No one in Coronado or San Diego County will ever forget where they were September 8, 2011. Not because we were under attack, or because a president had been assassinated. But because we were all caught completely off guard by a massive power outage that spread through San Diego County from the Mexican border north to Orange County and east to Arizona.
For most, the initial reaction was one of frustration. Computers shut down, stop lights ceased to function and home phones went dead. Everyone scrambled to find a battery-powered radio, or ran to their car radio to listen for updates. It was towards the end of a hot and muggy day. But, it was daylight, and that gave most an opportunity to collect their senses and plan for the night.
As the Great Blackout happened at 3:38 p.m., normally rushed North Island commuters were excessively aggressive as they raced down side streets trying to get around the cluttered intersections and get off the island.
A quick check of elderly friends at the Coronado Shores was greeted with doormen smiling and in complete control. In the El Camino Tower, for example, back-up power sources kept one elevator continually working. The only light in the elevator going up was a faint glow from the floor buttons on the wall panel. On the way down a flashlight had been wedged inside the handrail by a thoughtful doorman. The halls, however, were dark as caverns on a moonless night. Still, the spirits of those inside were high and, if anything, curious.
By the time the sun had set everyone in Coronado realized that candles, matches and flashlights had a somewhat enhanced value. Some were prepared, others not. But Coronado proudly waited out the Great Blackout of 2011 with patience, class and even a little humor. It was, as many have described, a very romantic evening.
Stores and restaurants began to close right away. Some residents hoped to find a good deal on tri-tip steaks at the grocery store, figuring the threat of warming meat would create instant deals. Still others tapped on windows of the grocery stores and various liquor stores and pharmacies in hopes of buying batteries and candles. For what little was still available, cash was the rule of the day.
One woman was nearly brought to tears in the parking lot of Albertsons. “My son turns 21 tonight and we wanted to buy a cake and refreshments for his party.”
Driving down Orange Avenue was an eerie experience. Young people loved the Great Blackout. It was something they couldn’t explain, but they all knew it was special, something different, and they wanted to be a part of it.
Children could be heard laughing and squealing with delight from nearly every residential block, as backyards became impromptu gathering places for neighborhood kids. For the most part, neighbors reached out and helped one another however they could.
By 8 p.m., Coronado was darker than it had been since World War II blackouts. One could see folding chairs scattered around the sidewalks and entryways of darkened liquor stores and restaurants. It appeared to be mostly employees and managers keeping an eye on their goods, possibly just joining the teenage streetwalkers in enjoying the unusual experience. Some businesses gave away food and drink.
“We have a large gas fireplace in the Coronado Brewing Company’s main dining area,” said Deanna Chapman, restaurant manager. “We put all our food inside the large walk-in freezers and closed those doors for the night,” she said.
“If the outage had gone on a few more hours, we could have had some serious losses. Once we had done all we could to secure the restaurant we just sat around the fire, in the darkness, and enjoyed the evening. It was not an unpleasant experience at all.”
Belle Mitchell was exuberant in describing her Great Blackout experience. “I personally think we should have “Blackout Night” once a month,” said the mother of three. “Well, maybe once a week. It was a very romantic evening, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Blackout baby boom in nine months,” she laughed.
“We had a ball! I’m a prepared mother, so we had plenty of water, flashlights, tuna, candles, flameless candles, pet food and wine. The kids began playing piano and guitar and we lit our fireplace along with a ton of candles,” said Mitchell.
“I went to check on my 91-year-old father and found him sitting in his house, in the dark, while his gorgeous, blond neighbor fed him ice cream by flashlight. Imagine how much energy we would save as a country if we had Blackout Nights, just for fun,” said Mitchell. “Something good comes out of everything bad. You just have to open your heart to it.”
Lauri Johnson echoed Mitchell’s thoughts. “It was a most serene evening and we think we all should do it every full moon night whether the power is on or off. It was a great way to spend quality time with neighbors and just take a break from our over stimulated lives. Yes you can have a most wonderful evening without TV, Internet, phones etc.,” she said.
Coronado did quite well in surviving the Great Blackout of 2011. One thing’s certain. Everyone will be more prepared should this ever happen again. As Belle Mitchell said, “Something good comes from everything bad.”