Commentary by Scott Donaton


Notes From 26 Hours of Blackout

By Published on .

The first thing I did when the lights came back on, being male, was to reach for the remote control.

The reason was entirely practical, and not connected (I swear) to an unhealthy attachment to

Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

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the appliance. The power by then had been out for 26 hours, during which time I had only limited access to the media, sharing with my girlfriend the headphones to a miniature radio. So I turned the TV on only to find out which areas of the city were still in the dark.

Within minutes, however -- and this will surprise approximately no one, since, as I mentioned earlier, I am a man -- I was channel surfing. I secretly hoped that my programming options had been miraculously upgraded during the blackout, or that the regularly scheduled inanity would appear more interesting after a day of withdrawal. No such luck. There was still nothing on.

Weary determination
Although the blackout was initially unsettling, in New York a sense of weary determination quickly set in. An endless stream of people flowed through the streets, making their way out of the city on foot. Cars lowered their windows and turned up their radios so those of us who were walking could catch snippets of information as we went past. Most businesses were locked in the middle of the day, but delis remained open, selling bottled water, still cold, on a sweltering afternoon.

In a small grocery, I grabbed the last bottle of water, a liter of fizzy Pellegrino, and waited at the end of a line that snaked into the dusky aisles. A worker walked the line with a spray of cash in his fist, charging flat fees for everything, making up prices on the fly. He asked the woman in front of me for $5 for two small containers of orange juice. "These are not $2.50 each," she challenged. "Are you crazy?" After an exchange with another worker behind the

Photo: Hoag Levins
Battery-powered radios were one of the only ways to connect with any media during 26 hours of blackout in New York.
counter, he asked for $3.50. She handed him $3. He accepted it.

Sense of adventure
There was a sense of adventure the first night. We were sure the lights would come on while we slept, or surely by morning. Stunned New Yorkers discovered they could see the stars. People walked dogs by flashlight. The heat, if you didn't move around too much, was almost bearable.

Day Two, a Friday, was not so much fun.

For those still without power, and with no indication of when it would be restored, the novelty was gone. You couldn't shower or flush toilets in high-rise buildings. Air conditioners were out. The trains weren't running and buses were packed. Office buildings were closed, workers clustered outside. Nerves frayed.

I managed to sneak into the Advertising Age offices by walking in with our tech guys, who had spent the night in the building. We made calls in the dark on the one working phone. We could've published Ad Age from a remote location but decided to finish the issue Monday and ship it a day late. We had already

Photo: AP
Some New York stores were open to those who brought flashlights to find their way along pitch black aisles.
posted several stories on our Web site about the blackout's impact.

Finally ...
For a while that second day it seemed the lights would never come back on. We hadn't showered. The milk was sour. It was hot. We had to climb darkened stairways to the apartment. But the lights did come on, and everyday life re-asserted itself immediately. I no longer cared where the blackout had started, or why. The A/C and TV were on. There was cold water in the fridge, hot water in the bathroom.

By Monday, those outside New York didn't even bother to ask how we had held up. "Hello, Scott," went the first message on my voicemail that morning. "This is So-and-So, the publicist from Such-and-Such Company in Arkansas. I wanted to follow up on a press release I sent you Friday regarding ... ."

Ah, normalcy.

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