Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sleepless in Small Town

MustangBobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof asks what is the longest time people have stayed awake. I've had a couple of long runs with wakefulness that have stayed with me. Sometimes, insomnia can be fun. Mostly, it stinks.

In high school, I remember inviting a friend over to play Starflight on my DOS machine. We saw the sun set, and we saw it rise.

When I was in college, some friends and I had a stay-awake-a-thon. We lasted through about 4:00am, and called it a night. We didn't have a lot to do.

Later in college, I worked for a while as a night assistant in the dorms over the summer. These dorms were populated for the summer with graduate students from all over the country who were attending some special program for a couple of months. At the same time, I was working as an assistant manager in a retail store in a mall. My best stay-awake was closing the store on one evening at 9:30, running home by about 10:00pm, changing clothes, going to the dorms on my inline skates or bicycle (no place to park), working the night there from 11:00pm until 7:00am, running home again, showering, and then opening the store at 9:00am. I did that several times over that summer. My hope, after a while, was that I would start to hallucinate. I was looking for some big experience, like a pink elephant, but all I got was an auditory illusion that someone cleared his throat loudly in the passenger seat of my car. Bummer.

Back in August, 2003, I was in New York City for a business trip. My professional role at the time was as a "junk drawer" manager - I had a team composed of functions that nobody knew where to put. I actually had managers reporting to me, which was kind of strange, but it did give me some experience in indirect management. One of those managers who reported to me was the training manager. I was also a subject matter expert on our web functionality, so I was along to do one of the training sessions.

Anyway, we flew out on August 13, and we did training in one of the Manhattan skyscrapers that belonged to JP Morgan, etc. Inc., on August 14. Around 4:10pm, as we were getting close to the end of the day, the lights flickered. Those of us from places other than Manhattan didn't even blink, but the New Yorkers started to panic. We asked what was wrong, and they told us that the power NEVER goes out in Manhattan. Also remember that this was less than two years after the destruction of the World Trade Center.

We ended up shutting down a bit early. The building had its own generator, but it only kept on the lights, not the air conditioning. Mid August in Manhattan is warm. Many hotels did not have any power at all, so several of our business partners opted to stay in the JP Morgan building. We were on a single-digit floor, so climbing the stairs wasn't too bad. Of course, the dinner plans were hosed, so people were essentially on their own. Because I'm a large man, I offered to escort smaller or more fearful folks to and from their hotels as the evening became night. I ended up having possibly one of the neatest experiences of my life - wandering around in the DARK in downtown Manhattan.

As the evening wore on, some restaurants started to give away perishable food, so sandwiches and such were easy to come by. The people on the street seemed to be in a party mood, and nobody really seemed threatening to me, even as I wandered closer to some of the side streets. The bars were selling cold beer for not a lot of money, so it was an interesting evening. One of the more interesting situations I saw was a very small woman who had a cello case (with cello) on her back. She and I started to chat, and she said that she had to go north about 50 blocks. As buses and taxis passed her by, she started to get more and more resigned, and finally she said, "I'll just walk." This woman was maybe five feet tall.

One of the business partners was in from sunny Pennsylvania, and she had a relative who lived uptown. She asked me to stay with her while she tried to find a taxi. The buses and taxis were running, but they were packed. Finally, one of those human-powered taxis (sort of like PediCabs, but not enclosed) came by. She asked how much to get to the place she needed to go. When she found that it would be $150, she swore and came back with me to the office.

By around 2:00am, people were getting bored and scared, so we went exploring. Someone came up to our floor and told us that the building management had opened the gates to the cafeteria, and that we were welcome to help ourselves to snacks and soft drinks. Once we had stuffed ourselves with Snickers and Pringles, though, people started to express a little more worry. I started a game of twenty questions that lasted about an hour, then we had a sing-along for another half hour. When the sun rose, we ended up disbanding to try to get back to our hotels so we could clean up.

We were scheduled to continue the training that day, but we cancelled it for obvious reasons. Some of us stood outside the Good Morning America set. Someone from that staff asked if my group would be interested in staying to get on camera, and we said that we would. Between then and the start of the show, some of us had to find bathrooms, so we took off. Those that stayed were actually on GMA. I missed my chance.

By the time we were to get to the airports in the early afternoon, some of the chaos had died down. The power was still out, but people were mostly taken care of. I found a taxi and went to the airport. I couldn't sleep during the taxi ride or the plane ride, so I ended up being awake for, by my calculations, about 40 hours. I think I did start to doze a little bit in the taxi, because I distinctly remember seeing a Segway climbing stairs into a building, but I know I didn't actually fall asleep for long.

Not a bad experience for a Midwest corn-fed boy, eh?


Hoji said...

That's awesome.

Mustang Bobby said...

Yours was much more fun than mine, and you got to meet nice people, too.

Faith said...

What a creative way to spend time. I didn't realize 20 questions could go for an hour. :) I believe next to hospital interns you may have the record time for remaining awake. I'd have dropped after 24 hours, which I have even in my younger years.

M&M said...

I just read another article about the NYC blackout yesterday. It's the cover story in the current issue of The Advocate. You'll have to put up with Rufus Wainwright (ew), but since it's in print, he's easier to take. His experience of that night was also positive. Whoda thunk it?