The summer of 1996 was a rough season for eastern North Carolina. Hurricane Bertha roared ashore as a Category 2 storm in July, and a soggy month later Hurricane Fran hit even harder as a Category 3 storm. I was with my girlfriend (now wife) and saw 100-year-old oaks drop all around us, crushing cars and apartment buildings. We were without power for most of a week. It left an impression.
We’d graduated and moved to Durham, NC, survived the hysteria of the Y2K scare, and had no reason to expect much of consequence when the local weather told us there was going to be “a couple of inches” of snow the evening of January 24, 2000. When it finally stopped falling the next day, we had 22 inches on our back porch, and I had a very pregnant wife in her third trimester. For most of the next week, we were prisoners in our home.
Shortly after our daughter was born I pursued an opportunity in New York. We were in New Windsor, near Stewart Airport, when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 almost collided overhead. I’ve always thought it would have been better if they had. Shortly afterward, they smashed into the World Trade Center towers and changed our world.
I relate all this merely to establish that my own life experiences have made me very aware of the fact that catastrophic disasters, both man-made and natural, can happen at any time, and anywhere, to anyone. Because of these experiences, I’m sympathetic to the concept of disaster preparation, or “prepping” as a form of life insurance for those you love.
And then there is Doomsday Preppers, the National Geographic Channel hit that returned this week with the premiere episode of its second season (which, bizarrely, is the second episode … don’t ask why). For those of you unfamiliar with the show, I’d describe it as the paranoid version of MTV’s Jersey Shore with dumber livestock.
Preppers is in the very loosest sense “reality television,” in that those people starring in the show aren’t actors, but the scenarios and editing are both contrived and far-fetched, or at least you hope they are. Last season was a train wreck, and if last night’s premiere (second episode?) was an omen of things to come, we can expect more of it this season.
The format of the show breaks an hour-long program into segments focusing on three different sets of preppers, each preparing for some sort of catastrophe.
Last night’s episode was appropriately titled “Am I nuts or are you?” The characters featured were much what you would expect from the title.
Songwriter “Big Al” lives in Nashville, TN, and fears a massive Russian nuclear strike against the United States. For most of us, that fear began fading with the end of the Cold War, but Al thinks our present government is weak (no argument there) and Vladimir Putin just crazy enough to trigger a nuclear war.
To survive the nuclear attack he expects, Al invested in an underground bunker … 1,800 miles away from his home.
Upon hearing that data point, I mostly tuned out Al. I don’t claim to be a nuclear weapons expert, but I’m fairly certain they aren’t typically delivered via mule-pulled carts that would let you trek across half a continent before detonation.
I would note that Al does live in his underground bunker three months a year on a diet of “bunker stew,” so if there was an attack, he does stand a one-in-four chance of actually being there if a nuclear attack occurs. Surviving it is another matter. Al plans to use a wood stove for heating and cooking if the worst happens. In an airtight bunker. At least carbon monoxide poisoning is a less painful way to go than an endless diet of bunker stew.
After Al, we were introduced to Jason Beacham, a 15-year-old young man in rural Missouri prepping for anarchy following an economic collapse. His mother, Shellene Beacham, said Jason had always been a “worrywart,” concerned about things none of his peers are. Were I Shellene, I’d be concerned more about turning her back on Jason than his preparations. As several commenters noted on Twitter during the show, Jason gives off a certain “serial killer in training” vibe, which was not helped in the slightest when he dispassionately informed his long-suffering mother that if the worst happened, he would likely strike out without her, leaving her behind to her fate. His eyes suggested he’d rather be torturing a kitten.
The only two people Jason seems to care about are another pair of knuckleheads his age that he has deduced he can use to further his own survival. Neither one of them has any more sense than he, and during their overnight “field exercise” they almost burned themselves out of a structure they used as a shelter. Dahmer Jr. seems to prefer meals that can set a fire and cook themselves.
Braxton Southwick, wife Kara, and their six kids outside of Salt Lake City are prepping for a biological terror attack, specifically smallpox. Well, Braxton is prepping; his family just seems to humor his eccentricity. Braxton describes smallpox as “the most beautiful biological weapon there is.” I’m hoping it was merely the editing that made it sound as creepy as it did.
The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was in 1977, and it was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1979. There are only two known samples, in the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and in its Russian counterpart. Nonetheless, Braxton plans to bug out to a cabin in the mountains if an outbreak occurs. What the show never explains is how Braxton, a mechanic, will figure out a if smallpox attack occurs before the authorities can lock down his city and block his family’s egress to their mountain cabin.
Bizarrely, despite the seemingly major flaws in each of their plans, the consulting experts on the show have scored each of these preppers with a methodology of their own devising that suggests they’d last months to a year or longer after their disaster d’jour strikes. Do I buy that? Not for a second, though I do give the Southwick family a chance of making it past the first week, by which point Big Al will have self-buried in a carbon monoxide-filled bunker and young Beacham will have choked to death on a meal made from his traveling companions.
I can hardly wait until next week, where we can see what fresh insanity the Preppers strike upon next.
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