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[whitespace] The End of the World

By Jenn Shreve

December was a bad month for San Francisco. It seemed we couldn't go a week without some major snafu pointing Cassandra-like to impending, apocalyptic, Y2K disaster. There was a small temblor, to remind us all of just how precariously placed our homes and workplaces are. Admit it, each time the ground jiggles just a bit, you think about your body crushed beneath the pile of concrete, tar and wood you once called "roof."

The weather sucked; snow may be pretty, but it sure isn't warm. And if the cold wasn't enough, San Francisco got a bad case of fog-with-attitude that prevented planes from coming in or going out. San Francisco Airport turned into a shelter for the pissed off and stranded, while Bay Area residents who'd been spreading Christmas cheer elsewhere found they couldn't get home if they wanted to. The departure/arrival monitors were awash with fields of ominous red, each with the word "Canceled" etched in digital white.

But nothing illustrated better just what could be in the not-so-distant dismal future than BLACKOUT '98. When the power went out that December morning, I thought it was a blown fuse from my simultaneously running heater, stereo and hairdryer. Then I went outside and discovered it wasn't my fault after all. As I turned the corner to where I wait many hours to catch the N Judah, I saw an assortment of Muni buses standing still, like empty cocoons, without their human cargo. I joined the flood of people walking toward downtown, their briefcases, backpacks, newspapers and coffee mugs weighing them down.

As we walked, the extent of the problem became ever more clear: The whole city had gone dark. Homeless men joyfully directed the traffic jams. Aimless white collars stiffly stood outside their locked buildings. I arrived at my own downtown office and navigated the darkened staircase only to discover an almost-empty office full of nothing to do. Even my laptop, with its battery charged for two productive hours, was useless without email; ISPs were down.

The bouncy talking heads on local news called it a dress rehearsal for the year 2000--when all the computers in the world are supposed to simultaneously shut down, plummeting our fair nation into an economic despair so dire it'll make the Depression seem as serious as a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. And maybe they're right. Perhaps the end of prosperity, reliant as it is on electricity and code, is less than a year away. Clearly, if all shuts down, we're screwed. But I don't like to meditate on things I can do nothing about, things that seem so grand as to be unimaginable.

Fires, evacuation routes and the lot are more manageable to my practical mind. And December was not without a sampling of that. I'd just settled in with two friends to watch a movie on the top floor of the Van Ness AMC big-ass cineplex when one of the pimply faced movie minions that always cheats you on your soda-to-ice ratio announced that we'd have to evacuate for a fire. This was no simple matter. There was floor upon floor of stalled escalator to shuffle down en masse. The crowd turned mob when they came upon yet another minion handing out free movie passes for a future lazy afternoon. There was no smoke, so I'm assuming there was no fire, but the experience was eye-opening.

As I along with thousands of others was expelled onto Van Ness, I imagined the place aswirl with smoke, the cacophony of wailing sirens and humans frantic for their lives ringing in my ears. I imagined the surrounding buildings in ruins from the sudden shifting of invisible tectonic plates. I imagined no phones, no 911, no street lights, no jobs, no airplanes, no hope. And I smiled. The end of the world was at least a year away. My New Year's resolution is to not wait until Dec. 31 to party like it's 1999.

Something bothering you? Want to bitch? Email Jenn at [email protected].

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From the January 18, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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