Back to Blackout

Over on Facebook, aka Snapchat for Old People, my good friend I’ve never met Marty Walsh opened a post about today being the 40th anniversary of the New York Blackout of 1977. It launched an interesting thread of recollections, and prompted me to delve further into the subject at my new home here.

The Blackout was a seminal moment in a seminal year in the Tri-State area. It punctuated one of the most memorable summers in New York City history, a time when the city was on the brink of insolvency, its residents were suffering through one of its worst heat waves and the boys in the Bronx wearing Satan’s Pajamas were feuding and fighting their way to their first World Series title in 15 years. Oh, and the Son of Sam was absolutely terrorizing the city and surrounding areas, forcing every woman under the age of 25 to flee in horror any time a yellow VW was spotted.

For city residents, the Blackout was the exclamation point on the chaos. When the lights went out, chaos reigned, with rioting and looting becoming the order of the day. It surprised no one. That was New York in 1977. There’s a reason Kurt Russell wasn’t trying to escape from Omaha.

For those of us in the upper reaches of Westchester County, the event hit even closer to home. That’s because it literally hit close to home. The Blackout was caused when a substation at Indian Point was struck by lightning. For me, not born for the JFK assassination and not old enough to recall the moon landing, it was my first “I remember where I was moment,” a fact I obviously shared with many other denizens of the Buchanan-Verplanck-Montrose Metroplex (we were a village, we go first).

When the lightning struck, I was with my family at Steamboat Dock. Now, anyone familiar with the beautiful, well-manicured piece of greenery on the shores of the Hudson, the 1977 version was a little different. For a 10-year-old boy like me strolling the grounds at Steamboat, my recreational options were somewhat limited. If I didn’t want to risk the subprimordial ooze that was the Hudson River circa 1977, I could frolic on the Steamboat beach, perhaps collecting the colorful shards of broken beer bottles or sucking on the creosote-soaked pieces of wood that comprised the tiny sliver of beach. Ah, nothing but the finest in family fun.

But I’ll never forget when the lightning struck. The sky, which had been approaching full darkness, lit up as if were the middle of the day. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t since. That moment of brilliance was followed by sheer darkness, with power knocked out all throughout the east side of the river.

As I recall, the Markhams did nothing, recognizing that if this was a catastrophe at Indian Point, we weren’t going anywhere. Not living as close to Ground Zero as we did. Others didn’t, with scores of people filling up their cars in a desperate attempt to escape any fallout. It would be another two years until Three Mile Island and nine more until Chernobyl, but we were already aware that if things went completely screwy at a nuclear power plant, those bastards could be quite killy.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, it just left us with memories that we’d be sharing 40 years later.

Postscript: One year after the Blackout, I was out shopping with my mom when we stumbled across veteran NBC newsman Gabe Pressman conducting some interviews in the A&P parking lot, getting locals’ recollection of the events of the previous year. When he was done, I rushed over and got his autograph, a memento I cherished for a good six hours. That was until we turned on the Channel 4 news telecast that night and noticed that when the camera panned over Gabe’s shoulder, there was my mom in the background, casually smoking a More while leaning against the exterior wall of the A&P. Yup, my mom’s visage was being beamed into homes from Darien to Nutley to Patchogue, and all I got was a piece of paper with a crappy signature from a reporter so low on the TV news totem pole he was forced to schlep all the way up to Peekskill to talk about a year-old lightning strike.



Taking Back the Ballparks

In two years, the Seattle Mariners will have a new stadium to call home, without changing their address. The ballpark to be formerly known as Safeco Field is undergoing a corporate name change. In 2019, King Felix, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager will be playing in Boeing Park, or Amazon Yards or Starbucks Lot. Whatever the new moniker, chances are it will be a downgrade.

As corporate names go, Safeco isn’t bad, much closer to Citi Field than Guaranteed Rate Field. But even if the new name is truly representative of Seattle, Heroin Fields, for instance, we still lose. Names really aren’t made for the name holder, but for the rest of us. My name is primarily used by others, as a means to identify me, and thus changing it regularly would be a disservice to those who know me. It’s no different for stadia.

The question is, why do we go along with it? That some well-heeled corporate sugar daddy is willing to fork over big bucks to the local extortionist baseball owner for naming rights doesn’t mean we have to play along. Why should we be forced to follow all the latest merger and acquisition activity to keep up with the name outside that limestone and steel ode to corporate welfare?

Truth is, we shouldn’t. Until Delta Airlines or T-Mobile or Geico wants to cut us a check, we ought to just pick a name for the local ballpark and stick with it. No longer should we be required to know which telecommunications company is out front in the Bay Area or, which banking institution has bundled its way to supremacy in the Midwest to know where our favorite team is playing this weekend.

Starting soon, we’re going to change that. Both here, and at my primary home for online baseball activity, Baseball Think Factory, we’re going to establish new names, or at least validate the old ones, for all 30 ballparks. If you think Houston can do better than Minute Maid Park (and who doesn’t?), then let’s find a better name for the joint. Or, if you think the park at Clark and Addison can be known as nothing but Wrigley, that’s cool too.

I’ll introduce a new team, and solicit suggestions for a new name for the team’s ballpark. Perhaps the park is located adjacent to an interesting geographic feature of its host city, or near the site of an important event in history. Maybe there’s an interesting baseball connection, either with the home team or a ballplayer from the past. A significant local industry might have called that area of the city home at one point in time. I’m looking for the kind of name that will be unique to its home city, and one that can stand the test of time.

I’ll open up a new page here, at BTF, and maybe a few other places on the tubes, for nominations. At the end of the nomination period, I’ll hash out the best options among the nominees with a few like-minded Primates (fellow baseball junkies found at BTF) and we’ll offer a choice of four to vote on the following week.* Voting will take place exclusively at BTF. I don’t want to allow voting in more than one location, and the project idea originated over there.

Ideally, when we’re done, we’ll have a nice collection of distinct names that online baseball fans can use for each major league ballpark. And, for once, there’s not a damn thing MLB, the owners, the players, the media and anyone else can do about it. Taco Bell’s chief execs can toss a bunch of cash at some poor beleaguered billionaire owner, but they can’t force us to use Gordita Supreme Stadium in everyday conversation.

* Yeah, we’re picking the finalists. Boaty McBoatface was marginally funny. Once.