Top Ten Things to Do in a Blackout

I admit it. I caused the New York City blackout.

On Thursday I took the subway to a part of New York that is all but a foreign country: the Upper East Side. Rushing to an appointment, I passed rows of impeccable boutiques, stuffed with designer goods just big enough to fit Japanese tourists. Hopped the unreliable six train downtown. It runs on the only tracks serving most of Manhattan's East Side, is always jammed to the gills, and always has "unavoidable" service delays.

Though this has been one soupy mess of a summer, today wasn't so bad. It was actually hotter and muggier inside my apartment than it was outdoors.

So I did the thing I never do: turned on the AC. It wheezed its way to life, and I left the room for the kitchen. And then, something strange happened. My AC stopped.

I flipped every switch in the house. No lights, no TV, no high-speed wireless internet.

Meanwhile, the people in the shops and restaurants across the street were streaming outdoors, scratching their heads. White-aproned sous-chefs and frustrated photocopy clients tried to figure out what was going on.

My thought: I killed it. My one little AC killed the whole New York City power grid.

We now know it wasn't just New York City. The power outages stretch from Toronto to Maryland. I got off the subway about ten minutes before the trains stopped dead in their tracks. I'm grateful -- and guilty. Was my little AC the tipping point?

I usually flatter myself I don't need no AC. After all, I was practically raised in a swamp. The weather in Baltimore is known to reach the 100 degree, 100 percent humidity mark. Sometimes, pre air conditioning, my family slept in the basement. The thick insulation of the earth provided naturally cooled air. No such luck in Manhattan. Still, as a good little eco-citizen, I'd been trading damp armpits for the good of the planet. But everybody has a breaking point. It just seems like mine coincided with a region-wide reality check.

We'd all love to think that energy is unlimited and California is the only state where brownouts are a matter of course. The East Coast outage tells us otherwise. And since we're still in the middle of it -- and who knows how often it will happen again -- we might as well make the best of it. Forthwith, the Top 10 Things To Do In a Blackout:

  • 10. Have a barbecue on the ghetto porch, AKA the fire escape. Try not to fry your upstairs neighbor's petunias.

  • 9. Open a hydrant. Run through the spray until the cops come.

  • 8. Eat the ice cream in the back of the freezer. It's going to melt anyway.

  • 7. Ditto on the beer. It's getting warm.

  • 6. Go outside and start a roller skate circle in the intersection. Traffic's not moving anyway.

  • 5. Buy candles. Lots. Stage a scene from "Interview with a Vampire" over dinner.

  • 4. Or get glowsticks. Hold a mini-rave on the corner, providing your boombox has batteries.

  • 3. Replace your sonic electric toothbrush with the old-fashioned hand-crank kind.

  • 2. Fold and tape sheets of lined notebook paper into fans. Stand out on the street selling them for a dollar.

  • 1. Call your Congressperson and ask her/him to fund sustainable energy research -- after the electricity comes back on, that is.

Farai Chideya, a frequent contributor to AlterNet, is the founder of Pop and Politics.

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