“A Nighttime Walk Through A Planned Blackout”
Tonight was the night of a planned blackout in the area where I live, so I decided to go for a walk, slipping a transistor radio in my pocket so I could listen to NHK. My house happened to be located on the border between two arbitrary groupings designated by Tokyo Electric, so lights still shone on one side of the road while the other was pitch black. The moon was out tonight, though, so it was still brighter out here than in the house. The sky was cloudless, and the stars shone so clearly. The wind from the north was cold, but walking around outside was keeping my body warmer than huddling inside had done. Indeed, out here I could see the streets in a way I would never normally be able to, think thoughts I would never otherwise think. A street with no streetlights or traffic signals seems devoid of life, utterly still. At first I thought to myself, “It’s like I’m stranded in uninhabited territory” and “I wonder how long I’ll be able walk around like this,” these kinds of dark thoughts, but as I kept walking, I gradually grew used to my surroundings, until they even began to seem familiar, as if I’d seen them some time before. And indeed I had: these streets were like the nighttime streets of my childhood. Before 24-hour supermarkets and convenience stores, this was what a street looked like after dark (though of course we had streetlights and traffic signals). Thinking of it this way, the present moment no longer seemed so unusual or special, and I decided to take the opportunity to experience a night-like night once more, as I hadn’t been able to experience one for more than a decade; I decided to take in its sights, breathe in its air. Mindful of what might happen if the worst-case scenario came to pass, I strained to inhale and exhale as much of the outside air as I possibly could as I walked. Walking through the lightless, pitch-black streets, one becomes grateful even for the fleeting illumination of a passing bicycle’s headlight – I decided that next time I ventured out like this, I would bring my bike. People who seemed to be part of a crime-prevention patrol passed by, and I greeted them with a “Gokurôsama-desu” – Thank you for your hard work. I passed a young policeman directing traffic, and so to him too: Gokurôsan. I wasn’t part of a patrol, nor was I directing traffic; in this sense, I probably even looked suspicious (after all, I was wearing a black parka to stave off the cold, and over that a black hanten half-coat), but both replied pleasantly enough, “It’s dark, so please be careful.” I felt a little something in this reply of what the writer Rebecca Solnit must mean by her term “disaster utopia.” I thought about so many things as I walked. Like why there was a concept of “disaster volunteerism,” but not “disaster activism.” I thought about organizing a Bike Block Action to illuminate areas darkened by blackouts. I shouldn’t just think about it, I should really do it – I vowed to start tomorrow, if circumstances allowed. I walked a good two hours, and I found myself thinking so many things. Breathing in the air of a night-like night once more after so long, I thought about the world I’d lived in as a child, the way I’d lived as a child — more than think about it, I remembered. I thought that I should write about it, some time to come, when I had the opportunity. And I believe it will come – I am sure it will.
And so, the blackout ended, and in the moment all the lights in the streets switched back on (and a rather beautiful moment it was), the first thing I saw was a traffic signal, lit green; and I thought, “A good omen – there’s one.”
Posted by illcommonz, 2011-03-16, 23:24