What a way to come back from a summer vacation

By Jenny Klion

My daughter Judy and I survived the blackout in style. Coming back from our annual Martha’s Vineyard vacation — a smashing success this year, by the way — we’d just finished our voyage on the Vineyard Fast Ferry, sleepy from our requisite, respective doses of Dramamine (we’d learned our lesson on the way over), and subsequently caught the 2:37 p.m. Amtrak train at Kingston, R.I., by about 30 seconds. Literally. L.A. Frannie had dropped her boy off with friends from Providence, and she, Judy and I then settled in for the ride home, satiated with 10 days worth of sun and fun. Soon after however, just outside Mystic, the train came to a quick halt, followed by an hour wait, due to a drawbridge ahead that someone could not get shut. Oh well, I thought, I’m still in vacation mode, and really, what did I have to hurry home for?

Less than half an hour later, turns out, I really did want to hurry home.

“Folks,” the conductor informed us passengers just after 4 p.m., “It’s August 14, 2003, and this is the day the power went out.” Those in charge stopped the train a mere 1,000 feet from the wall of powerless-ness, just outside New Haven, Conn., so we, the Amtrak masses, could remain in air-conditioning with free food. (Beers you had to buy.) We bonded on board, and were promised all along that we’d be taken care of.

However, once a diesel train pushed us into the New Haven terminal, only five minutes away, some four hours later, passengers were put out onto the street, unless you wanted to go back from whence you’d come. Next, Judy, a real trooper, pulled her rolling American Girl suitcase cooperatively to the taxi. L.A. Frannie and I opted to ride back into Manhattan for $150. O.K., then.

Unfortunately, the taxi driver, who turned out to be — aaah! — crazy, freaked out when we got lost who the hell knows where, and refused to get out of the car to ask directions. Tempers were obviously rising. We’d only had free chips and soda all day long. My terrible sense of direction flared up at the wrong moments. Finally, at a roadside McDonalds/gas pump line, I avoided potential looters and somehow found a limo driver who told me how to get back to my world. I begged him to take us there, but he could not. L.A. Frannie, now comforting Judy, who’d finally started crying when the taxi driver and I started arguing — “like an old married couple,” she recounted later — forced me into the front seat. I sat next to his bible, kept my eyes on the road, and prayed the man wouldn’t stop again in the middle of the highway as cars whizzed by us right and left. Finally, even when I got back on proper directional track again, the darkened city looked like a stranger from afar. I was worried we were still lost, but kept my mouth shut from then on in.

Meanwhile, L.A. Frannie’s 18-year-old son, Hunk, who’d been staying at my apartment, promised he’d left the pad in perfect condition. But when the driver finally dropped us off, not only was Hunk not gone, he had two other friends staying there with him — I can’t even express the tiny nature of my apartment — and the place was a disaster. I gathered together a meager stash of candles, two flashlights (one of which broke immediately), and ran Judy a bath, while L.A. Frannie and Hunk, mother and adult son, got into a huge row. In the dark, I washed the dirty dishes, and pulled back when I saw my hand go into a broken jagged glass. Aaah! I escaped mostly unharmed, and hours later, with Judy asleep, Hunk and his two hunky friends roamed the streets, playing standoff with L.A. Frannie. I tried to sleep in the corner of my king-sized bed, dreading the moment the three big boys would return to sleep on the bare floor only inches from my now over-sensitized self. I woke up every hour on the hour, sure I could hear them talking on the stoop outside my window — all early a.m. long. Turns out, I was right. They returned at sun up. I made oatmeal with raisins and syrup, and Hunky apologized profusely. About to become a freshman at N.Y.U., I guess he realized that he might want to call on me again.

Meanwhile, I never heard from the ex, Judy’s dad. I kept calling my mother’s Connecticut landline, trying to make contact with him somehow. In fact, I found a secret phone inside the doorway of The Cubby Hole on W. Fourth St., and I’m ashamed to say I only told one other couple about it. I was tired of waiting a half hour to make a phone call, and I felt empowered by my surreptitious find. Sorry everybody.

Eventually, just like the city, my day fell into place. The lights came back on. The boys left the apartment. Judy’s dad finally picked her up, and we ended our near 36-hour fast with a huge meal at Florent. L.A. Frannie wants to move here now — she’s so impressed with the city’s resilience. And I’m looking forward to continuing my vacation mode here at home, in a thankfully powered-up New York City.

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