Vulnerability

I went to the grocery store yesterday afternoon. I was genuinely out of some things. Namely, vegetables. However, the first flakes were falling for a storm that is expected to last into tomorrow, so the place was fairly busy.

Back in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, news like this would have cleared the grocery stores of milk, bread, and toilet paper. I remember one or two storms that really did shut things down for a few days, but most storms only offered a 50/50 chance at a snow day, let alone the grocery store shutting down. It seems that folks out here have a better grasp of that. Or I missed the rush.

I’d spent the previous 48 hours or so locked in my apartment with nothing but the flu for company. Just in case you weren’t aware, it makes for a lousy companion. However, my inability to do much more than make myself tea and heat up broth did give me some time to think. Between naps, that is. It started with the state of my larder. Basically, it’s your standard bachelor’s larder minus the old take-out meals and probably a few less condiments. I wanted veggies in my soup, and I didn’t have any. I don’t keep many, as I’m only cooking for one, so keeping a lot of them around would probably just be wasteful. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done my usual shopping the weekend before for an unknown reason, so my usually spare collection was flat out missing. Not having nutritious food around when you are fighting a fever is not a very good idea.

My own lack of ability to feed myself as I should have reminded me of a point that Sundari Kraft had made in class. Denver has enough food to feed itself for two days if it is cut off from outside sources at any given time. I believe that is a pretty standard amount of time for most cities. However, anything that is going to cut off outside access to food, is going to cut off other essentials, too. Most of the little food stores I have depend on my refrigerator and freezer. I also have electric heat. If I lose electricity, I will lose my food stores and my ability to keep my living area warmer than it is outside. Given today’s weather, it might not be too long before that means frozen pipes and no more water.

I know this sounds like fear-mongering, but I’m not talking about the Apocalypse or terrorists. I’m talking about good, old-fashioned natural disasters. I don’t care what your stance on the temperature of the globe is. The fact that weather has been getting less predictable and more intense can’t be denied. This is not a new problem, and has been a particular problem for cities. In fact, the Boston subway system, the T, was begun for exactly that reason. They watched their neighbor to the south, a little town called New York, lose 200 people to one blizzard in 1888 because there was no way to get to them for help. It’s an old example, but the name Katrina brings to mind a much more recent one. What happens when there are a lot of people and no resources?

I have lived in apartments for years. Most single people do until they are ready to purchase a home, if they ever decide to do so. It’s a convenient arrangement. They pay a fixed amount and then have few worries. The landlord is responsible for broken appliances and finding a new renter when the current tenant moves on to the next phase. But the more I learn and think about being independent, the more I realize exactly how vulnerable apartments can make you. The most obvious point is that you are not only on the grid, but you don’t have any alternative. If I lose electricity, I don’t have an alternative heat-source. I also can’t think of one that would be safe to use in an apartment due to ventilation issues. I have no alternative for cooking on my electric stove. My alternative for food preservation will be my deck, assuming it’s cold enough outside to keep my food from spoiling.

It’s not that owning a home or even living in the country makes you invulnerable. Growing up, our road often didn’t get plowed until Dad did it himself, making sure that we and our neighbors could get to the main road. Our well went dry once or twice, and the septic, well, that was always fun. It’s not even like owning a home or land means it’s yours. We don’t have to ask farmers anymore about how easy it is to lose your land. Just ask the neighbor who was foreclosed upon. But there were perks. We had a huge vegetable garden. When we lost electricity, we pulled buckets of water out of the pond to force-flush the toilets. We had trees on our property to stock the woodshed for our fireplace that later became a coalstove. My grandparents’ house even had an outhouse for a very long time.

“Being Prepared” these days seems to be relegated to the Scouts of both genders and those nutters that think the world is going to end for various reasons. After all, the corner convenience store is always open, and the grocery store is never closed for more than a day or two. If all else fails, the government will step in, right? But what happens if that isn’t true? What if you have to survive for a week or a month until help does arrive? Could you? Looking at my current circumstances, I’m not sure I could.

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