Great Blackout of 2003

I heard on NPR that tomorrow is the ten year anniversary of the Great Blackout! Do you remember where you were when the lights went out?

Wikipedia calls it the Northeast Blackout of 2003. It’s a pretty interesting article going into great detail on the cause and timeline. The NPR station had a teaser for a show about it and said something about it being caused by trees and sagging power lines.

(my now deceased cat Heifetz with the fatness, fall 2003)

Much like 9/11 and the Kennedy Assassination though, it’s really about where YOU were, right? The summer of 2003 was a transitional year for me.  Due to variety of reasons I was taking a year off from my full time position with the Charlotte Symphony (with no intention of returning but I wanted to keep the option open) to be a freelancer in Cleveland, where I had done my graduate work. Yes, this is the opposite of how most people do things, but I was incredibly unhappy in Charlotte, and figured I’d rather make less money but live in the same city as my then boyfriend and also figured, if I was going to be dreading work, maybe it would be better if I were dreading different work rather than the same job every day.

Then in June of 2003 (still in Charlotte) my apartment complex flooded—not my apartment as I was on the second floor, but my car. I was able to easily break my lease that I had resigned, and towards the beginning of August I moved my furniture up to Cleveland, where I would be sharing an apartment with my sister Leslie.

I was reflecting on this move today. Can you believe my friends Zach and Mary Frances CAME WITH ME? I rented a U-Haul, loaded it up with my things, and somehow convinced Zach to drive the truck to Cleveland (this is an 11 hour drive in a car). I drove my car up, my boyfriend at the time met us there, we all unloaded, and then I drove Zach, MF, and myself back to Charlotte—and then lived in their basement for two weeks. I have so many amazing friends in my life and sometimes it is hard to keep track of the wonderful and generous things they have done for me. Also, a couch with a pull out bed is an incredibly heavy and difficult piece of furniture to move. So I am told.

(Mary Frances and Zach had just gotten married on my birthday in 2003.)

The second week of basement living Leslie joined me—Zach and MF were out of town so we had our run of the place. Mainly we were just killing time before needing to get up the Ohio, relaxing, watching television shows like THE OC (which premiered approximately ten years ago) and shopping at Target a lot to buy neat stuff for our new place.

Finally it was time to go up to Ohio (again for me). We were each driving separate cars but caravaning. I had two cats in my car who were unhappy pretty much the entire day. I recall stopping at a Taco Bell for lunch with Leslie and being so relieved to have a few minutes of respite from the yelling.

(who us, we would never yell!)

We ended up getting to the Akron/Canton area during rush hour, around 4:00, and I knew that Leslie would need to follow me closely to make sure we could get to the apartment. That’s right around when the blackout hit. Traffic was bad, and I thought about stopping for gas but decided I could make it. I tried to give her a call to make sure she was okay, but the call couldn’t go through, and then they started talking about it on the radio, how there were power outages all over the east coast, starting in the Akron/Canton area.

Our original plan had been to get to the apartment, unload our cars (you don’t leave valuables in your car in the city) and then shower and enjoy a wonderful dinner at one of my favorite places to go at the time, the Winking Lizard. Well. Because of the blackout, our new plan ended up being: unload the cars. And nothing was open. Grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations…everything was closed. There was a half drunk 2 liter of Diet Coke in the fridge from my original move in two weeks earlier and we located an open box of “Honey bunches of oats” cereal. That was dinner. Luckily Leslie had a flashlight handy in her trunk…and it was HOT. We never had A/C in that apartment anyway, but we were used to having tons of fans. Nothing.

It was a pretty miserable night.

Why am I writing this? I don’t know. It just made me think about how fast times seems to fly! Was that only ten years ago? So much has happened, yet I remember it so clearly right now (though other times it seems so long ago and fuzzy…memory is an odd thing, isn’t it—for instance, I’d forgotten until just today how much Zach and MF helped me with my move…).

If I recall correctly, we did get our power back on by mid-morning the next day. In case you were worried.

That’s an even older picture of the fatness. Back then we used to call her “little kitty.” I wonder what I’m going to do if she gets thin enough on her diet to not be “the fatness” anymore???

5 thoughts on “Great Blackout of 2003”

  1. But remember how even the next day when we did make it to the Winking Lizard to eat they had no fountain Diet Coke! It was a nightmare…

  2. I was stuck in Chicago airport trying to get to Cleveland. We were given no time frame for when flights would start up again and while in a line to be told this I overheard two businessmen talking about renting a car. So what does the naiive aussie 23 year old girl say to these two strangers? “Can I come too?” Turns out they weren’t murderers and they very happily let me sleep in the back of their rented SUV for most of the trip…cuddled up nicely next to my cello (the main reason they rented such a big car). I arrived in Cleveland with no luggage but I think it turned up within a few days. Had I not already travelled from Australia and been utterly exhausted I may have thought that wasn’t a good idea, but hey it all worked out in the end 🙂

    1. I thought of you while writing this! That’s such a crazy story, but yes, thankfully it worked out in the end 🙂

  3. i was in the library of a local institution of higher learning reading about the big blackout on the internet.

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