Last night I watched a documentary about New York City spanning from the early 60s when business and manufacturing was booming till the late 70s and the blackout which spurned many riots and looting of small businesses. Some of the people involved in the documentary spoke of how the streets never recovered for 15 years…they were stagnant. It was very sad watching the store owners look around them in the neighborhoods they knew intimately. Many just walked away never to reopen. There was one store owner and his wife who watched their customers loot their business and walk away with over $350,000 worth of sporting merchandise. It was heart breaking to watch. I remember the blackout of 1977 because my mom and I were in New York City. Our experience was different as were some of the people on the Upper East Side or the small neighborhoods where restaurants opened to their customers and let them in. They had candlelight vigils and enjoyed champagne: the opposite end of the spectrum. Most of them didn’t know about the looting till the next morning when they heard it on the news.
My mom and I were caught on the subway platform when all the lights went out. My mom decided that we should walk across the bridge from Manhattan to Queens and follow the crowd. We started to and a van slowed down and offered many of us a ride which we accepted. We found the apartment and then we stayed in with candles and locked doors. We were ok. Many asked why the looting happened. The economics were failing, many programs were not being funded and there was much anger, so unfortunately some of the business owners who were good people suffered greatly during this black out. I thought it was amazing to watch because there were 2 types of looters: first, came the criminals and second, came those who would never loot but the opportunity presented itself and so some of the local housewives tied scarves together with grocery carts to carry diapers, milk, eggs, and other items. Many of the second group were the ones who were caught and jailed.
The documentary also mentioned “Son of Sam” who I remembered and the situation very well. The police could not find him and many in the city and the neighboring boroughs lived in fear. I can remember that summer visiting my relatives in Long Island sitting on the porch discussing it and feeling so safe because we were far away from what was happening. It was interesting and probably not something my husband would care to watch. He is originally from Delaware and not a fan of New York City. I was born in New York City raised by a mom who never gave up on New York City, shopped in the city, visited the museums, spoke with the people, worked in New York …and I am a fan of New York City. Because I am older and wiser though, I now recognize that the year I graduated from university was not the best year economically to set foot in New York to make my way. The city my mother remembered from the 50s working at Seventeen Magazine, House and Gardens, NBC studio, was not the same. Time gives you another perspective. And one day, I am sure that future generations will be piecing together quips and commentaries from face book as part of our history lesson. And someone will state the obvious, “Wow, that was a challenging time in history.” But then again who knows what the future will bring.