Thursday, October 2, 2014

The brightest night in 1965

I was working late at The Christian Science Monitor on November 9, 1965. At 5:21 p.m. my selectric typewriter quit humming. A second later, overhead lights flickered off, leaving only emergency bulbs in stairways. I called my parents a few miles away. Their power was off too. Was it a city-wide blackout? When we turned on our transistor radios, we heard the power was off from Ontario to Manhattan.

It was rush hour. Thousands of Bostonians (including Charlie) were riding home on the MTA when subway trains slowly rolled to a stop in pitch dark tunnels. Others were trapped between floors in darkened elevators. Hospital operating rooms went dark. Television stations went off the air. Fortunately the weather was clear, and Boston was lit by a full hunter's moon and a thousand stars we'd never seen before.

Since it was impossible to work, I grabbed my coat and walked downtown. Without any traffic lights, traffic was gridlocked. Nobody was going anywhere, until students began pouring out of fraternity houses and took over major intersections, directing traffic by hand. They coordinated their signals from block to block, and cars began moving smoothly again. I noticed signs in darkened restaurants that said FREE COFFEE and FREE DESSERTS.  Executives in Gucci shoes stood on the sidewalk enjoying free Jo with street people and gypsy children. One vagrant ask for a quarter and guy in a Brooks Brothers suit gave him a fiver.

I returned to my apartment after witnessing hours of human kindness. We learned later there was very little crime during the blackout. Instead, people helped each other. Nobody knew power would return in 13 hours, but I hoped Reddy Kilowatt would go missing for a week. Without electricity, we were all in the same boat -- all brothers. You had to be there. Here's how one resident of New York City described it.

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