- Nov. 13, 2007
This is it. This is the way San Felipe was almost a generation
ago. The power is out, night has fallen and in every direction
there’s darkness as far as the eye can see.
Rumor has it a federal helicopter crashed into one of
the power grid towers while pursuing narcotráficos.
Now the continuity of the long copper arteries that runnel
from Ensenada to the Sea of Cortez, swagged from steeple
to steeple across mountains and through valleys, has been
broken. A synapse is dead and a part of Baja’s brain
has gone dark. The part that gives memory to San Felipe.
around town and along the highway, CFE meter discs have
stopped revolving in their glass jars and near the entrance
to every yard, a breaker box offers no impulse from the
fretwork of its cables. Television screens are black as
a crow’s yawn and everyone with an electric stove
is eating a cold dinner. Cafes and restaurants are closed.
Grocery stores, if they have no backup generator, have
assembled their employees to watch frozen stock slowly
become incontinent before turning bad. The boticas and
pharmacies are having a terrific run on batteries and
soon, one by one, the ubiquitous boom boxes will fade
into silence. Gas stations are as good as dry without
power for their pumps. And tomorrow, warm beer will be
the only antidote for the unseasonably warm temperatures.
I’m sitting beside a homemade table outside my
trailer. An aura of white light emanates from the hisses
of a Coleman lamp near my elbow. I have to keep remembering
not to rest my left arm near the top of the writing pad,
which throws it into shadow.
A sickle moon above the fifth wheel looks like the edge
of a coin dropped through a slot cut into the evening
sky. The power has been out for four hours. All the advertising
boards and store signs are dark along the highway. It’s
a forced innocence, owing a debt to drug smugglers and
a less than artful helicopter pilot.
At public addresses and near habitual gathering places,
brows furrow above whispers that say the outage will last
for at least two days. There’s hysteria behind their
nervous eyes. Only the highway and street dogs are unaffected.
Their noise is cultural and unrelenting, at least until
gas tanks run dry. Then there’ll only be the dogs.
It’s a gift to be back in Old Mexico. The charcoal
night is much like a covering of fresh snow. It hides
the minutiae of progress, the cluttered edges of all the
garish bric-a-brac that jostle like Wall Street traders
with panic-filled voices, importuning even the meekest
passerby. But without electricity, the machinery labors
down to a rusted stillness and becomes just another faint
outline in the darkening air. Blackness proliferates and
neighbors slowly open windows and doors as silence fills
their homes. They drag out an old burning barrel and hunt
scraps of wood with flashlights. Stories are told around
dancing flames -about other blackouts -about Enron switching
off grid stations to chimney up California power bills.
Bats fly in and out of the laughter, turning with electric
quickness. No radio, ice machine, home theatre or popcorn-maker
distracts the fireside camaraderie. It’s back to
first causes and the ageless device of sharing a common
distress. In this small Baja town the universal currency
is no longer the diversity of physical complaints suffered
by its senior population. But rather, it’s the leveling
agent of a power blackout that puts everyone on the same
Whether Mexican or American, shoulders shrug and arms
go up in feigned disbelief, knowing all the while anything
can happen down here. Any wayward helicopter or plane
can drop a blanket of darkness over an entire valley and
perhaps compel its population of friends and strangers,
if only for one evening, to adopt older and quainter ways
Meanwhile, somewhere in the mountains, less caring people
are trying to process drugs in the dark.
Addendum (as reported on
A helicopter that was flying
over the Baja 1000 route came down today, right before
3PM, leaving a death toll of two, plus two other people
in critical condition.
Apparently, the craft came
in contact with some high voltage cables, which caused
it falling around the KM marker 127 of the Ensenada-Valle
de la Trinidad highway, near Rancho Mike.
Two of the helicopter passengers,
Pablo Gonzalez and Israel Romero Reyes, died intantly,
while the pilot, Israel Sarabia and co-pilot Rodolfo Calvillo
were severely injured. The helicopter was rented in the
city of Tijuana with the intention of filming the race
from the air.
According to Jaime Nieto, the
area Firefighter chief, the accident caused an enormous
blackout that reached all the way to the San Felipe Port.
the crash victims...