I normally write politically oriented posts, but every so often, I ask people to endure my writing for fun. The last few days, I've peddled with a small short story of a truly Science Fiction/political nature, and just wanted to throw it out there to say I had written it.
When Civilization Ended
I used to love sitting outside at the ballpark, taking in a baseball game with a few cool beers and some friends. A decent afternoon in the summer time. Some joking, some drinking and some good memories. There are no games to go to now, and no one who wants to sit out in the seats.
I kept imagining the end of the world as a Hollywood movie event. A meteor. A plague. Zombies. Nuclear war. It wasn't anything like that. Just an electric bill. It's funny now, thinking about how it all began and where we are.
No one thought a few degrees this way or that would make a big difference. When Phoenix and Dallas reported continuous temperatures of 109 for a few weeks in a row, it was a 'hot summer'. When the Arizona power grid couldn't meet demand, and when the folks in Dallas and Baltimore couldn't pay their bills.. that's when the riots started.
It is surreal thinking about that world now. The idea seemed laughable then. Who would riot over an electric bill? But heat does strange things to people, and when the lights went out homes became ovens. It doesn't take too much for a few people to die of heat exhaustion. And a few more. And a few more.
The difference between 104 degree weather and 109 degree weather is five degrees; but trying to cool those extra five degrees in those old homes in Phoenix, Baltimore, Atlanta, Memphis doubled or tripled electric bills and people just couldn't pay it.
I had read Grapes of Wrath as a kid but I hadn't planned on living it. We left home in rural south west Arkansas to head north, to live with friends in Wisconsin, where we could pool our resources, share a home and work together to pay for things we needed. The idea of a single family home suddenly seemed foolish; we couldn't earn enough to stay cool in the summer, warm in the winter. We weren't being paid poorly, but when your utilities were more than your mortgage payment... well, it wasn't the kind of thing we anticipated when we signed a 30 year note in 2004.
We were stuck with the property no matter what. No one wanted to live where we were anymore. Jobs were scarce and the cost of living was too high. Suddenly, living in rural communities had a skyrocketing cost of living - something we had always avoided in the past. We hadn't been prepared to pay the costs.
The first time I heard about the uprising was on local radio. A country club somewhere - and I can remember where - was stormed by people who had lost power and water. I remember a small group of families tried to run out onto a golf course to take showers in their sprinkler systems in the morning. It all started off as a joke with radio commentators poking fun at the ignorant people who just had to steal because they didn't manage their money so well. But a week later, wealthy business owner was killed and his house overrun by families who took everything he had earned. It was horrific - and terrifying. We were bombarded with stories of how heinous these crimes were, what terrible people would do these things. There would be prosecutions. There had to be. Murder would never be tolerated in a civilized society. And besides, the property owner was by all accounts a good guy - he wasn't at fault for the fact they couldn't pay their electric bills. He wasn't the one who created all the heat. It wasn't his fault at all that they were suffering.
He was just an easy target. He was someone who had what those who didn't have wanted. He seemed like a good guy. Every story I read about him made me feel sorry for his family, his children. What kind of monsters would do something like this?
But the riots changed all of that. It changed everything. Within a matter of months the unthinkable happened. It may have started in Phoenix. Or Baltimore. It's hard to know anymore. But it certainly didn't end there. Unhappy with what looked like a death sentence, living in houses that couldn't keep them cool and electricity they couldn't afford, the revolt was swift. It started out peacefully with people just sharing homes, like we do. Move in with other families, split expenses. But it didn't stay that way. When push came to shove, having your lights on at night attracted people like moths to flame - they knew you had power - which meant you had protection against the heat, good food and a safe home for your family. Some people welcomed others in. That lasted for a while. But Maslow's hierarchy is a bitch that way; when push came to shove people were willing to do whatever it took to protect their families.
For too many, though, it didn't matter. To the mob, it was their chance to avoid death. When the power grid went offline in Baltimore on July 17, it was all over. The death that got us talking about what happened next in Dallas was nothing in comparison to the riots that claimed more then a hundred and fifty in an evening. I had never seen anything like it. It was a throwback to a different era, a time before I was born. These people weren't rioting and protesting specific causes; when approached with a camera they were rioting out of rage and fear.
With rolling brown outs in Baltimore, Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, things went from bad to worse. The cost of electricity skyrocketed as more and more people couldn't pay and the costs of maintaining plants increased. Workers at the plants struggled to pay for their own power, let alone produce enough for the rest of us. Suddenly, the national news was telling us a much different story. Should we nationalize the electric companies? Were we in the middle of a power crisis? Stories floated about small businesses unable to keep up with the cost of energy; high rise apartments finding that maintenance of mechanical outstripped their expected cost.
By the time the rolling blackouts had hit New York City, though, the actions of the government to stabilize the situation were just too late. Too many people just couldn't afford to keep up with the cost and dropped out of the system, and the price continued to escalate for those that could.
It's been two years since then. People who had resources and the ability flocked north. Every year we get false hope. I had never seen as much snow as the first year we lived in Wisconsin. Maybe it was just a fluke. But the heat in the summer had just put more moisture in the air, and it had to go somewhere. Fewer and fewer move north every year. It's not that they don't want to, but so many of the roads to get here weren't built on the idea of this kind of continuous heat and heavy snow cycles. The cost of fuel to bring a family here is prohibitive. There were people who rejected the lifestyle some of us lead, where two or three families live in the same home. There are people who say this is the act of a vengeful God; others who blame greedy power companies; some who say it's a government conspiracy.
The latest radio talk is that this was bound to happen when people kept expecting things to be paid for them and found that the government just wasn't built to pay for everything. The riots didn't have to happen, if people would have worked for better jobs or taken better care of their homes, there would have been fewer deaths and no riots. The finger pointing and blame do nothing to change the reality of the world.
I can't remember the riots well enough to know. I didn't see enough of it. But I remember watching those boys running onto the 7th green, laughing as they took a shower on the golf course until their family was arrested for trespassing. That big, silly smile those kids had while they tried to run away, naked, down the greens.
It seemed so innocent and fun once.
Now, getting through the next few years will be a test on all of us.
I hope I'm up to the challenge.