Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the blackout in Ontario. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the 2003 blackout is the second largest blackout in history and affected 10 million Ontarions, as well as millions more in the North Eastern U.S. Many people were without power for days. (source)
I was 21 when the blackout happened and spent that day waiting tables at a local chain restaurant. I was actually pretty excited because I had spent almost 14 days doing either split shifts or dinner shifts and I was really looking forward to an evening off. My plans were to finish work at 4:30, grab a bottle of wine and some pizza and spend the night on the couch watching movies. But the fate had different plans that night, and about 20 minutes before the end of my shift the lights went out.
Now, if you have ever been in a public place during a blackout, you know the kind of chaos that can occur. In a restaurant, anything that was in the middle of being cooked is effectively ruined, anything that hasn’t yet been started cannot be cooked. If customers want to leave, you have to try and remember everything they ordered and manually tally their bill. A task that becomes much more complicated when they have ordered drinks and you have to figure out the GST/PST and the alcohol tax. Thankfully the restaurant wasn’t very busy at the time the power went out, but things did get a little more stressful when it remained out for an extended period of time and we realized we would have to tell people they wouldn’t be getting their meals.
The great thing about the timing of the power outage is that as I was finishing my lunch shift all of my friends were coming in for their dinner shifts. As soon as I finished up my tables, Meghan, Sam and I went to the grocery store and marveled at the people buying water, canned goods and batteries. We purchased about 4 bottles of wine, and left the store shaking our heads.
During this time Jeremy was “liberating” a few cases beer and a box or two of burgers from the restaurant (he was a manager there). He wrote I.O.U’s under the guise that they would have gone bad without refrigeration. We, along whit a bunch of people we worked with who all suddenly had the night off, went over to his place for a barbecue and spent the night hanging out in the yard, eating, drinking and chatting. At one point, I was laying in the grass next to Sam and Meg, thinking how awesome it was that we were able to take the night that we would never forget and spend it together.
I think I got back to my apartment with my then-boyfriend (the one who stalks this blog. Hi stalker!) around 2 am and the lights were still out across the city. Even the emergency back up lights in our apartment stairwell were off. We had to find our way up to our 4th floor apartment by counting the flights of stairs. We may or may not have miscounted, resulting in what must have been a terrifying disturbance to the poor folks in apartment 304 (hint: we did).
The next morning, my father called to make sure I was alright. Our power came briefly around 11 am but was out again by noon. Power was fully restored to us by 2 in the afternoon.
I know that we had it pretty easy, and there were people who had to be rescued from elevators and subways. There were people who were stranded in downtown Toronto because there was no power to the train to the suburbs. I do think that most people pitched in and even if there were difficult situations, all the stories I have heard in the past years are positive. Those are the stories I love most. The ones where people talk about the things they missed, or how scared they were but end them with what a positive experience the whole night was for them. They make me remember that when it gets down to it, most of us are good, kind people.
So, dear readers, my question to you – where were you when the lights went out?