It was Tuesday, October 8th at 1:00 a.m. when the power went out in Arcata, California. The prediction was that it would be out for a couple of days because high winds to the east were threatening to blow down power lines and start fire in the arid part of the state. Looking back on it, this might have been a good thing for this small coastal town. When I woke up on Wednesday and walked my way into town, there was a very unique energy. People who normally scrambled around trying to coordinate projects or get to work on time were now congregating at the handful of places that were still open. The town square had an extra hop to it and, because many cell phones were dead, it was now acceptable again to ask a passerby for directions, or say that you were just hanging around because you didn’t have ability to make other plans. Frankly, it was a throwback to another era and a welcome break from the format of modern society.
It may have helped that the timeline of the power outage was unknown, but I don’t think I was the only one who enjoyed the change in perspective. Many of us are rarely given time to work in our backyards due to distractions or restrictions. Or we drink our coffee inside a coffee shop because it seems better lit than the turning clouds of a warm sunrise. But on this day people drank their coffee in the town square and tasted the texture of the morning air. Then when they went home, they had no power in their dimly lit houses, so they worked in the garden, or went to the beach.
After returning from my late morning coffee, I read a book in the backyard before going to the forest for a run. Here I found an unusual amount of people lounging in the grass of Redwood Park and playing with herds of little kids who had the day off from school. Plans were not constantly being made and unmade, and the progression of the day felt as if governed by an older set of rules that many of the younger generation has never experienced.
On Wednesday I meandered between running, reading, and playing the piano; I realized I was not going to be able to work on Thursday, dragging brush for the local arborist, because I couldn’t call him without my phone. So as it got dark and the lights never came on in my house, and the TV wouldn’t blare at me, I found myself wandering to Everett’s, the local bar.
On my arrival, the lights were out there as well, but they had a several lanterns burning to set the mood and a crusty grey-haired man with a steel guitar was playing songs from a time gone by. There was also a young man at the bar for his 21st birthday, and without the jukebox blaring, he and the old guitar man had a long conversation about the expression of art and what the young man would have to do if he wanted to properly share his opinions through the medium of film, which he was studying at university. Again it seemed as if information was being shared under a different set of rules, while the lanterns sat to nearby an always-open cash register, shooting a sideways yellow light across the room.
Around 10:00 p.m. I left the bar to walk home. The streets were dark and verging on ominous, but when I listened, I could hear laughter in the air. Following the joyful sounds, I landed at a taco truck where I was met some friends who had an extra ticket to a show at the Arcata Theater Lounge. This is when I was certain that we need the power to go out more often. The theater is an amazing venue and if you ever get the chance to see a show here, you should, but on this night it was packed with people who had nowhere else to go. Aside from enjoying watching two bands, Rising Appalachia and The Human Experience, I realized that the concentration of people was a good thing. Instead of having the lights on across the city and people scattered around looking for a good time, only one place was open, so you went there – and a good time was had. The two bands were supposed to play at different venues, but one was closed, so they played together at the theater, and the two audiences that would have been separate, were able to meet one another.
I could go on about why I enjoyed this day, but more then anything I felt a perspective emerged that has been missing, and now I feel we should be implementing “Lights Out Fridays.” Think about it – we don’t need to be working as much as we do, if the energy bill isn’t as high. It’s a little more complicated than that, but not really. And for many of us who don’t feel we have time to have a productive home life, if the power was out once a week, you would have nothing to do but work in your backyard with a shovel, and possibly have a fruitful garden, or actually read a book, or letters your father sent you long ago. Then if you still have some energy when the sun sets, one of the venues in town will surely put out some lanterns or fire up a generator, so you could go have a drink or hear some music.
Maybe it would be appropriate if we let our modern way of life take a backseat once a week. We could go back to asking the person next to us for directions, or stop changing our plans every five minutes with each new text. Maybe we should learn from the ways of our ancestors one more. “Lights Out Friday.” Think about it.