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The Great Blackout of ’03

Excerpted from an email sent to a friend travelling in Australia:

…Yes, on a Sunday, I am at work, but I didn’t have to come to work Friday (although I did briefly because without power, our phones didn’t work, and I didn’t get my manager’s message) and I left early Thursday (the blackout hit around 4:15 p.m. ET).Stranded streetcart

Thursday was surreal. Very Last Night: streetcars abandoned (but for the lonely drivers sitting guard) in the middle of the street across the city, traffic lights not working, people rushing out of office towers to bars for the last drops of cold beer (I was one), stores closing as people rushed for batteries and radios.

By Thursday night, Lee and I were in the apt. sweltering (about 40ºC) trying to find to what was going by listening to the fading signals of a sixties-era transistor radio. By nine we gave up and began wandering the darkened city (no streetlights, no skyline, just candles in the windows and stars in the sky). We took our digital camera and began shooting everything: the streetcar stranded at Dundas and Dovercourt, Dark storefrontsthe darkened intersection of Dundas and Ossington, and storefront signs illuminated only as car drove by.

Ended up in a local bar I’d been wanting to check out at Dundas and Ossington: the Communist’s Daughter. Inside, people were knocking back warming beer and singing along to classic rock tunes played on an acoustic guitar.

This was the upside; wandering around the city experiencing it as it might have been before it was electrified, talking to neighbours, experiencing the company of strangers in candle-lit darkness.

But, when we awoke Friday morning and found the power still off reality set in: no power, no coffee, and—for me—no more cigarettes. Thankfully, one of Portuguese cafés was using a gas stove to brew coffee and was also selling cigarettes. The place, not surprisingly, was packed.

By the afternoon, we had managed to get a car with a full tank of gas (that too was a rare commodity) only because we had pre-booked—everyone was racing to get out of the steaming city….

Although our block was still out of power (and would, I’d later find out, remains so for close to 40 hours) the others were operating as normal. East of Ossington and just south of Luna were fine, for example.

Today, on the way back from Napanee we witnessed the aftermath of a car fire, and watched cars overheat as traffic ground to a halt. Ernie Eves was on the radio trying to reassure us with his nasally voice that things were fine and it wasn’t his government’s fault.

All around us though, the signs pointed otherwise.

The subway will run tomorrow (for the first time since Thursday), but the government is only running its essential services. Business are urged to close or operate with minimal staff. No billboards, no AC; conserve, conserve. Our fridge, like millions of others, is full of spoiled food.

People are still dazed. The anger hasn’t set-in because the relief is, right now, too much. But when it does happen, we may find there is no one to blame but our own desire to consume.…