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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The last night before gentrification: The 77' NYC Blackout

I remember my aunt (who will undoubtedly toss some cents at this post) telling us it was a blackout. 
My grandmother or maybe my mom, was skeptical. On this mid July day 40 years ago I was a tiny child and the day was still brightly lit at something passed 7:30 PM or probably later based on what came next.
Also the TV was on. Contradictory to any "Blackout" talk the house offered, Roger Grimsby a name who bore a a news man on Channel 7 to fit it, joylessly told the news of the day, and I'm certain (due to my strange memory) he was talking about power outages. The household debate between a girl, her adult sister and their mom raged on, loudly.
I'm pretty sure my mother pointed out to her youngest sister that the TV was still on. My Aunt, then a young teenager was frustrated and in full "nobody listens to me" mode.
Perfectly, during the conversation involving the TV, Roger Grimsby and the electricity in our building went out.
"SEE!!!" came rising from you-know-who.
We lived on the 12th floor. A rarity for a non-housing project non-luxury building in Brooklyn. Crown Heights in fact. Fun fact I can see that building from my current kitchen window. The universe circles.
Back 40 years ago, the TV off, the apartment now light by large unblocked city and sky facing windows the conversation finally had a chance to lurch forward. "What is happening" "How much" "How long" started new branches of conversation each digging into the topics and planting new roots.
My memory, and I trust it because at that age I'd seen nothing like this before or since in real life, tells me that before the TV went out, part of my mom and grandmother's argument, against "blackout" was that the city's skyline was lit up as the sky became twilight, that strange time when man-made light and sun we're both present and visible, windows making a mosaic of clear parallelograms each inlaid on rectangles themselves.
The memory I'm slowly baking to is seeing sections of the city in order from uptown to down, begin to go lightless. It looked like at least ten blocks at a time, switching off, orderly, a simple procession. That, as I recall was what got the debate stopped. I feel like my mother had pointed out that the city had lights "SEE!" and she pointed. And then the illumination of the dominions began to fall, and made way through the isle of olde Dutch robbery.
When all Manhattan was out, we all turned our heads or bodies, expectantly to the TV, where Roger, still without joy or even astonishment, continued speaking to us. It seemed to take a small pause in time for him to finally get the news and then in a flash, he the tv, our dining area lights, all gone.
It seemed to be connected says my memory, that within 1 minute there was a screech of tires and then a scream, from the intersection of Park Pl. and Classon Ave, 12 stories (and more) below.
We ran to our terrace (another rarity in Brooklyn then and now) and looked below to intersection:
Darkness punctuated by long swords of car headlights was most easily seen. At street level, people argued, glass broke, people ran. For light, for their lives. From their fears, and back then unlike now, many of those fears was likely.

Ironically in 2017 you could say it was lit, and yet the opposite.

When the dark was full, we lit candles, cautiously opened the apartment door to the knocks we heard in the hall. It wasn't risky, the building was full of doctors, nurses and the administrative staff whom all worked for the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital (now apartments! #gentrification) Our neighbors came around with flashlights, checking on everyone.
We stayed in that night, of course. The elevators didn't work, and who wants to take the stairs to a perceived and darken hell.
We could hear yelling, occasional screams, and car horns intermittently all night. It was probably the most chaos I ever or have since heard, but it didn't seem that much crazier than 1977 NYC to my tiny ears, just more consistent and without ebb. The sounds lasted until we finally fell asleep. At least I did.
During the 25+ hour long blackout, parts of Brooklyn burned; Especially, in Bushwick and along it's border with Bedford-Stuyvesant (back when Bushwick was still able to reach north west toward Marcy Av. Many apartments went up and many more small businesses were abandoned by small business owners, and later by insurance companies and bank loan officers. 

Some areas were not to return to prosperity until the plans drawn up in the weeks and years that followed that night, were set in motion.

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