left us all sitting around, wondering what to do. We all had a bunch of work to do (I had a couple of deadlines I had been fending off myself), but realized that nothing was going to happen without power. When it first happened, the lights in the office flickered as first one phase
failed and recovered, then the other, and then all power died. I tried to call my girlfriend on my cell, as she worked in Manhattan
, but no luck. I then called my buddy Ted in South Carolina
, and told him to get to a TV and check the news to see how wide the blackout was. He floored me when he said it went all the way to Canada
, and they were still determining how wide the swath of darkness
I was stranded, as were a few other co-workers. Our office is on Long Island, so without the LIRR, anyone without a vehicle was pretty screwed. The roads were jammed as well, so those with cars weren't much better off, but at least they would eventually make it back home.
As it turns out, there was an extra company vehicle, which my boss offered to me to use to get home. I found out my friend Jim, our IT director, had his car in the shop. We decided that it would probably be better if I took him home and crashed on his couch instead of fighting my way to Brooklyn.
A group of us who had decided to wait until the traffic died down before trying to drive anywhere went across the street to our local happy-hour bar to get some beers. The taps were still working, so the place had a decent crowd, other people who had abandoned the thought of trying to make it back home while the traffic was so heavy.
Eventually, Jim and I made it to Huntington, where he lived. We first went to his place, but realized that with no power, it would be better to take a walk instead of sit around a dark apartment. We went to a park near the harbor, and walked around a bit, looking at the stars. The sky was relatively clear, but the almost-full Moon washed out all but Mars and the brightest stars.
I am a city dweller, and an open sky is a treat. I looked for the Big Dipper (which is an asterism, a part of the Ursa Major (Great Bear) constellation) or Orion (the only other group of stars I can recognize.) Finding the Dipper, I looked at my friend and said, "just think, there is nothing between us and those stars, nothing for millions and billions and trillions of miles. If we are truly alone in the universe, then there must be a God, because that means this is all for us." (I had had a beer or two by that time, and so was waxing philosophical.) It was a concept I had expressed before, and it came to me again very strongly that night. I added, “we are naked to space, sitting here with nothing to protect us, no shield, no magic word, nothing.” Jim responded dryly, “except space and time.” I had to give him that. The fact that we are so isolated is a protection in itself. Anyone who has played Spaceward Ho! or Strategic Commander knows that if two adjoining star systems are populated by different species, eventually one will overwhelm the other. In one way, we are lucky that there aren’t any (as far as we know) neighbors close enough to visit easily.
On our way back to his place, we saw neon lights working in one of the local bars, the Valencia Tavern. We assumed that the owner had the foresight to have a backup generator. We found out that some of the regulars were building contractors, and brought a couple of generators from a nearby worksite to power up the bar. The place was packed, full of people attracted by the only open bar in town (and possibly on the entire island.) We wound up staying there until midnight, leaving only because Jim wanted to be able to get up to bring our computers back online if the power came back before morning.
We talked about how dependent we are on power, and how legless we are without it. Luckily, I had a cell phone/PDA (the Handspring Treo) so I could occasionally check the internet for news, but all we found out that night was that nobody was completely sure how the blackout became so extensive. I think it’s because too many people have a NIMBY philosophy when it comes to power lines, transformer stations, and power generators. As much as I dislike Bush, he wasn’t the real culprit here, we are. NYC has tried to set up additional generation capacity in the past, but was frustrated at every turn by locals who don’t want any of it near them. We have met the enemy and they are us.