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"A nightmare ride through the darkened mean streets": How I survived The Rapture

Opinion

An everyman tale of struggle and salvation in The Great Blackout of 2016, the first statewide outage of the smartphone era.

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I think, not unusually, of The Simpsons as I walk down the mall beneath a thin spray of light rain around 2pm on Wednesday afternoon, blissfully unaware of the impending rapture.

“Is this all you got, storm?” I silently mock, recalling as I do the one where Homer strolls out of the storm-shelter into the eye of the hurricane, with the assurance that all is fine given “how eerily calm it is?”

Nonetheless, my Rundle Mall shopping-list does not feature storm-shelter-type supplies. Or maybe it does.

A job-lot of Nespresso sleeves. A replacement eyeliner, under specific instructions from my wife. After all, one must look one’s best in the pitch black.

Back to the office for a meeting with the lads from Rooster Radio, who managed to traverse from city west to city east while the storm was at bay. Their luck ends there.

Mid-chat the skies darken and I tell them it’s going to be a long walk back up the mall.

Nonetheless, the meeting was well-timed. Five minutes after they depart, the power goes.

I naively text this important information to my wife, who is producing a television news bulletin that few will ever see.

As I set off for childcare pickup, the first sign that things are very badly awry comes as I attempt to leave the U-Park, whose cavernous corridors are more reminiscent of the fright-flick The Descent.

Finally outside and the streets of Adelaide have become like a scene from The Walking Dead.

If you thought Frome St was controversial last week, you should have seen it yesterday afternoon.

Every blank traffic light is like a polite Mexican standoff, while on the radio Ian Henschke earnestly wrestles with the length and breadth of the chaos.

Even by 4pm, childcare pickup is like some post-apocalyptic nightmare. Children and carers are huddled in circles in the semi-dark, reading stories by candlelight while arriving parents gather up the generous fruits of a day spent stuck indoors.

At least the sense of occasion hastens the progress out the door, and before long we are again on our horror-ride through the darkened mean streets of SA’s first statewide blackout of the smartphone era.

Not that the scale of the pandemonium has yet struck, despite the prevalence of blank traffic lights – a source of great confusion for my two young children for whom pointing out whether the light says “stop” or “go” is one of the world’s great travelling pastimes.

En route, and naively, it occurs to me to pull over and call a couple of neighbours to check if the power is out on our street. Poor, deluded fool that I am.

Is this blackout going to last past nightfall? Surely we won’t miss the start of The Bachelorette?

Neither phone even reaches a ring, as if the satellite is struggling with even the basic proposition of connecting a call. Not a Good Sign.

We detour to a service station, whose door has been jimmied open by staff for whom “We Never Close” is not a mere slogan, but a mantra, a design for life.

A few frazzled customers are flailing about in the semi-dark for supplies; all I buy is the last remaining Dolphin torch battery.

Once home, my five-year-old son inspects the waterlogged lawn and over-ambitiously warns: “We need to go to the hardware store straight away and get some gypsum.”

I rejoice in my recent decision to buy a spare gas cylinder as I cook the kids sausages on the barbecue. While they devour their makeshift meal, it occurs to me I’m dangerously unprepared for what could lie ahead.

I mean, is this blackout going to last past nightfall? Surely we won’t miss the start of The Bachelorette?!

I spare a thought for my wife, painstakingly producing a television news bulletin that will helpfully explain to viewers why they are unable to watch their TVs.

While my son takes the torch to the bathroom – having been assured that the toilet doesn’t run on electricity – I spring into action; I know there are candles about the place somewhere, but a recent spring clean has, predictably, ensured that nothing is ever where you expect it to be when you need it.

After emptying the shed by torchlight (while the children bask in the nearby mud, oblivious to my warnings that bathing is not part of the equation this evening) I hit my own paydirt when I find a box of tealights tucked away under the bed.

I gather up an armful of dusty lanterns from the garden and arrange them in a blockade on the kitchen bench, lighting them in turn.

At this point, my two-year old daughter starts singing me “Happy Birthday”, before shouting “Hip Hip Hooray” and attempting to blow them all out, becoming increasingly frustrated at her lack of success.

It’s ironic how much more difficult it is to get children to sleep in pitch blackness.

In the end, I open the shutters in their rooms to let in some moonlight, and settle in for the night. Into what, exactly, I’ve no idea.

Perhaps this whole thing was some elaborate plan to bolster numbers for the Premier’s Reading Challenge?

I catch up with Martin Flanagan’s relatively recently republished Southern Sky, Western Oval, a loving lament to the Bulldogs’ 1993 season. The timing is immaculate, as they prepare to play their first Grand Final in 55 years.

I reason to myself that the rosé in the fridge will only get warm if I don’t drink it quickly, and grudgingly decide to drink it quickly.

Social media is full of wit and whimsy and bile and frustration.

I suddenly feel like I’m part of the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, wherein the four rich guys swap increasingly tall war stories about their hard-done-by youth.

When I was a kid I lived in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s merry Queensland, where for a time nights without electricity seemed a dime a dozen.

HTFU Adelaide, I silently muse, before wincing that my iPhone battery has dropped to 5 per cent.

Back in Sir Joh’s day, the principle on which we suffered was privatisation. Today, everyone will blame renewable power.

Except Labor, who will blame privatisation.

One wonders how significantly this latest episode will feature in the grand narrative of Labor’s decline, a narrative that has, seemingly, been in the works since mid-2009 and remains a work in progress, like the great unfinished South Australian novel.

At the very least, it is a dramatic one: first the storm clouds, then the fireworks.

And finally, fade to black.

Close to sleep, I am jolted up around 11pm when the burglar alarm that I set this morning, long silenced by the outage, roars back into life, in full outraged voice.

This then, is how the rapture ends; not in a whisper, but a howl.

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