Note: The following is the fifth installment of a series that represents a first-hand chronicle of a fictional economic collapse in the United States. This series is to be viewed as only one possible scenario.
April 2 – 165 days after Black Swan Day
My Dearest Children -
Spring has sprung. Unfortunately the warmer weather and brighter skies can’t warm the sinking feelings I keep having as I look around. Just seems like more and more stores along the main roads are closing and not being taken over for new businesses. Those businesses staying are either raising prices almost every day, cutting back selection or service, or putting all sorts of odd rules and policies in place. Or some combination of these.
Take the local bank branches for example. Months ago the banks implemented new lower daily ATM withdrawal limits. Now they limited teller withdrawals too and you no longer have a choice as to what kind of denominations your withdrawal is given. You take what they want to give you. So if I take out $100 I may get one $100 bill or two $50’s or five $20’s etc or some combination thereof. And now there are two security guards at the entrance that only allow a limited number of bank customers in the building at a time! Even if it’s raining you have to wait in line outside the bank until someone comes out before another customer can go in. know these aren’t the fault of the local branch employees. It’s mandated by the home office. But still.
And I was in a local hardware store recently. One of the employees shadowed me all time I was in there! I know the stories I’ve heard about shoplifting and “flash mobs” so I can’t blame them too much for suspecting everyone these days of having less than honorable intentions.
Add to that the MSNBC and CNN have been running “investigative reports” about what they are calling “food hoarders”. They show people coming out of BJ’s or Costco with a cart full of cases of canned vegetables, cases of water, 30 pound bags of rice and sugar and so on – all the bulk items you go to a place like BJs and Costco for. But instead law abiding customers are being ambushed, asked “Why do you need all this food?” Inevitably many people are saying they want some extra at home. And thus “food hoarding” is being blamed for rationing and higher prices elsewhere. This isn’t the America I grew up in where everyone is a suspect just for having a little food at home. They stop just short of blaming people who can afford to buy larger quantities of food for others who can’t afford it or don’t have access to such bulk. But the implication is clearly there. Worse still, some in Congress, the usual people, are calling for investigations into price fixing and “unfair selling practices” that include bulk purchases to some customers being unfair! I have another bad feeling about all this. “Food Police” can’t be too far off. Never in my life would I have thought this before.
We’re still doing the pot luck dinners and more people want to join. Problem is once they get so big it becomes expensive again even for one dish. Have to manage that carefully. As it is the dishes are looking more Spartan with each passing week. Our resources can’t last forever but at least we have some for now.
But the worst part was made all too real to your mother and me this past weekend. Any other time it might have been someone’s idea of a late and bad April Fools joke for some reality TV show. But this was no joke.
We had gone to the local Walbaums for our weekly food shopping as usual. Thank G‑d you girls were spending the day with your Aunt Donna and her kids!
We had just come out of the store and were in the parking lot loading our bags – a King’s ransom worth of food at today’s prices! – into my SUV. I’m also glad we took mine that day for the size and mass even though your mother doesn’t like to ride in it. But I knew we’d be loading up as much as we can and mine has better cargo space.
As we were just about finished loading I heard the screeching of car tires from somewhere behind us. I didn’t bother looking as I figured it was some idiot burning rubber to show off. But then I heard a scream that wasn’t the fun-childish scream kids and young people (usually girls) make when they’re horsing around with friends. This scream was panic and terror. Then another scream and another.
I turned to see people running as fast as they could. Some pushing shopping carts full of bags, others just running. There was a large black pickup truck and several smaller cars parked at the curb in front of the supermarket’s two main entrances. Jumping out of the truck and cars were about 15 or so young men I’d say in their early 20’s in jeans and black t‑shirts, some with black baseball style caps on, others with Do Rags, but all with some kind of bandana covering most of their faces. They were all holding baseball bats or tire irons or something long and club-like in one hand while running up to people with carts and grabbing bags out of their carts!
Bandits! A food ambush! Right in my own town! Almost literally in my own backyard!!
It was completely surreal. But all too real.
Events moved very quickly as does happen during such moments.
I saw one shopper, a fairly large middle aged man, take a swing at one of this bandits as he tried to take a bag from his cart. The shopper missed and the bandit wacked him hard over the back of his neck and shoulder with a baseball bat. The man when down like a wet sack of clothing.
Another band it I saw didn’t even bother grabbing a single bag. Instead this fine young man ran up to a woman who looked in her late 30’s, shoved her hard to the ground and grabbed her entire cart running it back to one of the waiting cars. At least he didn’t hit her with the metal rod he was carrying.
I yelled for your mother to get into the car fast! She didn’t argue.
I started the car and pulled straight out of the parking spot. Unfortunately this parking lot is a one-way-in/same-way-out lot. So I put down the gas and headed straight to the exit praying the bandits hadn’t blocked it off. But the drive path to the exit is right along the curb to the supermarket – right smack down the middle of the war zone! I thought I might be able to hop over the curb into the street but most of the curb in the lot was blocked with parked cars and the few openings didn’t give me a good enough run to get the speed I needed to go up and over. I had no choice but to run for the main exit.
By now it was a total free-for-all in the parking lot with young masked men grabbing bags of food and beating anyone even put up an arm in futile defense. The store rent-a-cops didn’t even bother coming out. I don’t blame them really. What could they do?
As we approached the black pickup truck on the way to the exit I saw one of the bandits, a rather large and muscular guy, turn around and look right at us. He was holding a big wood bat in his right hand and his arm was coming up.
Police officers report that in a life and death situation they often see clearly the eyes of their attacker even from great distances away. I experienced the same thing. Even through the windshield I saw the bandit’s blue eyes like lasers looking right into mine. His eyes didn’t show fear. They showed confidence, even an albeit perverse righteousness with what he was doing. And they telegraphed his intentions: He was going to hit that wood bat into my truck as we went by.
I yelled out to your mother “Hold on!”
As we approached the bandit I cut the wheels hard to the side – towards him!
The front driver’s side bumper made contact at knee level with his left leg. It wasn’t a crack or slam noise. More a soft “thud”. He spun in mid air and came down on the hood, then rolled off the driver’s side front fender and along the door. In the rear mirror I caught a glance of his body making a couple of rolls along the pavement to a stop. I’m sure the impact shattered his leg, probably his pelvis too, at a minimum.
I kept going and accelerating out of there.
Either by the grace of Heaven or dumb luck the traffic light at the exit was green in our favor and I accelerated across the intersection to the next block. There I zoomed through the red light and the next and the next, not even thinking of any other cars coming the cross way. I just had to get us out of the area.
Finally your mother just said “Slow it down a bit”. That brought back some more analytical thinking. I made a few more turns and pulled into our garage. We grabbed the bags with the perishable items, closed the garage and went in the back door. (The non-perishable items could wait until later.)
I guess shock finally wore off and we just hugged tightly there in the kitchen for what seemed like an hour. Your mother didn’t say anything. Finally I said “Are you ok?” I’m sure she was physically alright but I didn’t know what her reaction to my actions would be. I’m sure she supported what I did – what I felt I had to do for our safety – but needed to know. She just said “I’m fine”.
We waited a while to see what might happen in the area. Eventually, more than an hour later, we heard sirens that sounded like police. Later when we went out to pick you girls up from your Aunt’s (we took your mother’s car) the road leads past the supermarket and we saw two police cars and two ambulances in the lot.
We didn’t stop.
As we pulled into your Aunt’s driveway I just said “Let’s not discuss this with them.” She said “Of course not.”
That night I unloaded the rest of the items from my truck and as relieved to see only a small crack in the front bumper. Easily patched from behind and a bit of touch up paint would make it almost unnoticeable.
There was nothing on the local news that night. Just as well. I didn’t sleep, expecting a knock on the door at anytime. Nothing in the news paper the next day either. Not even a Police Blotter entry in the weekly local gazette.
That started me wondering: This can’t be the first attack like this. So how many other attacks like this are happening around the area, around the state – around the country! – that are not being reported? And why not? Who is making the decision not to report them?
Oh Lord! Are things really so bad that news like this is being suppressed? Pretty hard to keep wide spread open robbery and assault like this a secret for long. But if it isn’t in print than it isn’t news.
Heaven help us all.
Bless my children.