Dispatch from the Blacked-Out Anti-World of Manhattan

Picture: David Shankbone (CC)

Walking the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan is like trespassing from the realm of matter into anti-matter—this visible world into a hidden anti-world. I’ve not experienced anything quite like it in my life.

The Brooklyn half of the bridge is illuminated. The Manhattan half submerged in gloom, save for the automobile lights below. Across the bridge, the usually gleaming architecture of projects and other buildings now resemble three-dimensional silhouettes, faintly lit by moonlight and the aggregate glow of cars. Upper Manhattan’s lights, including the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, are a glittering cloud—the bright frosting to Lower Manhattan’s dark layer cake. Freedom Tower bursts out of the Lower Manhattan shadow skyline, as if city leaders were desperate to provide something symbolic to New York City’s inhabitants—a totem to resurrection and re-electrification.

The impression of walking across the bridge seems normal, until one stands underneath the structure’s matrix of metal arches. People exist here as mere transient shadows. Flashlights and bike headlights bob and oscillate as they approach and recede, spreading small pools of quivering light across the bridge’s footpath. The silence only broken by the bicycles’ machinery, footsteps, car engines and honking. Otherwise there is a stillness to the experience that is as eery as it is enlivening.

Crossing the bridge’s threshold of light and darkness, I’m reminded of William Gibson’s Lo-Tek community in the Sprawl Trilogy, and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York and every other cyberpunk and dystopian story I’ve encountered in my lifetime. None of it prepared me for the reality that is Lower Manhattan in all its dark density.

Sloping down now. Hundreds of people walking in and out of Manhattan. One girl wears a spiral of battery-powered LED lights. From a distance, she is just a constellation of tinkling lights. Up close her face is softly lit in blue. Looking up into one of the project buildings, a four foot beam of green light, approximating a light saber, criss-crosses as though the individual were trying to flag those making the journey across the bridge. No one seems to be paying attention. No one seems to see the strange beauty of a tree’s shadow cast on the side of a building by a never-ending display of headlights.

Read the rest over at Death and Taxes.

DJ Pangburn

DJ is an Editor at Death & Taxes, covering politics, hacker culture, science, and entertainment. He also contributes to VICE and Makeshift: A Journal of Hidden Creativity. His fiction has appeared in The Rattling Wall.

5 Comments on "Dispatch from the Blacked-Out Anti-World of Manhattan"

  1. Anarchy Pony | Nov 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm |

    The dystopian future is now!

    • Floods, hurricanes and blackouts happen on a near daily basis all over the world and nobody blinks an eye, but when it happens to New York, suddenly it’s the end of the world as we know it.

      • Hadrian999 | Nov 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm |

        new yorkers are drama queens, they are looking less tough every day. you dont even have to go to a third world country for a good prolonged black out. just go to the midwest after an ice storm.

        • go to breezy point or the rockaway beach or any place along the coast of long island than call them drama queens.

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