Friday, December 15, 2006

Hello darkness my old friend

... I've come to talk with you again.

(Apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)

I usually don't get a chance to do much blogging on a weekday such as today, but... that's the story here.

We had quite a storm last night here in the Seattle area and the net result is a lack of power for many homes and businesses, including headquarters for The Evil Empire in Redmond where I work.

The power was flickering so much last night that it confused the digital thermostat in my apartment so that my heat would not come on. I was finally able to successfully reset it when I got up at 5:10 a.m. The power was fine. I looked outside and the wind had died down and the streets seemed dry. Building lights were on. Business as usual as far as I was concerned. Or so I thought.

I walked to the bus station here in downtown Bellevue shortly before 6:00 a.m. and only noticed a couple of buildings that weren't brightly lit as usual. Oddly, the bus transit center had no lights on even though the buildings on either side, including Starbucks and a construction site, were "lighting as usual". I even saw some holiday decorative lighting on, including a couple of the tower cranes at construction sites.

My bus was on time and off we went. Not as many riders as on a typical Friday.

As we get to the first stop in front of a gas station at 8th and 116th, I see long lines at the pumps. I haven't seen that since the oil embargo back in 1973.

We skipped the next bus stop to take a detour. So far, all the lights were on. Then, we get to the top of a hill at 124th Street and... total darkness. Wow. No street lights. No traffic lights. No nothing, other than light traffic at 6:10 a.m. I don't know exactly why we detoured, but even on the detour we had to swerve around fallen trees. In fact, at one point the driver turned off the interior lights so he could see better to go around a large fallen tree in the road with no lights but vehicle headlights.

We picked up very few people at the normal stops.

It was so weird. Total darkness. The driver would call out the stops, but you couldn't see any landmarks to recognize anything.

As the bus (MT 253) crossed over SR 520 on 148th Street everything was still darkness other than headlights and taillights, and several miles off in the distance the bright lights of the high-rise buildings of downtown Bellevue (including my apartment building), shimmering like the emerald city.

The bus driver said that anybody who didn't want to get off could just stay on and get off on his return trip to downtown Bellevue.

I joked that if I could see my stop I would get off, otherwise I would stay on. A few seconds later I see a brightly lit building, the one next to the one I work in. Actually, there were no lights other than emergency lights in that building and it was brightly lit only due to construction lights in the lot next door where they are building the new home for Microsoft Research. It was interesting that the construction people were at work after all of this, but maybe they were simply securing the site after the storm.

At the very last moment I decided to get off the bus since I did see a fair amount of emergency lighting in the building next to mine. Besides, the driver said I could just get back on the same bus 40 minutes later on his return trip to downtown Bellevue.

I had my work Smartphone and checked my work email while on the bus. There was an email from the facilities people at about 5:15 a.m. which basically said that buildings on the Microsoft campus would have limited access, emergency lighting, but no normal power and no services.

I tried to get in at my normal side entrance with my cardkey, and it beeped but didn't open. Ditto with the front entrance. I started walking towards the underground parking garage when somebody came out the entrance I couldn't get in and told me which entrance I could get in.

I could hear the emergency generator rumbling away in the parking garage.

There was more than enough emergency lighting, including all the hallways. I walked up to my office area. It was so quiet. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Just me. No computer fans. No HVAC. No nothing. It was still relatively warm, so the power must have been on a good part of the night.

I checked some more overnight work email on my Smartphone (the really cool T-Mobile Dash). I hung around waiting for the pre-dawn light to arrive so I could see where I'm walking outside. I got off the bus around 6:30 a.m. Sunrise isn't until about 7:50 a.m., but there is a fair amount of light by 7:10 a.m.

So, off I went shortly after 7:00 a.m. A lot more traffic now, but still no street lights or traffic lights. It's amazing how much more civil a lot of people drive when they are forced to be courteous to simply negotiate to get through a busy intersection that has no working traffic signal. And they are nicer to pedestrians, too!

I always walk home from work every evening anyway and it is usually dark by then, so I decided to walk home rather than catch the return bus. The bus is free since The Evil Empire gives us free bus passes, but I enjoy walking when I have the time.

My trip home is south on 148th Street, then southwest on Bel-Red Road all the way to 8th Avenue and downtown Bellevue. More traffic as the minutes ticked by. But where are they all headed? I'm sure plenty of them were Microsoft employees... rushing off to their darkened offices. Ah, the force of habit. I approached one intersection, saw the traffic and instinctively pushed the pedestrian signal button... a moment later realizing how stupid that was since the traffic signals were completely dead due to lack of power.

One stretch of Bel-Red Road was carpeted with small pieces of broken branches. If you love the smell of evergreen trees, you would have been in heaven. Luckily, the sidewalks were reasonably passable. I did periodically stop to pull some larger branches out of the roadway.

As I started down the hill past 124th Street I started to see lights again. At the bottom of the hill I could see the glare of hundreds of ceiling fixtures in the Lamps Plus store, signaling that I had arrived back at civilization.

I walked into Whole Foods, misguidedly thinking I could simply pick up a pastry for breakfast. Nothing but long lines, like that gas station. Forget that idea. I had some cookies and Snapple back at my apartment anyway.

The construction crews in the lot next to my apartment building are spending the day pumping rainwater out of the bottom of the 30-foot deep construction pit. They are putting up a 19-story "sister" to my building. I was glad to see that the new tower crane that they just erected last Sunday held up fine in the truly fierce winds last night.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for my building. Some of the balcony wind screens on some upper floors were ripped off last night and came tumbling down to the street. Twisted aluminum and shattered glass lying on the plaza area. I could hear the metal thudding against the building on the way down last night.

In addition to my work Smartphone, I also have access to OWA - Outlook Web Access - so I can keep up on work email today and at least pretend that I am doing some useful work. I keep calling in to the security recorded message to check Building power status back at The Empire. I'll probably go in if it does come back on by 3:00 p.m., simply as a matter of priciple.

Now, time to get back to some serious blogging. And I need to use Priceline to nail down at least a few more of my hotel nights for my two-week trip to New York City that starts on Wednesday.

-- Jack Krupansky


At 4:11 PM EST , Anonymous make a wish! said...

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