Fifteen years ago, Aug. 14, 2003, a blackout hit the entire Northeast at about 4:15 p.m., disrupting power service to millions of people. Embarking on a four-hour trip home to Long Island, we were departing the Hamlet of Cooperstown in upstate New York. Although the power was out everywhere, we were hoping that by the time we made it across the Throggs Neck Bridge, things would have been sorted out.
Unfortunately, my gas gauge was already on “E” and we needed to find a station that could pump gas without electricity. Trying to calculate how many miles I might be able to go past the “E,” I was hoping the urban legend was true and there really was still gas left in the tank.
There is nothing more harrowing than driving on a lonely, winding road with only farms as far as the eye can see, in a vehicle about to run out of fuel. If my memory served me, it was at least 40 minutes before we got to Interstate 88. What was I going to do when we started to sputter on our last fumes?
I thought about pulling into a farm, hoping they might use a manual pump to fuel their farm vehicles. If not, we could always sleep in the Astro-Van, since it was equipped for comfort.
With the gas gauge slipping below “E,” we were still in the middle of nowhere. My wife, now aware of the situation, kept up a brave front as our remaining gas withered away. We continued passing farm after farm before a few small businesses began showing up.
In a clearing ahead, I spied a run-down, roadside motel that reminded me of every horror movie I’ve ever seen. Without any type of “vacancy” sign, I made an executive decision to give it a try. It was still daylight, and at least we had a parking lot to stay in overnight if we had to sleep in the van.
A stereotypical motel clerk emerged from the back to greet us, and to my relief, told us there was a room available. Talk about being lucky! There may have been no electricity for air conditioning, but it certainly had to be better than sleeping in the van.
She slid the required paperwork across the counter and when I reached for the pen; the paperwork flew off the counter and onto the floor. Without thinking, I retrieved it and began filling in the blanks. Curiously, the edges of the paper began moving up and down as I continued to write. I instinctively glanced up and noticed the breeze from the ceiling fan was causing the paper to move.
This motel had power! The clerk explained there were about four blocks, for some reason, that still had power, including the Stewart’s on the corner, where we could get a sandwich. More importantly, they were still pumping gas.
After checking into our room, which under normal circumstances would have caused us to run screaming from, I took the van down the block to Stewart’s and filled up, returning with food, drinks and two cans of bug spray. Since the room had air conditioning and electricity, we ignored the now dead insects and watched the confusion unfolding back home on TV. By morning, order and electricity had been restored to the universe, and we continued our journey home.
Retelling the story, my brother asked what town we found the mystery motel in. To be honest, I didn’t remember. We tried to locate the town on a map but couldn’t find it. Oddly, I had no receipt from either the motel or Stewart’s, and I save every receipt. It was as if the entire thing didn’t happen.
It’s a mystery that we’ve never been able to solve, even with the satellite images available today on Google Maps. Maybe on the next trip to Cooperstown, we’ll pass that Mystery Motel. One thing’s for certain, I’ll have plenty of gas.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.