The Blackout Community

By: Jon Block
I was driving downtown to pay off two parking tickets when I had the simultaneous experience of Rock 105.3 going static and the traffic light going dead. When I made it back to my University Heights home two hours later, I’d recognized this was a blackout, and some thoughts took over:

Batteries. Flashlights. Candles. I have no idea where any of these objects are in my house. The food is going to go bad. Should I eat it all first?

How do I arm myself against breaking and entering? Baseball bat? Steak knife? Am I being paranoid and cynical for even wondering that?

The only thing that worked on my Blackberry was Facebook. I had been thinking about Facebook lately and the role it played in my life. As an event promoter, I saw it as something obligatory, like loading in sound equipment or staging. It did offer some fun and human connection, but it was the lame kind, sort of like reality TV. And there was definitely no sense of community.

My cell phone was nearly out of juice, so I went to Adams Avenue to get ice. Speaking of communities, I did know Normal Heights pretty well. Having co-produced the event, Art Around Adams, in 2008 and 2009, I knew this to be an arts community that was quirky, fun, and well-intentioned. It was also fair to say they did not embrace the bigger-is-better approach, something I discovered while producing a Coachella-inspired music & arts festival at the Normal Heights baseball field, the centerpiece of the 2009 Art Around Adams.

The production was criticized for being loud, obtrusive, and was generally unwelcome. My aftermath had become feelings of being frustrated, irritated, and unappreciated. In the two years that had passed, I had limited interaction with anyone on the Avenue.

It was surprisingly active. Darkness had not yet fully set in; people were out walking dogs. Kadan had a very strong crowd, and I ran into my artist friend Chanel and her new boyfriend.

Around Rosey O’Gradys, I ran into Anita from the tax agency. I hadn’t seen her since the 2009 event, and among the people with whom I’d had clashed views, our conflict was one of the strongest. Yet we hugged instantly and naturally, and talked. “You were a real asshole,” she said. “I like you much more now.”

At Blind Lady, I ordered a beer and wine. The total was thirteen dollars and I tipped the server five, and thanked her for being here on this night.

Sitting down at the long table by the window, these people were not strangers – they were my community. We are all in this together; there is no separation between us. It helped that we recognized each other from Facebook, and that the pitchers of beer kept on coming…

Walking home, I stopped in front of Adams Avenue Liquor where several people were gathered around a parked car, listening to news coverage. We stood in comfortable silence, hearing that Chula Vista and Oceanside had both restored power. The power in Uptown San Diego came on around midnight. It had been just under 8 and a half hours total.

The next day, I was struck by the magic of last night’s experience. Walls had vanished; everyone had been fully present and connected. Like a true 21st century digital boy, I automatically went on Facebook, and posted on my wall:

Jon: Anyone else have a great blackout experience? I walked Adams Avenue where there were tons of locals hanging out, ran into friends I hadn’t seen in a couple years. Hung out in Blind Lady, which was like community camping with beer. Fun times like these make me very proud to be a San Diegan.

And I was pleasantly surprised as the responses came in…

Emily: We had a great night too! Jammed with our acoustic instruments in candlelight in our neighborhood.

Bonnie: Yes! I had the same kind of experience. Loved it! 🙂

Matthew: Free cake from Heaven Sent Desserts!

Marc: Did you get the free ice cream from the new sushi place on Adams too? I did 😉

John: I had the wind-up radio and took a walk in the hood. Bassam’s was lit from candles and we had conversations, wine and cake. We should have blackouts more often…

Chet: We were all jamming and partying at Art Lab right down the street.

Amber: Totally had an impromptu blackout party with all my coworkers at my boss’ house nearby, great time!

Carol: Everyone in my apartment building got together for a little outdoor dinner on the barbie. Great fun!

Marisa: Hung out at the pool to stay cool, met lots of neighbors, grilled dinner by candlelight!

Jenni: All my neighbors gathered in someone’s apt. and we barbecued and helped each other with gathering disaster supplies. We talked and bonded! It was amazing.

Alecia: Yep. Free cantaloupes from Henry’s, impromptu steak dinner by candlelight with people I hadn’t known before last night, chimney s’mores and red wine in a driveway with another crew. After my initial self-check for sufficient preparedness, a very sweet night. I’d do it again and again.

Tom: Got home on gas fumes after a chillin’ bbq in Rancho Santa Fe. Goin’ into the candle business.

Gina: Walked through my So. Park neighborhood… the grocery store at 30th & Grape was letting people in to buy essentials, the Mariscos truck had a nice long line, many of the restaurants on 30th were open & full! I went to the ice cream shop at 30th & Juniper and helped them get rid of some of their stock, yum! It was a great experience.

Stephanie: The moon did its job well shining over the bldg. courtyard, where unexpected neighborhood bonding occurred over grilling veggies and other shared food & drinks. Undramatic joy-filled night that could have been dark, offered lots of laughs, new conversations and appreciation of people, alone, and just as we are. I think we deserved it.

This is community today – on the streets and online. And I’m just fine with that.

Jon Block is the founder of Here & Now, a business consulting & public relations company. Here & Now produces innovative and entertaining workshops such as, “The Social Entrepreneur” and a major annual conference called “Here & Now.” Their powerful events and services all ascribe to the belief of, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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