One Summer Day
“I colour the sky with you.
I let you choose the blue”
- Everyone Needs an Editor
(Mates of State, My Solo Project, 2000)
It felt like the hottest day of the year, as I sat outside trying to enjoy my lunch in this brutal heat. No cloud cover, no wind, just stifling humidity and about 30 degrees of sunshine bearing down on me. My sandwich is…not worth it. I think I used the last of the lunchmeat, and I probably did Alissa a favour because she won’t have this awful taste in her mouth. I wash it down with cold soda and head back into the comfortable chill of my office building.
Only six weeks ago I was working at Blockbuster Video, stocking shelves, dealing with idiots, customers, and “managing” employees (If closing duties are done and the return box is empty, there will be Halo time). All that and 10 free rentals a week gets you about $9.75 an hour, and 40 hours a week if your Manager likes you gets you enough to live off. (If that sounds like paradise to you, we may have a problem.) To me, that job was literally Hell on Earth, and no one was happier than I when the whole business model went the way of 8-track tape.
Just before Canada Day I had started working for a local high-tech startup. It was exactly the sort of thing a budding young Graphic Designer like me would see as a golden opportunity. The job didn’t pay much, but after 14 months I was desperate to start using my diploma. Plus, the money would help my Wife and I get ourselves “back on track” financially. It had been a pretty rough “newlywed” period for us, having funded our wedding the previous December almost entirely on credit cards.
I was working for a small high-tech startup in the South End; I had a three-month contract to redesign a website for one of their departments. Due to a complete and total fear of the Man Upstairs and a bit of overzealousness on my part I had completed the project in just over four weeks. Since no one really had the time to figure out what else I could be useful for, I was sent to wait in my office for something to do. For the past two weeks I had been popping my head into my manager’s office every morning when she arrived.
“Hello!” I would say cheerfully.
“Oh, hi Travis! What can I do for you?” she would reply.
“Just wondering if you had anything I could do for you today. No pressure, just free if you need me for anything!”
“I’ll just get some things off my list and I’ll come over and talk to you. Thanks, Travis!” or some other form of “not right now but I’m glad you’re eager” I guess. She was a pretty good manager, but 10 days running, she had not given me anything to do.
“The Pit”—as our area was known—was probably the coolest office setup I would ever work in. Almost everyone in our small group had their own “office” (which in business land means a door, sometimes glass if you are more important). My office was 23 year-old Valhalla: A door with lock – space of about 4-feet by 5-feed, a desk and a lamp. I had streaming radio, and nothing to do all day but play Rocket Mania. It was awesome. I had finally arrived. All I had to do was impress them and make myself useful in the next 6 weeks… or it was back to emptying the rental bins.
The Office Admin was directly in the centre of our Pit, so she was the only person who didn’t have an office. She and I had direct line of sight, and she was my age and even married to a local musician I knew. While she wasn’t being bombarded with calls and requests, we would chat about indie bands, local music, and work stuff. We would kill time evaluating new bands like Mates of State and Minus the Bear on Internet radio stations.
On this perfectly average Thursday I have followed my new routine of Work > Rockets > Music > Lunch > Rockets > Music to a tee, but at 4:14pm everything goes black.
It’s August 14th, 2003, and my day just got interesting.
My whole area of the building is dark. There are alarms going off in the distance, and I can hear people shouting something about cooling the server room. Neat. I go for a walk and talk to the couple of people I know outside my department. Apparently everything in the building is down, and they’re rushing to get a gas-powered generator to power the server room’s air conditioning. They have something like 14 minutes of back-up power before everything on our network goes black. Cool.
I’m told that I might as well go home, this looks like it could be a while. The road behind the building is quickly filling up with cars, and I start wondering about my zombie preparedness skills… I pack up my “survival bag” and head out to catch a “survival bus” (OC Transpo) home to my Wife to wait out the coming Apocalypse. I feel like my whole life has been leading to this point.
Turns out, I am terrible at survival, and two hours later I am only about two kilometres from where I started. I thought I could out walk the non-air-conditioned metal deathtrap known as “the bus”; only to see it whizz past me as soon as we got above Meadowlands. Fuck.
I hopped the next bus that came along and I got as far as my old Blockbuster. I stopped in to see what the situation was, and my old co-workers rewarded me with as much ice cream as I could carry. Another bus ride and I was finally within walking distance of our apartment. We lived downtown in a nice-enough apartment. The rent was still low from when I’d lived there as a student. I trekked the eight flights upstairs and entered our apartment; dark, of course.
My bride was nowhere in sight, just our three cats looking up quizzically as cats do. She must be upstairs getting a good view of this blackout. I went to put the ice cream in the freezer, but it had miraculously filled itself with ice cream already. We still had water and pressure to flush the toilet. I would have filled it but our youngest cat had recently peed in it (again). We would simply have to live off warm soda and melted ice cream until civilization rebuilds.
I headed up one more set of stairs to meet Alissa out on the rooftop patio of our building. She was there in a cute pink sundress, smoking a cigarette and talking to some of our neighbours. I held her in my sweaty, stinky arms and kissed her. She handed me some of the daiquiris that someone managed to make (to this day I will never know how) and we talked about our experiences with the blackout thus far. Her Blockbuster stayed open a couple hours into the power outage, doing rentals on paper by flashlight.
We spent a good long while looking out at the darkened city. As far as the eye could see was without power…oh…except that large city just across the river. From where we lived we had a perfect view of the powered ville de Gatineau. We debated going to the Casino with some other people, but I argued against it. Too many people trying to win cash for the coming End of Days. Alissa and I discussed how raising children would be different now that we would have to hunt for our own food. This would definitely disrupt our plan to have kids by 25, but at least we wouldn’t have the worry about debt any more! We went back to our black cavern and prepared for the first day of the New World.
Of course, later that night our power came back on, and the Apocalypse was put on hold.
It was a pretty exceptional day to what I had considered up to this point a pretty average, “on track” life. In 22 years I had gone to school, then college, married a pretty girl and gotten a sweet job in high tech. Sure, our debt payments barely kept up with our idiotic 20-something spending habits, but we had each other, and we had plans. Cars, houses, kids by 25, it was all worked out. All we had to do was work menial jobs to stay on top of our debt and limit our spending for…two or three more years.
I wasn’t a huge Lennon fan at the time; I blame my 90’s “alternative” years. Years later I would come to appreciate not only the man’s music, but also his feelings about Life and Plans.
Little did I know it, but Life was about to kick my ass.