Drive, return, blackout: Selected sketches from my holiday travels

January 6, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 6, 2019 2020

I left my home on the morning of Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, and did a bit of holiday shopping in downtown Durham before heading north to the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. (I later realized, in reviewing and deleting old email messages, that my shopping errand could have been done over the weekend thanks to the magic of extended store hours — alas.)

On the evening of the last full day of my trip (more about which I may describe in a future post[s]), I stopped at the home of friends in Northern Virginia. After enjoying lunch at an Ashburn restaurant called Pho Noménal, I struck out for North Carolina.

I parked south of downtown Raleigh around 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2020, and walked over to Boxcar, the arcade and bar. After playing a bit of Batman ’66 (Stern 2016), where I don’t believe I got to the main multiball even once, I switched to Monster Bash — again, I’m not sure if it’s the 1998 Williams original or the 2018 Chicago Gaming remake, although I suspect the latter — and put up one good score and some mediocre ones.

And then it was time to go. I headed over to the billiards place on the Cary/Raleigh border as part of my chase for good World Tavern Poker scores. I was knocked out after perhaps 90 minutes of frustrating play, finishing well short of even a bad score.

It was roughly 8:30 p.m., there was more than an hour to go before the next game, and I was exhausted. I hopped in my car and headed back to my place in Durham.

I got home around 9 and spent 75 minutes unpacking and doing various minor chores and puttering around the place. The chores included mopping the bathroom floor, which was part of the process of removing my old bathmat and putting down a new one.

I was doing that at 10:15 or so when the lights went out. They came back after a few seconds but almost immediately went back into an off/on cycle.

The third time the power died, it didn’t come back.

I grabbed one of my three Sunbeam plugin LED nightlights, which double as emergency lights and can also serve as portable flashlights. (The newer versions of these, incidentally, change colors; mine seem to be restricted to blue and white.) Then I retreated to my bed with my phone, which I used to explore whether Duke Energy was aware of this outage.

It turned out that they were, and also that power wasn’t going to be restored until 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. And brother, my residence was chilly. Oh yeah, and my phone’s battery had fallen into the red zone.

I went out to my car and extracted the portable battery that I keep in the trunk. The device, which incorporates an LED light, is capable of jump-starting a car, or so the box claims; I’ve never had occasion to try this. I knew the battery was charged because I’d made a point of doing just that in mid-December, before my trip to the not-entirely-frozen North. I connected my phone to the battery and it promptly started juicing up.

It was around 55 degrees inside and falling fast. Also, I was hungry — I hadn’t had anything to eat since snacking in my car no less than five hours previously. Eating by myself in the dark with a portable light held very little appeal.

After a few minutes, I decided that I had to leave. I changed my shirt and sweater, brushed my teeth, grabbed my coat and got going.

There were a few lights on on Guess Road, but Northgate Mall was dark, and the streetlights on Club Boulevard were out. I drove south past Duke’s East Campus and turned east on Main Street; most everything on the nearly 1.75-mile drive between my home and Brightleaf District was eerily dark, including the Federal, the bar with a late-night kitchen that I’d intended to patronize.

I drove a few more blocks east into downtown, where things seemed to be normal. I parked on the easternmost block of West Chapel Hill Street and circled around the corner to the front entrance of another bar with a late-night kitchen, which shall go unnamed.

I walked in and grabbed a late-night menu and found there was something I wanted. The bartender was a tall red-haired woman wearing a white sweater, who treated me as if I’d kicked her dog — she wouldn’t look directly at me and didn’t smile at me, either, although she seemed friendly enough to the other patrons.

Wings with Thai chili sauce and a Narragansett Blonde Ale: I ordered, I waited, I drank and ate. I alternatively played with my phone and looked at the TV screens. The one at the far end of the bar was showing men’s college basketball, Duke at Miami. (Based on the hour, I presumed this was a rerun.) The near one was reviewing the day’s pair of National Football League wild-card playoff games. The big result was from the night game, in which New England had lost (hallelujah!) to visiting Tennessee.

A woman sitting near the windows began coughing. “Can I get you something?” I asked, intending to be solicitous. She reacted with hostility. I was really having a winning night.

At 12:04 a.m., Duke Energy sent me an automated text message estimating that power at my residence likely wouldn’t be restored until 3 a.m.

I paid my tab — tipping $3 on a 15.90 bill, despite my resentment at the bartender’s obvious and unexplained disdain for me — and left.

I walked about two-thirds of a mile to the Durham Boxcar location. I bought some tokens and began playing some more pinball. If I’d had my druthers, I wouldn’t patronize two Boxcars in the same day, but then again, if I had my druthers, I would be sleeping at home. At least I was doing something I enjoyed in a heated space.

I started off on Guardians of the Galaxy (Stern 2017) and posted a score of around 100,000, which is good for me on that table. I played some more times but didn’t do nearly as well.

I moved to the other row of pinball machines and dropped eight tokens into Beatles (Stern 2018). I put up some decent numbers but nothing extraordinary. My problem with this machine is that I never seem to have three solid balls in a single game. I did pick up on the way to qualify an extra ball: On one ball, you have to knock down all three drop-target banks (FAB, FOUR and 1964).

Then I moved on to Jurassic Park (Stern 2019 limited edition), a table I both love and fear. I had a bunch of lousy to mediocre games, but in my best one I did score around 90 million on a T-Rex mode — either Chase or Encounter — which enabled me to put my initials in.

It was nearing 2 a.m., when Boxcar closes. Happily, I didn’t have to choose between hanging about waiting to be kicked out or huddling in my car running the engine, to the detriment of my gas tank and the environment: At 1:41 a.m., Duke Energy informed me by text that the power had been turned back on.

I donned my coat and scarf and walked another two-thirds of a mile back to where I’d left my car downtown and drove home. The oven clock was flashing but everything else seemed to be back to normal.

As usual when I play pinball late at night, as well as when I do many other less exciting things late at night, it took me a while until I felt ready to turn off the lights and fell asleep.

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