There’s a man standing on a busy street corner somewhere with a sandwich board that reads: “PREPARE! THE END IS NEAR!”
Ten years ago, we would have laughed. Today, not so much.
With all the talk about the Mayan calendar predicting doom, with movies like “The Road,” “2012” and “Book of Eli,” with the History Channel pumping out shows like “Apocalypse Man” and “Life After People,” everybody knows the end is possible, if not likely.
Nick Dyer knows that awareness of the end has never been so prevalent. It is almost his full-time job.
And you know what? Dyer doesn’t like your chances for surviving doomsday.
“If society fell apart this afternoon I’d be willing to bet you’d die,” he writes on his freakishly popular blog “Survive the Apocalypse.”
“You’ve spent your life learning how to ‘cut and paste’ or how to master E. Honda’s Hundred Handslap in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, but when the world comes crashing down and you’re hungry, you’ll be eating crunchy Ramen noodles and wondering how your own pee tastes.”
“Lets face it,” the Minnesota man says without any malice at all, “you’d die.”
He’s right, you know. The overwhelming majority of us spend all of our time getting our 401Ks in order instead of thinking about the collapse of society. When the whole thing goes up in flames, will we have enough water and perishable food to last a month? A week? Less than that?
“It’s really not the actual calamity I’m concerned about,” Dyer says. “I’m concerned that more kids today know how to operate a computer mouse than a fishing pole. I’m concerned that people are so far removed from the natural world, that when society collapses, they won’t know how to survive. Knowing how to ‘click and paste’ can’t help you when the power goes off, the tap water dries up and there is no food in the supermarkets.”
How the end will come depends on which movie or documentary you’re tuned in to. It could be a massive asteroid slamming into the planet, killing millions at once and starving the others with its sun-blocking cloud. You know what the astro geeks say: it’s not a question of if it will happen, it’s a matter of when.
It could be a super virus too quick and resilient for us to combat with modern medicines. My, how you scoffed at the panic over the swine flu last year. Will the next one fade into obscurity so fast?
It could be nuclear Armageddon all these years after the end of the Cold War. Who doesn’t have nukes these days? Does anybody doubt that the political climate is unstable enough for bombs to start flying any day?
The Mayan calendar predicts, according to some interpretations, that the winter solstice of 2012 will mark the end of time for us. That’s more than two years to prepare. But even people who give credence to such things will probably do a lousy job of preparing.
“Most would think of getting the biggest baddest gun you can find,” Dyer says. “I agree that protecting yourself will be important, but this isn’t a video game. People will find that clean water will be the most important resource and I would recommend getting a pump-action water filter. However, you’ll then need a gun to keep people away from your clean water.”
Of all the end-of-the-world bloggers – and there are quite a few – Dyer may be the least kooky of them all. On his site, survivetheapocalypse.net, you will find a handy list of items you should start gathering now to prepare. You will find advice on how you should react to the end of days in relation to where you live.
What you won’t find is a lot of political chatter – condemnation of this presidential administration or defense of that one. That’s a huge factor because many of the so-called apocalypse blogs are nothing more than forums for political bellyaching.
“Many sites are less concerned with how to survive the apocalypse, but rather, how to start the apocalypse. Those people can’t wait until they can wear bandannas and play with their big guns,” Dyer says. “I don’t see the apocalypse as a fantasy. It’s going to suck. It’s going to suck a lot, and I hope I don’t have to go through it, but I’m prepared and my goal is to get other people thinking about what they would do when these luxuries we depend on are gone.”
Thousands and thousands of people visit his blog. Many, like me, will spend time there interacting with others, plotting out the best course of action to take if those terrible times do come upon us.
Preaching to the choir
Not everybody needs convincing. In Auburn is a 40-something woman who calls herself Sarah Connor when discussing the coming of the end. She doesn’t want anyone to know her true identity because she needs to protect what she’s got.
What she’s got is a basement full of items compiled to see her through if and when the apocalypse comes.
There are 2,000 packets of water with a 30-year shelf life. There is a pellet stove and four tons of pellets, enough for more than two winters. There is a deep-cycle battery and solar panels to re-energize it on long stretches without power.
There is a machine that seals and preserves food. There are nearly 200 batteries and two charging stations. There are 25 gallons of gasoline in a locked shed, a stockpile of medications for every ailment, vitamins with a five-year shelf life to stave off scurvy and related afflictions.
There is freeze-dried food of all kinds. There are 16 oil lamps, 30 bottles of oil, 20 spare wicks. There are medical supplies, 100 bars of soap, 500 disposable razors.
There is a .357 and other firearms. There is plenty of ammunition.
Sarah Connor — named for the heroine of “The Terminator” movies; if you haven’t seen them, get thee to Netflix at once — began stockpiling these items two years ago. The economy was in peril. Political unrest was as heavy as it’s been in decades. Sarah had a bad feeling.
It’s only gotten worse in recent years.
“I added a lot more freeze dried things, more of a balance of fruit, veggies and meats (to prevent scurvy if we can’t get those things) and I still have enough nonperishable goods to last a lifetime I think,” she says. “I added other things down there too. I figured since I can’t afford gold, I would need bartering items. I have quite the wine cellar and I even bought bags of tobacco and papers in case I need to barter.”
Bartering will be important. Your fat bank account is nothing more than a bunch of paper with zeroes and dead presidents printed on it. Currency in the future? Try cigarettes. Try spices to trade with people tired of eating bland food in the new world.
Some of the survival blogs will tell you what to do with your money in advance of Armageddon. Some might insist that you need to spend big dough – like yesterday – on a lead-lined subterranean vault. Others might suggest you start investigating aggressively in silver, gold and oil, or that you shell out to become part of a survival community.
Handy, perhaps, for those who have tens of thousands of dollars to throw around.
Dyer approaches the problem more realistically. He writes for people who don’t have a ton of disposable income to throw at their preparation. People like Sarah Connor appreciate that. In fact, Sarah says getting ready hasn’t set her back much financially at all.
She began picking up dehydrated foods a little bit at a time. She bought basic items like shampoo and soap and toothpaste.
She kept on buying until she had enough to last her for years.
“Every single thing I bought, it’s something I need anyway,” she says. “If things never go bad, I’ll be happy. I’ll have a big party and everyone will eat dehydrated food.”
So, the man with the sandwich board downtown may not be crazy after all. Maybe the Mayans really did know something. Maybe the History Channel is actually helping us rather than just scaring us with all of its doomsday offerings.
People are preparing, they just don’t always talk about it. So who are these people scouring the Web for survival tips while the rest of us are yucking it up on Facebook?
“We get about a ton of traffic at Survive the Apocalypse,” Dyer says. “It’s incredible how many people are interested in what the world will be like when society collapses. I get mail from moms in Belgium, 14-year-olds in Denver and college kids in Australia.
“I try to keep my site fun, entertaining, so that it’s accessible to anyone,” Dyer says. “But, of course, some letters I get are from the die-hards who are writing from their bomb shelters.”
Survival checklist from survivetheapocalypse.net (Number in parentheses indicates importance. A 1 is either not that critical, or only useful in unlikely apocalypse scenarios. If an item is a 5, having it on hand will be the difference between life and death.)
Wool socks (5)
Dust mask (5)
Rain coat (5)
Long underwear (5)
Down coat (5)
Extra socks (4)
Russian bomber hat (3)
Gas mask (necessity depends on calamity)
Dried food for emergencies (5)
Iodine tablets (4)
Pump water purifier (5)
Tools/weapons for the Apocalyptic Wanderer
Fire starters – matches, magnifying glass, magnesium, flint and steel (5)
Phillips and standard screwdriver (5)
Adjustable wrench (5)
2 – 3 gallon cooking pot
First aid kit (5)
Book of edible plant life (4)
Collapsible saw (4)
Hunting knife (4)
Crank flashlight (3)
Can opener (3)
Needle and thread (3)
Fishing line and hooks (2)
Small radio (2)
Wool blanket (3)
Boot laces (4)
Canteen for water (5)
Canteen for fuel (5)
Apocalypse flix and lit
“This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper.” – T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men.”
I believe the first end-of-the-world movie I ever saw was the 1971 film “Omega Man,” with Charlton Heston. One man left alive on the planet to do battle with night-dwelling weirdos. Very creepy.
Of course, over the past couple years, you couldn’t throw a box of popcorn at a movie screen without hitting an apocalyptic thriller. Blame the Mayan calendar for a lot of that. With so many people preoccupied with the end-of-days forecast by those ancient people, the Hollywood executives went nuts. There’s “2012,” there’s “The Road” and there’s “Book of Eli,” all recent movies dealing with the topic in their own special ways.
My personal favorite piece of doomsday fiction is Stephen King’s “The Stand,” the book, not the movie.
What does the expert say? Nick Dyer, of survivetheapocalypse.net, is unambiguous about his favorite.
“‘The Road,'” by Cormac McCarthy,” says Dyer, of Minnesota. “It was the first, and maybe only, piece of fiction that showed a realistic vision of the apocalypse. There are no crazy cars, sawed-off shotguns or zombies. It’s a brutal story, but one of my favorites.”
“I am Legend,” Richard Matheson’s novel that spawned a zillion movies.
“On the Beach,” a 1951 film, based on the Nevil Shute novel, starring Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins.
“Planet of the Apes,” the 1968 film based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, featuring the memorable team of Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, as well as the timeless line “Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty ape!”