Register Monday | June 24 | 2019

New York Stride

Three writers recall the great darkness of 2003

I was in my office on Fifth and 15th when our computer screens pinched shut; we all sat for a while, a little stupefied. Of course, the cell phones didn’t work and the land lines stopped working too, and no one knew what was happening and there was that creepy, sickening 9/11 feeling, and soon the whole city had taken to the streets. Christ, was it hot. I walked to Eighth, then up Eighth past 34th (the steps of the main post office were filled with stranded commuters sitting in the shade), then over to Ninth, away from the crowds, then all the way up Ninth to Amsterdam, and then up Amsterdam to 155th, then across 155th to St. Nicholas, and then up St. Nicholas to my building at 156th.

People were drinking beer openly on the streets and hanging out at the bars that were still open, and I considered stopping and drinking and smoking some cigarettes (I’d quit but the event seemed licence enough), but I worried about getting home later, drunk and tired, so I just mushed on.

I figured pacing was a good idea, so I bought a bottle of water (three bucks they charged me) and an orange. On Ninth at 43rd, a silver-spangled black hooker, high atop her cheap high heels, fed fried chicken to her two little children. Somewhere in the 50s, a woman and a man dragged a makeshift bar onto the sidewalk and the woman yelled, “The outdoor bar is now open!” The weird comfort of Mayor Bloomberg’s tight, nasally blueblood voice boomed off the buildings from random radios set up on cars and vans and SUVs. After Lincoln Center, I noticed a guy in a shirt and tie who seemed worth watching, so I tried to keep pace with him. I liked his sure New York stride, the way the strap of his bag hung across his back. I lost him somewhere in the 70s. I ate my orange on a bench behind the Museum of Natural History, sitting next to a mother and daughter who’d walked about three miles up the island. The mother was worried about her ailing father. “Grandpa isn’t going to live very long,” she said.

On the hill up Amsterdam, after Morningside, a big flatbed truck rushed by with hundreds of people sitting on the back. The crowds sitting out in the streets cheered and the people on the truck screamed back and waved. Still more people stood in lines for pizza and batteries and flashlights and water. My feet hurt and I felt a bit dizzy now and then, but I worried only a little about the oncoming darkness—very few places in this city actually scare me now, even at night—so I just kept walking. And I got home.

My roommate had put candles all over the place and he wanted to know where the old phone was. I broiled the two club steaks I’d bought the night before (the only thing in the fridge that was sure to go bad) and we ate them in the candlelight with some leftover fried rice and sliced tomatoes with salt.

Then we went out. The city had been transformed. It felt like that night last winter when we went out late in a blizzard to St. Nick’s Pub. Someone told us to watch for meteor showers, but we never saw them. We walked over to Riverside Drive and sat in a little park, hoping to witness the lights of the George Washington Bridge coming back on, but they didn’t, so we walked home and went to bed in the odd, almost suburban, silence.