August 14, 2003 23:30 | Stories

Toronto Blackout!


Four and a half hours down the 401 and I'm in Toronto. I race up Yonge, twist around Dundas Square and park half way up to College, pararllel on Baldwin, behind the Deconism Gallery. Ken has already sensed my presence in the city and calls me as I walk towards the Gallery. He'll meet me there in half an hour.

Inside, bodies move about: preparations for tonight's Deconversation. Three men, Steve Mann, Maurice Benayoun and Patrick Levy, will philosophise in a hot tub while Derrick DeKerkhove eggs them on.

Sitting on the steps outside, I try to get a wireless signal: email, Instant Messages, IRC - I need to let everyone know I made it and all's well. Great, three APs to pick from. Whoops! Where'd they go? The bodies inside are now standing at the window; staring at the street, at me, into space.

As I walk down to Queen, I start hearing whispers. I start to notice far too many people out in front of buildings at 4:30 in the afternoon (or so) on a Thursday afternoon.

Blackout. Within 20 minutes, it's official: much of southern Ontario and Upper New York State are out of juice. Wow. I call Stevey back home in Montreal, see what he can tell me. Yup. That's the deal.

Call Ken. "Dude, I'll walk to meet ya there. It'll take 40 minutes. Stay put." Yeah right. Back to car, change my dark blue polo for a white t-shirt. It's hot and it's gonna stay hot. (After changing, I pull out McLuhan's "The Medium is the Massage" and start leafing through it again. )

Ken shows up. Steve Mann comes out of the Deconism Gallery in shorts and a t-shirt; no Wear-Comp. I call Joey a.k.a Accordion Guy. He'll be here in 5. 15 minutes later Ken and I decide to go to The Village Idiot - the bar at the end of the block. Despite the blackout, many many bars in Toronto apparently are open for business: taps flow on pressure and beer in the powerless fridges needs to be sold off...

Approaching The Village Idiot, I spot Joey busking for some folks inside the pub. He finishes the song, collects his payment. I stretch out my hand for a shake. "Gentlemen, the beers are on me!" he exclaims. Oh joy!

After a pint, we head down to Queen St. West and grab a table at [insert terrased pub name here]. More chatting, more beers, more accordion. Woooo! Time to head back up to Dundas for the Deconversation. Ken bids us adieux to join Shanie at a BBQ at Trinity Park.


We arrive back at the Gallery to find Steve Mann, Mark Federmann, Derrick DeKerkhove et al, and a small crowd, watching some news on a small monitor Steve and his students rigged up with one of their power sources. Introductions are made. We mention, not for the last time, how it seems this power failure seems to be slowly awakening a sense of community. This sense will grow exponentially over the course of the evening.

We enter the gallery. As they fill the makeshift hot tub (a large mixing vat outfitted with nozzles, now rendered useless props), Joey is asked if he'd be so kind as to play a song for us. He appropriately breaks out Nine Inch Nails and wails away. Applause!

The Deconversation begins. Derrick introduces the speakers and lobs asks them each to explain "where they are coming from". A very interesting hour and a half ensues of various ideas pertaining to mediated reality, communication, perception, etc. By the end the speakers find their fingers are shriveled from the water. Fin. It is also excruciatingly hot, as predicted.

The party is decamped, as per Joey's suggestion, to the Village Idiot. Brilliant idea. Steve has an equally brilliant idea: he's brought a vintage 50's floor lamp plugged into one of his portable batteries. Hoots and hollers from the patrons. Joey then swings into action again and rocks the room with a rendition of AC/DC's "I've got big balls". The joint goes ape. Derrick is cracking up laughing.


More great conversations as the night deepens. Somewhere around 12:30 the lights spark to life. Hoorah!

A little after 1am Joey and I bid who's left goodnight and head back down to Queen St. We stop twice for some more entertaining. Folks are hanging out on the sidewalks, having drinks. Only some parts of town have power. Our second stop is front of a home for disabled people. Joey plays "Light my fire" by The Doors to the jubilation of one seriously drunk dude consigned to his wheelchair.

After hanging with Joey a bit longer, I decide it's time to go find Ken's apartment way up on Bloor W.

So far so good.