01 August 20XX
My Dear Lucilius:
My pardon for the lateness of this missive – you will find by the time stamp of this e-mail is late. But today was a day worth speaking to you about now, in the event that there is anything else that you need do as well.
I left early for my monthly shopping trip a little earlier in the month than I typical do, based on last month's experience – my standard Big Box store opens at 0830 and I endeavor to be there as close to the opening time as possible. The only compensation as I leave this early is that the sky goes through all the transitions of the morning as I am on my way. I arrived on time – early enough, in fact, to start with my fuel purchases – only to find men and women with guns there.
The parking lot was already almost full – not just with the cars of shoppers but with the trucks and vehicles of what I assume was the National Guard, escorting traffic, directing people.
I pulled into a line where I waited until I pulled up to a young man, who requested my “Government Issued ID” and my card, both of which he ran through scanner, then returned them with a perfunctory “Thanks” and motioned me on, where I was directed into a parking place and then again directed to what a growing line along the side of the building, pegged out by cones and the occasional soldier – with a gun.
The mood of the line as I got into it was frightened, more than anything else. The conversations were hushed, falling away as the men and women in uniform walked up and down the line. We stood there for twenty minutes or more, watching the parking lot slowly fill up and the line increase.
Finally, the doors on the main entrance rolled up. The crowd started to surge – only to be pushed back by the soldiers. The line then very slowly started moving – by the time I got up to the front I could see why: again, present your ID and your card to a Big Box employee who ran it through the computer while soldiers paced up and down the back. Card and ID handed back, I was informed that I had thirty minutes to shop, starting now. My spending limit was $150, based on the fact that (according to the database) I was a single older man.
As before, the signs were in place on virtually every item for quantities of purchase– although to my mind, they were even more restrictive than the last time I was here. Most things were only an “each” purchase, which in my case made it a little more difficult than usual to reach my “quota.”
The shopping crowd was frenzied – and quiet. Employees stood quietly to the side while more soldiers stood at almost every other intersection, scanning the crowd. There was no conversation except for muttered voices and the occasional apology when carts collided.
What did I buy? Vitamins and Fish Oil A 25 lb bag of rice. A 10 lb box of Oatmeal. A bag of craisins. Toothpaste. Dental Floss. Toilet paper (definitely one each there). And perhaps against my better judgment, a bag of coffee beans – because even if this was the end, I intended to go out with coffee in hand.
The food court, my last usual stop, was closed – I suppose to help enforce the thirty minute time frame. Oddly enough, this is what saddened me the most and perhaps more than anything else, brought the entire alarming nature of the situation to reality – not only because of the tradition, but because of the fact that I had many happy family memories, once upon a time, of going out for hot dogs and pizza as a “big deal” dinner. Those, like so many other things, were suddenly gone.
The line in front of the store was even longer when I left.
Securing fuel was a similar exercise which I will not bore you with: Long lines, ID checks, limited purchase amounts (I managed to fill up my truck but again, no fuel cans).
And suddenly it hit me: This might be the last time ever I came to a city of this size for a very long time.
I found an ATM for my banking consortium. Posed in a handmade sign above the ATM and next to the entrance was sign that withdrawals were limited that day. $200. I was early enough for not a long line, but I still had to wait.
With cash in hand, I went through the thought exercise I had often done many times: What would I buy if I only had one more trip into town? Now, I had to work that exercise out.
The first grocery store I was able to locate, I bought fruit: apples, strawberries, blueberries, anything I could dehydrate. More toothpaste and more dental floss, more vitamins and fish oil. More toilet paper. Dried beans. And two gallons of milk – this might very well be my last cheese making activity.
Down under my driver's seat is my emergency cash for trips. I dug into that and kept going.
Next stop, a feed store. Two bags of pellets for the rabbits, poultry feed for the quail, wood pellets for litter, and whatever hay I could buy. You could tell that there was something up by those that were sensitive to such things (and shopped at these types of stores): seeds, animal feed, tools – all were in short supply.
At this point you may wonder that I have not mentioned anyone else around me. In part that is simply because at this point in the program I was very focused on making sure that I accomplished everything I needed to. But yes, there were many people out in force. The first grocery store I stopped in was not bad, but the second one was a whirlwind of people and purchases and empty shelves. I walked out.
The sporting goods store was a sea of flashing law enforcement lights and people out in front – I debated going in but it simply looked too complex to try to do so – and frankly, with a truck cab full of items I was beginning to become a bit nervous about leaving it for too long. A note to myself to try a store in a smaller town in the next few days.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the oil change I stopped for took no time at all – the lines were virtually non-extant. And at 5,000 miles between changes, it might be a very long time before I needed another one.
My last stop – you will mock me – was the used book store. They were only accepting cash at this point, so my options were limited. They had all the works of Dostoevsky in those cheap paperback Penguin versions. I bought them all.
One more stop at a second fuel station farther out of town that was still accepting cards (with limits on amounts spent) to fill up the truck again and the other fuel can. And in a splurge to myself – perhaps the last one – I stopped at my favorite Chicken restaurant and ordered my favorite chicken sandwich, with the fries and the sweet tea.
The drive home was surreal. Listening to the radio as I drove into the sunset – it had literally taken all day to accomplish this – the voices droned on about some kind of economic crisis, fuel shortage, a possible “banking holiday” based on economic disruptions and national debt. The very sorts of things I gave up thinking about and listening to years ago because I believed I knew where we were headed.
History does not always repeat, but it can rhyme.
The one major town I pass through on my way home was already largely closed when I drove through, although the parking on the main little street was a full as it ever was. The night was still warm when I opened the window. You would hardly have known the day was unlike any other I have seen in all my years.
Arriving home, I did something which was atypical for me in all my years: almost to dark, I knocked on my neighbors door and let them know my experiences. Thankfully I had met them not a month before so they at least remembered me; they thanked me and said they would themselves make a trip tomorrow and spread the word.
And then to home. Everything was unpacked and placed into its storage. Rabbits and quail were looked after (the rabbits received an extra treat for their patience for the day). The dehydrator came out and I sliced all the fruit I had purchased. The milk for the cheese would have to wait for tomorrow.
But I was not yet done.
On to the InterWeb. I checked the balance of my bank account, then went on line and did another round of ordering: Seeds, a few more books, ammunition. On the one hand it drove my thrifty heart mad to spend the funds; on the other, I would rather try now and fail than lose the money without even making the attempt.
And finally, my letter to you.
As I write this, the refrigerator hums on and off. The rabbits quietly eat or lie down, a little confused by this late night light but not unduly disturbed by it. The cup of tea to my right steams and curls, smelling of far off fragrances that I am suddenly questioning if I will ever taste - or even hear of – again.
For all appearances, it is another ordinary (although rather late) night.
But for me, Lucilius, my world has changed. The new range of my travels has become 25 miles or so, which will easily get me to the two next largest towns. That is a 50 mile round trip. I can do the math and figure out how much fuel that will mean and how many trips that is. Before long, that will change to 20 miles round trip – about as far as the Roman legions considered a good march in a day.
My personal horizons collapsed years ago, Lucilius. Now I find that the world's horizons are collapsing as well.
Do what you can now, friend. I will write as long as power and InterWeb exists.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca