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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
                 Monday, August 25 2003 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Miracle on The Bowery
- vacation journal, part 3, continuing August 14

Photo gallery related to this day's journal (19 photos)

New York City — From Madison Square and our resting of sore feet and legs, we rejoined Broadway to make our way on down Manhattan in the darkout, our next rest stop being Union Square on the edge of Greenwich Village. Union Square was still more crowded than the two earlier parks we'd rested in, but at least it had a drinking fountain that offered welcome refreshment in the still-very-hot late afternoon. Son Mike and I managed to find two seats among the benches, but not adjacent each other. After sitting a while, a woman two seats down from me vacated her seat and the African-American man between me and the empty seat offered, "oh, your friend," and he slid down to make room for Mike to rejoin me. This thoughtfulness may have been that individual's normal way of behaving, but the sense was that everyone was looking out for everyone else in this "emergency" situation.

Meanwhile, we were hearing radio reports that President Bush had declared from Texas that the blackout was not the work of terrorists, and the power companies were now theorizing that it had been caused by either a malfunction in Ontario or a lightning strike at the power station at Niagra Falls.

The last 10 blocks of our 38-block trek from Times Square back to the White House Hostel on The Bowery would be our longest segment without a rest break, so we rested extra long, but as the shadows began lengthening and the square started opening up with more seats available, we set off again, now on Cooper, which merges directly into The Bowery after a few blocks. Shortly after leaving the Square, we and the throng walking with us heard a young woman's voice saying, "free ice cream," and we turned to see an Asian-American woman with a platter of plastic cups, each with a scoop of ice cream and a plastic spoon stuck in it. We laughed and thanked her profusely while taking one each. Though chocolate ice cream (as this was) is not usually part of my diabetic diet, I excused myself (to myself and Mike) by saying all the exercise I was getting today would offset the extra sugar. Needless to say, I've never tasted better ice cream.

Photo by Michael Kennedy
The miracle on The Bowery

And then after we crossed Fourth Street on The Bowery, the block in which our hostel was located, we saw a similar but even more awesome sight, a group of about six women varying in age from late teens to middle aged, and varying too in ethnicity and dress. They were offering free cups of water, giving each passerby a plastic cup in which they'd poured chilled water from an oversize bucket or plastic refrigerator-style water bottles. As we were at the hostel door now, we declined to take any. Now we had to find out what awaited us in the White House, but it turned out nothing negative. The shift manager had a flashlight and candles illuminating his booth behind bars, and immediately turned over our key to room 321. We deposited the computer that we'd been carrying all day, used the bathroom and drank handsful of tap water, then made our way back down to the sidewalk.

All the chairs from the lobby had been taken out to the sidewalk. Everyone wanted to see the passing parade, and what a spectacle it was, as throngs of hundreds, probably thousands, of pedestrians and occupants of all kinds of vehicles made their way down Manhattan to the entrances to bridges, tunnels, ferries, and freeways leading out from the center. But the vehicular traffic was moving slower than the pedestrians, it was so clogged by the lack of traffic signals and the sheer magnitude of the combined work rush-hour and the rush to get home from the beseiged island. A graphic illustration of the snail's pace by which vehicles were moving was that a softdrink truck of the kind that has roll-up doors on its sides, was giving a lift to a half dozen pedestrians who couldn't resist the opportunity to jump on and sit on the cases of drink rather than continue their painful hike.

After having scooped several handsful of water in the hostel, I wished I had held on to one of the cups or bottles I'd had earlier in the day. For that reason, when we reached the sidewalk I accepted the offer of a free cup of water from the ladies. It was chilled! And it was so good I had to ask for a second.

We were drawn in and fascinated by watching what they were doing and the reactions of the passing throng. Many were incredulous; they had to be persuaded that it was really free. How much for the plastic cup? someone asked. The bucket would be emptied and like magic it would be replaced by another. The plastic cups would be all gone, and someone came with another supply of 100 or more, fresh from some store even though no stores were open. The ladies offered cups to some of the passing motorists, and those who indicated a desire for a drink were run a cup over to their cars or trucks. One passenger in an SUV got out and got a cup for the driver and walked it back to her; that's how slowly the traffic was moving. From somewhere out on the street came a call of "God bless you!" to the ladies. By now, Mike and I were so fascinated we could do nothing else than watch; it had something of the aura of a miracle about it. Now the whole blackout "catastrophe" morphed into an occasion of wonder and awe.

We had no place to sit, so leaned on posts and pipes projecting from the sidewalk. We probably watched about an hour, and by then it was almost nightfall. Several highrise buildings across the street had apparent emergency exit lights lit. Finally too tired from just leaning, we started a walk around the block. Everything was so mellow and friendly that fear or caution wasn't even discussed. A block on, we found a high step down from an entrance to a building, and sat there, close enough to several other people doing the same at the next building that we could overhear their conversation. Across the street was a parking lot. The booth was occupied, and it was illuminated by some flickering light which we eventually concluded must be a portable television screen. And the attendant's car was sitting near the booth with its lights on, apparently to let anyone concerned about their car or getting it for the Herculean trek off the island know that it was available. Again we could see exit signs in corridors of several other buildings, apparently powered by emergency batteries. When almost total darkness descended, someone on the other side of the parking lot shone a light—Mike guessed it was a Maglight flashlight—on the side of a building a block away from us and started doing shadow puppetry on the wall.

After a while we walked on around the rest of the block. On the third side there was a small black and white portable television set up on a table, which we stopped to watch for a while, catching the latest news reports about what theories were emerging about the power outage.

We returned to our "stoop" and sat a while longer in the dark. Finally we returned to the White House. The water ladies were gone. Most of the people sitting in front of the lobby were still there, but there was a bench in the lobby with space to sit, so we did that for a while. Finally, we climbed the totally dark stairs to our third-floor compartment. Mike discovered that his camera LED screen made an adequate source of light, so he used that to get through his washing and brushing. And finally, even that light was out for the rest of the night.

Tomorrow we were scheduled to pick up our rented car and make our way to Pennsylvania. Would that even be remotely possible, or would it take all day just to get to and across the nearest bridge to New Jersey? I wasn't sure, but having seen the power of a cup of cold water gave me enough assurance that I was able to sleep.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

From the synagogue bulletin

Irving Benson and Jessie Silver were married on August 24. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

Thought for today

Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

— Sent by Trudy Myers

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