Who turned out the lights?

Do you remember where you were on August 14th, 2003?  If you were in the North-Eastern United States or in Ontario, you should remember.  Do you have a child who just turned 9 recently?  Yes? Well done, my friend! You not only survived but were brave enough to continue the propagation of the human race.  Truly one of the hero’s of the ‘Great Power Outage of 2003’.

If you recall, there was a massive power system failure, from a computer glitch in the First Energy Corporation in Ohio that affected over 55 million people.

Here in Ontario, we experienced this outage as only Canadians could.  With wide-spread looting?  No.  We dealt with it by rushing out and eating all the ice cream we could cram into our guts before it all melted.  Lactose intolerant? Suck it up, Bub!  We have a disaster on our hands!  It was carnage – children wandering the streets, sick and dizzy on a sugar rush.  Men and women desperately scrounging and begging for wet wipes.  Lineups a mile long outside the nearest Dairy Queen. It was awful!

For me, it was a slightly different story.

My family was enjoying a holiday at my brother’s cottage up in the Kawartha area of Central Ontario.  He and his wife were kind enough to let us spend a week enjoying the lakeside retreat, blissfully out of contact with the outside world.

As I recall, we were sitting down at the dock enjoying a few ‘adult’ beverages, watching the kids play in the water, and baking in a hot August sun.

At some point, I noticed that the radio had stopped playing in the cottage.  Well, it is cottage country, and the nearest radio station is a long way away.  Sometimes we just don’t get a good signal. I couldn’t be sure how long it stopped playing, though.

An hour or so later, I needed a refill, so I trundled up to the cottage to get a cold beer from the fridge (conveniently located in the front porch).  When I opened the door, I noticed that the little light in the back was out.  Hmm.  Now I checked the radio, and found that it was off.  No power. Checked the lights – same thing.

Uh, oh!  That guy down the road using industrial power equipment all morning must have blown a local transformer.  Boy, is he gonna be in big trouble!

Realizing that the power had been out for over an hour, I acted quickly, and grabbed as much beer as I could, heading down to the lake to cool it off.  Priorities, people!  Of course, my lovely wife reminded me that we had meat in the freezer that was beginning to thaw out…sweet, beautiful, naive girl. Meat?  Next, she’ll tell me that the vegetables might spoil.

It was a while later before I discovered the greatest problem with having no power at a cottage.  No power means no running water, and no running water means no septic system. 2 adults, 2 kids plus a friend…you do the math.  Now we’re in trouble.

As the evening wore on, casual curiosity was replaced by concern.  How long is it going to take for the local power company to track down the guy with the heavy equipment?

As dusk approached, we lit the barbeque and cooked up all the thawed meat – we ate like Kings that night, and as long as no one had to go to the bathroom, we would be in good shape.  Time for another beer, so I headed back to my stash in a fishing net just off the dock – how Canadian is that??

Just then, the guy renting the cottage next to ours came running over, panicked looking. ‘Hey, did you know that the  power is out?’

…pretty sure MENSA has all their members accounted for, but a village nearby is looking for their idiot!

Gee‘, I said in a totally non-sarcastic tone, ‘No, let me check over here‘.

I walked, while hiding my ice-cold beer, over to a light switch. Click, click, click. Nothing.  For some reason we have to flick a light 3 times if it doesn’t work.  I guess that’s the official test. ‘Well, I guess mine is out too – I think the whole bay is out‘.

I better call the electric company‘, my genius neighbour suggested.

Sure, I bet they could use a few more phone calls‘, I suggested, and off he went to save the world.

A while later, the sun had gone down, so we lit candles and sat down to play cards and continued to ‘save’ the beer.  By now, the bathrooms were pretty much bio-hazards and were considered off-limits to any humans, and certainly no one with a lit candle should get even close to the door, or KABLAMO!!

I remembered that I had a flashlight in the car, so I stumbled through the darkness to get it.  I sat in the drivers seat and turned on the ignition.  It was at this point I noticed that the radio in the car wasn’t working either.  No radio stations were broadcasting.  This is NOT good!  And that guy down the road with all that power equipment is going to be in really big trouble, that’s for sure.

I can’t describe how unsettling it is to be out in the country, with no ambient light, no contact with the outside world, and having no idea why I cannot find any radio communication.  It was an eerie feeling for sure.

Eventually I got a weak AM radio signal, which had reports of massive power outages right across the Eastern seaboard.  Wow!  It was either a major terrorist attack or that guy down the road had one massive saw going earlier in the day.

There wasn’t much we could do, and we finally got tired of playing cards and holding our bladders.  We all turned in for the night.  At about 3am, I heard the beer fridge fire back up.  All is well with the world again.  The toilets grudgingly worked through their, uh, stuff, and the lights and radio came back on.

It was a few days later before we discovered how wide-spread the outage had been, and that some areas were still in the dark.  All in all, people were civilized and helped each other through this very North American problem.  A good sign for mankind.

Some of us found ‘cozy’ ways to survive the outage, and now have a 9 year old reminder.  Some went out and helped their fellow man – good for you!

I only hope that if we have another power outage like this, there’s lots of ice cream, wipes and Lactaid.


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