New Yorkers face the day after


NEW YORK - The sights and sounds - actually it was difficult to see much of anything, so just the sounds - of the first night of the blackout of '03:

"Hey, where'd you get that pizza?"

(Raucous - if not melodious - singing.) "Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone. ... "

"Excuse me, where did you get that pizza?"

(More raucous and even less melodious singing.) "Only the good die young. Only the good die young."

"Ask the pizza oracle. He'll know where it is."

A night after finding music, beer, pizza and, in some cases, a new friend to provide entertainment, New York woke up this morning partly lit up, partly hung over, ready for the weekend and definitely ready for breakfast, even at noon.

The previous night, customers at a bar belted out popular rock songs to the tune of a guy strumming a guitar. Sitting outside, a friendly balding man momentarily dubbed the "oracle" for his miraculous pizza knowledge - pointed the way for the hungry in the late-night darkness. "Walk down to 72nd and take a left. You'll see it."

The problem yesterday was getting something to eat. Or, for those living on the East Side and still lacking power, even getting water. For some, New York yesterday had just a little Iraq-on-the-Hudson kind of feel.

"I was thinking, they just had the riots in Basra, and it was kind of poetic justice in a way," said Barry Brower, a 22-year-old medical assistant. Brower, an East Side denizen, was sitting down with two buddies for a midday breakfast on the Upper West Side, one of the lucky neighborhoods in Manhattan to wake up to the lights coming on shortly after 6 a.m.

His friend Jared Wilder, a 22-year-old actor, was the star of the day because he was from the neighborhood and had power. However, their choice of eatery, the Shining Star Restaurant on Amsterdam, was only serving a few staple dishes yesterday: "Sorry, no eggs," read the hand-scrawled sign by the entrance.

"They don't have any soda, or paper towels, which is very disconcerting," Wilder said. "And no eggs. What's breakfast without eggs, I ask you?"

The restaurant said it had preserved some of its perishables in a closed freezer with ice, but wasn't risking serving eggs. Strangely, pancakes and waffles were being served - perhaps of the eggless or processed varieties?

"Wasn't too good. I'd stick with the hamburgers," Brower said, looking down at his unfinished pancakes. His friend David Kornmeier, eating a hamburger, replied, "Wasn't too good. ... I'd probably go eat someplace else."

Thousands of New Yorkers were trying to do just that, walking from restaurant to restaurant looking for a place to eat. But the waits at many places were 45 minutes to an hour, and not always because all the tables were taken.

Some half-empty eateries were turning away customers because not enough wait staff and kitchen crew were on duty to handle the demand. The subways were still shut down, and many people just took the day off - Friday is already so taken for granted by many New Yorkers as an extension of the weekend that the New York Times recently asked, "Is Monday the new Friday?"

A number of parents had taken off work and headed to playgrounds with toddlers, while others from the work force were wandering the streets, looking for places to eat, grabbing a cold drink or a spot of shade and trying to talk on their cell phones. Their sides of the conversations - when the calls went through - gave eavesdroppers an audio diary of Blackout, Day Two.

"How are you? Do you have power yet?"

"I feel like I don't want to be in this city."

"My office is still closed."

"Do you have power yet?"

"There's huge lines outside of every place that we've gone by."

When people did find something to eat, they were taking their chances that the restaurant was serving food that hadn't spoiled.

"I guess I should be [worried], but I'm so hungry right now, " said Sarah Clary, a 21-year-old student who had just purchased a bagel with cream cheese uptown, after leaving her apartment in still-blacked-out downtown in search of a rental car. "You've got to take your chances, I guess. I don't think I'll die of warm cream cheese, right?"

Far from panicked, New York was pretty much coping. Not much looting, not much thieving, just a little whining.

There were long lines at the open rental car places, where people like Clary had plans to get away to Boston or other destinations with electrical power. But on a day of 92-degree heat, where else regular people were going or what they possibly had to do after lunch remained something of a mystery.

Some went to the airports, which were reported by media outlets as open despite having no flights. Others went to their local post office, only to find it closed. Women and "metrosexuals" - straight men fashionably concerned with hair products and clothes - packed the manicure shops and hair salons. Plenty of others headed for the parks, with kids or without, to sun a bit or rest in the shade. And many bought tickets for last night's Broadway shows, where the names were back up in lights.

Then there were those who ducked into places off the main avenues and found something quintessentially New York to eat without having to wait in line - like the "Latin-Chinese" cuisine served up at Dinastia China on 72nd Street.

It may just be one of the few places in the world where "lo mein with sweet plantains" can be found on the lunch specials menu. (Only $5.30, for those interested).

And it's got air conditioning.

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