If the dread ice storm of ’02 spared you any serious injury or property damage, then you might agree that one of the worst things about the experience was the boredom. The scariest thing was the four-way stops that everyone suddenly forgot how to maneuver. But the boredom was teeth-gnashing in its own way. Sitting in the dark listening to WCHL or WPTF on a battery powered radio can get you through one cold smelly night, but not two. Luckily the randomness of the power grid meant that restaurants and bars could be up and running in your very neighborhood even if your house wasn’t, so leaving the house was the warmest option.
Friday night was my second night in the dark, so I decided to go out with friends. Durham was shut down, so we went to Franklin Street, which was very much alive. At the Cave, Margaret White and John Harrison of North Elementary played piano and guitar to a crowd that was enjoying the decadently well-heated, smoky air. Their bandmate John Jaquiss joined them for a solo set. Harrison had experienced a winter storm trauma that makes boredom feel like a warm bath: Wednesday night his newly purchased car was flattened by a fallen transformer–flattened as in the steering wheel is kissing the brake pedal. He sang about the importance of having a plastic Jesus for the dashboard, something as important as having comprehensive car insurance. Sadly, John had neither. We eventually left the Cave for Henry’s Bistro, which was just as well heated and even smokier.
Later in the night, we landed at the Orange County Social Club. If you drove by you’d have thought the place was closed. But even though the power was out the place still drew a crowd. They had everything a neighborhood bar needs, after all: cold beer and a battery powered boom box to stand in for the excellent jukebox. Candles on the tables and the bar kept the place cozy, if not warm. My friends collected candles around the pool table and started to play. Each time someone would take a shot, someone else would hold up a flashlight (borrowed from the barkeep) to illuminate the ball and pocket. The barstools were full of regulars, sharing power outage stories and getting a flashlight shone in their faces.
It’s hard to describe what was so fun about the place, or why of all the bars open that night, we chose to stay at the one that didn’t have power. The dark made the familiar surroundings unfamiliar in that way a snowfall should. It felt more like a snow day off from school than a natural disaster. Who needs heat when you’ve got atmosphere, and beer?