It always seems, that whenever I have done something wrong, I get caught. Like when I stole twenty cents to buy a raffle ticket for a kitten, and even though there were only three participants and two kittens, I didn’t win. In this slice, I recount a story from high school where I get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is still a draft, as I need to turn it into a narrative with the appropriate dialogue, action, and thought to carry the story.
During high school, I was friends with a girl named Kim, who I met through our joint venture on a competitive dance team. Kim’s parents were divorced; she and her younger sister lived with their mother in New Jersey, while their father resided in Chicago. Kim spent time in both locations, so she was a savvy traveler. As a drama queen, she wanted to pursue dance professionally, and was drawn to the theater as well. She also possessed an air of sophistication, and was fiercely independent. During the summer of 1977, when we were nearing our junior year in high school, our paths crossed more closely as we were nominated to lead our dance team for an upcoming competition. Between her worldliness and my teenage rebellion, we were trouble.
Because we only lived twenty miles outside of New York, most of us were fortunate to enjoy the sights and artistry of the city. My aunt treated me to the ballet and the theater, my dad to sporting events and my older cousin to concerts. So it didn’t take me long to agree with Kim when suggested we head into the city to try and see “The King and I.” At fifteen and sixteen, we had it all figured out. I told my parents that Kim’s older cousin was going to take us, so we would be with an adult. Kim’s mother, who was a bit more hip, gave Kim permission as long as we took her younger sister, who was twelve going on twenty – shocking, I know. The three of us, along with another friend, hopped on a bus and into Port Authority to begin our adventure. Mind you, this was the seventies, before Mayor Giuliani was elected and cleaned up 42nd street, so the sights and situation were slightly dangerous and less than ideal.
First stop, was to Times Square to the TKTS booth to scope out tickets for prized shows. Although there wasn’t anything available for “The King and I,” we did purchase balcony tickets to see “Chicago.” As show time drew near, we headed over to the theater and into our seats. From our view at the top, Lisa, the other friend, swore she spotted Eric Clapton in the audience. We also noticed four open seats in the orchestra, that remained empty after the first act. During intermission, we headed down and slipped into the “open” seats.
When the curtain rose during Act II, one single light illuminated a dark stage, and the person on stage announced “All the lights are out in the city!” The audience laughed, assuming it was part of the show. The actor shared again, “No. I’m not kidding. New York City is experiencing a major blackout. Please look to the ushers who will lead you out through the exit doors on the side.” The audience gasped in unison. A previous hushed crowd began speaking in louder whispers, slight panic in their voices. For some reason, the emergency lighting did not work, so little by little people began igniting lighters to guide the way.
The four of us held on together hand to shoulder in single file. Once out on the street, we discovered that bus service in and out of the city ceased. Port Authority was too dangerous, and at the moment, off the grid. We were definitely in a bind. Thinking quickly, we slipped into the St James Hotel, which was across the street near our theater. Luckily the pay phones were working, so Kim called her mother, who notified me that my mother was frantic! Oh boy, how was I going to get out of this one? She told us that her uncle was in the city, singing at a night club. As soon as he could retrieve his car, he would pick us up.
Meanwhile a small crown was gathering in the hotel lobby. As it turned out, many members from the cast of “The King and I,” were staying at the hotel. Putting on their usual, the “show must go on faces,” they led us in songs from the show! What a treat. Although my nerves were shot, fearing what awaited me at home, my spirit soared in singing those show tunes. There may have been mayhem on the streets with unnecessary looting and crime, but inside the cocoon of the St James Hotel, we were serenaded and nurtured into calm.
A few hours later, Kim’s uncle picked us up. The eeriest sight was the view of the New York skyline blacked out against the summer sky, as we emerged from the helix of the Lincoln Tunnel. Instead of bringing us home, he took us to another club in New Jersey to visit a friend! The party continued until I got home and faced the music from my parents. Just another teenage angst to add to the story of my life.
Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing the opportunity to engage with this amazing community of writers!
Oh, I so enjoyed your teenage adventure! This is one of those stories that is a must tell from generation to generation.
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This year is the fortieth anniversary of that blackout – yikes!! The tension was even greater due to the Son of Sam murders. Although I stayed in the hotel lobby the entire time, Kim and Lisa went out exploring. Brainless teenagers!