I won't lie to you: I wasn't even aware of Earth Hour until 5:30 last night when my boss brought me up to speed. "It's really great", he said. "The entire neighbourhood turns off their lights, and since there's nothing to do, everyone is outside, walking around, talking to one another... You know, the way things used to be... It's really a great way to get to know your neighbours..." He then went on to explain how I should try to borrow somebody's dog, because walking around the neighbourhood with a little dog would be a great way to meet girls. Probably not a bad strategy, all things considered, but not exactly in my wheelhouse... I'm more of a stray cat kind of guy, truth be told.
But despite opting out of the dog-borrowing scheme, I did decide to take a wander through my neibhbourhood this evening, figuring that if Earth Hour could affect the social confluence in any way resembling that of the blackout of 2003, we would be in for some seriously jovial civic good times (I fondly recall living in London, ON at the time of the 2003 blackout. We walked the streets all night long as bars grilled their entire quickly-thawing-freezer's worth of meat on BBQs lining the sidewalks, serving beer from ice buckets to candlelit patio furniture until the the wee hours of the morning. With nothing else to do and no conceivable way to work the following day, people came together and socialized in a way that I'd never seen before. It was beautiful).
So at 8:30 this evening, I turned off the Pitt-Villanova game (kicking myself), and took to the streets. My neighbourhood was relatively dark, but no more social than it seemingly would be on any other night. I guess I half-expected everyone to be hanging out on their front porch, drinking beer and singing along with the neighbourhood acoustic guitar player, or to see the silhouettes of happy couples drinking in the romance as they danced in their living rooms to the backdrop of candlelight... But alas, it was business as usual. There wasn't the kind of foot traffic that my boss had promised, and there was a serious lack of girls walking the streets with little dogs in tow, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a charming young dude presumably holding a corresponding affinity for yappy canines... Maybe next year.
In any event, there were a few places along College Street that were down with the Earth Hour gig, most notably The Brass Taps (no Leafs game on; patrons happily drinking by candlelight), and Alice's Restaurant (although I have to say, the prospect of eating at a restaurant in the dark is far less appealing to me than the idea of simply drinking in one). But it wasn't until I got to the Ossington Strip that I witnessed the true meaning of Earth Hour.
The Communist's Daughter; a long-time seanmccallum.com favourite; was serving by candlelight, but it always is, so no surprise there. A rocking new Ossington watering hole, The Painted Lady, was also lit via flickering-flame, solidifying it's place as one of this blogger's future mainstays. And then I came to The Crooked Star, which was so perfectly embracing of everything that Earth Hour is supposed to mean that I decided to step inside, effectively ending my neighbourhood blogger's exploration the moment I walked through the door. For not only were all of the lights off inside The Star; and not only were there a pair of troubadours standing in the middle of the bar, wailing away on acoustic covers of the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams; but the place was absolutely jammed with like-minded people who were all-too happy to be partaking in whatever it was that this Earth Hour was supposed to entail.
This was that neighbourhood setting I'd been hoping to find when I'd turned off my TV some 30 minutes earlier. It had the cold beer. It had the candlelit dancing. It had the good ol' fashioned acoustic sing along (my favourite was an impromptu version of a song entitled "The Earth Hour Blues"). And it had a group of people who happened to live in the same neighbourhood, that would no longer consider one another to be strangers from this point forward.
And sure, if you didn't know that it was Earth Hour out there tonight (as many, many people did not), you may not have even noticed that your city or town was reducing it's energy use for this particular hour. And sure, it's easy to proclaim that this effort is nothing more than a token opportunity for liberals to pat themselves on the back and feel good about something that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't really make much of a difference at all.
But in small pockets of wherever you happened to have been tonight, the entire concept of Earth Hour was alive and well, and it truly was making a difference. Because in small pockets, people were taking note. People were understanding that maybe they didn't necessarily need to have every light on all of the time, or that you could have a good time on a Saturday night without TV or the internet, or that candlelight is seriously underrated as a means of setting the mood...
And as this event becomes more and more mainstream in the years to come, my feeling is that there will be an ever-increasing number of people participating (this was only the 3rd year for the Earth Hour event, and it has grown exponentially in that short period of time). And just as those who participated this year will have undoutedly taken some small but important lessons from the experience of temporarily switching off, so too will future participants gain an invaluable insight into what it means to reduce the amount of energy we customarily employ.
And when you get right down to it, it can be a hell of a lot of fun to hang around in the dark in the city on a Saturday night in the spring.
Bonus Coverage: An Earth-Hour-friendly acoustic version (Tegan and Sara) of Dancing In The Dark.