By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

The lights went out all over the world, again. Well, at least our world. Bummer.

They dimmed slowly, and rather strangely. I was working on a web page on my computer. Almost done. Did I hit the save button, as I have been taught to do? Of course not. My G-4 hasn't crashed since I got it. But there it was; a strange, slow dimming of my screen.

I just stared at it as I watched an afternoon's work go down the damned dimming tube. And then it died altogether. Some of the lights in the apartment continued to glow very red. And both air conditioners continued to work. However it was hot air that they were producing and that's not what these machines are supposed to do, doncha know.
So I shut them off and played in the fuse box to no avail. I stepped out onto the veranda of my second floor garden apartment and heard the quizzical voices of neighbors in the other apartments asking one another, " Do you have power?"

A husband drives up and tells us that his car radio is saying that the power is off from Canada down to NY and as far west as Michigan. There is talk on the news about possible terrorism and all my neighbors faces become drawn and pale.
This will be the third major East Coast blackout that I've been through. I worked my ass off the first two times.Now I am retired. If they want me, they can damn well call me. But, they won't.

So I took the chicken breast that I had been marinading along with a cold beer. I set the barbeque up on the table on my veranda and cracked the cold beer and enjoyed how the sharp, cold liquid opened up my hot, dry throat and made peace within.
" Life is good" I thought. This will turn out to be another of life's adventures which we will all survive. While I waited for the chicken to cook, I ran down to the car to listen to my only working radio. The news sounded much the same as it did back in 19 something something and years before that in 19 something else. People in Manhattan were trapped in subways and in elevators. They are there in the dark with nothing to do. In 9 months they will attribute the rise in the birthrate to this phenomena.

I was sent into Manhattan in '65. It was just about dusk and it was strange driving in and not seeing city lights, or any lights other than car lights, for that matter. What did make a good shot, though was the fact that New Jersey still had power so you could silhouette the NYC skyline black against the Jersey lights. I recall making photos of cops directing traffic with flashlights at intersections. There were places in the city that still used dc power and for some reason, they had power. So every so often there would be an oasis of light in the midst of all the darkness. I shot the owner of a tropical fish store trying desperately to save his stock by running a power cord across one of the avenues from one of these dc powered shops, hoping to run his fish tank heaters and air pumps. I think it lasted as long as it took for a car to drive up the darkened avenue, taking out the long extension cord. I made some mood shots of people in posh restaurants, eating by candle light. That was a tough shot in those days with the highest rated film being ASA 400. I made shots of Transit Cops leading people out of subway tunnels after being stranded in the inky darkness when their trains stalled. I made photos of New Yorkers, grouped together on the sidewalks, listening to transistor radios as the information began to be broadcast. And, then, because of an early deadline imposed by the power outage, it was time to return to my office on Long Island.

My paper had emergency generators. Not enough to power the whole operation so we had to soup our film and make our prints in a closet off the newsroom. Fortunately we didn't have color to worry about. The presses were able to handle a special edition. In fact, our arch rival, The NY Daily News, even arranged to print their entire run from our plant.

The next blackout, in the 70's I think, happened while I was covering the NY State Legislature up in Albany. They were working on some legislation. During a break, I went to the AP office in the state capitol to soup and transmit my pix. The AP chief was an old acquaintance and he told me that the lower part of the state was blacked out. The problem was traced to a substation not far from where we were and he was on his way out there if I wanted to join him. I had no idea how bad the blackout was, but I figured, "what the hell" and off we went. The place was in the boonies and was just a fenced in shed of some sort with no one around. It was pitch black so I blew a couple of strobes and we headed back to Albany. I ran into our reporter who was frantic and told me to call my desk, ASAP. When I did, I got screamed at. "Where the hell have ya been? I've been trying to get you for over an hour!! There's a major blackout and it was caused by a tripped transformer near Albany. Get out there and get a shot."

I am sooo bad. I just said, "Got it. You'll have it as soon as my film is out of the soup. Goodby."

Back to 2003. On the news, some were saying that something popped in the grid at Niagra Falls and took down a third of the nations power.

Can't blame Osama or Sadaam. Too bad.

My chicken is done. I had made some cold potato salad and some cole slaw a few days ago. That and a beer and I'm in hawg heaven. I sit at the table and eat on the veranda and enjoy the good meal and the cooler air outside, It really isn't bad. Neighbors with whom I haven't spoken ten words to in as many months, are stopping by beneath my supper table.

My downstairs neighbor, Reneé, waters her lush and lovely flowers in front of her ground floor apartment, while her boy-friend, John, throws out a comment or two. Beautiful Elise and her youngest son are in the mood to chat. The boy wants to play with the hose and manages to get some of the flowers wet. Then it becomes, let's see how wet the boy can get. It's still hot and the complex management shut down the swimming pool when they couldn't run the filter without electricity. When I went to take the empty dishes into the kitchen to soak, I grabbed a Hershy candy from the fridge for my dessert. I grabbed one for the child, but asked Elise if was ok and it was, so I threw it down to him. He stuffed it into his wet, tousled face and asked for more. I gave him a couple more. What the Hell. The young lady from the apartment building across the way came over and sat down on the grass with Elisa and talked with Reneé.

I mostly listened. It sounded like they were dissing all men. I said, "HEY. Cut me some slack!" They said that I was one of the good ones. " How do you know," I asked? This is the first time we've had a conversation that was more than "Hello" "Goodbye."

They said it was because my girlfriend was so nice. So I must be ok. Howz that for logic? I could be Mack the Knife. But, Barbara loves me.

I had seen a dead BlueJay in the woods, the last time I walked to the 7-11 for the paper. That could mean that there was a West Nile Virus mosquito pool in the area. So when I heard mosquitos buzzing around the terrace, I headed in.

I called Barbara on the one phone that I own that isn't a portable, so it works, She answered me on her one non-portable phone and I told her how exciting my evening had been, At about that time, someone's nasty, loud car alarm went off.


It has no auto shut off and goes on and on and on and on. And repeats and repeats in your ear. I thought that it was coming from my apartment complex so I set off to find it and maybe do something stupid which would once again violate its security zone.

But, it turned out to be coming from the industrial complex behind the apartments.

As I walked, I could sense other pedestrians in the stygean darkness. A lot of couples were bickering. A lot. About petty things.

Come on folks. We're all suffering with the heat and dark and that stinkin, stupid alarm.

It just made me glad to be living the life I live. There's no one rattling my cage, telling me how to live my life. And, even if Barbara were here, she doesn't do that. She respects my individuality as I do hers.

I called her one last time to tell her that. I said that the alarm was getting on my nerves so I was gonna pop an
Ambien and hopefully it would work fast and sleep would drown out the racket.

It did. I went out like a candle in the wind. I woke up about two hours later to find the power back on.
And, I felt like writing this. I can still feel the Ambien fighting to drag me back to sleep, so I know that I'm rambling.

But, what the hell. While under the influence of the sleeping pill, this could be the best bit of narrative prose that I've ever written.

Or not.

Dick Kraus



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