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Night in black

What happened on Barrington Street after the lights went out.

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The Khyber bar, a welcome port in the storm. - CHRIS SMITH
  • Chris Smith
  • The Khyber bar, a welcome port in the storm.

Juan is on everyone’s minds at my local watering hole Sunday afternoon. The bartender clearly isn’t concerned. “What does Halifax know about storms, anyway?” he guffaws through his Cape Breton accent.

“The Khyber isn’t open tonight, is it?” asks a neighbour.

“Of course it is,” I reply. “Tonight’s the Johnny Cash tribute. I’m performing.”

Downtown, things look normal at 7:30pm. An artist’s talk is wrapping up at eyelevel and Pogue Fado is open. There seems to be more people than usual around for a Sunday. Dusty Sorbet has come early to set up for the show.

We check our supplies: We have a couple hundred tea lights and two flashlights. If the lights go out, Dusty can shut down the PA, to prevent any surges. “The acts are all acoustic,” Dusty offers. “If the power goes out let’s just keep on playing.”

I’m relieved when people started showing up. It’s only 9:30pm, early for Halifax crowds. Dusty runs down to the waterfront to “check out the waves.” He returns soaked and wide-eyed. As he peels off his jacket he says, “It’s started.”

As I explain our membership policy to a couple from Toronto, I see our chalkboard skating down the sidewalk behind them. I start feeling ill-prepared and as the bar fills up, a little nervous.

A regular blows by me on his way out, muttering about bridge closures. I step onto the stoop and get my first look at Juan, winds barrelling down Barrington from the north, and up Sackville from the harbour. The rain tastes like seawater. The Pogue Fado across the street goes black, the Khyber’s lights just flicker a little.

I take another look outside. The wind is stripping the rain off the sidewalk as fast as it falls. The streetlights of Barrington are disappearing. I can’t see anything past Sackville to the north or Blowers to the south.

I stop collecting cover at 11:25pm. “If they’ve come out in this, they don’t have to pay,” I tell Dusty. Occasionally, patrons head out to the street, only to return dripping and looking a little wonderstruck. An announcement is in order.

“We’ve received anecdotal reports that downtown is under a voluntary evacuation order,” I say. People just stare at me, so I continue. “But if the power goes out we’re gonna keep on playing!” Everyone cheers. Somebody yells, “Johnny would have wanted it that way!”

I take the stage with the Debonnaires around 11:45pm. During the first verse of “I Guess Things Happen That Way,” the room goes black. The audience loves it. I keep singing, trying to project above the cheers. Between sets the power is cutting in and out faster than Dusty can react. “Hello,” says a familiar baritone as the PA lurches to life, “I’m Johnny Cash.”

Facing the rain on Barrington Street. - CHRIS SMITH
  • Chris Smith
  • Facing the rain on Barrington Street.

Out on Barrington, the top of a street lamp rattles down the street. Venus Envy’s sign breaks free from its chains and crashes onto the pavement. As I run out to recover it, the wind rips my glasses off my face. Passersby stop to help me search for them. Suddenly there’s an awful noise and a hail of debris. As we dive into an ATM for cover, fragments of the Green Lantern building’s roof slam into the Plexiglas.

On the way home the air smells of tree sap. As we make our way north, my companions provide a running commentary, describing downed power lines and uprooted trees.

In the morning, I grab an old pair of glasses and head down to Barrington. My girlfriend manages to find my glass intact, lying in the gutter. Even more miraculously, the Med is open for breakfast. Coffee has never tasted better.

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