When I was a kid, leaving a light on was like stealing or swallowing poison. You learned very quickly you’d better not do it.
As a grown-up, living in a series of places with dodgy wiring further ingrained the habit of avoiding the use of electricity. When a stranger visiting my current abode commented on my low-tech existence, I realized that it’s unusual. I was unaware of the Big Blackout a few years back until my mother phoned to ask if I’d noticed.
Recently, I spent an illuminating night in a friend’s tiny apartment switching off night lights and pulling plugs as he slept. Even the coffee maker had a light-up clock on it.
After hundreds of years of escalating and irreversible earthly exploitation, the corporate sector congratulates itself on one hyper-hyped hour of lights-out to appease the dying planet.
Might be a little more meaningful if participating cities took up the Baghdad model: only one hour of electricity in every 24. The bike ride to City Hall is treacherous, with deadly machines pouring into the downtown core and cab doors flying open without warning.
“You’re all making an amazing statement,’’ claims the MC from a stage flanked by bright video screens. The mayor and someone in a panda suit appear for the countdown to 8 o’clock.
I guess they work late at Osgoode and Old City Hall, where lights are on. Likewise in the Committee of Adjustment office in City Hall itself. It’s all very Emperor’s New Clothes, pretending there’s been a change when, to my old eyes, there is none.
The Citytv truck is sitting running, and I’m trying to count the number of star trailers and equipment trucks backstage as Nellie Furtado renders a ditty that proves my ears are also out of sync with the crowd.
I run into a cyclist friend who reports that earth-loving SUV drivers are fuming at the pedestrians scurrying across the entrance to the underground parking lot. The colourful lights on the chip trucks are flashing. Street lights are off, but only in the immediate area likely to be caught on video.
My friend accompanies me down to the CBC building on Front. A contract worker told me she tried in vain for months to get the lights turned off there at night. Not all the lights are on, but neither are they all off. The little park at Clarence Square off Spadina is always dark – unless you count the lights and traffic all around it. Lots of light on the avenue to facilitate night window shopping for office furniture, bridal gowns or bargains at Winners.
The Backpackers Hostel at King looks to be in darkness. The desk clerk is sitting in candlelight, and the deep obscurity in the pub is very attractive. But tick, tick, tick, I reluctantly push on.
My friend and I decide that American Apparel on Queen has the most lights burning needlessly. Everything is pretty much business as usual. Window displays aren’t dimmed, and chain coffee shops are bright. Two shops are open where lights-out would be a bad idea: nobody wants to get a tattoo in the dark.
A couple of little fireworks go up in Trinity Bellwoods Park, but no one else is around and lamps are lit for safety. On the spot where a dozen 150-year-old trees were torn out for construction at 1001 (formerly 999) Queen West, countless lights blaze in the empty, unfinished building, as they do every night.
I ring my mother and sister, who noticed no difference in the view from my mother’s balcony. My sister counted 20 lit-up houses in a row nearby, but added that the Christmas lights looked like the energy-saving kind.
Mostly they were blinded by the lights at the PetroCan on the corner. “Why don’t people stop driving for an hour?’’ my mother suggested to passengers in the elevator. To which “nobody said a word.’’