NE Queens makes its way through the darkness

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Northeast Queens residents braved the largest blackout in the nation’s history with a combination of strong legs, patience and humor.

Kenny Schmidt, a bartender at C.J. Sullivan’s in Bayside, said the restaurant/pub held an impromptu barbecue by candlelight the night of the blackout, serving many exhausted commuters who had walked home to Bayside from Manhattan.

“It was a big party here,” he said. “It was as good as could be for a bad situation.”

Pedestrians and drivers improvised their way along stretches of Northern Boulevard without traffic signals as police took charge of directing traffic at major intersections.

A few hapless commuters hung around the Bayside’s Long Island Rail Road station, making fruitless attempts to use their cell phones and speculating with each other about when train service might resume.

Large crowds lined Flushing’s Main Street in the blazing sun as they waited to board packed buses, the only viable means of public transportation.

And some people without power got out of the heat by using an emergency cooling center at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing.

Back in Bayside, the staff at C. J. Sullivan’s lit candles and Tiki lights to create a festive atmosphere and used leftover ice to cover the beer instead of relying on the defunct refrigerators.

Thirsty for a cold one in Bayside Friday was Huntington, L.I. resident Kevin Glupe, 34, who may have won the grand prize for an arduous journey after the blackout, taking nearly 24 hours — and walking across three bridges — to get home.

He walked across the Brooklyn Bridge from his office near City Hall to see if he could spend the night at a friend’s house in Brooklyn Heights. When he saw the friend was not home, he walked back into the city on the Manhattan Bridge, then walked up to Midtown to stay with another friend.

He marched into Queens Friday morning on the Queensborough Bridge, walking for about two miles along Northern Boulevard before finding a bus that dropped him off in Bay Terrace.

He walked all the way down Bell Boulevard into Bayside and called his parents at a pay phone to pick him up, arriving at K.C.’s Saloon on 41st Avenue around noon for much-needed refreshment.

“I am so thirsty for a cold beer, you have no idea,” said Glupe, unshaven and blistered but still good-humored.

“It’s an experience I’ll tell my grandkids about,” he said.

A 29-year-old Bayside resident who gave her name as Katherine limped along Bell Boulevard Friday, the day after she incurred several large blisters as a result of walking from Midtown to South Street Seaport and back looking for some way to get home after work.

“Cab services were horrible,” she said. “Every bus that went by was out.”

She and her boyfriend finally found a livery cab to take them to Bayside for a whopping $150.

Neal Gorman, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of Greater New York, said his organization had provided water, counseling and hydration tips at key transit hubs in the city to help people on their long walks home citywide Thursday.

The city Office of Emergency Management also operated several cooling centers, or air-conditioned sites open to the public, in spots such as Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, where Elmhurst resident Ray Holt sought refuge from the heat Friday.

Holt, 63, who spent the afternoon reading a book in the pleasantly cool school auditorium, was referred to the center by Elmhurst Hospital, where she had slept the night before.

“I have breathing problems and I couldn’t cope with this weather,” said Holt, whose power had not come back online.

People like David Lau, 33, of Kew Gardens Hills found other ways to stay cool.

Lau and a companion visited Flushing’s Main Street Friday afternoon to run errands and sip almond milk shakes from a bubble tea stand on an unexpected day off from work.

“There’s no subway,” said Lau. Besides, he added, “It’s a nice day.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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