One minute I was playing squash with my friend Alan, the next minute I was totally in the dark. I could see nothing. Just blackness. Nothing. What happened?
The weird thing was that Alan saw the same thing.
We had been playing squash on the fifth floor of a club in New York City on a hot summer day in 1977. It was a very active game and we were in the middle of a rally when everything went dark.
We had no idea what happen. Sometimes people would flash the lights to let us know our time was up. They would the open the door and light would flood in. Not this time. This was a black swan, completely unpredictable.
We were closed in a room with smooth walls all around, not even a doorknob on the door to let us in and out. We had left our things at the bottom of the front wall.
We had no idea what had happened; but we knew step one was to get our stuff and find our way out from the four dark walls. Our squash court had become a cell.
When you are in total darkness, you need a plan to get out. It is your illumination even in the dark. The key is information.
We knew the front wall had a tin skirt at the bottom to signal low shots. We felt around for the tin and found our stuff.
Knowing this was the front wall, we knew the opposite wall was where the door was. We turned and walked with arms out until we found the back wall, then felt around for the small recess where the door latch was.
We were out. But new problems met us. We had to find the changing room in the dark. We knew the direction and were able to get to it. Other people were having the same predicament and reported to us that there was a blackout and power outage seemed to affect the entire city.
Other people who were affected could look out their window to see what had happened and adjust to this new reality.
Our next hurdle was to find our lockers. Good spatial memory helped there but another obstacle came up. How do you open a combination lock in total darkness?
Luck was with us. It was still the era of smokers and someone had some matches. Soon everyone in the changing room had burnt fingers and open lockers.
We made our way down the stairs to the street. It was filled with pedestrians. No traffic lights, no subways running.
New York City went completely dark for a couple days.
Since it was a hot summer night, restaurants and bars were literally giving away their food and drink because their refrigeration failed. In some areas, the blackout led to a party, in some areas it led to riots and looting. Where we were was more inclined to party.
But wait, one more hurdle to overcome. I found my way to my apartment building where I lived on the 15th floor. I had to go up the totally unlit stairs to get to my floor. The tricky part was remembering that there was no 13th floor. Then down a totally dark hallway to find my door, fumble the key in and enter.
No matter how you find yourself in the dark, there are hurdles to overcome. You need perseverance, a plan, some luck and a positive attitude to arrive at a good solution.