Fortunately, the computer stopped working. Unfortunately, so did the fan. Two excuses to get outside. I secretly hoped it was the first step in a feral cat uprising. I noticed more noise outside than usual. There was a tension that was genuinely electrifying, unlike the normal deadening buzz. "Toronto is one of the many cities that has been plunged into darkness," said the announcer over the radio of the solemn-looking man's car. I guess Toronto crosses time zones somewhere, since where I stood it was 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was squinting. Squinting because of the sun.
The sun, as some may recall, is that bright thing in the sky during the day. It's roughly 1 million times larger than the Earth, around 45 million years old and accounts for most of the mass in our solar system. Its energy output is 386 billion megawatts per second. It was working. Always has been. Still is.
This didn't seem like good news to the thousands of sweating, muttering people emerging onto Bloor Street who had apparently seen no reason to go outside on previous and ostensibly normal days. The streets were packed, gas stations were clogged, people were actually hitchhiking in the Annex. The city was a delightful mixture of Caribana and Mad Max.
The lines at the gas stations were exemplary of our society's motto: if what you've been doing fails, panic, and then do it faster. While many were stranded, I'll bet many of those hoarding gas had no real need to do so - it was just a dependence response.
Fear of the sun was rampant, and it's a shame. If people all along had only made like sunflowers and turned their faces to follow our closest star, the blackout might never have happened.
Canadians per capita consume the most energy in the industrialized world. We import much of it, and the effects of that were plain to see, once you found your candles. The average Canadian household consumes 12,130 KWhs a year. This means that 54 square metres of photovoltaic cells would be able to convert sunlight and power your house. (Those without water-wasting dishwashers and brain-wasting TVs would need much less.)
The cell area needed to meet average consumption would take up less space than is currently occupied by hydroelectric plants, especially considering that it's much easier to break up a solar grid into pieces and put cells close to points of high consumption, theoretically avoiding so-called problems like last week.
I say "so-called" because even without solar power, all the important stuff worked. Bikes still moved by means of a system of cranks and wheels. Wanton photosynthesizing occurred city-wide. Silverware drew on some mysterious internal energy source that I believe is now being researched. And when the star-blanketed night settled in, condoms operated at peak efficiency.
The only immediate danger I encountered was the lack of traffic lights. Luckily, I'm used to having to weave for my life, so I was mostly just happy that motorists got to know what it was like for the rest of us.
Chances are, few of the crossing guards considered themselves anarchists. It's unlikely many of them even considered themselves crossing guards. And most people probably think of anarchists as those likely to have masterminded the blackout, not those who took care of us during it. If I call them temporary anarchists and you say they're just unexpected heroes, we're both right.
Those cracks in routine allowed for sights that were not only moving but thought-provoking. That may have, on some level, figured into the urgency with which those in charge worked to get the lights back on. Reconnecting our electrical power maintained their political power. People thoughtlessly replacing machines, rampant conversation, potlucks erupting city-wide, hippies boldly brandishing acoustic guitars. The electric fence between us and primitivism was shutting down, and no burning, pillaging or baby-eating waited on the other side.
The truth is that for most of us who've been advocating simple living, nothing changed last Thursday, except for one thing. It was a fleeting chance to move through a dream-darkened city and watch, with a strange brew of emotions, normally arrogant buildings looking awkward and vulnerable and wearing the light usually reserved for country meadows.
Some will call me naive. But the next time something like this happens, we'll see who comes knocking at whose herb garden. Of course, you're welcome - just bring some wine and a telescope, and let's hope it's a clear night.