Monday, July 13, 2009


So there I was at work today when all of a sudden we were plunged into darkness, consumed by a power outage.

My colleagues and I fumble through our pitch black hallways to the front of the building where we see people streaming from their offices across the street. It looks like the whole block is out. There is a loud chorus of "Oh no" from the office next door as a computer screen goes AWOL mid-document. A cell phone and my handy dandy Nintendo DSI are used as a lighting source so that my colleague can find her way around in the women's loo.

I had been covering the front for our receptionist at lunchtime, working away on my Mac when suddenly I was cast into the pitch. I typed this by the light of my computer surrounded by silence. A world without machines = a strangely silent place. The silence was only broken by the intermittent beep of our alarm (which had apparently become confused), and the occasional brrrring brrrrring of the bell in the elevator. I guess a couple of poor unfortunates were trapped inside and were perhaps on the verge of panic? And who could blame them? We rarely see true darkness in a city.

I was reminded of a time 25 years ago when Newfoundland was hit by a massive ice storm and lost power for about 3 days. At first, there was havoc as people wrestled with the reality of living in a modern world without power or heat (unless you were lucky enough to have a wood stove or a fireplace) and stumbling about in the dark fighting the cold. Restaurants were closed with the exception of a couple places that had propane stoves. Stores were closed too, save the corner store called The Fountain Spray in downtown St. John’s. The owners of the store hung Coleman lanterns from the ceiling and people had to line up for ages to buy a loaf of bread.

But in the midst of the chaos, something truly amazing happened. People slowed down – they had no choice. When we were lined up at the Fountain Spray for our loaf of bread, we didn't grouse or complain - we actually talked to one another. And though the streets of downtown were cast into blackness, as I made my way along the row houses as dusk touched down, I was able to peer in people’s windows where I could see the darnedest thing: no one was gathered around the television set watching reruns of Three’s Company. Families and friends were gathered around tables, playing cards and talking by candlelight. And though the sidewalks were piled high with snow, and frequently there was nothing except a narrow footpath upon which to walk, people stopped and let others come through, teetering precariously on the edge of the snowbank so that someone could pick their way along the path towards you. People actually helped one another. No one was in a hurry.

Our power outage today lasted only a few moments (and apparently it took a huge portion of Vancouver down), but there was something kind of exciting as we all stood around and talked to our neighbours and speculated about what had happened. And then it was over, and we all returned to work, a bit disappointed I think, that we didn't get to linger a little longer.

1 comment:

  1. Same thing when TO was taken down for a few days about 7 years ago. It was the middle of an intense humid heat wave (no A/C! how will we survive!). Suddenly, you got to know your neighbours as impromptu social gatherings started popping up in the street. Pain in the arse? For sure. Neat sense of community coming out of it? You bet.