2 a.m. Sunday night. Valentines Day. Noise in the apartment. Roommate is home, well on his way to being thoroughly hammered. There’s a murmur which follows; it sounds like a girl. I’ve heard the voice before, but never actually seen the outline of her figure, nor been introduced. It’s not the one who comes once a week and helps clean up after the two of us, keeping some degree of domesticity to the home. The two of them bicker, getting louder as the liquor flows. Wriggling around in bed, I start to feel cold. Looking at my phone, which has been charging overnight, I see that it sits idle at 86%. Odd, the light switch in my room doesn’t worth, either.
I scavenge the internet for answers, only to see that our local electric company has issued a notice about rolling blackouts. 10-40 minutes, they posted some 25 minutes ago. Curious. I make a valiant effort to go back to sleep, but the voices outside only grow louder, and more ambitious. Another crack, the hiss of carbonation escaping before being slurped into a state of silence. One by one, the cans fall, clinking as they clutter the glass table top in our common area. Three down, not even an hour gone by. It has been at least forty-minutes, I determine; still, not a trace of electricity to be had. This means digging into my phone for the catalogue of podcasts I accidentally subscribed to over the summer. Some renditions of sleep occur, albeit sporadically, sometimes teetering on the brink of somnambulism. As the voices outside continue to grow louder, with less interruption, I wrestle with my pillow and let the recordings roll on, the latter marking some permanence to the hours that somehow slip away. Eventually the clock strikes 4 a.m., and I find a surge of optimism from the fatigue that fades in their voices as they retire to his bedroom. Seeing that there is still no light in the apartment, I decide to move the small bit of perishable food from the fridge, out to the balcony.
There’s an inch of snow on our large lacquer table, and it is there that I wedge a half-dozen eggs and leftover strips of sirloin steak, just in case I need a substantial lunch and am left without power.
As the sun slips through the clouds sporadically, the clock teases six a.m., a stroke later than my normal wake-up time. I see the snow has stopped, but the accumulation is jarring. It appears more like three inches, as opposed to the estimated dusting. From the fridge I pluck a full batch of overnight oats, and a large serving of cold brew; normalcy to curb the conditions that are now utterly nonsensical. The fridge feels a steady forty degrees, the temperature slowly rising with each ensuing search for something to eat; it is adverse to the temperature inside, which lowers accordingly as the afternoon wades on.
Just a few more hours, the energy company keeps promising, in a string of Tweets. Stomaching this notion slowly becomes more difficult, however, as the suggestion of hunger creeps in, and the sense of novelty from reading childhood classics under the intermittent bursts of sunlight through the balcony dissipates. I read and refresh for updates; nothing even remote to encouragement or optimism to be had.
Some eight hours later, Josh comes waltzing out; having not gone to work due to the conditions, he’s armed with a story of how he had to bear said conditions around five a.m. to take his overnight acquaintance home. A stranger saved him halfway through, having realized that there was no sensible alternative to having the girl arrive home safely; all the while, Josh is oddly enthralled by the predicament of still having no electricity. He’s also hungry, and suggests the food we have in the fridge and pantry is putrid, if these conditions are to maintain.
Accordingly, I scour the internet for somewhere that is open; nearly every single grocery store has posted that they are, or will be closed, within the next two hours. I see that the one up north is open; it’s six miles away, but a stomach-able fare of $20.
What about the way back? Josh wisely asks.
We’ll worry about that later, I affirm, realizing that the window of opportunity is waning with every minute wasted.
Some fifteen minutes later, our hired car almost collides with another on the hill, as he stops midway up, on a patch of ice, to let us in. The driver is from Afghanistan, this much is divulged as he and Josh use a shared, but at times broken dialect as we deviate along side streets, avoiding certain intersections due to their respective inclines; near the end of the ride, Josh professes his own birth origins to the man, which invokes a strange, but palpable loathe in the air for the remainder of the ride. I am informed later that evening how the two regions share a contested history, and that this man’s people don’t take kindly to Josh’s. As we get exit, the driver casually claims that it will be his last ride of the day; the sun is now entrenched in the hills, setting further by the second, meaning the conditions will only worsen from the imminent freeze to follow. Whatever that means for later, we decide to be unimportant; food, first and foremost.
What we encounter inside the store, however, is sheer pandemonium, the type of energy that is reminiscent to what overtook the entire country during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Elbows are thrown, angst is palpable, courtesy is no longer considered, and there is not enough staff on site to police the constant stream of folks filing in and out of the store. Lines wrap around the ends of aisles, and the essentials are effectively barren. A few vegetables, some canned goods, a large cut of steak for the night, and plenty of bottles of wine and six-packs of beer. Our steel cart is soon filled to the brim, and we bounce between being overambitious and impractical. As it stands, the shared speculation – in the form of overheard chatter amongst us – infers there will be power by this time tomorrow, so the urge to overstock is seemingly squashed as we stand in line with the others.
The staff starts shutting the lights off as we make our way out of line, having purchased almost $150 in goods between the two of us, and our credit card information scribbled onto sheets of paper for a future date when the internet is back up and operational. Before we realize it, Josh and I are the last two standing. The rest of the folks are staff, drawing straws over how to split up the remaining goods in the store. I sympathize, as our collective shortsightedness has suddenly rendered them – the essential workers servicing us our essentials – at the bottom of the totem pole. Still standing near the main entrance, our search for a car home commences, but to no avail. It’s decided, then, that we must walk the two miles to Steve’s place, where he and his partner are also without power. At least from there, I determine, we can hunker down and wait for drivers to resume service. Just as swiftly as the storm, our dilemma evolves into a logistical obstacle as to how we are to transport all of our goods, given we left the house without so much as an extra sack. Bottles clank, and beer cans feel heavy as he fumble the ensemble of goods around, before ultimately deciding it to be imperative to simply use our resources, and omit the notion of theft, being that it is only a shopping cart, and many others in our same straits either have, or would, act similarly.
So Josh and I take turns pushing, and at times pulling, the rickety cart across the two inches of thick ice which has slowly formed over the streets. As it screeches down the quiet, suburban side roads in an affluent area – one with ample power and their shades pulled tightly down – our shopping cart becomes not only an eyesore, but also a nuisance to the ears. On the other hand, there’s no sign of reprieve, especially as we witness a couple 4×4 trucks pulling up to a few pretty, stranded girls and asking if they need a ride. What about us? The two grown men, sucking down warm beer after warm beer, while slowly trudging over the sheets of ice, up a few hills and down a couple dead-ends, decidedly in better straights.