Yesterday afternoon my friend Sharon sent me a clipping from 18 years ago, when there was a massive black-out in Ontario. The series of events we went through seems hilarious now but back then, not nearly as funny. At the time she and I were partners in a small ad agency.
For us the adventure started a few days before. We were working on a project that involved the acquiring of a very large number of all kinds of luxury items, from American Express Be My Guest certificates to Louis Vuitton bags, golf clubs, TVs, you name it.
Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say there was an epic screw up
Just a couple of days before the deadline we found ourselves — at 5:00 or 6:00 pm no less — with no merchandise! None. Zip. Zilch. The supplier had totally let us down. There was no time to get angry, no time for blame, no time for tears, no time to run and hide, no time to do anything but come up with a solution — pronto!
How we pulled it off, I don’t know, but we did. I do remember that I left a long message for the President of American Express Canada explaining our predicament and literally asking (begging) for help. As I was leaving my message Sharon was calling her bank manager, calmly asking for an emergency increase — in excess of $100,000 — on her line of credit, because we needed to go shopping for all this stuff like immediately.
We mobilized the troops. Two team members headed for Best Buy and Future Shop –which would be closing in an hour — where luckily they found all the electronics we needed — and a most wonderful store manager who organized all of it — from both stores — and arranged for the delivery — first thing the following morning, to our office.
One of our art directors, who happened to own a van was called at home. His mission was to remove all the seats except for the driver’s and the passenger seat next to his, so that he and Sharon could power shop the next day for all the remaining stuff we needed.
Our operations manager was in charge of shipping. Luckily for us there was a small UPS store right down the street from our office. She blew in there like a bat out of hell, explained what was going on to the manager and between them they organized hundreds of shipments going all over the country. She left the store with stacks and stacks of all the forms that needed to be filled out — which would be done in the morning by our staff — and a pick up time was arranged for an army of UPS drivers to descend on our office to get all the “stuff.”
By then I’d heard back from the President of American Express who had, indeed pulled off a miracle, telling me that thousands and thousands of dollars of freshly printed (overnight) and barely dried American Express Be My Guest certificates would be on their way to our offices — from Ottawa — very first thing in the morning.
And it wasn’t even 8:00 pm yet.
The next morning I was an award show judge and there was no way I could get out of it. So I sent everyone out on their various missions and off I went, promising I’d be back in the afternoon — which I was.
Everything went beautifully, without a hitch. And by the time I got back to the agency every single piece of merchandise was there and our entire staff were busy filling out forms and sticking them on boxes so they’d be ready when the couriers arrived.
It really was a beautiful example of teamwork at its very best.
While all this was going on, we were also working on a new business project. This project involved removing the labels from dozens of beer bottles. The art director working on it, had them in our kitchen sink — which he was filling with water — so the tap was on. Obviously we had to soak the labels off, right?
It was around three or four in the afternoon and we were all heaving a giant sigh of relief. It looked like we were actually pulling it off and every single piece of merchandise would arrive at its destination on time, when it was supposed to be there.
That’s when the lights went out. That’s when the power went off!
Luck was still on our side and although our office building wasn’t the swankiest in town, we did have one elevator that operated on an emergency generator. Which was essential given we were on a high floor and there was no way the couriers could schlep up and down all those flights of stairs carrying all those heavy boxes.
Just before the lights went out my mom called to tell me she was going to the dentist. I was so caught up in our melodrama it took a while — after all the power went out — to realize that my mother was probably stuck in her elevator — which was THE smallest elevator you’ve ever seen. It was the size of a refrigerator. A small, old-fashioned refrigerator.
My mother was claustrophobic.
I started freaking out, calling her cell phone every few seconds. No answer. I was beside myself. I tried calling her building superintendent but there was no answer. I called a cousin of mine who lived in the area. Why I don’t know, I don’t know what I expected her to do, but I was not thinking at all clearly by then. It had all finally gotten to me. I’d been cool as a cucumber up until then, but that was the last straw and I snapped.
The good news is, my mother was fine. She’d just missed the power outage. It was only seconds after she’d driven her car out of the garage that everything went dark. The dentist kept her at his office when her appointment was over because he knew she wouldn’t be able to get into her apartment because of the elevator not working. His office was in an old house so there were no elevator problems. We reached my cousin and in the ended my mother went to her house, where she spent the evening and stayed the night.
Meanwhile, back at the agency we were all exhausted and had done whatever we could for that day. We sent everyone home.
Sharon lived in an apartment building on the 16th floor. I lived in a house. I decided she’d stay with me because her elevators wouldn’t be working. Then I realized we wouldn’t be able to cook because the stove wouldn’t work if there was no power. By now restaurants were running out of food so I insisted that we had to eat something, so we’d buy hotdogs from a vendor.
Everyone else had the same idea. After traipsing from one street corner to another we finally found one vendor who had a couple of overcooked hot dogs left (that no one else wanted) — but no buns. So we wrapped our dogs in napkins and headed home
When we got to my house I was afraid we’d have no water for a bath or even to brush our teeth. So I ran around like a lunatic filling every sink, every pot, even the bathtub with water — while Sharon and my three cats looked at me like I had truly lost my mind. Which I had.
Tell me this doesn’t sound like an episode of Grace and Frankie. Or a Lucy and Ethel escapade if you’re a boomer and know who I’m talking about
But we’re not done yet, this party was far from over.
We woke to darkness. No power back. I decided it was imperative to fill my car with gas before the gas stations ran out. Then I decided it was imperative to go and buy lettuce, before the grocery stores ran out. Sharon decided it was imperative to have cash on hand before the ATMs ran out.
It did all make sense I suppose, but you had to be there, in the moment, to see how absolutely ridiculous and slapstick the whole thing was. Because we were literally running around in circles.
First stop was the grocery store, where I bought every romaine lettuce on the shelves. Next we went to the closest ATM machine which did have quite a line-up. But we were lucky and there was still cash available when Sharon finally had her turn. She walked out clutching as much cash as I had lettuce.
The gas tank of my car was in the middle of being filled when Sharon’s phone rang.
Do you remember way back towards the beginning of this story when I mentioned that we had a bunch of beer bottles soaking in the kitchen sink?
Well, it seems that when the power went off, so did the water. So it never occurred to anyone that the tap was still on!
And it also seems that in our office building the power had been restored in the middle of the night. It was one of the few places in the city.
Normally that would have been good news. But nothing about this was normal.
Still unnerved from the day before and wanting to make sure all was well at the office, while Sharon and I were charging around the city one of our team members went to the office very early in the morning. And what a good thing that turned out to be.
She opened the door and all the boxes were, thankfully, exactly where they should have been. Which is really, really good because in the insanity of the moment the day before, we had completely overlooked letting our insurance company know that we had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in the office.
Relieved all was well (so she thought), she headed to the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee.
Well, when the power went on, the water started coming out of the tap again.
Although the kitchen was at the very back of our office, the water had been on for hours and of course, the stopper was in the drain so that the sink would fill and the bottles (and labels) could soak. A kitchen sink isn’t that big. It doesn’t take long for the water to overflow. Nor did it take long for the water to travel from the kitchen to elsewhere in the office.
The carpets were soaked, but thank god, for some reason, the water stopped at the boardroom. It never traveled any further.
Thanks to divine intervention, the last thing we did before going home for the night was to move all the properly-labelled boxes out of the boardroom and had then neatly lined up in the entrance. There was really no reason to have done that, but it seems our guardian angels were out in full force.
Because if we’d left the boxes in the boardroom overnight instead of moving them to the entrance, everything would have been ruined.
But we still had to let the building management know what had happened. Sharon had the pleasure of making that call. We were certain that water had leaked to the floors below us and we’d be responsible for the damage.
Believe it or not there was virtually no damage. One office, directly below ours had one small spot in the ceiling — maybe four or five inches in diameter, with some water damage. The building didn’t even charge us for it.
While all of this was going on, our client was blissfully unaware of how close we had come to disaster
Ultimately I did tell her, in the spirit of full disclosure and transparency. It had all worked out perfectly in the end so there was really no reason for her to be upset and she wasn’t. Needless to say, the incredibly minimal costs incurred to pull off the miracle were absorbed by us. And she and I had a good laugh over the whole Monty Pythonesque affair.
By then the power was starting to be restored everywhere. My mother was able to go back home. She’d had a great time at my cousin’s. Our slightly-worse-for-the-wear team went to a neighborhood restaurant/bar for more-than-several well-deserved drinks. They still had no food, but booze was plentiful and that was really all we wanted anyway. We’d earned it!
The insanity, however, was not yet completely over.
To top off the whole extravaganza there was a woman who wouldn’t let Sharon into the ladies’ room because she thought she was a man. She’d pulled back her unwashed hair and had it hidden under a baseball cap. None of us had wasted time putting on make up and she was in jeans and a T-shirt. She practically had to take her top off to prove she was a female so this crazy woman would let her go pee in peace.
What do you think? Should I send this story to Netflix?