The Mystery of August 14, 2003: Part 1

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Baseball Hall of Fame (Photo by Christy Hinko)

We had finally arrived. After more than 40 minutes of winding, twisting, rural roads, dotted with farmland and forests, we approached Cooperstown in upstate New York. It was quite a difference once we turned off Interstate 88, leaving civilization behind and being transported into a seemingly different era in time.

Although the calendar said August 14, 2003, our surroundings indicated something out of the 1950s, only everything wasn’t in black-and-white. We pulled our converted Astro-Van into the Park-and-Ride lot just outside of town, and completed the journey on the retro-looking trolley. The ride only took a few minutes, but the closer we got to the middle of town, the more we realized that this mode of travel was the only way to go.

There were no giant parking lots and certainly no parking available on the main or side streets. No, this was a town designed for strolling down the tree-lined sidewalks in a land that time forgot.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is the main attraction in Cooperstown, and that was our destination on this beautiful, hot, August afternoon. After four-plus hours in the car on the way up here, we needed to refuel and stopped for lunch.

Just down the block stood the air-conditioned Hall of Fame, where we spent a good amount of time. With my wife and teenage son James in tow, we perused the different exhibits that were colorful, informative and in some cases interactive. The museum tour ends in the Great Hall, a solemn place where bronze plaques are displayed, commemorating the great, enshrined players.

Suddenly, the air-conditioning in the Great Hall shut off and the emergency lights came on. The Great Hall had lost power and was rapidly turning into the Great Sauna. It was almost 4:30 p.m. now, and after spending a few hours in the museum, we decided to head to the souvenir shop in the lobby. Regrettably, without power, the cash registers weren’t working.
Once out in the street, it became apparent the entire block was powerless. Merchants and patrons dotted the storefronts and streets with befuddled looks on their faces. Surrounded by confusion, we decided to head home.

Waiting on line for the Park-and-Ride trolley with the other weary travelers, James overheard people talking about the power outage, indicating all of New York was out of power. Being just two years removed from the terror attacks on the World Trade Center, I could see the concern on his face. I explained that since the last major blackout, measures were put in place to protect the power grid and contain the blackout. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Back at the van, the disturbing news on the radio confirmed the entire Northeast was indeed out of power. Since we couldn’t do much about it, we piled into the van and considered getting a room for the night in Cooperstown, hoping to find a vacancy along the way out of town. If not, we had about a four-hour trip ahead of us, and things might get sorted out by the time we got back to Long Island.

Heading out, I remembered that we needed gas, so I pulled into the nearest station. Unfortunately, without electricity, they had no way of pumping gas. I went to the next station and the one after that, all with the same problem; electric pumps require electricity. To add insult to injury, we passed several motels, soon realizing there were no vacancies in Cooperstown.

Trying to remain calm so as not to alarm anyone, like my wife, we began our trek home with the gas gauge firmly on “E”. Suddenly, the winding, twisting, rural road back to the Interstate that was so charming on the way here, was now worrisome and terrifying.
Although I was sure the Interstate gas stations would have generator power, we weren’t going to make it that far…

Next Week: The Conclusion

Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.

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