I was watching an episode of Being Erica tonight, when the main character is sent back in time to August 2003. The show is set in Toronto, and anyone who lived in that wonderful city in August 2003 will remember the context for the show well – because the lights went out. In fact, the blackout extended across most of the East Coast.
I remember it well because Charlie and I were living in Toronto at the time. Our apartment was on the 17th floor of a building in High Park. At first, I didn’t even realise the power was gone. I was working from home on my laptop and so I thought the Internet had just gone down. It wasn’t until Charlie phoned and said the power was out that I realised the laptop was working from battery power.
We assumed power would be restored within a few hours, but slowly word filtered through about the extent of the power cut and we worried about potential terrorism. In the end we had to phone home to Ireland to get the news from there because without power we had no Internet, no tv, and not even a working radio.
I was lucky for two reasons – the first that I was working from home that day, and the second that I happened to have withdrawn a couple of hundred dollars in cash. (These days I never have cash on me so I’d be in big trouble.)
Poor Charlie was at work, a 40 minute subway ride away. And of course the subways weren’t running. Because the petrol pumps weren’t working, taxi drivers were refusing to leave the downtown area. Eventually he met an “enterprising” taxi driver who asked how much he had and said he’d bring him as close as he could for the fare he had. In the end he charged him $50 and still left him a two hour walk from home.
He did make it home eventually however, full of stories about citizens taking it upon themselves to direct traffic and restore order. All the while news was filtering through about rioting and looting in New York. But the Canadians were helping each other and becoming even friendlier than usual. I really miss Canada when I remember things like that!
As it happened there was a heat wave, so we were stuck 17 floors up in the blistering heat with no running water and worse still no air conditioning. The first day, we used the building’s outdoor pool to cool off, but by the second day that had taken on a decidedly greenish colour.
What I remember most from those few days without power was how social it was. Walking through High Park village, everyone on the patios of the bars or restaurants with generators. Making our way back to the sticky apartment at night and lugging gallons of water up 17 flights of stairs. Dragging our mattress out on to the balcony to sleep where it was even slightly cooler. Chatting to our neighbours and making patio friends. In the end, I think everyone was a little disappointed when power was restored. Until we realised that we could flush the toilet, and more importantly boil the kettle for a cup of tea that is.