost pitch dark, save for the darting spots of luminance provided by people's flashlights and car headlights. I walked past a couple of bars that were still open, powered by candles and patroned by the after-work crowd. When I finally found an open grocery store, it didn't have any batteries or flashlights or candles for sale. Or food for that matter. I picked up a 3 Musketeer bar and fished out a bill from my wallet in almost total darkness.

"I hope that's a one-dollar bill, and not a twenty," I said to the Indian owner.

"Haha, it's your lucky day my friend," he laughed and gave me 30 cents back in change.

Apparently, he didn't realize that I wasn't joking. I really was NOT sure if I had given him a one-dollar bill.

Then I walked a little more before turning around toward my apartment. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well-behaved everyone was. No one tried to cut in line to buy stuff and no one attempted to steal stuff in near darkness. People were super patient and extra nice to each other. They hung out in the streets with lit candles and beers in hand, listening to music and news, chatting and laughing, as if this was some kind of block party. It was amazing.

By the time I got home it was almost 10 pm already. I was extremely bored and somewhat tired so I just lay in bed for a while and listened to my iPod. Then I realized that the backlight on that thing was bright enough to be used as a flashlight! To conserve the battery, I had to turn it off. Meanwhile, the girls snuck out of the apartment without saying a word to me. I didn't find the shorts I had lent to Korean girl anywhere, either. WTF? What kind of people are they?

I looked at my cellphone and saw that I had 6 messages on my voicemail. The problem was that I couldn't get through to anyone on my cell, and neither could anyone get to me. But somehow my cell was able to detect incoming messages. Nothing made sense anymore. Using the landline phone in the apartment lobby, I finally checked all my messages and called my parents to let them know I was ok. Miraculously, BK was somehow able to get through to my cell. We talked for a little while until the reception degraded to the point that neither of us could hear the other person. My cell still doesn't work.

Throughout the night, I noticed that the water coming out of the faucets trickled in gradually smaller streams, until it completely died when I was ready to brush my teeth and go to bed. According to the doorman, the water pump in the building was electric, which explained everything. I ended up using some water from my Brita jug. Boy that water was cold, even after sitting for 8 hours in the unpowered fridge.

I woke up involuntarily every couple of hours to see if the power had come back on. Nope. When morning came, I got dressed and came to work. In fact, I have never felt so eager to come to work. Not ever. It's nice to have electricity and running water.

Despite the annoyances and boredom and hunger pangs, I'm still pretty lucky, considering that I now live merely blocks away from work. If this outage had happened two or three months ago when I was living in the outer edges of Queens, I would have been trapped in my office like many people here, some of whom actually slept in their cubicles. I'm also glad that I live on the 2nd floor, unlike the old gentleman that was forced to wait in the lobby because he had arthritis in both knees and lived on the 5th floor.

This morning while reading The Times, I came across this:

One middle-aged woman walked down many flights of stairs [it was 16 flights] inside the darkened Met Life Building. Then she collapsed. A team of paramedics tried to resuscitate her. She vomited. She stopped breathing. The paramedics tried desperately to call for an ambulance. There were none to be found quickly on this afternoon of sudden chaos.

And so she lay there for more than half an hour, her body growing cold, in a dimly lit corner of Café Centro. The paramedics never gave up. Yet by the time an ambulance could be flagged down, it was too late.

I used to walk out of the Met Life building on my way out of Grand Central. I even ate at Café Centro, which is inside the Met Life building, a couple of times. Now I will probably think about her every time I walk past there. How sad.