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Lights Out
December 16, 2009

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I heard about the goose. The one that flew into the electrical transformer and caused a huge power outage recently in Fort Dodge. I heard that a chunk of town got pretty dark for a couple of hours; Darkness has been on my mind a lot lately, every night in fact.

I've been working at a bank since I moved to Des Moines last summer. Ever since Halloween weekend when daylight savings switched the clocks it's been getting dark while I'm still at work. Prior to daylight savings I had never seen the lights of the bank's drive-thru turn on. They're supposed to turn on automatically when it gets dark, but there's always fifteen or twenty minutes when it's dark enough my co-workers and I can barely see the outside world beyond the window but not quite dark enough for the sensors to turn on the lights. It's a darkness over which we don't have any control. Daylight savings happens every year, but it's always hard to get used to being in the dark, especially when turning on the lights isn't an option.

While I lived in Chicago I was temporarily split from my apartment for a couple of days. A tornado knocked out power for my entire block and a lot of the rest of the city as well. I was lucky to have a place to stay on the other side of town, a friend's living room with an open couch and plenty of working lamps. I don't know where everyone else in my building went and I never stopped to think about it until two weeks ago. At my current apartment building in Des Moines a fire alarm went off at 3:00 am sending my fellow residents outside to the sidewalk across the street. Instead of dispersing to somewhere else to stay, we waited there together. The fire department showed up and we were eventually cleared to go back in, but not until we spent half and hour standing among the almost familiar faces of our neighbors. When the alarm sounded I rolled out of bed and put on some jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, grabbed my phone, wallet, Chapstick and laptop and grumbled on my way outside while wondering if the building really did go up in flames would I need anything else from my apartment that's a necessity. Outside, a woman a couple of years older than me whom I'd met once in the laundry room didn't have a laptop or anything else material, all she held was her daughter (who was about two and a half feet tall, however old that is). The little girl was halfway between asleep and awake, and her mom didn't seem too concerned with what happened to their things inside the building. When the alarm went off she had grabbed all that was important.

When the lights are out it can be confusing, but sometimes it doesn't even take the lights coming back on for clarity, sometimes your eyes adjust on their own. The week before my junior year of college classes started my roommate and I were desperate for something to do to kill an afternoon, and going to see Coyote Ugly a movie about a bunch of hot women who work at a bar in New York seemed like a pretty good option. We were running late so we drove to the mall, bought tickets and headed to theater 6 down the hall on the left. The movie had started when we walked in and the theater was pitch dark except for the flicker of the screen. We tried to find seats and as we hurried up the aisle we looked opposite ways to find a place to sit. Blind in the dark, we simultaneously turned around and head-butted each other. I almost fell down, but looked up just in time to see him running towards the front, and by that point our eyes had adjusted just enough so we could see each other from across the room which wasn't too hard since we were the only two people standing. Without needing to say a word we both ran up the stairs to the back row, laughing like idiots amongst a room full of people sitting in the dark.

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