It had only been two hours since Hurricane Sandy hit New York when the lights in my Chinatown apartment went out at 7 p.m.
My wireless internet was out too, but for a few hours I could get an AT&T signal on my iPhone. Around 1 a.m. that was gone too.
When I woke up on Tuesday, all of my electronic devices were dead. I didn't know what time it was, but I got dressed and headed to the Business Insider office on Park Ave South. Everything along the way was dark and closed. I saw a few people using payphones and I tried one of them to call my parents, one of the few phone numbers I have memorized.
When I arrived at our Gramercy Park office, a sign out front read "Building Closed" and everything inside was pitch black.
From as far as I could see, everything north of 21st street was also dark, so I turned around and headed back to Chinatown.
Within a few hours, the neighborhood had morphed into part-refugee camp, part-black market. Instead of peddling handbags and watches, locals had set up tables selling two-for-five candles they promised would burn for 15 hours, steamed buns and loose batteries.
If you looked closely, you could see patrons eating inside restaurants by candlelight.
I started worrying about my own dinner, as I had only stocked up on some cheese, dry goods and water before the storm. Then I ran into the people who owned a bar below my apartment building, and they invited me back to their house to eat.
We walked a few blocks to their apartment, then climbed 17 floors because the elevators were no longer working. As we climbed the dark stairwell, we would see flashlight beams and hear people whispering before we actually saw them. Tenants carried pots and jugs to fill up with water at a hose downstairs, as the building's pump wasn't able to get water into individual apartments.
We ate dinner by candlelight, then played board games while listening to a battery-operated radio. It felt like hours had gone by, but it was only 6 p.m.
From their window, I could see uptown Manhattan ahead. It was an eerie sight –– everything below 34th street was engulfed in darkness and the other half was lit up as if nothing had happened.
Around 9 p.m., I went back to my dark apartment and went to sleep.
On Wednesday, I woke up again not knowing the time, but I was determined to get powered up and back online. I took a cold bath, packed an overnight bag with my dead laptop and phone and headed uptown. I passed by the Business Insider building again and stopped at a candlelit deli to get a cup of lukewarm coffee.
Around 25th street, as I started to hit the "light" zone I was astonished to see the drastic change within mere blocks.
On 29th street, I was thrilled to see several charging stations set up outside Stumptown Coffee allowing people to charge phones for free. There were also hubs on the ground so that people could charge their laptops and tablets.
As soon as my phone came back to life, the text message alerts didn't stop for the next few minutes.
I met the co-founder of the charging station company Bright Box, who took me to their headquarters on 30th street, gave me a cup of hot coffee, told me about the company and their plans to charge people up for free for the next few days.
After I left the kind people at Bright Box, I decided it was time to find another place to stay until the blackout was over. I set my sights on Astoria, Queens, where I could stay with a fellow BI reporter.
There was just one problem: Traffic. Cars and buses were in a gridlock for miles heading uptown. On 35th street, I spotted a passenger paying inside a cab and I waited outside the door for him to exit so that I could hop in. When I slid into the seat, I begged the driver to take me to Queens. He answered by saying "cash only," and I waved a handful of bills at him.
It took us 47 minutes to travel six blocks when he decided to kick me out. The traffic was horrendous and he said this trip was "a waste of time." I begged him to take me a few more blocks, but we weren't moving and my driver, again, ordered me to get out. I obliged.
I had a new plan: Walk to 60th street and try to catch a cab turning onto the Queensboro Bridge. When I was in sight of the bridge, I walked up and down Second Ave. trying to flag down cabs, but they were all fully occupied. Any cab that had its windows down, I would yell in their direction: "Are you heading to Astoria?" A few vans offered me a ride, but I wasn't brave enough to hop into the middle of a packed van with eight men.
That's when I met Brendon Budness, a production manager at TalkPoint, who was heading to the same area in Astoria as me. We heard a group of people nearby discussing the entryway of the bridge and started walking behind them. There was a fairly large-sized group of us and for the first time in days, I felt at peace.
The walk across the bridge didn't take long. Brendon and I talked about our Sandy experiences, where we were from and why we came to New York. I don't remember when other people in the group started trailing off, but I was glad I had someone to walk with because the streets seemed kind of empty even though it was barely 8 p.m.
On the other side of the bridge one thing stood out: electricity, from street lamps to televisions glowing bright inside windows. I was in the light again.
I finally arrived at my destination around 9 p.m. where my colleague was outside the "Queens BI office" waiting for me. I said goodbye to my new friend — he had a few more blocks to go — and ended a very long 48 hours.
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