“Great preparation,” I thought to myself.
“Why didn’t I donated to local the NPR station last time they were rewarding listeners with emergency hand-crank radios?”
All immediate access to news was gone. It was about 4:30 a.m. and still dark enough to feel like night. Using my phone-flashlight, I went outside onto the cold walkway and everything was quiet and almost completely dark other than some moonlight. I grabbed the car keys from inside the door, locked it shut behind me, and drove a few blocks around the neighborhood.
Aside from what was visible in the headlights, and some vague shapes visible from the light from the full moon, everywhere seemed to be black, stretching out as far as I could see. The sky above was clear and dark, and the horizon was not glowing, so that made me think the blackout extended past our streets, even further out to the hills and mountains.
At the end of the next block, one traffic light was still going as usual, shining brightly in all directions, the green and red colors sharper in the absence of streetlights—no houselights or emergency floodlights or gas station lights to distract from this single, hanging lantern.
I passed through the next stoplight, which was also on, and was thinking to turn around and go home, when the second stoplight went completely dark—All of the traffic lights further up the street were already out, so it just seemed extra quiet suddenly—
A couple of cars were moving in the streets in the early morning hour… so I was not all alone, but I couldn’t see through the windshields, to make out the other people in their cars, behind their headlights.
It was all slightly disorienting in a way. I had already started making a turn to go back, and I was already moving into the left-turn lane about to signal with my blinker—so it took my pre-dawn-brain, sleepyhead brain-full-of-fuzz a moment to register what was wrong—that we were cars, in the dark, going toward each other at the speed one would under regular circumstances, on a regular day, with regular traffic markers, the markers that provide us with the assurance that if we obey the rules, they will somehow direct the complicated multi-directional movements, guiding us swiftly through the moves to safety—why it felt so odd, why it felt dangerous.
Then suddenly we were all waiting there in the dark. There were cars idling on the opposite side and one to my left at the intersection—and then, all of us taking a moment to realize how we needed to navigate and maneuver around each other safely. But a fast-approaching pick-up, seeming extra wide and loud to me in the stillness, drove past all of us—not even realizing the traffic light was there to be obeyed—and so, even though I wanted to just start driving—anywhere, somewhere—to get out of these long seconds of waiting for what was going to happen—I paused a moment, hoping to make sure the other cars were going to wait their turn, before making my left turn, driving across the intersection and heading back home.