The day the lights went out in Rockland

By Daniel Dunkle | May 17, 2012

Even though it was a Saturday, I had a lot to do for the newspaper.

I had scheduled myself for weekend duty because Saturday night was the big Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Samoset Resort. I've covered quite a few of those over the years.

It gave me the excuse to borrow a "good" camera from the sports department. In the newspaper business, the sports people always have the best cameras and the photographers to go with them. This is because it takes a great deal of skill and good equipment to capture that perfect shot of the high school basketball player grimacing as his face plows into the sweaty armpit of the opposing defender. They also need to be able to freeze time so you can see that tennis player biting his own tongue off as he swings at the fuzzy yellow ball suspended perfectly in the middle of the shot.

I always borrow Ken's big camera and his big flash for the chamber dinner, and have him program it ahead of time to the right setting. Even then, I often end up placing a panicked phone call to Ken halfway through the dinner to make sure I have all the buttons and dials in the right position.

For some reason, all award dinners have to be set in dim "mood lighting," to make it more challenging for photographers. However, I still manage to capture pictures of local business leaders picking up their awards.

If it appears one of the Chamber of Commerce winners is giving an animated, fist-pounding speech in the tradition of Mussolini, let me assure you the blame should land on me as the photographer. It is a seldom-reported fact that perfectly reasonable local business people saying nice things like "thanks Mom" look like incensed dictators when the camera catches them with their mouth hanging open whilst talking with their hands. However, if that one tiny fraction of a second hadn't been frozen, you would see the smiles and nuances of human emotion that make them appear in real time to be perfectly affable friends and neighbors.

But I didn't start out with the goal of talking about the chamber dinner. It was just a lead in to explain why I was a dangerous man, wandering around town with a good sports camera Saturday. I actually took pictures with two separate cameras that day.

All morning I was busy taking pictures, pictures of the bird man by the clock near the old MBNA building (see related story) and pictures of the grown men dressed as medieval warriors hitting each other with sticks at Snow Marine Park (see other related story). I took pictures of the girls getting their hair done for the prom.

It was a perfect sunny day for this work. I drove over to the office on the fourth floor of the Breakwater Marketplace, ready to put everything in my computer. I don't believe I've ever had a job as high up as the fourth floor of a building before.

It's always funny to visit a newspaper office after hours. The newsroom has an entirely different feel when there are no reporters and ad reps running around. Even the temperature seems different, as if the humans bring all the heat.

I was just getting through checking email and down to business when the lights went out. Then back on. Then back out again. I waited for a few minutes, hoping the power would return. It didn't.

Battery-powered emergency lights came on. I've always heard about this happening in big buildings, but never been in one to witness it. This could not be good.

Mark from the sports department, (callsign: Gingerbread Man) showed up in my office a minute later. "Do you know what's going on?"

We went to the windows and looked out over Rockland. We could see the guys from the oil change place walking around outside with that expression people get when the power goes out. One minute, you're working, the next you're helpless. Everything depends on some form of technology.

Mark and I decided to leave the office for a while, so we headed out to the elevator. We were surprised for a moment when the button didn't light up.

"Of course," said Mark. "The elevator's not working."

As we walked down the stairs, we discussed what it would be like to spend the weekend trapped in the elevator (which would probably never happen given the emergency phone and cell phones). We used to wonder if we would be able to find enough to talk about, me being a Star Wars geek and him a sports enthusiast, but two road trips to the county in recent years have alleviated those concerns.

Life in the elevator, over time, would probably still become unbearable. We would have to designate one area the "Corner of Shame." We would be found, blinking in the search lights of the rescuers, clinging to the last shreds of our dignity. Either that, or we would climb out through the escape hatch you always see in movie elevators and climb the cable to freedom like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard." Yippee Ki Yay!

Instead we took the stairs and emerged into the sunlight in minutes.

I drove back across town to my house, planning to work from home, and the Internet was down. So much for our Brave New World.

What can a guy do to kill time before dinner in a world without technology?

Turns out Nerf football in the back yard with Wes doesn't even require batteries. Looking at us, you'd never even know I had a lot to do.

Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, two children and black cat. Email him at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.

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