I'm Ray. I don't drink, smoke or do drugs. When you can't afford to eat the rest really never comes over the horizon.
Being homeless is a bitch. The apartment building burned out while I was at work. The accountant job at H&R Block dried up after April. I finally got a job as a bubble dancer--that's dishwasher to you outside the service industry.
It's not a bad gig. You stay warm and salvage a decent meal from the plates coming off the floor.
I found a cheap way to stay clean. I run my clothes through the dish washer every night after changing the water.
Nobody caught me standing around in socks, skivvies and an apron while waiting for my clothes to dry--or they were too bemused to mention anything.
I'm not much to look at--four foot eight of skin and bones.
When I look in the mirror a weasel with receding brown hair and washed-out blue eyes stares back. For Christ's sake--I LOOK like an accountant. Hunh. I never expected to lose my hair at 24. I've got some skills and good habits, though.
The navy taught me to stay clean and shaved if nothing else, so I don't look too scruffy.
The guard at the repo yard gets ten bucks a night to let me sleep in an unlocked van. I do Tai Chi with the group down at the park every day at dawn to keep body and soul together. For the last few months all my spare time has been spent at the library studying for the CPA exam.
If I can pass that sucker then maybe--just maybe--I can get a job that will front me enough cash to get off the street.
I've got a bike to get around with (and a decent lock on this one!), a backpack with my life in it, a couple blankets and a wool pea coat. I found a suit without too much wear on it at the thrift store as well as a pair of dress shoes.
These last two months of dish washing has been great. I feel better about myself having a full-time job, even if it's second shift. I rented a box at a Post Offices Etc. shop so I have a legal residence.
The boss was handing out paychecks at the beginning of the shift on Friday when it hit. The floor started jumping around like a hyped-up cocker spaniel. The dishes hit the floor with a crash. The fire suppression system took out the grill and fryer. The back end of the building collapsed.
The grinding roar I hadn't noticed in the frenzy gave way to silence. What a mess. Oh well, it was a good job while it lasted.
I snatched my paycheck from my now ex-boss who was still trying to take it all in. He was sitting on the floor muttering "oh, crap!" over and over. He was really out of it.
I grabbed my stuff and headed out before any aftershocks could hit. Damned if I knew about any fault lines under Amarillo Texas, but there you go. The Super Target was still in business. I knew that they'd cash a payroll check, no questions asked. I picked up socks, shorts, jeans, a cap and poncho. I probably wasn't going to sleep where I usually did, and April gets a bit testy around here. I also grabbed a small transistor radio, canteen, small flashlight and a fist full of batteries. I wanted to find out just what the hell was happening. A few cans of beans and a can opener rounded out my purchases. I got out of there just as an aftershock hit. With all the screaming and thrashing around you'd think the world just came to an end.
I sat against a light pole in the parking lot and stuffed batteries into the flashlight and radio. Holy shit.
Yellowstone did a Mt. St. Helen's, taking out large parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, setting off every stressed fault line this side of the Smoky Mountains in the bargain.
Almost all of California was missing. With that I kissed goodbye to the suit and dress shoes I'd salvaged and dove back in to Target for a pair of construction boots. I figured that I was going to get called up quick, having mustered out of the Navy as a communications Warrant Officer 5, so I started to high-tail it over to the Ranger station to pitch in. I know, I know. Everyone early on in their blue water career learns that NAVY means Never Again Volunteer Yourself, but I had an ulterior motive.
Three squares a day and a dry bunk.
If the winds shifted to the North West the ash fall would be devastating. The prevailing winds meant this had a good chance of happening.
I got caught up in rescue operations over the next day and a half and never did get to the ranger station.
All available hands were formed up in teams and we went through each collapsed building we found as we combed the city.
I finally found a police sergeant taking a break outside a C&C trailer (Command and Control) drinking a cup of coffee.
I got the evil eye. He was tired and it showed. I must have looked like five miles of bad road myself.
"Has the call-up started for reserves yet?"
"Nope. Too busy to worry about it, I guess. You in the reserves?"
"Yeah. Al Cook, Warrant Officer 5, Electronics communication, USN."
He smiled. Oh shit. "We need operators. We're so short staffed they're falling out of their chairs in there."
Oh, hell. Well, three squares and a bunk. A bonus was clean air. The equipment was a bit fussy.
"If you've got any proof, we'll take you immediately. You'll have to apprentice for a while to learn our protocols, but then you'll be on your own. Deal?"
"Deal." I fished out my DD-214 (mustering out papers) and handed it over.
"Are you a heavy hitter?"
"Umm, 2nd shift chief radio operator on a destroyer. Heavy enough?"
"You just made my day, Al. Jim French. Let me tell cap the good news." He polished off his coffee and headed out to show his boss my DD-214. I was in. I stood there beating clouds of dust and crap off my pants, wondering where I could shower and change. They wouldn't want me near a commo shack with all this grunge.
I got questioned, bent over, probed, pawed over, passed around, threatened, pre-judged and signed up. Then they let me loose on their equipment. Their protocols were based on channel assignments.
WHAT encryption? This was EASY. I had it licked the first day.
There were only six nets with trunked frequency hopping.
The only thing screwing me up were the damned police 10-codes.
I got a chart of 'em for the wall and I was in business.
Within a week I got passed up the line to the FEMA group. What a cluster fuck. Everybody had to get authorization from somebody else and nobody wanted to take responsibility. We were stretched tight as a piano wire--over-worked and short on bunk hours.
During one of the identical interminable meetings I finally lost it.
"Goddamned it! We're in here playing pass the turd when there's people dying out there, sleeping on the streets, without emergency medical care. What the fuck is wrong with you people?"
Well, that did it. I really expected to get booted out of there, but something else happened. It was so out-of-control that the loudest voice won. Mine. I got promoted to expediter. I asked for and got a list of resources and phone numbers. I got ahold of my old commander and explained where I was and what I was doing.
Resources were stretched pretty thin. Entire naval bases had disappeared along with most of California. However, there were still piles and piles of stuff remaindered from the Gulf actions.
Troops and equipment were being pulled back to the states from overseas. He gave me a couple of contacts to try and wished me luck.
We had gone from the 113th. largest city to the 58th.
We needed shelters. Material was salvaged from downed buildings and the junk dozered into piles outside of town. The homeless were sheltered in schools. Entire gymnasiums were converted into open wards with field hospitals set up just outside the doors.
We needed medical support and communications, food, water and shelter.
There was so much to do that I had to delegate. It was too much.
I head hunted teams of expediters and tasked them with different areas. Ground team took over the power grid and water mains.
Fire team took the natural gas system. Fires went out.
Grub team insured that everyone got fed.
We all went on the cafeteria plan, as in U.S. Military.
Shelter team took over rebuilding, and got trenches run for sewer, water and electric. We started building at the East end of town and proceeded West, where the most build-up was. We settled on blocks 1/2 mile on a side.
Supplies team worked with construction hand in hand--they got into salvage and reclamation.
We stole the whole damned city under thing eminent domain. Everyone owning property got a thousand buck check on the city. Everything was salvaged out and bulldozed. We pulled out all the materials we could, including fixtures.
We ran through that city like rats through a granary.
The houses were systematically rifled for food, clothing, bedding, emergency gear and firearms.
We were trying to keep the guns out of the hands of the looters, which were everywhere. We had to form up another group to police the area. Looters got shot.
This is Texas, after all.
That was the first month.
A construction company got dropped on us. Thank God.
The cell towers went back up with gigabit switches. Land lines were abandoned and the poles cut. We ran eight fiber lines in a ring thirty feet deep with switches every mile and a half around the city along with a power feed.
That's where we put the cell towers, and three fiber lines went to support them.
Cable was down, as the wires were shot to shit. We managed to get a decent transmitter up running off of a satellite feed so people had something to watch and get some news.
We broadcast a half megawatt AM too.
I refused to let the goddamned preachers near it. (Anyone familiar with Texas/Oklahoma radio is yelling 'Yeah!' right now.)
The big picture was looking pretty ugly.
A lot of big cities took a hit that you wouldn't think were vulnerable. The big Kentucky-Missouri fault tore the hell out of the Midwest. Alaska was growing new territory, but it took all but a few tiny settlements with it. Ohio got slaughtered. A hell of a lot of people died.
We went from 200,000 people to almost 110,000 in one week, just in our county. We recorded IDs as best we could and buried them in trench graves just South of town.
Power was out for days at a time. The natural gas came from in-state wells and was a solid resource. We asked for and got several big natural gas driven generators which took our load off the grid. We pulled the interrupters at the distribution field and that was that. We cut feed to the distribution field altogether to take the 500 KV transformers out of service. Their idle current was taking quite a bite.
The city was, and still is, a meat-packing center. All cut beef we could lay our hands on was deep frozen. The best beef on the hoof was spared for breeding. Fodder was a problem. We had to butcher most of the standing stock just to keep the prime stock alive and fed.
We weren't too concerned about grain. The rails were being quickly re-established and the fields were being planted.
The catch was vegetables. Nothing was coming in from California, ever again.
We had a problem with water. Open air agriculture with spray irrigation wastes a lot. We had a lot of hands, so we buried drip/seep irrigation pipes along the rows of a goddamn enormous truck garden. If we wanted vegetables, we'd have to plant 'em ourselves. I'm glad that I didn't have much to do with that end of things. I'm not a farmer.
Stupid things like swimming pools and golf course irrigation were totally out of the question. As a matter of fact, we sculpted the golf courses into a series of catchment basins to collect what rainwater we could get and piped it away to a large cistern. We covered the golf courses with visqueen.
That was the second month.
The kids were going mad with nothing to do. We put them in charge of the stock. It would be brutal when it came time to butcher them, but there it was. The chickens would be easier as they were dead stupid. Some got pulled into what we called dew patrol--kids with giant squeegees pulled dew down the basins to the reservoirs. Even on the hottest days we captured hundreds of gallons of water from the dew. They had a real job to do and ate it up.
We had concrete. We had rebar. We needed bricks. So...
We formed bricks out of compacted earth and started replacing the short term housing with real long term structures. The alkali playa that makes up the panhandle and most of Nevada compresses wonderfully at 4 tons per square inch into bricks for the ages. Nothing went up over two stories tall.
With all the madness going on around me I didn't pay much attention to the people at hand. It took a while to realize that I was being taken care of despite myself.
Breakfast and dinner always showed up whether I asked or not. My clothes got cleaned and put away. When I finally dropped at my station they took care of me.
I woke desperately tired and without the will to get up.
Funky gown. check. Hospital bed. check. Smells of disinfectant. check. What the hell? the window showed a gray curtain but the drapes were open. I pushed the little button.
A pretty little girl came in the door almost immediately.
I looked at her left hand by reflex. No ring.
"Hi to you, too! Feeling better?"
"I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open."
"There's an easy cure for that--so sleep."
"But..." I waved my hand in the direction of the window.
"Oh. The ash fall started two days ago."
I found out that the ranger captain got on the TV and read the riot act to all the people sitting around on their asses eating and bitching with nothing to do. PVC A-frames and visqueen covered the truck garden seedlings with halide lights above. Teams of people were brooming off the collection basins every night before dew-fall and helping with the squeegees in the morning.
I had slept for three days. They were keeping me on my back for three more.
That was the third month.
The rails came back to life. We shipped out beef and shipped in concrete, welding equipment, hospital supplies and people.
The surrounding farms were checking in, seeing what was left.
Most had satellite TV and could pick up our radio signal, so they knew we hadn't collapsed. Amarillo was starting to look like Paris France without the fancy stuff. It seemed easier to rebuild on a circle. We hauled out all the cars and trucks we could, leaving only construction, emergency and busses. Lord, we cobbled together some ugly busses, but they worked. We ran ring routes and intersecting spoke routes. You could get from one side of town to the other in about 35 minutes. Not bad! People used bicycles, too. It's amazing what you can do with a welder and a hand full of parts. We had a couple of fabrication shops pumping out bikes like crazy. The seats were a bit odd, though.
The banana seat made a comeback. It's easy to make and carries two. Our city ordinance against privately owned gas or diesel engine vehicles seemed to fly. We even converted our busses to natural gas. We OKayed hybrids.
The rest of the state came through in pretty good order. We had to order snowplow blade forgings to cope with the ash fall. we were bankrupt and knew it. We didn't care.
We just got things done that needed doing.
Lots of national banks were based out of St. Louis (gone), California (gone), Nevada (inland sea) or Oregon (mostly inland sea). The same for several insurance companies, or they declared bankruptcy.
The panhandle was the worst hit in the state.
The state-chartered banks were opening again and people were looking around wondering what the hell to do next. Their houses were gone and livelihoods turned upside down. I do believe that the lawyers were sharpening their knives in anticipation.
It seemed strange, though. Here we were in good old Texas, read capitalist heaven and we used a communist model to recover from a severe disaster. No wonder FEMA caught so much shit and never got much done. The inefficiencies were built in to the core.
I guess you could convert from ours to a military model without too much conflict, but capitalism doesn't seem to scale to emergencies.
I asked that some of the guys from the Texas Marshals, Fema and any government legal guns I could round up come to meeting about what had happened and was going to happen. We had an opportunity to be pro-active for once.
The marshals listened, Fema gibbered and the district judge made noises about 'no precedent'. Fine. Fuck 'em. I guess I had to get dirty. Politics. I cashiered the meeting. The next day I managed to get the state governor on the horn. We talked for a while, mostly me telling him who I was, what happened and what kind of shit was about to hit the fan. I learned why he was governor. He liked to delegate. The bastard made me the provost of the whole damned panhandle. Man, it sure landed me in the shit but being a kind of deputy governor legitimized me. He said that he would look into mustering up the state's national guard to protect and repair what was going on in the rest of the panhandle and work on getting the eminent domain issue legitimatized.
I got caught with a bolt out of the blue.
"What about corporate ownership of the city proper by the city?" silence.
He replied slowly, thinking his way through it.
"It's a solution, but it has ugly ramifications. Who owns the stock?
What about taxation? Governance? Property valuation? Oversight?"
"We're part of Texas, right? Well, The city is owned by Texas."
"Property values just went to shit, so let's make everything even Steven."
"No problem. Reconstruction did that."
"Well, we can charge a flat head tax for occupation and upkeep, food, city services and improvements."
"It would have to run at a deficit until things got rebuilt, and it would have to be carefully scaled to match cost of living elsewhere."
"Yep. We could get bigger than Dallas-Fort Worth except we don't have the water."
"There are external answers to that. Since California is no longer siphoning off the Colorado river some of that could be diverted, and a larger reservoir constructed."
"Well, that's for tomorrow, along with the fruits and vegetables problem"
We talked about opportunities, problems and solutions all afternoon.
He promised that I would be legitimate by midnight and the corporation worked out within two weeks. I started to feel like we might make it through this thing.
I didn't have anyone to talk to about what had happened, so I looked up Shelley, the cute nurse that had taken care of me for a week.
We made it a dinner date then sat and talked under the stars.
We agreed to do it again next week.
That was the fourth month.
We were grinding up the construction debris and adding it to the bricks, being careful to check the end product with a hammer occasionally.
Asbestos, tar paper, glass, whatever. It won't hurt anyone when pressed into bricks. It answered a nasty question of how to dispose of the mess.
We finally cleared up the remains of the business district, skyscrapers and all. There wasn't enough to save so we scrapped it all. The banks got special treatment because of the vaults, lock boxes and records.
We were slowly digging a lake North of town and turning it into bricks.
All the streets were nice and wide. We keep dedicated bike lanes.
We used lots of asphalt and made it thick.
I got a house! A two bedroom compressed brick ranch next to a park.
I loved it. I could bike to work in twenty minutes.
Shelley said the new roads made life a lot easier. The gravel we had been using was dusty as hell. We enjoyed the first ice cream we'd had since Yellowstone blew up. We cuddled on a bench in my back yard that night under the stars. She slept over.
The new city charter came printed in one medium-sized book. I knew that the annotations would fill a room. I turned the legal eagles loose on it and stood back to watch the fur fly. There were going to be a lot of unhappy lawyers around town. The mortgage insurance business was gone.
The mortgage business was gone. The home loan business was gone. The HOME LOANS were gone. There were going to be a lot of happy people, too.
Businesses were their own corporations, but the properties were transferred to the city. We were determined to own everything within the city limits. There were several late night phone calls to the governor and the state's attorney. We had to reimburse the businesses for their properties so their books would balance. When we looked into the cost of living we got sneaky and lumped in health care. The city became a universal health care provider, underwritten by the U.S. military in the event of disaster. (Don't ask me how that got approved, but it did. I guess it just put into writing what happens in an emergency anyway.) Everyone got insured, the businesses got to write down some of their employee expenses and the hospitals didn't have to worry so much about paperwork.
Who was on the board? Only all the usual suspects.
Me, The treasurer, The state's attorney, The station chief of the TexasRangers (temporarily. It conflicted with his mandate), A newly elected head of medical services, The head of Streets and Sanitation, A newly elected head of civic resources, The chief of police and The governor.
When the Ranger dropped out we'd adopt the construction manager to keep to an odd number. No deadlocks that way.
By charter, we first assigned a roving oversight team that reported directly to the governor, determined the value and classification of our assets, made a stab at projected expenses and pulled together a trial chart of accounts. We hired a CPA full time to manage it under the treasurer. We drastically wrote down the property values and petitioned the state to allow us to expand from a 10 mile by five mile rectangle to a fifteen mile circle so that we could control our water resources and incorporate the local gas wellheads to secure our power.
We gave the people back their guns and ammunition. After all, this is Texas, right?
We got a newspaper going again, but the rolls of paper had to be shipped in by rail, so not many copies were printed. It gave the people back a voice and boy did they use it.
That was the fifth month.
The skies cleared. The ash fall went elsewhere. Moods improved.
The vegetable harvest was in full swing. Diets became more varied.
Moods improved dramatically.
The annual horse auction came back to town. The whole town was giddy with excitement. We had parades and a carnival. The people came in from all over. We had to scramble to find housing for them. We used the same equipment that dug and set sewer, water and electric feeds for the houses to create a huge mobile home park. We put in a new grinding and pumping station just for that. We were sneaky. We used the same spacing that our houses used, too. Guess where our next subdivision was going? Still, we made plans for a hotel. The local high school hosted a rodeo. Everyone pitched in to build bleachers.
Shelley and I had a blast and even danced a bit at the barbecue picnic we put on after the rodeo. I'll tell you, she felt damned good in my arms.
The biggest bitch people had was food. Nobody likes cafeteria food without end. One survives on it, but rarely appreciates it.
We auctioned off ten restaurant licenses, most of them large capacity.