At around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, the shrill whines of the uninterruptible power supplies throughout the office signaled a power-outage. There were minor outages and squeaks of protest throughout the entire day, so we figured that it was just our shoddy electrical system, and waited for the power to reappear. As we powered down the servers, and joked around, it was becoming clear that this was bigger than our little building -- most of our cell phones did not work, either overloaded ("All Verizon circuits are busy. Please hang up and call back later.") or because of power failure somewhere in the infrastructure. The couple of people that did get through to their families reported gridlock in downtown Cleveland (the traffic lights were down), and on the I-90 and I-480 highways (as everybody rushed to get home from their dark office buildings). The Cleveland Clinic was being evacuated, all non-essential systems were being taken down, and backup generators were stepping in to provide life support.
Fortunately, my commute home runs in the opposite direction of rush hour traffic patterns. It was eerie driving through the mostly empty highways, looking over at the other side of the divide at the gridlocked southbound traffic. With no traffic lights, everybody was surprisingly polite and cautious at the intersections. Half of the radio stations were silent, the rest just played their usual annoying crap, and only one (normally all-music) station was talking about the blackout and taking callers. News were starting to trickle in that Detroit, New York, and Toronto were also hit, and that terrorism was unlikely.
My wife was home for the day, and with no batteries in the radio and no power, had no idea that anybody else outside our building was affected. I told her the news so far; we called friends and family to check up, rescued ice cream from immediate demise, and chilled out and talked.
When night fell, we walked up to the roof (16 floors) of our building to watch the city. It was an amazing sight. To the north, the lake was quiet, hazy and still, with only a couple of boats running home. To the east, the skyline of downtown Cleveland was a weird patchwork of dark office towers, red blinking warning lights on the roofs, a string of headlights along the highway, but also pools of floodlights near the stadium and a couple of other places with generators. To the south, all the way to the horizon, the city was dark, save for the cars hurrying home and faint candles in the windows. It was also full of life - you could hear people talking and laughing on the nearby roofs and on the streets, as well as plenty of police and fire sirens. I was hoping to see some stars, free of the usual light pollution, but the sky was hazy and bright (an almost full moon was hiding up there somewhere), and only the brightest few were visible. On the ground, though, fireworks flashed and crackled throughout the city -- nothing official, just a bunch of enthusiasts all getting the same idea in their heads.
The rest of the night was hot and humid, filled with crickets and more sirens. The power came back up at around 8am. Google News had the usual range of reactions, from the reserved 'Power returning to the US east coast' (mostly US sources) to the frantic 'CHAOS AFTER US BLACKOUT!' and 'Power cuts cause havoc across US and Canada' of UK and Australian papers. I started to get ready for work -- it was going to be business as usual at the office, for better or worse.