I missed the apocalypse. Last Thursday, I went for a run at lunch time, and it was a beautiful day. In fact, it was the sunniest, warmest day of the year. According to the folks who keep track of these things, our corner of the country set a dubious record for the wettest October through April. Ever. The warm sun was a soothing tonic to the incessant fall, winter, and spring rains, which is why it was hard to accept reports that a thunderstorm would befall us later in the day. Surely the skies could cry no more. Summer is coming, we had all whispered to each other for months, like denizens of a more hopeful kingdom of Westeros. Running with a short-sleeved shirt under an azure sky led me to believe the sodden season was over. I returned to the office bolstered by the hope I would be back in the sun when the work day ended. At 3 p.m., I went to a meeting in a central conference room with no windows and stayed there until 4:30. While I was in this bureaucratic lockdown, the world came to an end. The only hint of trouble for those of us in the room was that the lights flickered occasionally. We speculated that perhaps there was some lightning happening outside as the meteorological prognosticators foretold. We didn’t know that while we conferred to discuss software development lifecycle standards and practices, an epic storm had hit the region. The experts would later declare it was officially a “microburst,” but that sounds like the name of a new sour-flavored tic tac. This weather event should be called a Cataclysm of Short Duration. The entire storm lasted just 30 minutes, but it knocked hundreds of trees down, in turn causing significant property damage and downed power lines. It also caused minor flooding in our building, as the gutters above the glass-covered atrium overflowed, resulting in rain showers inside the building. By all accounts, it was an intense, frightening few minutes, but I missed it. When my colleagues and I emerged from the meeting room, it was over. I felt like Rick Grimes, in the premier of The Walking Dead, waking up from a coma in an abandoned hospital. He knew something bad had happened but couldn’t figure out what, until he came across his first zombie.
Fortunately, there were no zombies associated with the microburst, which is a good thing as my drive home was slow enough to allow the undead to saunter up to the open window of my truck without any trouble. My commute is typically ten minutes, but it took me an hour and twenty minutes to make the five-mile trek. The skies were clear and bright again, and there was no visible reason for the unprecedented traffic jam. One quirk about a microburst is that it is focused. The route I was driving had no obvious damage, but one mile beyond my driveway was arboreal carnage on a massive scale making the road almost impassible. Hence the traffic. All I knew was it was slow, and I was annoyed. When I made it home, I was grateful that we had not lost power in the storm, but we were bereft of wifi, phone, cable, and cell service. We were in a mainstream and social media blackout and, therefore, unable to learn more about the storm that had wreaked havoc upon our friends and family nearby.
While some people were wondering how to get the tree off their house, we wondered how we would entertain ourselves without TV or Internet. My problems may not be big, but they’re mine. We couldn’t play board games, because I hate playing board games. Reading was out of the question, since we had power and a functioning DVD player. While I have a degree in literature, reading is never my first choice when electronic visual options still exist. Fortunately, we have a large collection of DVDs. Spending time together as a family watching some of our favorite movies while we waited to get back on the grid was a learning experience.
I learned the joy of being disconnected from commercialism. We watched the movies more intently, without being interrupted by offers to resolve our erectile dysfunction or any number of other medical maladies from which we don’t suffer but on which pharmaceutical companies spend bajillions to advertise their wares.
I learned that I was right in trying to avoid ever watching The Sound of Music. I had successfully avoided it for 48 years, but when I got home from work on Friday evening, my family was gathered around the TV watching my daughter’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD of the reportedly classic musical. I was disappointed I could no longer avoid it, but I surrendered to the experience since, again, reading was not an option. After what seemed like hours of watching annoying, ill-behaved children singing sappy songs with a wayward nun, I was thrilled to see the screen fade to black, presumably bringing my suffering to an end. Imagine my disappointment when the word “Intermission” appeared on the screen followed by a ten-minute musical interlude. The horror, the horror. The Nazi drama in the second half did little to ameliorate my anguish. At least I no longer have to hear the ridicule of friends who can’t believe I’ve never seen The Sound of Music. I’ve done my time.
I learned that we have been robbed by a selective science fiction DVD thief. We thought it would be fun to watch all fourteen episodes of the Firefly series but discovered that disc one is missing from the box set. To calm my nerves about the crime, I opted to watch the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek only to find that disc also missing. The boxes were on the shelf, but they were empty, making it unlikely we had loaned the movies to someone. Why would I loan someone the discs without the cases they came in? The mystery, or heinous crime, remains unsolved, as my kids, to no avail, went through every DVD case on the shelf to see if perchance they had been misfiled. All The Sound of Music bonus discs remain intact, by the way.
I learned that I have grown accustomed to having any question answered immediately by Google and Wikipedia. I thought it would be a source of stress, but I quickly adapted, like mental muscle memory, recalling a time not so long ago when some questions might go unanswered unless it was important enough to ask another human or seek out a book that could illuminate.
I learned that I have an addiction to Facebook. I didn’t realize just how reliant I was on Mr. Zuckerberg to bring me news of my friends until I was cut off, and I found the dearth of updates both liberating and unsettling. I enjoyed being free of the tendency to watch ultimately unsatisfying click-bait videos of cute cats, but I had to face up to the uncomfortable fact that I had developed a certain obsessive tendency: a desperate need to see every post of every friend since the last time I had opened Facebook. Once the reality of no longer having access to an electronic social network settled in, I found that I could breathe more deeply. I realized I wasn’t missing much. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook friends, I still enjoy your posts, but let’s all face it: much of what we post is not important. I will continue to post pictures of my dog – because she’s adorable – but it’s o.k. if you don’t click the thumbs-up icon. I’ll just tell myself your wifi is out and you’re watching The Sound of Music because your sci-fi collection has been purloined.
The cable and wifi came back on Saturday night, and we turned off the DVD player halfway through Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home so we could return to the world of pharmaceutical ads and Facebook posts. We watched the news to learn more about the microburst and found that the FBI director had been fired, our President continues to act like a toddler with a Glock, and there was a crisis on the Hanford nuclear reservation that could put workers and the Columbia River at radioactive risk. After about an hour, my wife suggested turning off the wifi and cable. Good idea. I just need to check one more post.