Amherst Magazine

Scenes from a Blackout

By Adam Gerchick ’13

1490212
After the freak October snowstorm, when the campus was in disarray, students helped to clear tree limbs.

The Halloween party was well underway when the fire alarm went off around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29. The immediate reaction among the dozens of revelers in a Davis Dormitory suite was one of exasperated disbelief: Things were just getting good, and now this? After staring at one another, the costumed partygoers slowly pushed toward the exits, tromping down two flights of stairs and emerging into the frigid, snowy night. The tuxedoed gangster looked rather comfortable in the weather; the sleeveless lumberjack, not so much.

I followed Tarzan and the pimp to Pond Dormitory in search of another party. Refugees from the Davis festivities soon crowded Pond, spilling out from the entrance. I worked my way into a sort of human stream slowly pressing upstairs along the right banister. I made it into the common room of a friend’s suite, glad to talk with friends and listen to music while the snow fell heavily outside.

This arrangement proved fleeting: Before midnight, the power died, pitching Pond into darkness. From the windows, I watched an exodus of costumed students crowd the outside pathways. The early snowstorm was catching the trees still with their leaves, which provided additional surface area on which the snow could weigh down limbs. Branches came down in rapid succession, pulling down power lines and overloading transformers all across the college. The transformers were exploding, flashing fluorescent blue into the night and allowing me to make out students running through the snow.

Looking out the window with me, a friend gestured toward the grass between Pond and Stone dorms. I looked, and together we watched a lone figure in a penguin suit walking through the bombardment of branches and blue explosions like Halloween’s answer to Francis Scott Key.

I arrived in Valentine Hall on Sunday morning to find it filled with like-minded snowstorm refugees. Well over 100 students had crowded the dining tables with backpacks, cell phones and laptops, searching for electricity and Internet access in what had suddenly become a technologically disconnected campus. Earlier, Amherst’s facilities department had parked a large generator outside the building, turning it into an oasis of heat, power and Web connectivity.

Seemingly every power outlet had been taken. Phone and laptop chargers occupied many, but several students, knowing outlet access would be in short supply, had brought their power strips, those foot-long accessories with multiple outlets. Few students had enough gadgets to occupy the entireties of their power strips, and so an altruistic economy developed, with students offering to share their unused outlets with friends and strangers.

As I was eating breakfast, a town resident walked by my table, searching in vain for an available outlet along the wall. A student seated next to me had her own power strip and asked him if he would like to share it. The man almost stared in surprise and thanked her as though she had offered some extraordinary gift.   

Photo by Mark Idleman ’15