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Lights out

August 18, 2008 |  3:01 am


BEIJING -- Sunday night, about 90 minutes after the final interviews with gymnasts had been finished at the National Indoor Stadium, with about two dozen journalists working away in the press tribune -- those seats you see on TV that have tables and small televisions and telephones -- it happened.

With no warning and more than an hour earlier than the media handbook told us, the lights went off. All of them.  Suddenly, it was pitch black. A Chinese volunteer tripped over one of our computer bags and took a hard fall. We asked another volunteer if the lights could be turned on, even if for only a minute or two so everyone could gather assorted electronics -- cellphones, BlackBerrys, tape recorders, computers -- plus notebooks and stat sheets, all the paraphernalia you use to write a story. The answer was a simple and understandable no.

The National Indoor Stadium must have a very good workers' union. Lights out when they say lights out. Forget about those pesky "stay open three hours after the competition" stuff.

So we used our cellphones to provide light, hoped we didn't leave anything behind and gingerly climbed the cement steps.

About 12:30 a.m. I got a panicked phone call from another American writer. She had stayed in the press work room. She had light but when she tried to leave, yep, all the doors she could find were locked tight.

Apparently she escaped. At least she's not still here today.

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Members of the media work in the so-called press tribune area, a cluster of computers, notebooks, stat sheets and electronics. Credit: Frank May / EPA