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N.Y. trip turns historical for local couple

August 17, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Bob and Carolyn Fleenor were hoping for a memorable three-day vacation in New York City last week.

The Fleenors, who live outside Martinsburg, planned to visit Ground Zero and buy Bob's brother a birthday gift before having dinner at a downtown restaurant and seeing a Broadway show.

Instead, they got to be part of history as the city that never sleeps became part of the biggest blackout in U.S. history.

"We had a remarkable day, certainly a memorable one, but not the one we were expecting," said Bob Fleenor, 51, who is a copy editor with The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown. Fleenor is well known in his local community for having become a five-time "Jeopardy!" champion in 2001.

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As the couple was leaving Ground Zero on Thursday afternoon, they noticed smoke coming from a manhole cover two blocks away and fire officials standing near it, Fleenor said.

They had heard that on Wednesday a manhole cover in Tribeca blew off and some power had gone out, he said. As they walked to the financial district, they saw people streaming out of buildings.

"You could peek inside and see no power," Fleenor said.

Then they saw a disoriented woman who said she had just stepped off the subway when everything went dark.

And so their great walk began.

The Fleenors were staying at the Mayflower on Central Park West, more than four miles away, Fleenor said.

"We just started walking north and realized everyone was walking north," he said.

Then they started hearing rumors that the power was out in the entire city and in South Carolina (which wasn't true), Detroit and Cleveland, Fleenor said.

"Every few blocks you would see people crowd around a car radio or a transistor radio trying to get information," he said.

Fleenor said he initially thought the outage was just a power overload.

"The prospect of terrorism never really crossed my mind, maybe just briefly," he said.

The couple, who had already bought mezzanine tickets to "Gypsy" for more than $180, were dressed for an evening out. Fleenor was carrying a sports coat and his wife was carrying a cardigan.

She also was wearing sandals, which caused blisters on the top of her feet, said Carolyn Fleenor, who turned 47 Saturday.

They were taking turns carrying the jacket and sweater when they heard a woman behind them call out that her sweater had fallen, Carolyn Fleenor said.

"The crowd stopped for him to go back and pick up my sweater. I think only one person stepped on it. Considering it was wall-to-wall people, that's pretty amazing that anyone pointed it out," she said.

The Fleenors got a walking tour of Chinatown, SoHo, Tribeca, the fashion district and the theater district as they walked up Broadway (in the middle of the street) to their hotel, Bob Fleenor said. The walk started around 4:15 p.m. and they got to their hotel more than three hours later.

They had bought bottled water at Ground Zero. The street vendors along Broadway were selling water and food without gouging people with higher prices, Fleenor said.

The Fleenors stopped at least once on their way back to sit and rest a bit, often chatting with others about their experiences.

Along their journey they saw amazing architecture, people sitting on window ledges - as high as the 10th or 11th floor - people partying, television crews, break dancers set up at Times Square with a battery-operated microphone and amplifier, a standup comic doing his bit, a couple of guys carrying golf bags and buses jammed with people, they said.

When they arrived at their hotel, Fleenor said, they decided it was too hot to go up to their room so they sat on a bench along Central Park across the street.

As the sun set, the area was illuminated by firetrucks, moonlight and lights from the lobby of the Trump International Hotel, which had generators, Fleenor said.

Later, a bellman armed with a flashlight led them to their room, which used an old-fashioned key instead of an electronic lock, Fleenor said.

"We flopped on the bed and, of course, were beat," Fleenor said. "I was awakened at 5:30 by the air conditioner going on."

The couple drove back to West Virginia on Friday morning.

Carolyn Fleenor said their day was fascinating, but she wasn't interested in being part of history.

"You sort of knew this was going to be something historical, but I was so tired I really didn't care," she said.

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