by Virginia Postrel • Sep 5, 2003 at 2:06 pm
This op-ed from Saturday's NYT surprised me. Why didn't I know about this blackout? Was the op-ed a hoax? I actually got around to doing a Nexis search today, and the story is true. Parts of Memphis really did lose power for two weeks in the middle of the summer and not only did they not have French-style fatalities but they barely made the news.
As we had no lights for days, we had ordinary citizens directing traffic. Sound familiar? This was un-air-conditioned Memphis in July. No Memphian perished from the heat. It's what you're used to, I guess. It's what I grew up with.
There was hardship. There were frantic runs on generators, food, water, ice. If you could find ice, you were rationed to two five-pound bags. All over Memphis, a barbecue mecca, you smelled meat on charcoal grills. People were emptying their freezers, trying desperately to stay ahead of spoilage, offering you ribeyes and hams and chickens, but everyone had their own, and could not possibly consume more.
My mother, who cans, preserves and freezes homegrown vegetables and fruit, lost a ton but did not cry. More important, to save my father, who has emphysema, we managed to run an extension cord to the gas-driven generator in the backyard of the neighbor next door. Did I say that my parents were without power for two weeks?
In the darkened supermarkets that valiantly opened their doors, where the frozen foods sections were off limits behind yellow police tape (to keep the customers from risking illness), very old cashiers made change out of cigar boxes. Without an electronic cash register, which does all the work, the young employees were not up to the task.
We kept waiting for the national press to take notice. After all, these stories were rich. And pictures? Power lines down and streets so scattered and blocked with trees and poles that it looked like the wreck of wooden train. But no correspondents found us. We missed the news cycle. Mayor Willie Herenton kept ringing the bell, but no one outside the city limits heard.
After dealing with insurance agents and contractors for several weeks, I left my demolished river home and returned to New York City, where I also have a house. Two days later: blackout. Everyone everywhere knows about that. On the phone, a sarcastic friend in Memphis said: "Poor souls. Out of power for a whole day." Then my Depression-baby mother called. "I've been glued to CNN for 24 hours," she said. "My heart goes out to y'all."
As far as I can tell, even Tennessee-based InstaPundit mentioned the Memphis blackout only during the New York blackout, and then only after a Corner reader griped about the New Yorkers getting all the attention.