The Day the Dollar Died (Part XVII)
XVII. Black Ice
Filed under: The Day The Dollar Died Series
by John Galt
February 11, 2010
February 26, 2010 05:01 A.M. Central Time (Fergus Falls, MN)
The doorbell rang but Mike was already standing there waiting anxiously, having watched the Home Guard escort and OEC assistant walk up the driveway after parking their Humvee at the street. “You do not have a clue as to how close you came to being shot gentlemen,” Mike spoke slowly so they would not doubt his intentions, “people who normally hop my gate get dropped right there in these times. Have you gentlemen lost your mind?” The Home Guard officer was all business and completely professional, first apologizing for the incursion then sticking his hand out, “Mike, my name is Lieutenant Frank Smith, Minnesota Home Guard Western Region Transport Escort Officer. My job is to protect the truckers and rails and to ensure you get form the origin to destination unscathed and home again to your wife. We have had issues as you are well aware but the new convoy system is almost foolproof and you we feel much safer as we get America back to work and resupplied.”
Mike was impressed by someone who at least sounded like they had a clue, then again he had greenhorns in ‘Nam that graduated from ROTC talking crap also thus he was polite, yet firm in his reply. “Sir, just why am I being ‘volunteered’ back to work? I have a farm, a wife and a lot to lose here if something happens to me on the road,” Mike asked using his thousand yard stare to see what this man was made of. The Lieutenant was ready for it and politely and professionally replied, “Sir, I do not know how much information you have at hand. But our nation is teetering on the edge of disaster and that is why every able-bodied man, woman and child will be asked to sacrifice and help the cause. This is no longer about politics, political parties or some high minded ideals that people used to debate on those stupid talk radio shows. This is about saving Mother America and preserving what is left or our society for a chance to rebuild the future. In less than just seven days we have the entire transportation network in total disarray, the supply chain destroyed and major cities within seventy-two hours of running out of food and essentials. I am here to insure you make it to the Hormel plant in Austin which has been cranking out a special government order of canned hams for Memphis, TN which is practically shut down due to terrorist attacks and rioting. We have to get food down there and my job is to help get this one hundred and twenty truck convoy down there in one piece.”
That explanation was good enough for Mike who felt a little touched, but still distrustful of the real motives. “I’ll go warm the truck up, but I need something from you,” he started to tell the young officer, “I need some method to stay in contact with my wife while I am on the road. I’ll be damned if we’re not going to stay in touch with each other.” The Home Guard officer reached into his coat pocket and grabbed a laminated white card and handed to Mike and his wife. “Enter the code into your phone and press send,” Lieutenant Smith told them, “and do not lose these cards because if this code is used by more than twenty different numbers then it is deactivated.” Mike put the card in his wallet and then it hit him when he glanced up, “You mean the phone system is still working? All of these people out here in the middle of nowhere are out of touch with their friends and family because of some government control system?” The officer just nodded and replied, “Let’s get going, we have a lot of miles to cover by Sunday morning.”
After the truck was warmed up, they pulled out and back on to the interstate Mike performed a radio check with the lead Humvee which was part of their escort. The voice replied back to him to stay tuned to channel 34 and have his cell phone nearby in case further instructions needed to be relayed. Their first stop was at the small town of Avon where ten more trucks were to meet them and join the convoy heading to the plant. After the meeting at six-thirty in the small town the drive past Minneapolis was almost surreal. The entire left lane on Interstate 94 and 494 was cleared with the military checkpoints very visible at the exits. “So that’s how they are doing it,” Mike said to himself, “they’ve closed almost exit ramp and left only one or two open with hardened checkpoints.” The barbed wire along the interior walls and wooded areas along the interstate glistened with the icicles already hanging from them but as they crossed the I-394 cloverleaf interchange, Mike felt almost ill to his stomach. There were burned out cars everywhere, at least fifteen or twenty, some shot up, others it appeared were just maliciously set on fire to block the road. “I wonder who won the firefight,” he thought to himself.
The Austin, Minnesota Hormel plant was a legendary place for any trucker who worked out this state but Mike’s experiences there were shaken when the Lieutenant keyed up the radio and announced that they would go in through the main entrance at Hormel Drive and to have their D-Cards and CDL’s ready to present to the Home Guard security team. One of the other drivers apparently did not grasp the importance of speaking only when spoken to and was warned immediately when he tried to communicate with the old gate Citizen’s Band channel asking what dock he was supposed to go to. Mike had been to this plant hundreds of times but the appearance of Bradley armored vehicles around the perimeter and the M-60 tank at the main gate made him realize just how much the nation had changed in less than a week. The check in procedure took about five minutes which shocked the old hand at this but Mike realized that time was crucial and once he was assigned a door he backed in and chocked the wheels waiting on instructions. Lieutenant Smith walked up to his door and introduced Mike to Sergeant Al Wilsheski and handed what appeared to be a bill and instruction packet to him.
Smith began to speak, “Mike, meet Al, your shotgun escort for this trip. I hope you don’t mind the rider but we are putting a Home Guard escort on every vehicle. He will handle all of your communications, navigation and insure you arrive in one piece at the destination. There are no hours of service regulations nor weight restrictions so I hope your truck can handle fifty-four thousand pounds of canned hams. The only reason this convoy will stop will be to refuel, refresh, hit the restroom or in case of protective necessity.” As Al shook Mike’s hand the old salt could not resist, “You mean ambush, not protective nonsense don’t you sir?” The Lieutenant just shook his head and before he walked away reminded Mike that the muster point was on Eighth Avenue and when the convoy was complete they would hit I-90 eastbound towards Wisconsin then south. “Al, maybe you can explain this map to me,” Mike said as he unpacked the pile of paperwork, “Why are the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Springfield and Memphis highlighted in dark red hashes with the word warning in the markings?” The Sergeant, apparently a vet from somewhere recently began his reply guardedly, “Sir, all I can tell you is that those areas are Federalized Military Districts and they are to be avoided unless you are provided with proper escort. Our route will evade the threats and insure that we arrive at the final destination at Camp Delta Charlie Memphis Nine within sixteen hours. If anything happens along the way, you will be protected by myself and one of the dozen escort vehicles. I will be in the truck in front of yours. I don’t think you need anyone to tell you how to drive sir.” Mike thanked the Sergeant and leaned back in his seat. He couldn’t wait to tell his loving wife about what he had seen in Minneapolis and the weird behavior of the plant workers at Hormel.
“Attention, attention, all units in convoy designated one-three-three, a weather update has been received, ” the voice crackled over the C.B. radio, “light snow through Rockford, Illinois but the threat of black ice persists between Peoria and Champaign so we may have to run the St. Louis route. We will stop in Peoria and update all units at that break point in the route.” Mike looked over at the Sergeant and said, “Do you mind if I just call you Al? Because saying Sarge every time I open my mouth reminds me of the aggravation I had when they called me that in ‘Nam.” Sergeant Wilsheski looked over at Mike and politely replied, “That’s no problem sir. I hope you do not mind if I keep some answers to myself or refuse to answer some questions. We are under strict orders from Greenbrier and have to insure security remains air tight at all times. Mike just nodded and muttered, “Black ice, just freaking great. Ambushes and ice, just what every American truck driver dreams of.”
February 26, 2010 09:40 A.M. Eastern Time
Sandy was relieved to see her mom at the supper table sipping on some coffee but not thrilled to see the demeanor on her face. “Mom, what’s wrong,” she asked innocently, “Why the scowl?” Lillian was never one to keep a secret nor her mouth shut, “Sandy, you need to get Tom up and in here to listen to this. The situation around here has changed drastically and we need to get out of here quickly.” Sandy went into the bedroom and woke up a rather grumpy husband, dragging him to the kitchen table to hear what her mother had to say. “Children, you’re the love of my life,” she started, “but we are either getting the hell out of here together or I’m leaving without you. I managed to find some real news and discussions from amateur radio operators last night and there was no danged plane crash in College Park last night, the night before or ever. These two hams were talking and it turns out that that was the Southlake Mall burning to the ground as it was some sort of temporary jail and the prisoners rioted. There were over forty prisoners killed, hundreds wounded during the riot and escape attempt and at least ten or fifteen guards are known dead. The situation here is spiraling out of control. After some of the prisoners escaped some sort of organized unit his the propane tanks a few miles away and set several warehouses full of chemicals like pool chemicals and stuff on fire after looting whatever was worth taking. This is not some random act of just gang violence as some of the gang members fought with the outside group calling them racists and worse. Apparently this is far from being resolved and there are over four thousand soldiers being deployed around here right this minute. We need to go to my cousin’s place in south Georgia and fast.”
Tom was wide awake on that last comment. “Mom,” he began, “even if we drain all of the gas out of all the vehicles, lawn mower, weed whacker and cans we may only make it two hundred miles. And what happens if we get stopped by the military or whatever is out there? We have your pistol and that is it to defend ourselves.” Lillian looked down at the holster on the table and folded her hands. “Son, you have to do something right this minute, just for me,” she paused and took a sip of coffee then continued, “grow a damned pair boy and right this minute. Or would you rather find out what happens when a gang-banger takes your wife and I out into the woods while they play target practice on your cowardly butt?” This caused Sandy to grab her husband’s wrist as his face turned bright red and he started to vent his frustration, “Now listen here old lady, I’ve been keeping this family alive and well for years now. And if you think you’re going to order me around in my house then you have another thing coming. We could just as easily run into a gang out on the highway and then what? If you have a plan, let’s see it, otherwise, let’s hunker down in the house!”
Lillian took her glasses off and started to grin. “Sport, let’s plan this together. The ham operators were real, one was in Kennesaw reporting on a stream of trucks and soldiers heading into Atlanta and the other was out in Douglasville talking about the burning of a local grocery store with the owner still in it. There are riots breaking out around Atlanta and once they are through attacking the stores that are close by they are heading out this way, heck, you know it, I know it. If we do this right we can get to her farm just south of McRae by four or five and have food, water, shelter and protection from the hordes. It’s your call, I’ll find a way out with or without you. But the gun goes wherever I go.” Tom leaned back in his seat, his wife still clutching his wrist and sliding down to his hand. She appeared to be very close to tears and Tom wanted to do what was smart but with no information other than what he used to call his ‘crazy mother-in-l;aw’ providing in detail, Sandy knew he was hesitant to act. Sandy started to speak, “Uh, I would like to put my two cents into this discussion, please….” Before she could finish the sentence and the thought Tom piped up, “Honey, your mom is right. If we don’t bug out now while confusion reigns, we may not have another chance. I’ll be in the garage draining everything into the gas cans. Don’t pack more than five days worth of clothing and only the ultimate valuables in packages we can hide inside the truck. Mom, get some maps, please, and get back on that radio of yours. I’ll grab another pack of batteries for you. And one of y’all get some water and food ready for a three day trip, just in case.”
Lillian smiled from ear to ear and set about to do her fair share of the chores for this trip. She dug out an Atlas from Tom’s desk which was well over ten years old so she tossed it aside hoping he had one map made in this decade at least. As she dug through the desk she found one that was made in 2005 which was good enough for her to mark up. From listening to the hams the last two nights she knew which roads were supposedly safe as she wanted to get down south as quick as she could to be with the members of the family she knew could hold out with plenty of food and water for years if need be. As she grabbed a highlight pen and started marking the back road route through little towns like Johnstonville, Box Ankle, Dudley, and Chauncey, Lillian began to realize that this could easily turn into a seven hour trip if they ran into check points or trouble. She dug around in the desk and found a fresh set of batteries and put them into her good shortwave radio that she never told Tom that she had brought with her. The Grundig was about three years old now but took care of business and she put it in the kitchen with the whip extended scanning the ham bands for locals who might be trying to get the word out.
The freezer was full of ice as Tom figured early on that electricity might be a challenge after his adventure at WalMart earlier in the week. “Good boy,” Lillian muttered to herself. She started to sort out how much ice she would need by putting chunks of ice into Ziploc bags and setting them inside a large ice chest. She grabbed the leftover ham from last night’s dinner, some unopened lunch meat, two packages of hot dogs in the freezer, and all the bread that was left and eggs packed gently on top of the chest to keep them from getting crushed. The four bottles of water in the refrigerator were set inside a plastic grocery bag separate from the food as she did not care about keeping the water cool, she just wanted jugs or other things to load up more water. She found a half gallon jug of iced tea and promptly dumped it into the sink to fill it with water. Lillian then grabbed some of the cans of dry food Tom brought home the other night plus the only can of corned beef in the house, threw them into a burlap bag and carried all of this stuff out to the garage. “Tom, I’m sorry I snapped at you,” Lillian began peering at him over the hood of the SUV, “I am just scared for what is left of my family and wanted to get you stirred up into a course of action.” Tom finished dumping the gasoline from the Weedeater into his second gas can and looked back at his mother-in-law grinning a little bit then replying, “Mom, you’re all right. I know what you were doing and I was a total horse’s ass when this started. I should have seen it coming but my laziness and pigheadedness kept me from seeing the big world. I love you too Mom. Now get me some more jugs of water!” Lillian burst out laughing as she walked into the house and told him “Okay, okay, I’m back at it boss!”
Sandy had finished packing everything she could or thought was crucial for the months ahead when she stepped out into the kitchen to see her mom slaving away and pausing on occasion as the radio stopped during some Morse code or conversation in the ham bands. The activity was sparse which surprised Sandy but what shocked her more was the radio she never knew about so she had to ask, “Mom, what is a Satellit 800? And when did you get the money to buy this radio?” Lillian turned around and said in a hurry, “On eBay two years ago honey, now do you have any more plastic milk or water jugs laying around? We only have four gallons of water so far and I would like to have more.” Sandy stared at her blankly for a second trying to figure out which subject to address first then softly said, “Uh, no Momma. I don’t think we have any more. But we can take the two three liter bottles of pop I have in the pantry and drink that instead.” Lillian whipped around and grabbed the first store brand bottle and opened it dumping the contents into the sink. While it was draining she grabbed the second one and as she popped it open her daughter gasped out “Mom! What are you doing?” Lillian ignored the pleas and dumped the second bottle yelling back, “Making water jugs. Got more pop?”
After everything was packed, the gun securely placed in Lillian’s purse and the radio hidden inside the tire compartment in the back of the SUV so it would not be a tempting target for thieves or those Home Guard goons she had heard so many horrible things about on the radio. “Mom, are you ready to go? I’m going to lock up every part of this house and board the front door up from the inside, maybe, hopefully, ah, who am I kidding,” Tom said to his elder. Lillian laughed and told him, “You ought to set the alarm system. So if they break in maybe they’ll get shot by one of the new goon squads.” Tom laughed and agreed as they finished loading everything into the truck. It was time to leave and get out of their home for so many years and pray they could make this trip in less than six hours. Sandy sat in the back seat, tears streaming down her face as they backed out of the garage, “Tom, please stop for a second. I want to pray for all of us.” Tom put the truck into park and turned around the best he could in his seat and said to his lovely wife, “Please don’t stop praying honey, they may ration that also the way things are going. We’re going to need it for this trip.”
February 26, 2010 11:45 A.M. Central Time, Pine Bluff, AR
“Padre, it’s time.” The guard called him out as he unlocked the holding cell the Pastor was shoved into with twenty other men to be released. It had started to get a bit ripe and this Home Guard escort seemed a lot less talkative and all business. Pastor Lewis spoke to him as they walked down the hallway, “Son, may I ask you a question?” The guard nodded his head “no” and stopped in front of a large steel door where he punched a code in and it opened where there was a restroom with a shower and a jump suit with”IP” stenciled on the back of it. “Sir, you are to shave, shower and do whatever else you need to within the next ten minutes. I will return to escort you to exit processing and transport from here in exactly ten minutes,” the guard said and he turned and walked back to the holding cell. The cold water was better than none and Pastor Lewis hurried through his shave and shower, desperate to warm up and get home. As he finished dressing and putting the white slip on Keds tennis shoes on, the guard banged on the door and before he could say a word the Pastor yelled out “Ready!” and opened the door.
The guard pointed him to the door and said to him, “Put this badge on and do not remove it unless instructed to.Go to tent nine on the left. Stay on the white line painted on the ground and follow the signs. Check in with the duty officer and give him this badge and they will finish processing you.” The Pastor nodded in acknowledgment, then stopped for a second and said to the guard, “I’ll be praying for you son.” He then opened the door to the blinding light of day and looked for a sign to tent number nine so he could get out of this place.
“Ah, tent nine,” the Pastor sighed. He opened the flap and was promptly admonished for not knocking first so he stepped back outside, shut the flap and knocked on a piece of wood where the words “KNOCK HERE FOR SERVICE” was hastily painted. “Come in now please,” the voice inside said as the Pastor entered the tent, “and sit down right over there.” The Pastor followed the instructions and looked at the young man with the buzz cut and the wire frame glasses. He did not think this man could possibly have been a military man, at least not a career man as he was barely five foot five and weighed less than some dogs he’s owned, or so he figured. “Pastor Lewis, front and center,” the little man yelled out. Pastor Lewis stood up, walked to the table and stood in front of the little man and then started to speak, “Sir, should I sit or…” The little man sneered and snapped back, “First, you’re not going to sit unless you say please. Second, you’re not going to be allowed to ask to sit unless you get behind the white line and stand inside that circle in front of the table. Lastly, if you even attempt to preach, say you’re blessing me or try to convince me that you’re just doing God’s work, I’ll send you back to the stockade where you can freeze with the other scum.” The Pastor was stunned by the bitterness from this man and felt compelled to speak as he stepped back into the circle, “You do not have to be hostile sir, I’ve been charged with no crime. What is your badge number, I feel you may need to be reported to your superiors for your horrible attitude towards your fellow Americans.”
That tripped the clerk’s trigger immediately and he started to turn red in the face and scream, “Look you zealot my name is 133974 and that’s all the crap you need to know. I know your type and you’re the reason this nation is a mess. You take your preaching ways and shut them up now or you’ll find trouble. I may not be an officer but I have the final say in the exit interview and I can make you believe in hell on earth.” The Pastor was biting his lip but now he felt compelled to speak, “Then send me back to the stockade. I would rather preach and pray with my fellow man as we freeze to death than live in your Godless world of sin and shame. God is on my side my little number man.”
The little clerk had heard enough,”GUARD! ESCORT THIS MAN BACK TO THE STOCKADE! The charge will be religious zealotry and attempting to proselytize to a government official. I will file the paperwork tomorrow or the next day if this animal is still alive.” The Pastor could not resist tweaking this enraged bureaucrat a little bit more as the guard grabbed his arm to pull him out of the tent, “I shall pray for you the entire time I am back there. If you’d like we can sing a hymn together if you visit me.”
Friday February 26, 2010 8:05 A.M. Mountain Time
Wendy settled in at her desk as a county clerk trying to figure out how the new rules would apply processing requests for building permits in the community. Now that she had to submit everything with five copies, one to her supervisor, one to the In-Process file, one to the Environmental Impact Division, one to the Federal District Office in Denver and one to the Home Guard Revenue Accounting Office (HGRAO), the job had become long, drawn out and worse time consuming. She sighed as she remembers just two weeks ago processing up to five permit requests per day but now because of the HGRAO she could submit the same application three or four times before it was accepted and the applicant would have no clue as to why so much information was needed.
The phone rang and it was the Human Resources Officer, Candy Steinburg according to the caller ID. Her calling puzzled Wendy as to why there would be any need to talk to her unless her husband needed help with a permit. “Wendy, can you come to my office,” Candy said in her cheerful voice, “and bring the Luttel file please. Wendy said of course and then proceeded to dig out the permit request which was in the pending file. This really bothered her as all this was concerning was a utility shed to be built three hundred yards from their home on their twenty acre farm just southeast of Colorado Springs.
“Hi Candy, you wanted to see the Luttel file?” Wendy said as she walked into the office. “Please sit down Wendy, we need to have a discussion about this application and a major issue which has arisen,” Candy said in a very firm tone of voice. As Wendy sat down a gentleman in a suit shut the door and locked it then drew the blinds to the office so there was complete privacy. “Ms. Listels, my name is Frank Luttel and you are in a world of trouble young lady. I am with the Department of Homeland Security, Economic Enforcement Division.” The man was tall and firm, intimidating poor Wendy with the fluorescent light shining off his balding head and gold wire frame glasses, huge furry eyebrows and crooked mouth, the almost perfect illustration of how to find a lawyer or accountant to intimidate the unprepared in her mind. “Sir, what in the world are you talking about and just what division is that? I’ve already spoken with agents from the OES and they handled my problem for me,” Wendy replied. Frank sat down on Candy’s desk, one leg dangling so as to give Wendy the impression this was an interrogation, “Yes, we are aware of that as is your boss and it is Candy who oversees these matters for government officials now. What if all of us behaved as you did Ms. Listels, what kind of example would that set?” Wendy turned pale and started to feel her eyes well up with tears but before she could say another word, Candy interrupted, “Wendy, stay calm, we’re going to solve this problem for you today once and for all.”
“Sir,” Wendy began, “I know this has to be your permit, but I’m not holding it up, I swear!” Frank bent over and grinned, “But you can speed it up. Here’s how it works. You contact HGRAO and tell them that this is now a second level priority permit for another HSA official. They will release it back to you with an approval within seven days. The same for the Environmental department and you should be good to go. The Federal Division is for record keeping only and that means I can start building in ten to twenty days, weather permitting.” Wendy leaned back in her chair stuttering, “But, but, I don’t have that kind of power. Do I? I am only a permit clerk.” Mr. Luttel stood up and spoke softly, “Government has always worked this way. You make the calls, you get it done. If I have a permit in seven days, your criminal record is expunged as it never happened. I can’t refund the money but if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. And Candy here has agreed to hold the entry into your permanent record for seven days if you pull this off.” Wendy was exasperated at the sudden stroke of good fortune and then realized what he said and turned angry almost immediately raising her voice and staring at Candy, “What criminal record? I didn’t commit a crime!” Frank pulled a folder off of Candy’s desk holding his hand as if to silence the H.R. director and putting his stern tone back into play, “Ms. Listels you were charged and convicted of Merchant Harassment and Filing a False Violations Report. When you agreed to pay the fines, that was an admission of guilt. You can do this my way or Candy’s way which will involve disciplinary action and retraining.” Wendy turned pale again and looked at Candy and Frank and sighed, “Your way does sound better. I’ll get right to work