The Great Northeast American Blackout of 2003

I should get my thoughts about this power outage that affected the whole Northeastern seaboard of the Americas, before I roam around the internet and get influenced by everyone else’s entries.

I was at work when it happened. Thankfully, I’d saved my work about 20 seconds prior to everything going out (I’ll have to remember to save this every few seconds, as is my habit, as we are still supposed to experience rolling blackouts). Of course, like everyone else, we thought it was a local problem. Soon after people started calling out, however, we discovered otherwise. When we finally decided to leave (at 4:30 – I’m not sure why we all stood around for 15 minutes, as it was pretty obvious after 5 that it wasn’t coming back on any time soon), I started to wonder about the traffic lights and how horrendous it would be to get home. I didn’t think it could possibly be that bad.

I got in my car and instantly turned on a news radio station (found two in the end and kept switching back and forth). I soon found out just how wide an area this blackout was affecting. First, I was struck with shock, then soon found it quite funny, then mild fear set in. I wondered very briefly if it was terrorist attacks. The newscasters gave out as much information as they knew, they interviewed Hydro Canada and pretty much confirmed early on in the game that it probably wasn’t a terrorist attack. I also felt fairly safe in a general sense, so I thought it probably was just an error.

I’d called my dad (he’s visiting) before leaving, and he’d said to take it easy and be careful at stop lights, because people would be hurtling through. The first intersection I came to was small, so I treated it like a 4-way stop like the other person who was there when I arrived. After that person left, I could see one car far down the street on one side, and the other was clear. So I stepped on the gas and started to go – but the far away car was suddenly very close, so I stopped, surprised. He obviously wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit down this small road. I then nearly got hit by a stupid woman coming up to me from the other direction, because I’d had to stop while the other guy slowed down. He stopped and let me go, but geez – I almost got hit on both ends by two cars!! I don’t see how I would have survived that one. Yeesh.

The rest of the drive home was all right. I didn’t feel that safe physically, but I knew I’d get home in one piece. There were some obstacles, but it wasn’t as busy as the opposite direction to me. I was grateful for that!

On the way home, I heard plenty of information about what was going on, possible causes, uncertainty of when things would be running smoothly again. I was really swept away by the fact that so many people were experiencing the same conditions – it made me feel really connected to the people around me, even over the barriers I’ve put up against them over the years. As the newscasters spoke about how people were being affected, how well people were taking this and how ordinary civilians were helping to direct traffic, a tear rolled down my cheek from each eye. I just couldn’t believe the spirit and well being that humans were showing towards each other. Some people threw water bottles out to the people directing traffic as they passed by. I tried to wave to them in thanks, but every time I got close enough, they turned away!

So far I’ve heard 3 stories about the cause: a power station in New York caught fire, and the resulting blackout had a cascading effect; the Niagara Mohawk power plant was overloaded and thus resulted in a cascading blackout (Later Prime Minister Jean Chretien “confirmed” that it had been struck by lightning – then I heard phone calls on the radio of people saying that couldn’t have been because the sky over the station was totally clear, which means either the people are just stupid and weren’t looking at the time of the outage, or Chretien is trying to cover something up; and I heard some nuclear power station had blown up (from a friend, not the news). Interesting, but nothing else has been confirmed, and last I heard (yesterday morning on the radio) they still don’t know what caused it.

Anyway, I wondered if I’d have the next day off as I had made a wish earlier, at lunch, I’m tired and bored, and I just want to go home and sleep and read a book!. Strange, it came true…

I made it home 1.25 hours late, so that wasn’t bad. Dad was here, waiting with cooked spaghetti sauce and no spags, so we put that in the fridge and had a cold supper of salad, sausage, cheese, chips and ice cream. We read our books until it was too dark to do so, and I lit some candles so we had a bit of light to see by (we don’t really have flashlights). Mike, Dad and I relaxed for a little while until 9:45 rolled around, and I thought I should go to bed.

After having my shower and getting ready, Mike came out of his room all dressed saying he was going up to the big hill in Caledon to look at Dark Toronto. I got kind of excited, as stargazing used to be a favourite passtime of mine, so decided to join him. I ended up driving up there (with old glasses – more on that later) and, while I was used to driving in the dark when it came to country lanes, I wasn’t used to it in old glasses. I was very careful and was unable to see dead traffic lights that were coming up – Mike was my second set of eyes. It took half an hour to get up there because of my careful driving!

Once there, we parked among a few other cars and met one of Mike’s Dad’s friends there. We stood and chatted with him for a while, as we gazed out over the Greater Toronto Area… it was mostly dark, with a large band of lights to the southwest, and a few speckles of lights elsewhere. The sky over Toronto was glowing, though not because of city lights. The moon was incredibly bright that night, and so spoiled the effect we were hoping for (complete darkness in order to view the stars above Toronto that normally can’t be seen). We could see Mars just to the right of the moon, however. I wished I’d brought my telescope up there…

We got home about 11:15, and I knew I was going to be tired the next day if I had to go to work. However, 6:30 AM came around and there was still no power. I’m glad my Dad was here – I needed his guidance to decide whether to stay home, or attempt to get to work. We decided I should wait until 8 and then call in and see what was going on. When no one answered, I figured we were all supposed to stay home and that I had a good excuse if we weren’t – the lights were out and the people on the radio told us to stay home!

At that point, I was quite happy to have a day off to rest (I was so tired from going to bed late almost every night this week). I had, however, wanted to work on my computer while having the day off… but I suppose that’s the tradeoff. I did have a backlog of books from the library that I wanted to read, so I got cracking on those. I finished off Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, flipped through a digital design book (from 1994! it was almost completely useless), and read a couple more pages from Homepage Usability: 50 Homepages Deconstructed (it’s actually quite interesting, despite its name, if you’re into designing websites). I’ve still got two more books out from the library to finish, but I’ve got a longer list I was hoping to get through this summer. Ah well, I think I’ve done well so far, considering I was working full time and took a summer course.

Dad and I spent almost the entire day reading yesterday. Mike slept for a while and did other various things that he does. In the later afternoon, we called some friends who had invited us over for a BBQ (they live across the street from our old house) and found out they had power and no water (we had water and no power). We went over there early to swim and enjoy their cool backyard.

It was nice to see them again. I’ve seen them once since my parents moved away – they had invited me over to fix their computer and feed me dinner. Anyway, I got in the pool and swam (well, talked to) their two youngest daughters – Alana and Marissa. They’re 13 and 11, respectively, and, since the days they used to come over to annoy me, they’ve certainly calmed down! They’re still hyper with their friends, but they can have an actual conversation with me now, which is nice! Alana went on and on about how the people she was friends with at her last school (a grade 7-8 school where they teach everyone on the computer all the time – I wish I’d been able to go to a middle school like that!) were strange, backstabbing, and immature. It was really odd to hear her talk about people like that. She talked a lot, and fast, and poor Marissa tried to butt in every now and then to add something, but it was hard to hear her over Alana! It was enjoyable, as I still felt like they liked me (when they were little, they LOVED me) and would accept me, even now I’m so old.

Dinner was ready, so we all got out and then Mike and I sat with the adults the rest of the evening. It was interesting to listen to their stories, but at times I wished I was still a kid so I could go off and watch a movie with their kids, or play and just hang out and be a kid again. But I suppose everyone has to grow up… and I’m better for it, I’m sure.

We came home fairly early – 11:15 PM. I drove my dad’s rental car (that’s illegal – you’re supposed to be 25) because he was drunk (so I’m sure it would have been fine). We came home to the power having been restored, and, judging from the flashing clocks, it had come on 4 hours earlier (so about 7:30). I was so happy, and the relief… it was just incredible. It was fun not having power, but only for a little while. After that, you start to feel withdrawal from your computer, your tv, your fridge, even your clocks. I didn’t like staring at their black faces. I felt vulnerable.

I checked my email, but Dad and Mike had gone out to sit on the deck Mike made in the backyard (more on that later) so I went down to join them for a bit.

Overall, it was quite an experience – especially yesterday. Everyone was out on the street talking, a car was playing music quite loudly and you could hear cars crackling as they moved around the ground, just like when you’re camping! It was very quiet (machine-wise – people were still loud), and so “back to nature”. But I tell you, I like my air conditioning too much! Sorry, I just can’t deal with the extreme heat (or any, really). Give me a mild, cool spring and fall any day! To quote my mom (with a slight variation) “Roll on, fall!”






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *