Pique n' your interest 

Finally seeing the light

There’s nothing like a massive power outage blacking out an entire province to get people talking again.

Where were you when Blackout 2003 struck? How did you make it home? When did the power come back in your home?

Every single person in Ontario has a story to tell about last weekend’s blackout. Even me. I was home for five days right in the middle of the crisis.

My story isn’t nearly as interesting as the accounts of being in stuck in a downtown elevator for hours on end waiting to be rescued. Nor is it as gallant as the reports of civilians taking over busy intersections and directing traffic. Or as weary as the stories of workers trudging up Yonge Street from the downtown core to their pitch-black homes in the sprawling suburbs.

Instead I was shopping in a nearby mall with a friend. We made our way home oblivious to the crisis at hand and settled into my parents’ backyard with some cool drinks. We barbecued our dinner, tuned into the car radio for regular news updates, chatted with the family and the neighbours, lit some candles and went to bed. Twelve hours later in the middle of the night the power came back on and the so-called crisis was over, for my family at least.

Though it was a relatively quick debacle, we certainly learned a lot about ourselves during Blackout 2003. And I hope they’re lessons we won’t soon forget.

I have to admit that before the blackout I never really gave much thought to where my power came from.

When I flipped the light switch I expected the light to come on. When I pressed the remote I expected the TV to flash to life and when I opened the fridge and freezer I just assumed that my food would be fresh and cold. (All right, admittedly I don’t always expect my food to be fresh or mould-free but I do expect it to be cold.)

These are just the basics of life in North America. Aren’t they?

And because we take it for granted, I’ll readily admit that I have been guilty of leaving the lights on when I’m not using them. I’ve washed clothes and forgotten about them in the washing machine only to wash them again four days later. I’ve left the house with the TV blaring in the living room, entertaining nobody.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

After the energy blackout though, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the way I think about power and the way most of us think about power.

When the power was restored in some homes in Ontario, others were still waiting in the dark. Officials asked us to think about those without power and use less ourselves to quicken the process of restoring power to everyone. Some complied. Others resumed their everyday lifestyle, firing up the dishwasher, washing machine and air conditioner all at once.

Looking back it just seems totally ludicrous that we actually have to be asked to conserve our power.

Shouldn’t we be turning off our lights regardless of whether there’s an energy crisis or not? Shouldn’t we be hanging our laundry out to dry on lines when it’s over 30 degrees outside? Shouldn’t we think of air conditioning as a luxury to be used in severe heat rather than an excuse to sit at home in a sweatshirt in the middle of the summer?

It’s amazing how much we have come to depend on having a limitless supply of power and how much this access to power dictates the way we live our lives.

With no power for an evening, we were left to fend for ourselves by resorting to the most basic form of communication – talking.

All our regular stimuli was shut off. There were no TVs, no computers, videos and movies. As night fell there were no books too.

Like in olden days all we had to entertain ourselves was talking and listening to each other – somewhat of a novel concept in this day and age when simple conversation has become something of a dying art.

People came out of their homes and onto the street to talk.

Instead of just the early morning wave hello as you head to the car neighbours shared stories of the revolving news of the Blackout.

It was one of the best ways of staying up-to-date on the unfolding situation because each person had a different story to tell, had heard an extra little tidbit of information and was gladly sharing it with the rest of the street.

Otherwise deserted streets were thronging with people, out for a late evening stroll.

Walking along the darkened sidewalks, everybody was commenting on the stars. It was like they had never seen stars before by the way they were talking about them. They talked about how bright they were, how many were shining, how close they seemed.

With no white light from the big city casting a glow on the night sky, Toronto’s roof took on a whole new dimension.

It was a sparkling sky that could almost compare to Whistler’s night – almost.

And without the constant hum of the air conditioner, the computer and the dishwasher, the traffic and that prevailing ambient noise common to all big cities, there was a strange quietness about the city too.

Most people took advantage of it, savouring in the peace of the blackout and relishing in the simplicity of it all, knowing that life as they knew it with all the gadgets and toys and appliances would be back soon and things would get back to normal.

But the way we use and abuse power is not really "normal" in comparison to other countries and other cultures.

Maybe with a little more thought, we could conserve energy on a regular basis, not just when we’re in the midst of a power crisis.

And maybe if we turn the TV off more often, we’ll have more time to talk to one another and occasionally go for a walk and look up at the stars.

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