The grocery store was crowded even though it was a Tuesday evening. Deidre pushed her way through the long lines that stretched back from the registers.
“Mommy, go home?” her son asked from the seat of the cart. “No Jake, Mommy forgot to get bread and milk this morning, we’ve got to get some for Daddy. It won’t take long.”
“Wanna go home,” he whined. She stopped for a moment, reached into her bag and pulled out a small book.
“Here Jake, read to Mommy, then we’ll go home.” Jake grabbed at the book, clutching it in his chubby hands. He carefully opened it up and said “The Poky Little Puppy” Deidre sighed in relief, glad he was distracted by the book. She continued pushing the cart, stopping as someone rushed in front of her, then swinging around them as she tried to go around a line for a register. The line was moving quickly, but kept filling back up as more people stepped in. Her access was blocked by an a young woman carrying a baby with a toddler holding onto her legs.
"Excuse me," Deidre said as she tried to push her cart through. The lady stood in place so Deidre again said “Excuse me” while nudging her cart forward. The woman looked back at her, leaning heavily on her cart while she pushed it forward a tiny bit. The young man behind her stayed in place, smiling at her as she made her way through.
“Thank you,” she said, while smiling as she scooted through the space. The line quickly filled in behind her as she turned down the aisle for bread.
“And da poky puppy he smelled something and den he run and den he,” Jake was saying as he flipped the pages. She was looking down the aisle, trying to find a loaf of the whole wheat bread that her husband, Roberto liked. She had a tablet that he could have used, which could have read to him, but she preferred to keep things simple. Little Golden Books were popular right now, based on some kind of book from the Boomers time. After two Cyber Wars, and how her father raised her, she didn't quite trust personal electronics for everyday use. She remembered when other kids had been glued to things like Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. When that collapsed at the end of Cyber War II, her friends had been lost for a while but everyone had eventually adjusted. New social sites had started up but she stayed away from them, being with people was a much better way to do things she thought.
She hurried a little, she wanted to finish shopping and get home before Roberto got there after his shift at work. He had gotten a job at the Leidos office helping with testing of fixes for the Year 2038 problem. She looked at her watch, 7:10 PM, and realized that it was almost time for the bug to hit, if things hadn't been fixed. However, she wasn't worried, her history books had talked about the hype around the Y2K issues in 1998 and 1999 where corporations had played up the problem in order to sell computers and software services. While not directly associated with the tech bubble that burst at the time, people were concerned about another bubble occurring for the Millennium bug.
“And the puppy got no cake and had to go to bed because he’d been bad, de end!” Jake said as he closed the book. “Dat was a good book, wadn’t it Mommy?” he asked.
“Yes dear, a good book, you read it very good. Mommy almost done shopping, then we’ll go home,” she said. As she was glancing around, she finally saw one loaf of the bread that Roberto liked, so she grabbed it and tossed in the cart, then she remembered that they were almost out of coffee. She hurried down to the end of the aisle and over to the coffee and tea aisle. There were fewer people at the back of the store, but she still had to twist and turn to get to the coffee aisle. She pushed the cart around the people, and grabbed a bag of coffee beans, tossed it in with the other items, turned around and headed towards the front of the store and the registers. The lines were still long, so she sighed and started thinking of ways to distract Jake while they waited.
As she stood in line, she looked at her watch, the time was 7:13. Jake dropped the book and grabbed at her watch. She pulled away and his face scrunched up. She said "No honey, mommy's watch. Here look at the book." She lifted up the book with one hand while pushing with the other. An older woman in another line sniffed, frowned and turned away.
"Want watch," he said, his little fists held out, opening and closing as he looked at the brightly colored watch on her wrist. She wished she had picked a plainer color, with a smaller screen. “Want watch!” Jake said loudly, a chubby hand reaching towards it.
She moved her left arm away, then pointed with it towards the front of the store. "Not now, Jake, we're almost up to the front." The line was moving quickly as the automated check stands processed items in the carts and automatically charged people. The longest part of the wait was watching people pulling out their deb-cred cards, fumbling through a pile of them before selecting one. Jake had turned to look and became interested in an older lady in their line who was trying to write a check. Her phone was on the little stand and she was swiping through her checkbook to find the next number. As she slowly wrote out the check, double-checking her work, the people behind the check writer started moving into other lines. When the register announced "Manager to the front," Deidre also cut over to another line, while the lady stood defiantly, waiting for manager approval of her check.
As Deidre entered another line, the lights went off in the store. The line stopped moving forward at the same time as she noticed the lights on the register were off. The only light was from emergency lights hung around the ceiling. She looked down at her watch and frowned when she saw that it was blank. It was a new electronic watch that Roberto had gotten her for Christmas, it shouldn't quit working this quickly. Jake pointed at the lights on the ceiling and said "Dark, mommy, dark"
"I know honey, it's dark, it will be okay. The power will come back on in a minute." She pulled out her phone, an old model smart phone but good enough for her needs. She frowned again as she noticed the power was off. She pushed the button and held it, but the start screen didn’t appear. As she glanced around, other people were also looking at the dark screens on their phones. Some people were trying to turn them on but the screens stayed blank.
More people in the store were moving into the lines for the registers but none of them was moving. The lady who had written a check had finally finished but the manager was still standing by the register. He looked out over the growing crowd, brows furrowed and his lips compressed together. People were shifting around and there was a low murmur while people waited for the lines to start moving.
A young woman wearing a grocery store vest over her shirt, jogged up to the manager, and stopped to catch her breath. When she had caught her breath, she leaned over and whispered something in his ear. As she talked, the manager’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He snapped his mouth shut, then leaned over to talk to her. She nodded her head and whispered something back to him. She then ran to the back of the store, while the manger wiped his forehead and looked at the crowd. The murming was getting louder and Deidre could hear things like “Something’s wrong”, “What happened to the power?”, “My phone doesn’t work” and “Hurry up, I’m late, I need to get home!” The manager moved towards the front of the store, in the middle of the registers. He stopped and took a deep breath, then said “Attention! Attention please!” People continued talking, so he spoke again, in a louder voice “Attention, may I have your attention PLEASE!” The crowd gradually grew quieter while he looked out at the crowd, then outside to the big windows. Deidre noticed that nothing was moving outside and the only light seemed to be from battery powered street lights.
The crowd had quieted down and all eyes were turned towards the front of the store. The manager cleared his throat, wiped his forehead again and then said "I’ve found out the power is out for our building and for the neighborhood around us.” He stopped speaking, eyes shifting around as he wiped sweat from his forehead again. “We are trying to find out what has happened but in the meantime, we can't process any payments. We are going to close the store, so I have to ask you to leave so we can lock up."
"Hey, I've got groceries here for my family's dinner, I can't leave without them!" someone shouted.
"You've got no right to make us leave, I need these groceries," another person yelled.
Deidre fidgeted as the crowd yelled at the manager, then caught her cart as someone pushed past her. She straightened up and pulled Jake out of the cart, as people continued pushing forward. She held him to her chest and started to back away from the cart. “Mommy, too tight!” he said. She loosened her grip and continued moving to the side but with little progress. People had packed together and the shopping carts were in between, blocking her progress.
She stood looking for an escape and noticed movement around the edges of the crowd. More employees worked their way to the front, pushing through people and carts. While the customers continued to push forward, the group of employees were able to push back and make their way to the manager. When they got there, they formed a circle around him, one of the young woman leaning in to talk with him. A young man stood facing the crowd, arms across his chest, calmly looking out while yells of “Can’t do this”, “I need my food!” and “It’s the 2038 bug!” rang out. As the yells grew louder, some of the employees backed up, while a young woman joined the young man, standing next to him, arms crossed, staring at the crowd.
While Deidre continued trying to push away from the mob at the front, she thought she head the manager yell “…Angry mob, need more help!” but it was hard to hear over the noise. Jake was also yelling “Mommy, hurt, stop mommy, stop!” She said “Shhh, Jake, quiet, it’ll be okay.”
The manager looked out over the crowd, sweat dripping down his face in the dim glob from the emergency lights. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled "Everyone, you have to leave now!"
Someone yelled “You can’t do this, we got a right to our stuff!” while another person hollered“I’m not leaving without my groceries.” The crowd continued to push and Deidre found herself moving forward in spite of her struggle to move out of the crowd. She clutched Jake tighter, afraid of what would happen if he fell out of her arms. He was crying now, tears rolling down his face and his sobbing mixing with the noise.
As she tried in vain to move to the side, a woman with glasses and graying hair pulled back into a bun, ran up to the manager and the shrinking circle of employees. She stood in front of the small group, next to the young and woman who were now holding their arms out to try and keep the crowd back. She yelled out, projecting her voice, “People, quiet, QUIET!” she thundered out.
As her voice rolled out over the crowd, things were quieter, but there was still pushing. In the relative quiet, she continued speaking loudly, her voice reaching everyone above the din. “We can’t do anything about the power and the emergency net has asked us to clear everyone out. Since we can’t ring you up you can take the groceries in your cart with you for free so we can get the everyone out quickly and safely. Get your groceries and slowly walk to the exits. If anyone needs help, we’ll be glad to help you carry but everyone needs to leave now,” she said as she pointed to the front of the store.
When she announced that the groceries were free, there were shouts of "Hell yeah, that's the way to do it", "I'm not done yet", "Knew I should have picked up that case of beer", were heard. The crowd stopped pushing forward and Deidre relaxed her grip on Jake. “Shhh, shhh, honey, it’s okay, we’re getting our groceries and going home.” Jake still sobbed, but he was quieting down as Deidre held him close, hugging him gently. “Go home, thee daddy?” he asked. “Yes, honey, go home, see daddy, eat dinner.” He sobbed a few more times while she edged over to her basket. Other people were also walking to their baskets, pushing through, but she was able to make it to her basket.
“Pay for groceries mommy?” Jake asked
“No sweetie, groceries all taken care of, we’re going home now”
“Yay, ready go home, eat dinner, thee daddy!”
“Yes, go home, see daddy,” she answered. She made it to her cart, wishing she hadn’t forgotten the items in the morning, but grateful to have the extra food. When she saw her purse still in the seat, she was grateful again that no one had taken it in the confusion. She put Jake in the seat and he slid down into the seat, his tear streaked face looking at her. She used one hand to wipe some of his tears, saying “It’s okay Jake, going home now.” Her heart gave a little skip as she thought about the earlier mob and she was grateful neither of them had been hurt. She pushed the cart, moving slowly as other people also walked to the exit doors.
As she got closer, she could see that security guards were standing inside and talking with people as they left. A frown was on her face as she noticed that no one was allowed to leave with a cart from the store. When it was her turn, she sighed when the guard said “Sorry ma’am, can’t take the cart with you. If you need help, one of the employees can help you.” There were only the two small bags of groceries so she said “No, I can’t get it, thank you. She picked up Jake, saying “C’mon, we’re going to walk the rest of the way.” After she put him down, she picked up her purse, then got the bags out of the cart. When the cart was empty, the guard pushed it to the side for her. Another guard was standing outside and holding the automatic door open.
She stepped outside, took a few steps and stopped. The quiet was unnerving, along with the lack of light from the other stores. There was light from the full moon but the only manmade light was from battery-powered streetlights in the parking lot. People were fanning out to their cars and she could see other people from other stores making their way outside.
Jake said “Go home?”
“Yes, we go home, c’mon, we’ll walk to the car.” He held her hand as she walked to the parking lot, looking carefully before stepping onto the pavement. Then she noticed that although a lot of people were in the parking lot there weren’t any cars driving by.
She saw her little car over by the cart corral. Jake looked over, pointed and said "Car! Go home, thee Daddy!"
"Yes, we go home and see daddy, not much longer." Her pace picked up as she moved to the car, pulling on Jake to keep up. She slowed when he stumbled, impatient to get to her car but careful so she wouldn’t have to deal with him falling down. When she got to the car, she put the groceries next to the car on the passenger side. Then she fumbled in her purse, found the door opener, and clicked it. However, nothing happened, the lights didn't flash and the door didn't unlock and open for her. Her eyebrows furrowed and she pushed the button again. Still nothing happened.
"That's funny, the door opener isn't working either," she mused to herself.
"Funny door?" Jake asked her.
"No, just a glitch, it will be okay," she told him. “Wait here honey, mommy is going to unlock the car. “ She walked around to the driver’s side. Fortunately the door opener had an old fashioned key on it, so she could manually unlock the door. After opening the door, she reached over and put the key in the ignition and turned it. When nothing happened, she frowned, but not too surprised. As she stood up, she noticed other people getting out of their cars, cursing that their car wouldn't start. Off in the corner, she heard one car starting up, an old gas car, and saw it pull out and drive off. She blushed as some of the cursing of other people as the car left the lot.
Jake had walked around the car and ran to her when he saw her. He clutched her legs and said "People mad mommy? They say the bad words."
"Yes honey, people are mad, the cars won't start."
"Car not start?" he repeated.
"Yes honey," she said while she thought of how they could get home. She sighed and reached in the back to get a blanket. Jake's stroller was in the trunk and she could use it to walk home with Jake and take their groceries. However, it was chilly and he wasn’t wearing a heavy coat since she didn’t think they would be out very long. She backed out, Jake still clutching her legs, blanket in her hands. She backed away, gently pulling Jake with her towards the back of the car. “C’mon Jake, we’re going to get your stroller and walk home.”
"Want go in car!" Jake yelled out.
"We can't, we are going to walk home," she told him as unlocked the trunk. She reached in and wrestled the stroller out.
"No! Want go in car," he yelled again. He stood beside her, looking up defiantly, little fists clenched. “No walk, ride in car!” he wailed.
She sighed again, and popped it out so she could use it. Normally she wished she had a fancy electronic stroller, with monitoring, a small monitor for hills and a camera but today she was glad it was an old-fashioned stroller with no electronics. She put the door opener in her purse and leaned over to pick up Jake. He sat down on the pavement and yelled "No! Want go in car, thee daddy now!" He had crossed his arms over his chest, his face getting red as he yelled at his mother.
Deidre kneeled down and said, “If you get in the stroller, I’ll give you a vanilla wafer, okay big guy?"
Jake stopped, and looked up. He said "Vanilla wafer, please"
"Okay, one when you're in the stroller and another one when we get home, okay?"
He thought for a minute, and stood up, his arms held up so Deidre could pick him up. She lifted him and placed him in the stroller, then wrapped the blanket around him. In the back, in a pocket, she pulled out a vanilla wafer and handed it to him. Jake politely took the cookie, then used both hands to cram it into his mouth. Deidre smiled as she wiped off some of the crumbs falling out of his mouth. Jake uses the blanket to wipe the crumbs from his hand. She moved the stroller and locked the brakes, then walked up to get the groceries bags by the car. After putting the groceries in the pocket in the back, she closed the trunk, then closed the driver’s side door. With the key, she locked the door and went back to Jake in the stroller. After unlocking the stroller brake she looked around the parking lot. The dim light from the moon and the streetlights allowed her to see other people starting to walk out of the parking lot. They were heading out in different directions, but no cars were, other than the old gas car, were moving. As a slight breeze started, she shivered, feeling the chill of the evening. She started walking towards the street.
As she walked closer to the street, along the sidewalk, more people were joining her. The streets were filled with cars, stopped, no headlights, sound or motion. Car doors were opening and people were cursing the blocked street. The gas powered car was the only one moving, but it had stopped, blocked by the electric cars sitting in the street. She continued walking, joined by others, who quickly passed her.
“Cars stopped, mommy,” Jake said.
“Yes, cars stopped Jake,” she said.
“Funny cars,” he said as he giggled.
“Funny cars,” she agreed but worry was running through her mind. If cars didn’t work here, did they work in other places? It was several miles to Roberto’s work place, how would he get home if he couldn’t drive.
They were getting close to the corner, normally a busy intersection with lots of traffic but the only thing moving were people walking across the streets. It was also darker on the other side, there were fewer streetlights and not all of them seemed to be working. Thankfully the full moon added enough light, but Deidre realized uneasily that she was out alone with her son and preparing to walk into a darker area. She glanced back at the shopping center, still wondering why there was no power. The grocery store had solar panels and batteries, there should not have been a problem. Again, worry crossed her mind as she worried about their home having power.
"A nice walk home and we see daddy, okay Jake?"
"Okay mommy, nice walk. Another cookie, please?" he asked.
"Yes, but only one more, we'll have supper when we get home," she said. However, she had an uneasy feeling in her gut that dinner might be tough to fix tonight. As she started crossing the street, she felt some relief when she saw a neighbor also walking that way, John Kendrick. He and his wife lived a few houses from them and babysat Jake for them every now and then.
Hey, John!” she shouted as she ran up. Jake was giggling again, delighted with the speed as she raced along the street. John had turned back and smiled when he saw her.
“Why hello Deidre, what are you doing here?” he asked, with that lilt of his English accent.
“I was shopping for some groceries when the power went out. The car wouldn’t start and my phone isn’t working, so Jake and I are walking home, aren’t we?” she asked.
“I was out to pick up some batteries at Target and the same thing happened. Dreadful what happened, I hope Millie is alright. Would you like some company while you walk home?” he asked her.
“Yes, Jake and I would like some company, if we don’t slow you down.”
“No, of course not, at least it’s not too chilly tonight or as chilly as San Diego gets. Come along, let’s get home. Is Roberto home or is he at work?”
“He was at work, as a precaution for the millennium bug,” she answered.
“Oh dear, that could be a problem if he’s up at Sorrento Valley. I do hope he is alright. Well, let’s get going, we’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of us. After you,” he said, while bowing towards their street. Deidre joined him, glad for the company. John continued chatting away, about his garden and his house projects, while Deidre nodded and answered ‘oh yes’ and ‘of course’, every now and again. The worry was still there but John was such a positive person that it faded a bit. Still she worried that the Millennium Bug might be more real than anyone had thought.