Life after money becomes worthless.
|Mike woke up in his apartment bed, completely soaked in his own sweat from another hot Austin summer night. "Oh to have air conditioning again," he said to himself. Still clutching his loaded 12-gauge, Mike got to his feet and grabbed a nearby glass of brownish water and drank the last of his supply. The sun had just topped the Social Security building to the east as he looked out his 4th floor window towards 7th Street. A few scavengers were already ganged together to begin their daily break-ins, searching for precious supplies. Mike knew he would soon have to make his way down there alone to replenish his recently lost possessions.
Michael Wayne Martin had no idea how many months had passed since the morning he woke up and heard the news on TV. China, Germany, and Japan had called in their IOU's with America. To that point in his life, he didn't know enough about world finance to equate the move would cause the Stock Market to crash or for the US to declare bankruptcy. He always knew about the trillions of dollars in federal debt, but assumed that was OK because both parties seemed not to care. How could something so simple cause all this, he thought to himself. Not even a war could turn things this bad.
The move to dump US government bonds by foreign governments caused the dollar to instantly become worthless. All credit cards were decommissioned before sunrise that morning and shopkeepers kept their doors locked at opening time. New Yorkers were 2 hours ahead of Austin and already CNN was showing hordes of people breaking into stores; looting as much food as they could carry. Mike didn't know if he should go on to work that day or try to gather as much supplies as he could before Austin residents copied what was already happening in the east. That seemed like years ago, but he stopped watching the calendar after three or four months. The only news he could get were isolated broadcasts picked up now and then on a little battery operated radio. But, even that was gone now.
Within all this time, Congress had done nothing to fix the situation. Early, the President had declared Martial Law and dispatched armed troops to the major cities to stop the looting. Utility companies shut down because operators stopped going to work. Why work if the money they pay you is worthless? Nothing was left on store shelves and no one was moving in replacement supplies. Those who had armed themselves prior to the fateful morning took what supplies they wanted at gunpoint. Others used their weapons to protect what they had. Mike had an old sawed-off pump shotgun his grandfather had left him, but only 12 shells to go with it. Luckily, he only had to scare people away with it and never had to kill anyone. He had learned early that the meaner you look and sound, the more they will leave you alone. In all the months of scavenging, he never found extra ammunition or guns of any kind. They had all disappeared at the beginning or were confiscated by the military shortly after Martial Law was declared.
Mike was tired of waiting for the government to fix the situation. The military had turned as bad as the looters and took whatever they wanted after breaking down your door. Just the day before, armed men in military outfits raided his apartment and wiped out his stash. The only reason they didn't get his shotgun was because he hid it in the air vent once he saw them on the streets below. He had seen shoot-outs several times in recent past, but the military always prevailed and a lot of corpses were left to rot where they fell. Mike had enough and his present plan was to stock up one more time and get the hell out of Austin.
The streets were quieter than usual this early morning, probably because of the military presence the night before. Normally, he would run across small groups of armed scavengers who ignored him, after seeing the sawed-off at his side. There wasn't much to find in the shops now days. The best you could do was to approach someone and see if they would trade something you needed with something you didn't. People tried to use gold and silver at first for currency, but eventually people stopped trading for it. No one knew how to determine the difference from 14k to 24k gold. Canned goods and old-fashion barter eventually became the new way. Mike had a few canisters of propane hidden in a nearby sewer drain that he was hoping to trade for water, food, and ammo. He had his usual contacts that always appeared well stocked.
"State your business!" a tall fat ball-headed biker said at the entrance to Big Joe's Den. It was once a first-class Austin bar before the eventful day. Now it was used as Big Joe's trading post, where you could make a trade if Joe needed what you had. The bar was heavily fortified and Joe's army of misfits were so mean and well armed that even the military bypassed his place when they visited the area. "I have propane", Mike said to the heavily tattooed monster of a man. "Leave the shotgun with me and you can see Big Joe," he replied while holding out his right hand. "You get it back when you leave."
Just inside, Mike saw Joe standing at the end of the bar with his back turned towards him. He was finishing up with another scavenger with a trade for something in a closed box. Big Joe was not big at all. He was a short round white man, probably in his early 50's. He always wore military camouflage pants and shirt, with well-polished black cowboy boots. Around his waist was a gun belt with automatic 9mm's holstered on each side. The belt held extra clips for the two Glocks. This was not Mike's first dealings with the little man.
Scattered all through the room on tables and up on to the band stage were crates of canned goods, liquor, wine, bottled water, and you name it. Even the mirrored shelves behind the bar were fully stocked with liquor bottles of all kinds. The other scavenger finished and walked out with the box as Joe turned and spotted Mike. "Michael, long time no see," Joe blurted out as he walked to Mike's end of the bar. "You're not carrying anything, so what do you have for me this morning?"
"Three full tanks of propane; something I bet you don't have," Mike replies while waving his right hand around the room. Propane was a precious item since natural gas and electricity shut down. Most people cooked by open flame created from broken down wood furniture. Cooking that way in a closed apartment was not healthy and sometimes led to bad ends. Mike knew he had something valuable and figured he could get enough food and water for it to get him out of the city and to a safer area near the lake.
Mike was right about the value of his trade and Big Joe promised him enough canned stew and bottled water to make the trip. He got everything he asked for except more shells for his shotgun. Even Big Joe was having problems getting ammo these days. One of Joe's mule-boys accompanied Mike to the sewer to collect the propane. When they got back, Mike filled his large back-pack tight with the bartered items. It must have weighed 75 pounds, but he was a 6 foot two strong construction worker of 25 and managed to carry it without effort.
Mike collected his shotgun at the door and looked around for those that might be waiting to rob him after taking a few steps into the street. Once you are out of Big Joe's Den, you are on your own. He kept the sawed-off pointing out front, hoping attackers would think twice before assaulting him. He prayed to God the military thugs had moved on. He was no match for their type of guns.
There was no plan to return to the apartment. He had everything he needed now. The gun, food, water, and his trusty Swiss knife would get him to his destination. The objective was to make it down the backstreets to the city limits and towards the reservoir 50 miles away. There, he hoped to find friendly people like himself who would work together until this mess got straightened up. He knew it was going to be a hard trip and expected someone would try to take his supplies during the long walk. Having a car or motorcycle would have made it easier, but gasoline was scarce and only the military had it. It was so precious a scavenger could trade one gallon of it to Joe for a year's supply of food.
Gone were the days when your only worries were getting a date on Friday night and making rent by the end of the month. Starvation and death were the main worries now and plain survival was the only goal. Our Mike was luckier than his recently deceased roommate; killed for a can of beans he found. Mike just knew there had to be something out there more civilized than what he experienced in the city since that big day. Getting to the lake in one piece was top priority now.
A few years ago I was featured in Season 1, Episode 11 of National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers. I used the same scenario to justify my hording of food and guns. I tried to keep it a bit funny on the show.