The Dark Ages

Infrastructure, whether publically or privately managed, is not as stable as people wish it was.

Take the internet. It’s actually dependent on two things: Electrical power and a stable communication line, such as cable. Without the latter, you still have options. You can continue to work on any stories you have, but won’t have access to online file sharing. The gaming clouds and streaming services would not be available, so all those offline single player games and DVDs you keep at home are suddenly very valuable.

But take away power, and none of it matters. You’re totally unplugged, save for any objects with internal power, such as your vehicle and portable devices. The latter is only as good as you have power for it. You can rave all you want about your Kindle and how superior it is to books. But when you have to plug it in, all the power flows to print.

That’s where I was on Saturday.

I made a lengthy to-do list on Saturday, including edits for several stories as well as writing for my own, and researching some jobs for a buddy in Oregon. Around 4 in the afternoon, a storm rolled through the area. The wind came down, followed by a very light rain. The powered flickered threateningly, before finally cutting out all together.

A critic once described the city as oppressive.  Give enough people the same need, and that’s exactly what it will be.

It’s amazing the difference that a few extra pedestrians can create at the crosswalk, taking their sweet time crossing the road. As you wait in the fifth car of the traffic lane, you know when time it’s your turn to go, the light will have gone through green and yellow again. All because you had to wait for a few laughing teenagers, whose heads are too far up their asses, to pay any attention.

Hundreds can wait on the metro, our version of a public transit train system. As the wait times between trains increases, more people line up on the platform, increasing the time it takes to load the train when it arrives and unload later. Every other person, who has every right to be there like you do, slows it down.

Take a power or cable outtage, and the phone lines for those companies light up. Wait times explode 30 minutes to an hour or more, as everyone rushes to make sure their block, their district or building is the first to receive attention.

On days like the day of the storm, I have trouble seeing how or why the city gained the romantic prestige it is said to possess. This town is relatively small compared to others, and I end up wondering how badly cities like New York and Chicago can step on you. Without meaning to, thousands if not millions have become each other’s oppressor, as the inescapable economic realities of scant resources serving so many are pushed to operational limits.

But try as one might, being a true Robinson Crusoe of economic independence is an unlikely venture. Coming from a farm myself, I am considerably aware of the tremendous amounts of labour that would be necessary to maintain one’s own food, much less other necessities. Often this becomes the rudimentary basis of collective thinking that is a distant theme in much of our political discourse.

I can accept waiting. I can accept being patient as a few teenager stop slapping each other’s asses and get across the road. I can find something to do while the power company figures out which line was severed by which tree branch they were not permitted to cut before. And I’ll dig up a book to read while waiting for the internet company to figure out that something is wrong with the signal.

But don’t tell me the city is beautiful. Sometimes it wears make  up and sprays on cologne, and we’ll pretend it is wonderful. But underneath the colours and the wonders, we pushed the responsibilities onto others, some of whom have neglected their tasks. And because of that there is a rot we must someday clean, or risk something worse.

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