Grandma Was a Survivalist Nutjob.

by Chris Warren

Recently my area received about fourteen inches of snow, with high winds, drifting, and below zero temperatures. That kind of weather does not go unnoticed around here, but it’s not considered world-stopping either, or at least it should not be.

Local news reporting about the weather invariably includes “man on the street” interviews of people digging their cars out and boasting about how hardy we are in the northern Midwest. Yes, we’re real badasses up here: We put our boots on and dig out with a smile. We fill outdoor NFL stadiums on sub-zero wind chill days. Even the pizza delivery guys keep truckin’, although don’t expect thirty minutes from order to doorbell. Facebook is full of swagger about how we denizens of the North brave the winter while mocking places like Atlanta because they close the schools over a quarter inch of snow. There is a certain proud vibe, a cool factor, about living in a place that gets hard weather.

One would think that people who talk big about their ability to live in the Land of the Frozen Chosen would be a little more circumspect, anticipating heavy weather and preparing themselves for the likelihood that at least for the short term they will be on their own. But the freak-out that unfolds at the grocery store every time Old Man Winter craps on us would make the Atlanta folks look like Eagle Scouts.

I stopped at the store, not as a would be participant in any hoarding party, but to simply go about my usual business and pick up the same items I normally do. The cars in the parking lot were not lined up in neat rows. The snow obscured the painted parking spaces so everyone made their best guess. The guesses were mostly wrong; had the cars not been nice, newer models, the place could have been mistaken for a junkyard of vehicles dumped at random. This was foretelling of what was inside.

It was easier to discern the situation by what was not there than by what was. The bread and milk sections were thin, as they always are when bad weather hits. What is it about snow storms that makes everyone have a craving for milk and bread? Almost all the other stock was visibly run down, especially the canned soups and other heat-and-eat foods. The deli was so crowded people were standing in line to take a number. The supermarket was not totally bare, but it was obvious the place needed to reload. The evil twin of just in time inventory is stores having almost nothing more than what is on the shelves. The weakness is usually invisible to consumers, until delivery trucks are delayed or everyone suddenly decides at once they need milk and bread and canned soup.

All this chaos was triggered by one weekend snow storm that by Midwestern standards was fairly common. The irony of those who freely boast about their mettle yet become unglued when faced with the possibility of not being able to go out for a day or two is both amusing and unsettling. The unwashed truth is that there are a lot of people who themselves practice a form of personal “just in time” restocking: They keep very little at home and don’t buy anything until it’s needed.

Knowing I live amongst people who are one roll of toilet paper away from a second career as zombies when “shit hits the fan” is nothing to take lightly. As recent history has repeatedly shown (Hurricanes Katrina & Sandy, public water outage in West Virginia, banking collapses in Greece, Cyprus, and Venezuela), interruptions in the supply chain or the banking system turns otherwise sensible, law-abiding citizens into desperate criminals. This is not tin foil hat pining. I personally know folks who do not have even one working flashlight in their house. Their idea of “preparing” is to change the batteries in the smoke detector…after it’s been chirping for a week. Am I supposed to believe that when the last ramen noodle is gone they are going to sit quietly in their houses and wait for the government to save them?

Popular TV shows about those getting ready for doomsday go out of their way to feature people who are on the edge of the bell curve because, of course, it’s TV. The “preppers” may be over the top themselves but the root idea of what they are doing and why they are doing it make perfect down to earth sense. I get it that not everyone has a hundred acres in the woods and their own well. Is it out of reach for the average suburbanite to have enough food, fuel, and firearms to hold out for at minimum a week or two?

Guns are a touchy subject only to those with an irrational phobia of inanimate objects. Get over it while you still have the chance. Thugs will be totally comfortable with killing your children over a can of Spaghetti-Os. How comfortable are you with stopping them? As the saying goes, “when seconds count, the police are minutes away.” And in a widespread emergency, they might be hours or days away, or never come at all. The biggest barrier to getting prepared is coming to the very nervous admission that civilization could go poof in the first place, and that by default means you will have to provide for most if not all of your own needs, including security. If you cannot get that concept firmly planted in your brain, then you wasted your time reading this far.

Our grandmothers used to maintain a full pantry not only for lean times but also because back in the day it wasn’t easy to run to the store three times a week. In just one generation, being prepared has gone from a sensible, normal lifestyle to television spectacle. I can’t speak for everyone’s elders, but my grandma would probably keep a gentle outward countenance while chuckling inside at people who, when faced with any modest threat, will run out and grab up all the milk and bread, then cuddle in a warm blanket at home and deride television preppers who are not too crazy to see that grandmother was right the whole time.