Hey neighbor–I guess I’ll speak to you, since the power is out.
I couldn’t get my shorts to fit quite rights, after stumbling around in my dark room putting the last of my outfit on. Ah, Inside out. I started laughing and tried to pull myself together. Slow down. The sun had just gone down; the power was out in all of San Diego county, all surrounding counties North, up trough LA, down through Mexico, and lots of reports in Arizona and New Mexico with no known causes found by SDGE.
Slow down. That’s what everyone needed to do. That’s why every 30 seconds my friends and I heard firetrucks and ambulances. That’s why when our friend made it to our house, he had seen 18 accidents and stalled cars (pumps weren’t working, so everyone who was waiting last minute to get gas ran out on their commute), 12 ambulances and handfuls of cop cars. Panic. So close to 9/11. So close to 2012, blah blah. We joked but I could feel the real panic that triggered during certain jokes, certain comments. Sometimes just a flicker of fear. The power went out just before rush hour. Many were driving like crazy to get home. Sirens went off everywhere, confusion overcame everything. The news reported power was likely to be out at least until the next morning or up to 3 days later. With the past few days of high temps, everyone rushed to get ice before it ran out.
If you zoomed in however, on the opposite of panic was the calm community. We felt entirely comfortable talking to each other, because a blackout is one hell of a conversion starter, and the outside coolness quickly surpassed inside. Everyone took to the porches and sidewalks. The pressure to think of something to say disappeared. An opening of words happened. There was a reason to speak to each other on the street. We were all united in one encompassing event. It wasn’t anything huge, but in the constant stickiness of everyday routine life, the jolt felt nice. There was an excuse for communication between neighbors, which we sometimes seem to need. There was a reason to help each other, to offer each others cell phones, to tell each other what places may still have ice. There was a reason to laugh the strangeness of bumbling around with no light, no air conditioning, limited internet, blank traffic lights, backed up phone lines, and dying or soon to be dead phones. And laughing at the strangeness of just how strange it is to be so dependent on it all! The structure of routine fell apart.
Our house make a plan though. Laughed. Fails to acquire ice. Laughed. Took the couches outside and set them up in front of the house. Snicker, giggle. “Black out block party!” Random yells come from any direction. Joints are smoked, drinks are made. My roommate did circus tricks with her partner in the yard across the street, until the sun went down. We lit up the living room with candles and random lights and lanterns, As I’m writing in a notebook by candlelight, I thought of how nice a feather pen would be. We decided to cook all the food in the fridge that may go bad. The neighbor friends came over for feasting with all three of our combined large dogs, running amuck in the dark.
The old couple two houses down watched from their porch, like always. “Happy pup” they commented as my dog and I walked by. They knew not to worry. Such a sense of calm. Not to worry. The moon shined brighter, casting a strong shadow on everything. The stars appeared. You know the ones. The ones you forget about sometimes when living in the city. Everyone in the surrounding houses were more audible. Traffic slowed as everyone got home. Life was more audible. Children playing games, someone playing guitar, conversations on porches. Calm. Only voices. Only life. The convenience of electricity is like breathing sometimes. We don’t consider it much. The GEneral hum of sound is always in the background. Our body movements mimic the routine. We still flip the light switch. We still say..oh yeahhhh I can’t do that EITHER!
It wasn’t the electricity outage that caused all of the proceeding mayhem on the streets. That was the sense of panic and fear. Go home calmly, stay clearheaded. Slow down and think. This should be the mantra on the radio during times of widespread confusion. Access to information was gone, but sense of teamwork and urges to be helpful increased. The community really grew outward from our individual houses, and I knew it would continue to do so as the blackout lasted. Happily to most, and somewhat sadly to me, the blackout was repaired after 7 hours.
Great conversions came out of the quiet dark. So much laughter came out of change and adjustment. A larger connection strengthened just a bit during the blackout, through the cut-off of these conveniences, and through the breaking of routine. We get so caught up in it that we forget what we’re missing. Reminders like this can be a blessing.