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End Times? Not Around Here!

It sometimes seems to me that I am observing two separate worlds living under the same sky: One that believes in the immanent end of the world, Armageddon, The Apocalypse and all that, and everyone else.

The Apocalyptics love to go on and on about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and how everyone should be churched and bunkered and armed with spiritual as well as actual firearms. They shiver in fearful delight as they read fictional end of the world stories that are on religious best seller lists, talk about being raptured to heaven and all the rest.

That sort of thing has died back a little- at least around these parts, and I think I know the reasons why: Y2K, and the Ice Storm of 2000/1.

Let’s face it: Y2K would have bombed if it were a movie. Nothing happened! No blackouts, major computer crashes, riots, communication failures, planes falling from the sky…just more than the usual number of fireworks being shot off, and bigger January First hangovers. I am sure there were a lot of disappointed people hunkering in various bunkers, quietly calculating the resale value of their property and disaster kit.

The Ice Storm of 2000/1 was an entirely different matter. With Y2k safely behind, people gathered for the holidays to celebrate family togetherness in the holiday spirit. And on Christmas Eve, the nastiest ice storm ever to plague central Arkansas struck, plunging the state into icy darkness. Tree limbs went off like gunshots, along with most of the power lines and transformers. The phone, cable, and electrical grid was totally shredded- even major transmission lines broke under the weight of the ice.

Roads were ice rinks, and suddenly, people were trapped in their homes. 2000, for many, became the year of the blackout Christmas, with only their fireplaces to light and warm their homes. Stores were closed due to no power and downed trees and icy roads. Radio and TV stations were off the air. Arkansas became an island of disaster in the middle of the holidays.

It was cold enough outside that people emptied their refrigerators and stashed their contents in carports and on patios to freeze outside. Candles, lanterns, and batteries vanished from the few stores that were open. People huddled at home in the cold dark, experiencing what Urban Camping was like- their once warm homes suddenly a harsh, alien place. Any motel or hotel with power quickly filled up.

For most people, this event lasted nearly a week. One week – and sometimes more without power, phone, or cable. They had gotten a taste of raw disaster, and were heartily sick of it.

For weeks after, the sound of chainsaws and generators filled the air in the city as tree crews cut down the many victims of the heavy ice, and isolated pockets of people waited for the power crews to replace suddenly scarce transformers and power lines.

Talk of Armageddon and Apocalypse really died back after this- the people of our state had been given a taste of genuine disaster, and it was bitter in their mouths. Memories of cold darkness make the cozy fiction a lot less palatable.

I think that many who speak of disasters with that odd note of anticipation in their voices have never endured one. Never had a blizzard, hurricane, flood, fire, or tornado shred their lives or their world. Those who have listen to the eager blather with a haunted look to their faces, remembering the sight of a home without a roof, or a truck with a tree on it, or animals floating by in a flood. I think of the eight feet of snow that trapped me and my colleagues on a mountaintop in Germany during a military exercise, and how it took nearly a week to dig us out. Or the pile of pine needles burying my car after Hurricane Elena ravaged Biloxi and Gulfport, MS in 1985.

Disaster? No thanks. I’ve had enough. They may make chilling fiction, but even that loses its bite after a taste of the real thing. I’ll keep my life nice and quiet, without disasters, and remain vigilant. Bet I have more candles than you’ll ever have!

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