Sunday, August 12, 2007

From Now On

I was woken Wednesday morning by the sound and cool temperature of rain. After getting up and making some water of my own, I looked out the window and saw that the rain was hard enough to flood the streets, but oddly enough was not coming in my windows. So I left the windows open and fell back asleep to the soothing sound of a summer thunderstorm.

An hour or two later I woke up and saw that my sister (she's been staying with me) was dressed and ready for a job interview. "You're heading out?" I asked. "Nope, the subway system is shut down because of the rain." As I do when anything out of the ordinary happens, I got up and watched it on tv. Indeed, so much rain had poured down in such a short period of time that the subways flooded, making the trains unable to get through.

It reminded me of a conversation/prediction I had made four years ago. In 2003, you may remember there was a blackout in New York City. Apart from the blackout itself, the main item of interest was how well people in the city dealt with the power outage. Unlike the blackout of 1977, there was little looting and a sense of society coming together rather than disintegrating into chaos. So soon after 9/11, it seemed that people wanted to be good, that people wanted to help others and meet the challenge when things went wrong, as opposed to the summer of 1977 when everyone seemed pissed off and couldn't even imagine their better natures, let alone act on them.

The '03 blackout occurred while I was at work, which meant I had to walk down 59 flights of stairs. I walked behind one of my co-workers, who was a little concerned but trying to be brave as we made our way downstairs. Being with someone more anxious than I actually had calming effect: I got to be the rational one for a change. I wasn't wearing pumps, for one thing. Preparing for the worst, I was actually surprised when we got to the street. There didn't seem to be any tension or panicking. I saw people at intersections directing traffic and the drivers obeying rather than ignoring them. Making my way home, it seemed as if the entire city had been transformed into a series of block parties. I stopped at a bar and had a Guinness (cause it tastes good warm). Outside the bar, someone blasted music from the back of their truck and everyone just hung out, listened and swapped stories.

A few days after power was restored, I was relating my experiences to my friends Troy and Andrea, particularly my realization that the blackout was an indication of things to come. Enjoyable as it was, I knew that it was also a sign of the future. American infrastructure is fairly old, and has been pushed to its limits. Unfortunately, the prevailing mood in this country is to build new rather than repair old, and, even worse, that tax monies shouldn't be wasted on such things as repairing roads or upgrading utilities. People have been feed the line (fishing metaphor implied) of "less taxes is always good!" that they've forgotten the sort of things for which taxes are meant. I believe...I hope...that I sounded more accepting and cheerful than apocalyptic when I told my friends "this is how it's going to be from now on. Things are going to fall apart and we're just going to have to deal with it. The age of progress in America is over; now comes the age of everything falling apart."

Our subway system can't withstand a lot of rain. A steam pipe explodes in mid-town this summer. A bridge collapses in Minneapolis. New Orleans. They're all part of a list of the way things will be from now on. They are not the exceptions, but the rules.