On Wednesday afternoon, the lobby at Con Edison’s majestic headquarters on 14th Street and Irving Place felt very much like a hospital waiting room. In the offices and the war room upstairs, and occasionally huddled over cigarettes outside, the technicians in charge of keeping the lights on in New York were waiting for the patient to come back to life, the victim of a number of forced shutdowns following the arrival of Sandy. Many were out in the field, picking up and fixing pieces that had been damaged in the storm. And in the lobby, a family of New Yorkers was worrying, praying, reading, and waiting too. The reprieve they sought was quick, temporary, but essential.
“Who needs to plug in?” a woman called out. A man leapt from his chair, cradling a Blackberry, with a cable trailing like an umbilical cord. She reached for his phone like a first responder reaching for a hand, spun around, and scanned her options. Every single plug was taken, with three exceptions. She stuffed the plug into one of them. “Come back when you’re feeling ready.”
This was an emergency room itself, a place to resuscitate phones and computers and iPads that had succumbed to the terminal battery drain that comes with a blackout, at a time when cellular networks are the last precious connection to the outside world — provided that a signal can even be found. But it was also a kind of nursery, a place to nurse gadgets into good health before sending them out into that cruel, un-electrified world. And here, Precious Bute, 42, was the head nurse.