Home Alone 2: Day Two - REALLY lost in North Carolina

>> Monday, July 16, 2007

I really hit it on the head when I guessed earlier that today would be a busy day, but it wasn't for the reasons I thought.

Today on the way back from dropping off Wendi's Lark Books project and grabbing a pizza in Asheville, the alternator on our beloved old Chevy Cavalier died. It did not tell me it died. Instead all the electrical systems in the car told me, one by one. First the battery light came on. Then the light for the anti-lock brakes. Then the air bag light. Then the check engine light. By this time I had guessed that the alternator was not cycling the engine's generated electricity back to the car's electrical system and I had the radio and the air conditioning off to save power. When I lost the dashboard clock I knew I was in trouble - but I was SO close to home.

But wait - if I drove home and parked, the car wasn't going anywhere again until it was towed. What would that help? On the phone with Wendi (who is traveling, remember, and was then in Charlotte) we agreed that I should try to get the car down to Spruce Pine to a service station and then hoof it home. The service station was already closed for the night, which I anticipated, but the car had just enough juice to make it to their parking lot. There was so little energy left in the battery that the idiot lights even faded. I cut the motor before the fuel-injector could lock up on me, left a note explaining the orphan car, and struck out for home.

That was at 6:55 p.m.

One hour and forty-five minutes later, at 8:40 p.m., I walked in our door. And that was walking at a steady, uninterrupted pace. Those roads are the exact same roads I drive every morning to take Jo to school - and the school is actually a few blocks farther than the service station.

That drive usually takes ten minutes.

A ten minute drive, an hour and forty-five minute walk. Google Maps tells me I walked about five miles tonight. It took me longer to walk home from Spruce Pine (5 miles) than it took for me to drive home from Asheville (52 miles)!

Luckily, it was still light the entire time, the traffic was light (part of the reason we moved here in the first place), and it didn't rain. All in all, if I was going to have the alternator go out on the car with no other way to get home, this was about as perfect as it could get.

So now I'm home, and of course one of the first things I do (after calling everyone I spoke to on the phone during my walk to let them know I was home safe) is to sit down and blog about it. How postmodern is that?

The walk home got me thinking about the book I'm currently reading - and the book I carried all the way home with me - Max Brooks' World War Z. I'm enjoying this book, despite having to read it slowly in patches over a couple of weeks. I'm also not crazy about books written in interview style - they rank just below epistolary novels on the scale of literary devices I dread - but this time it works fabulously well, because we're not trying to follow the narrative of one or two persons. Instead we're hearing from dozens (hundreds?) of survivors from an apocalyptic world-wide war on zombies.

The best part of the book isn't the zombie stuff - it's how quickly the modern world descends into a new dark age, and the story of how they pull themselves out again. It's fascinating reading, especially if you substitute some other, more realistic threat for the zombies: religious fundamentalists blowing each other (and the rest of us) up, some kind of viral or bacteriological epidemic like SARS or influenza, a meteor strike, escalating environmental destruction - pick your poison, so to speak. The stories told range from the broad (how we reorganized the American work force to recover from and battle 200 million zombies east of the Rockies) to the very specific (like a blind Japanese man surviving the elements and the zombies in a national park). Some of the stories are truly horrible, but often the real horrors are not the zombies, but the people themselves and the decisions they make in the face of disaster.

I bring this up because the book chronicles the collapse of the Western infrastructure. Suddenly there is no oil for cars or planes, no coal for electricity, no food being shipped in from across the country and across the globe. In simple terms, one half of the American population finds itself an hour's walk or more from the nearest support system - effectively cut off from the rest of the country. Never did any of this ring so true for me as tonight, when a simple ten minute drive - a drive we think absolutely nothing of - became an almost two hour trek.

I don't want to over-exaggerate things here. My car broke down and I had to walk five miles home. It's not like I was fighting for my survival, as so many people in the world still are. But what would we do if we had no gas tomorrow? How many of us here in America could survive?

I'm off to try and salvage some writing time. Updated chapter and page count to come -


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