Orpheus and Eurydice in the Blackout

From the Talkhouse Reader, actor and filmmaker Charles Lane remembers the 1977 New York City blackout.

I’ve been in New York City for a long while and one of my favorite New York stories is about when I got caught in the citywide blackout in July 1977.

I was 24 at the time, studying film in college, and that night I was at the movies with my girlfriend in the East Village. As we were leaving the theater, all of a sudden it got dark. No one knew what was going on. My girlfriend grabbed my hand. Everyone was very, very confused. Some people around us were panicking. We heard screaming, as well as some laughter and giggling.

As we started our long walk home to my apartment in the West Village, there were only a few little spots of light ahead of us. We were watching every step we took, not knowing where the curb ended. There were a lot of people in the street, and we kept bumping into strangers. I knew my girlfriend and I couldn’t afford to get separated, so I held her hand tight and kept moving. Inside, I was afraid, but I didn’t show it as I felt I had to be a good role model for my girl.

In the crowd around us, people responded differently to the situation. The older people seemed to be trying not to panic and keeping things as normal as they could under the circumstances, but a lot of the younger people were aggressive. I remember hearing a lot more profanity than usual, especially if I accidentally bumped into someone. “Yo, where the fuck are you going, man?” We could hear people yelling at each other yards away, but also people telling jokes, like, “Give me a flashlight, somebody!” We also heard people saying there was looting going on. It was scary stuff, walking through the dark with a crowd of confused people, bumping into strangers.

It took us about three hours to get home. I had my route plotted out, because I knew clearly how to get from east to west. But because of the throng of people in the streets, sometimes we would come to a standstill and then have to move a little further to one side or the other than we wanted to go. It was slow moving, but I never once let go of my girlfriend’s hand. Sometimes, we switched sides so that I was holding her other hand. It was such a long ordeal.

As I walked home with my girlfriend that night, I didn’t feel fear or trepidation as much as a sense of adventure, knowing that this hadn’t happened before in my lifetime. I didn’t really know what was going on, but since this was New York City, I figured things would be back to normal within the next hour or so. This wasn’t the case, though. As I recall, it was close to 24 hours before power was fully restored across the five boroughs.

I felt a bit like Orpheus, leading Eurydice out of the depths of hell, the darkened hell of New York City, and finding my way home. Finally, we made it to my place. That was dark too, but it felt like a sanctuary. I felt very good; even a little heroic. And, needless to say, we had a very romantic time in the dark.

Featured images are Annie Fell’s painting of the NYC skyline in 1977 for the Talkhouse Reader (left) and a portrait of Charles Lane by Charles Libin from the same era, reprinted with permission.

An award-winning filmmaker who has worked for both Hollywood and in the indie world, Charles Lane has made feature films in several genres. His debut feature film, Sidewalk Stories won 13 International awards and has become a global darling, and is still playing in indie theaters throughout Europe. His leaning, it appears, has been in comedy. He is currently crowdfunding his latest project, the web series PleaseDateMeNow.com, on Kickstarter.