I was at work in lower Manhattan when the power went out. We soon found out that the blackout was both extensive and likely to last for a while. News reports were saying that there was no transit operating, so I decided to stay in the office for the time being. A bit before 6:30, I heard that there was some train service operating out of Penn Station (I take the Long Island Rail Road out of Penn). I decided to walk to the station, a fairly easy decision since my building was getting very unpleasant with no A/C and non-opening windows, not to mention the fact that the emergency lighting was going to run out of battery power within a few hours.
The 45-minute walk to Penn was pretty interesting, what with little traffic and many many people on the sidewalks. When I got there, I found out that the train service story was untrue, and nothing at all was running. Already there were thousands of people milling around the station. Many of them were sitting or lying on the sidewalks and other areas, and their numbers grew as the night wore on.
Then commenced over seven hours which I spent wandering around the station area. I didn't want to venture too far away just in case service was restored. The farthest I went was Sixth Avenue and 38th Street. Nor am I the sort to just sit or lie there; I had to keep moving most of the time. One problem that soon arose was the fact that I had only a few dollars on me, and street vendors were charging $2 for bottled water. Fortunately, the Red Cross arrived outside Penn and began distributing free water. I am very grateful for their service.
As noted earlier, more and more people began settling in for the long haul, lying down wherever they could and trying to sleep. Others formed long but orderly lines at pay phones - while CNN reported fights in the lines, I saw nothing of the sort. For my part, my cell phone thankfully was fully charged and I was able to make and receive calls most of the time. My wife reported from Suffolk County that power stayed off until around midnight, except for a brief resumption around 8:00 pm. My mother, in central Connecticut, never lost power at all.
The worst expression of human behavoir - except for the price-gouging vendors - occurred on 32nd Street, where city buses were lining up to take the place of the shut-down subways. Huge throngs of people were trying to crush onboard the buses, accompanied by much pushing, shoving and shouting of obscenities. I noted, with some interest, that most of the worst pushers, shovers and obscenity-shouters were women. About twenty cops and police academy cadets were struggling to maintain some semblance of order. By ten or eleven most of the bus-swarming mob was gone, and I'm sure most people were glad to see them leave.
As Thursday turned into Friday, I became resigned to spending the night in the area. It was obvious that no LIRR trains would be running anytime soon, although some New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains were running out of the Eighth Avenue side of Penn Station. I actually spent some time sitting against a wall on 33rd Street just off Seventh Avenue. But then, a little after 2:00 am, I began hearing talk of LIRR shuttle buses. Lines were forming on the sidewalk on 32nd Street - yep, the same place where the mob scene had occured some hours earlier - and I quickly joined. We were told that the buses would be running to Jamaica Station in Queens, at which point there would be further shuttles to Long Island. By 2:30, I was on a NYC Transit articulated bus, standing alas, and within 15 minutes were were off to Jamaica with a police escort.
Crowds were getting fairly heavy at Jamaica when we arrived about 3:15, with the scene illuminated by portable light generators. Many LIRR employees were on duty, however, and managed to keep order pretty well. A line of buses were loading for different station destinations. Within ten minutes I heard that the next bus would be running express to Ronkonkoma, where my car was parked. I luckily snagged a seat, and soon after we headed through the dark Queens streets, with police road flares the sole outside light, and eventually got onto the Long Island Expressway. The driver kept up a good clip and we arrived in Ronkonkoma just about at 4:30. It was quite a sight to see the station's enormous parking lots still mostly full at that ungodly hour. My car was a most welcome sight, and I was home before 5:00. Needless to say, I didn't go into work today
All in all, my experience wasn't too bad, as from what I've heard many LIRR commuters didn't make it home until hours after I did. The shuttle bus setup worked well in terms of time - from when I boarded the Jamaica bus at Penn until my arrival at Ronkonkoma was just about two hours, only about 45 minutes longer than the fastest express trains. And my much-criticized cell phone, which usually has wretched reception, worked much better than I every would have expected. The main bad note was the inability of the LIRR to get shuttle buses in place until ten hours after the blackout had begun, even though it was obvious long earlier that train service would be out for a prolonged period. Even so, it's good that such a difficult situation passed with no looting or other significant disorder.