Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hatching a plan, of sorts



     We live about a block from the railroad tracks—really as close as a person wants his house to be. Very convenient when it comes to walking to the train station, which is maybe a block and a half away. Close enough that, as long as the bells aren't actually ringing when I leave the house, I know I'll make it at a brisk stroll. Though a heavy freight train can rattle our windows, I think that is more a function of dry, ancient window frames.
      Heading to the dry cleaners Saturday morning—we're also close to downtown, and I like to walk on errands— I waited while these  ominous black tanker cars rumbled by, with their red "FLAMMABLE" diamonds, and thought about the derailment in Slinger, Wisconsin last Sunday. Nobody was hurt, but 4,000 gallons of fuel spilled, and 100 nearby residents were evacuated, for their own safety, while they cleaned it up.
      I've thought, over the years, we should have some kind of emergency plan, a bug-out bag ready to go when I hear the defending crash and see the fireball swirling up into the sky a block east. But then I try to think what would be in that bag. A change of clothes? A few bottles of water. Power bars. Money. Socks.
      It seems so trivial. And then the bag would sit there, taking up room, caution incarnate. And then, should a train accident happen, which it won't, we wouldn't be home, or we'd grab the dog, pile in the car and bolt, forgetting the bag. They sell clothes in plenty of places, and power bars, and bottles of water too. Heck, the Red Cross would give those out. As long I had my wallet—which wouldn't be a in the bug-out bag anyway—we'd all be okay wherever we went.  Slap down the Mastercard. Send the bill to the Canadian National Railway. A true blessing. Trying to take plan to take the sting out of any future happenstance, well, it seems like gilding the lilly. So we'll take our chances, unprepared.
       Which I suppose is a plan of sorts. A plan not to have a plan. An acknowledgement that Fate will toss her dice and our little bag won't help us. We plan so we feel we have a bit of control over events that we really have no control over at all. Our plan is to understand that. 

17 comments:

  1. Hah! Interesting. I've lived near the BNSF Metra line for 14 years, and near an Indiana Harbor Belt line for 5 of those 14, and had similar thoughts. What if a horrific accident occurs? Well, in the end, you'll deal with it, and if it's the sort of thing that's life-threatening and you didn't see it coming...well. then you'll never know. So it goes!

    Of course, you, Neil, put it so much more eloquently!

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  2. This may not come as a great shock Neil, but you would make a piss poor "doomsday prepped". Your column lacks the requisite paranoia, magical thinking and ego-driven bravado.

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  3. I don't think it's trivial - a few bottles of water (people can go well over a week without food), duck tape, a good knife/multitool and a couple of large black garbage bags IS trivial - you probably already have everything but the $5 worth of water. The point isn't to survive the apocalypse, the point is to get through 2-3 days if necessary, which is pretty much the longest survival situation the U.S. has faced saved some in New Orleans after Katrina (for whom the above items would have been a godsend).

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    1. Right, but leaving our block, where are we going to go where we won't get water. Those items were a godsend in New Orleans to people trapped in the Superdome.

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    2. To the half-dozen people who died of natural causes at the Superdome it might have been. Or to those trying making their way to shelter (Superdome or other), some water and a black garbage bag to use as a poncho might well have been very welcome. More mundane: didn't Deerfield go an entire weekend last year with no safe tap water because a feces test turned up positive? Yeah, you could boil it, but I'd have felt better knowing I had a few jugs in-hand and avoiding the hassle and "ew" factor (boiled or not). And yeah, in your scenario eventually somebody is going to set up something to hand out water for those trying to get away from the crash (btw I'd be more worried about what I was breathing than the fire) but imagine this is going on during a 90+ degree heatwave and there is lots of confusion - seems like a lot of needless misery/worry because I didn't want to keep a gallon of water handy. Actually, some sunscreen in the bag might be the best survival item!

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    3. One of my rules is to never fuck with another man's fantasy, so yes, my God, a few gallons of water are just the thing. We actually have a fridge full of water bottles in the basement. But that's because we all use them constantly, hiking and playing ball and such. They aren't salted away against the apocalypse, but if that's what you prefer, please, be my guest.

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    4. We get bottled water delivered every month, and I get teased because I like to keep a few 5-gallon bottles in reserve, just in case of....I don't know. A false sense of security I guess. Hope I never find out :)

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    5. Neil, FWIW, I don't think the vibrating has anything to do with the quality of your window frames. My office is in Deerfield, in a new, pristine building with steel window frames (most of them unopenable), and I can still feel it when loaded tanker cars roll by.

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  4. "Caution incarnate" puts one in mind of Christopher Isherwood chastising in verse a very hapless bird for its lack of foresight. Planning for disaster is not an exact science.

    " The common cormorant or shag
    Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
    The reasoning you will see, no doubt,
    It is to keep the lightning out.
    But what these unobservant birds
    Have never noticed is that herds
    Of wandering bears may come with buns
    And steal the bags to hold the crumbs."

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  5. Neil,

    If worst comes to worst, come on down to the Springfield area. As empty nesters, we have the room and we welcome dogs. I even have a local wifi network and a high speed connection to the web and so you'd be set with your column and blog. :-)

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  6. People like you with resources in the form of money or connections don't really need much of a plan for situations like this. For example, most people I knew in Deerfield didn't have to worry about having boiled water, their friends or relative in neighboring communities simply helped them, invited them to dinner etc...We had our relatives over that weekend. They showered here, ate with us etc...They reported every one of the their neighbors was also at the home of a friend or relative doing the same.

    I knew several families who were in New Orleans during Katrina. Their friends and relative in other states invited them into their home and they had the money (or the credit) to travel to them. At work, we banded together to bring the family of a admin. assistant to the Chicago area and helped them with the necessities til they could get on their feet. It's people without these sorts of resources either in terms of money OR simply good connections that ended up in the Superdome. That's unlikely to happen to someone like you who has access those resources at least some of them.

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    1. Don't you mean, "People like us with resources...."?

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    2. Yes. Fortunate people like you and me. It's one of the big differences between the haves and have nots.

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  7. I'm surprised you didn't get more static from the safety belt - bike helmet obsessives. My plan has almost always been a "no plan" plan. Can't say it's worked out all that well.
    John

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  8. In the unlikely event, buy some fresh cut from the florist. Tulips are always in style. Skip the wrapping paper and go with a simple knot. Metra/Amtrak are reliable partners, don't stress over imaginings, a teacher once told me.

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  9. I still have an unopened sleeping bag, a water purifier, long-burn emergency candles and some cans of tuna from the Y2K apocalypse......guess that could always be used.

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