Sunday, December 8, 2013

when the lights go out..

i guess it's been on my mind a lot lately. at least for the last decade or so.. the 'blackout' was already ten years ago. summer of 2003 most of the northeast and some of the midwest experienced a widespread power outage. some places were without power into the evening, other places such as the old forgotten neighbourhood i lived in went three days in darkness before the power was restored.

my recurring dreams tell tales of a powerless society, i often catch short glimpses into a world where we no longer have access to this much sought after and often taken for granted utility. i always wonder where i'm going to be when it happens, who i'll be with, what i'd have access to in that moment.. every time the power goes out for no weather related reasons i wonder is this it? what.

lets go back to 2003 for a minute. i remember it like it was yesterday, i was 18.. it was my first year on the job in the company i'm [back] at now. i worked in the photolab of a fair sized department store. just less than a month into my employment there, that's when it happened. i wasn't at work yet, but i was due to go in that evening. i was hiding from the summer heat watching a movie in the halfway house when suddenly everything was very quiet.

after a few minutes of waiting for the fan to resume it's motions we ventured outside to look around. someone probably hit a pole. maybe a transformer blew up, lots of air conditioners running this week.. within half an hour someone on our street had heard that the whole city was out. when i arrived at work an hour later we knew most of the province and surrounding states were without power. it took hours for a reefer truck to arrive at the store from a short distance down the highway. there were no traffic lights, the roads were chaotic. we packed up what had held temperature and were sent home before the sunset.

back in the neighbourhood the fridges and small freezers were first to go. i lived in 'old Merritton', a place that seemed to be decades behind with it's old houses and fire lanes, and everyone still had a firepit in their back yard. groups gathered in to neighbours' yards to cook meat and feast on the fresh food before it spoiled. it was the middle of august so nothing lasted long. down over the bridge the local Dairy Queen was giving away all it's frozen treats, massive ice cream cakes brought out onto the picnic tables to be devoured by all the kids in the neighbourhood. kids did cartwheels down the middle of the empty four lane street. i joined them.

that evening we sat in the kitchen around a small huddle of candles and talked about what we do if the power never came back on. that night and into the second day we had heard news [word of mouth of course] about some lootings downtown and home robberies. there was still some propane left in the barbecue, we used it to boil water for tea and coffee. we started a neighbourhood watch with the people on our street to keep an eye on the older folks and children. the air was hot and thick as summer was in full swing. we broke the seal on the deep freeze to find something to eat.

most of the city had come back on that evening, our end of town was on an older grid and we had to wait one more night in the dark. at least we knew it was almost over. a part of me was a little sad i think, while at the same time i was relieved to have another chance to be prepared. i think this whole experience left such an impact on me that it has been in the back of my mind ever since.

earlier this week we had one of those moments.. i was at work this time, and the lights went out. a brief moment passed before the emergency lighting kicked on, and we would have a short time to find everyone and get them safely to the front of the store. there was also that brief timespan of not knowing, a solid chill ran right through me. was it just us? the whole mall? the whole city? why hadn't it come back on yet, why did it turn off in the first place, it's a regular sunny day.

and there it was, the question.. is this it? of course not. but i didn't know that at first, and as i did rounds of the store checking the exits i'd do a mental inventory of all of the supplies that we had access to just in case. food, gear, firestarter and fuel, blankets, clothing and shelters, and luggage and backpacks to carry things in. and bikes.. i thought, if this is it, i should bike home and collect my family as well. when i came back from the first rounds i found out it was just the mall. a transformer had blown, we were in the dark for hours. we were organized and well prepared to transfer everything into a freezer truck. shortly after i left for the day, the truck had arrived, and of course the power had come back on. everything gone back to normal shortly thereafter, and it was just another day.

another day that left me thinking, i wonder what would happen if the lights went out for good..

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