Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A still moment in a crazy world

Think about your normal day.

How often do you check your e-mail? How long do you spend in traffic, sitting at red lights? You drink coffee, you store your lunch in the company fridge (or go out to eat). Do you carry cash or rely on your debit card? You sit on a computer, you listen to music, maybe watch some youtube videos.

All these little things about our day that we think nothing of, but consist of so much.

Today my average day was jerked to a halt. Now, my average day isn't the average American's day. I wake up anywhere between 8 am and 11 am. I ride my bike down the steepest hill in Corvallis to work on the busiest street. I spend six hours making coffee, food, and chatting with customers, usually while playing my favorite music. Everything has a process, everything has a flow, and everyday is usually the same.

That is, until the power went out.

Oh how easily we forget what our lives would be without electricity...

The music [literally] jerked to a stop, the coffee stopped brewing, the credit card machine went black, and it seemed as though everything stood still.

We couldn't work the register. The wi-fi internet went out (for those with enough battery saved on their laptops). We couldn't sanitize the dishes. We couldn't grind or brew any coffee and we couldn't open any fridges for fear the delicate balance of health-code temperatures would rise.

But surely this was just a passing thing? Something that would turn back on within minutes?

News came that the power was out down the street. The power was out on campus. The power was out all over town.

Stop lights were out. Campus was pitch black. Businesses closed up. And my one could charge their electronic devices.

The power outage continued, and we had to turn away customers without cash and offer only pre-made items up for sale. People took their bike-lights into the bathroom in order to see the toilet. Some who were taking advantage of our wifi mulled around, walking inside and outside and muttering how bored they were. One customer even said, "My God, I'm reduced to reading the newspaper."

Thirty minutes went by. Then an hour.

It was so quiet. The chattering had hushed. Once a word was spoken it couldn't be taken back, it bounced off the walls and into the coffee shop for everyone to hear. The usual buzzing of everything around us could no longer cushion our voices.

Soon my co-worker and I had nothing left to do. And it just became natural for us to sit down, as if we didn't work there.

I don't know if the people that were in there were stranded, wasting time, or just had nothing else to do, but they just stayed and sat. Soon we were all talking, brought together by this common bond of bewilderment without electricity. If I were camping, or out at Boundary Creek or Indian Creek, I would have no problem. But something about being in the middle of a city without electricity makes everything lose order.

After I let my mind race through survival mode, I let myself just be. And we all just kind of sat there, people who see each other every day and exist in a symbiotic relationship; the coffee shop and the customer. Comrades in our routines, living as complete strangers.

So the wall between the cash register and the customer line was broken down and we talked and just as we came up with new things we would do because of this situation and new ideas of how to go about our day, the lights came back on.

The shop was immediately loud. Loud with the buzzing of electricity and angry machinery pushed out of its routine and abruptly brought back to life. And so we stood up and went back to work. The music came back on, the customers with their credit cards came back in, and the espresso machine hissed with its next creation.

I was sad to see it return.

For five years I worked as a seasonal in the Forest Service spending my summers in back-country guard stations. This time of year I always get an itch to go back to that stillness and silence, but this year I'm not returning. The hour and a half of power outage in the buzzing coffee shop that has become my life was so perfect and simple. I wish more of my days were like that. I was allowed to just stop and take notice. We could all use more moments like that.

1 comment:

Morgan McKay said...

I also enjoyed the power outage. Though I may not have been so deep and poetic about my analysis of the situation. I was driving home from work to run a few frantic errands and then found out that the store (and all of Albany's traffic lights) were pitch black. No errands for me. After 15 minutes of traffic (yes, in Albany, with no lights!) I got home and was surprised that I had power. Do you know what I did? Told myself, the power's out (even if not at my house), this sounds like a great excuse to avoid responsibility. And, then I took a nap. :)