26 August 2012

Driving Through Apocalypse

Ramon Maldonado was dreaming again.

It was the same dream he had most nights.  He was walking  in through the sliding porch door of his apartment outside of Atlanta, carrying a plate full of steaks.  The lights were on.  His baseball Braves nattered, as if by magic, from the television.  His co-driver, stepdaughters, and wife ringed the table, and condensation beaded on a bottle of diet soda.

As Ramon awakened in the sleeper of the Kenworth with Saskatchewan tags, he was closer to the world of...well...he did not really know.

In the space of two weeks, the world had died. His world was gone, at least all that he could be certain of.  An entire generation had joked about the Zombie Apocalypse.  It really was not that damned funny when it actually fucking happened.

The chaos was beyond anything Hollywood could have conceived.  There was no CDC finding a patient zero.  Indeed, there were some indications that ZA had started in Atlanta, and may not have been entirely natural, which probably meant that the CDC and Hartsfield-Jackson had been the first things to go.

If one wanted to use biological warfare, a target whose key epidemiological research facility and largest airport were in the same city could be crippled before they knew what hit them.  That is exactly what happened.  It occurred to Ramon that this had been a pretty bad job of decision making, and might have deserved reconsideration before, say, there had been millions of Zombies.

The week of July 11th had been the worst.  That week, if anyone had still cared enough to keep records, over 280 million people died in the United States alone.  In one week, in one country, a hundred million more people died than had died in all the wars on record.

The sad part was that bites were not always fatal.  Some people, including Ramon, were immune.  He had been bitten half  a dozen times by July 17th.  The worst he got had been a small infection around the second bite, which had worked itself out with some extra Vitamin C.  He now kept a big bottle of Bactine in his pocket, just in case.

Zombies themselves were not half as tough as they had been in the movies.  Yeah, you could shoot one through the head, but they were really only dangerous for a few hours.  Once the brains went necrotic-and they did so quickly-Zombies lost their tracking ability and motor function.  24 hours after the first signs of infection, they were pretty much reduced to rolling on the ground and rotting. They were nonambulatory in 24 hours, and usually died in less than 48 hours.

By now, July 20th, he was a phantom from the old world in one of its technological remnants.  Ramon ditched his company Volvo with empty tanks in a truck stop outside of Rawlins, Wyoming.  He picked up the Kenworth, with its giant cast-iron cattle guard and full tanks of fuel on the fuel island.  The governor had been turned off, and it would do well over 80.

Awake with the dawn, Ramon put the radio on seek.  There would occasionally be blips, mostly carrier signals with no content.  There had not been any content on terrestrial radio in five days.  He drove east on I-70 out of Denver.  For long stretches, 70 was empty.  Occasionally he would see another vehicle moving, but those tended to move hell-bent for leather with drivers either filled with panic or deprived of experience.

Twice, now, Ramon had found cars that had passed him piled into an obstacle that should have been anticipated.  He was getting accustomed to slowing for pile-ups, and backing out of the bobtail KW's deep long-pedal before blind curves.  He had pushed probably two dozen cars out of the way on I-25 before taking the toll beltway around Denver, gleefully giving a single-finger salute to the dead electronic toll registers.

Creatures of habit, people were not getting on the toll road that could not charge them.

The cell-phone network had gone down when Ramon was in Seattle.  The phone itself sat on the dash, clock still on Pacific Time as he closed in on Wichita.  His wife peered out from the screen, in a photo whose perspective doubled an already ample bust.

The toll plaza was clear.  In fact, Ramon felt a little guilty as he bent the arm designed to tell drivers to STOP already, dammit, at a smooth 35.  He planned to stop for the night in Oklahoma City, where he would figure out how to get fuel for this posh Kennywhopper.

He was not planning to go back to Atlanta.  That much was certain.  As he was on his way to Seattle, his youngest stepdaughter had called.  Her sister had bitten her mother, who had bitten her.

Marilys was all of 12 and told Ramon through tears, "I don't want you to see us like this. Amber and Mami are already done. Remember us as people, not like this."

"I want to do something, Mare."

"You did.  You treated us like queens when it counted. Please. I am going to put them in the van and take them out of here.  You will never find us."

Ramon guessed where they would go. To ignore Marilys' only wish would not have been in his personality, though.

So he pressed south.


Feeding the Kenworth's twin 150 gallon tanks took the better part of a day.  Ramon was filthy and forced to bathe with baby wipes.  As the sun went down, he noticed something about the truck stop.

The lights were on.  The motherfucking lights were ON!!

He walked through the door and was greeted with a blast of foul-smelling but conditioned air.  Everybody in here was dead and reeking, but the lights were on.  There was a wind farm west of Okie City which sent juice and it was working!

Ramon Maldonado walked over to the water tap and turned it.  After some knocking and wheezing, a glurt of rusty water blew through the nozzle...turning to clear tepid water in a few seconds.

"Hot shit! Water!" He exclaimed in a tone that would have been reserved for finding that his genitalia had doubled in size.

He went over the counter and saw how to unlock the shower door.  "Wait a minute..."  He grabbed a tee shirt and clothes in his size from the shelf, antiperspirant, soap, a razor, toothpaste and a toothbrush, even a pair of electric clippers which would put the military-spec haircut he had worn for 25 years since he was a seaman in the Texas Navy back to a rough approximation of four-oh.

Ramon was showered and shaved.  The clothes made him look a little too much like an Oklahoman for his Texas sensibilities, but hell, he felt HUMAN!

Coming out of the shower, Ramon liberated a Television and half a dozen DVDs.

It was warm inside the truck, but the generator pack had kept it from turning into an oven.  It was now full dark in Oklahoma.  Before setting up the Dashboard Drive-in that he always used to joke about with Chuy, his co-driver...Chuy who had bitten his arm and given him a mild case of septicemia but failed to turn him into a Zombie, Ramon turned on the radio.

530 on the AM band played a clear signal in Spanish.  It ticked.  A voice proclaimed the basic tenets of communism.  He was tuned to Radio Reloj, Havana.  When Ramon looked at his cell phone, it had switched to Central Time.  He had 3 bars of signal and no one to call.

He tried it just to see what the thing would do.  The internet screen came up before going to some sort of error code.  It dialed, but all of the US numbers gave one of the familiar screw you, this number is dead messages.

Ramon decided to try his son's number in Mexico.  He walked in, liberated a phone card, and dialled, not knowing if the relay which had an Okie City number would work, or not.

He dialed 1-405 and the local number.  It burred and sounded like the telephone had been sent back in time by about seventy years.

"The number you have reached...405..."

"Shit!" Ramon said as he pressed the END button.

Ramon hit the seek button on the radio again.  A news sounder...not an American network or BBC...indicated that what was on was important.

"Esto es un boletin de Radio Oro, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, con cobertura del crisis de los Zombies en los Estados Unidos."

Ramon spoke Spanish well enough, but his language was Tex-Mex.  He was cursing mildly, when the announcer switched to English.  "Radio Oro invites those who speak English to join our broadcast at 780 kilohertz on the AM dial."  The announcer sounded like he could have come from Los Angeles.

He switched to the English broadcast.

"This is Manuel Velez reporting from Reynosa, Tamaulipas. The worldwide humanitarian crisis in the has now entered its second week.  Estimates suggest near total mortality in the United States, Asia, and Europe. The government of Mexico is working with some of the remaining governments and survivors to rebuild communications with the most deeply affected areas.

"There are now over 40 million dead in Mexico, with close to fifty percent mortality in most of Latin America.  We have not been able to communicate with Africa or Oceania for five days.

"The US Border has been quarantined.  Once the Mexican ministry of health makes a final determination that those seeking assistance in Mexico are immune to the disease which has devastated most of the world, we will be accepting survivors.  Until that time, persons attempting to enter Mexico will be exterminated.

"We will be listening on amateur radio frequencies at 52.000 megahertz and 144.000 megahertz."

Ramon returned to the truck stop.  There were ham radios in the display.  He wasn't an electronic wizard, but he knew how to to two things...wire it up and turn it on, with enough power to reach the 800 miles or so to Mexico.

It was a bit of painstaking work.  CB shops knew how to peak and tune these devices.  Ramon did not.  He considered that it was entirely possible that he might blow himself up.

It worked. He dialed in the first frequency that Radio Oro had proffered.

"Calling Mexico.  Calling Mexico. Can anyone hear me?"


"This is Ramon Maldonado in Oklahoma City calling Mexico.  Can anyone hear me?"

Still nothing.

"Hello, Mexico, this is Ramon Maldonado in Oklahoma City..." and before he could ask if anyone could hear him, he realized that he should take his thumb off the microphone button.

"You have reached the Crisis Management Centre in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. I am Adriana Asturias."

Two weeks had passed since the first victims in Atlanta. It had been five days since he had actually spoken to a human being whose brain still worked as it was intended to.  The magnitude of what had happened hit him hard, a speeding rig with smoking brakes ramming a Volkswagen. Tears began to roll.

"I have not seen anyone else alive in three days.  Can you please call my son in Saltillo?"

"We can try. Please try to get hold of yourself. What is the number?"

Ramon recited the Saltillo number from memory.

The phone rang. And rang.  And rang some more.  And an answering machine came on. Rafael's deep voice came over  Ramon's radio. "You have reached..." began the message in Spanish.

At the tone, Ramon began to babble incoherently over the radio, crying and almost hysterical.

There was a clatter on the other end of the line, and Ramon feared that the connection and hope of not being alone in the world was gone.

When Rafael's deep voice cut into the Oklahoma night, "Papa?" 

14 April 2012

The Wandering Gentile, January 1967

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06 April 2012

A Little Atlanta Nostalgia

For those of you who did not grow up in Atlanta in the eighties, please bear with a middle-aged man's ramblings about a time long gone.

For those of you who did, well, let's go home.


There will never be a greater movie theater than the dollar movie at Toco Hills.

If Gordon Soley is not doing the interviews, it is not real wrestling.

You know why Ross and Wilson were fired from Z-93.

A member of your family has disappeared and it is entirely possible that they were paved over during the "Freeing the Freeways" project.

You remember that occasionally, channel 36 would show uncut films.

You have seen a Burt Reynolds movie being filmed downtown.

You know about the secret screen at the Lenox Square movie theater which is actually smaller than your television today.

Explaining to friends from up north that Krystals and White Castles are not the same thing is second nature.

You have seen a Braves game on television where they had more people on the field than in the stands.

You have been furious because you wanted to read Grizzard and the only paper left was a Journal.

You remember when there were 7-Elevens, Majik Markets, and Tennecos.

The word Camaro instantly conjures the image of a Rebel flag bandanna tied around a rear view mirror which now resides on top of the dashboard.

It does not matter where you have been, the longest drive on Earth is Interstate 16 to Savannah.  Particularly if you have to pee.

The words "New Midfield Terminal" have significance.

You remember English being spoken on Buford Highway.

A friend from California was overjoyed to discover that we had Del Taco...and you liked them better than Taco Bell, anyway.

Buying a car that already had a new tag sticker meant you had until next April to get insurance and put it in your name.

You took a train with friends from out of town to show it off, not because it actually went anywhere you wanted to go...yet.

Going to Chattanooga to get porn was actually necessary.

You remember staying up until midnight to watch Dave Allen at Large on channel 11.

The words "...enough carpet to cover Cleveland. Completely!" instantly bring back a Pythonian image of the Statue of Liberty stating "Thank Goodness!"

Your friends from Cleveland failed to see the humor in the Statue of Liberty's gratitude over enough carpet to cover Cleveland.  Completely.

Wes and Monica are on channel 2 Action News.  Forrest and Pam are on channel 5 Eyewitness News.  CNN's next hires are on 11 Alive Newsroom.

A socially inept classmate was still a member of the channel 46 Goodtime Gang.

You remember the Purple Cow and at least one of your classmates being mortified by a personal message contained within.

You have never played the dozens.  But you have damn sure jawned somebody good.

Shopping for a car meant going to Starvin' Marvin's on a Tuesday for the Auto Trader, Wednesday for Tradin' Times, and  Thursday for the Atlanta Advertiser.

A long Friday night at the midnight movies ends by sobering up at the Waffle House, stepping out into the humidity, and asking, "Where the hell am I.  And what the hell did I do with my car?"

05 April 2012

Over? No, Not Just Yet!

As the current Republican primary season drags to its grinding end with a mediocre candidate, Democrats have been gifted with another opportunity from Republican incompetence.

To wit, there is plenty of time to put both houses of Congress into play.

It would have been fun to watch Santorum and Romney play their childish genital-metric competition to see which one could be more vicious to women, minorities, and anyone else they preferred to see voiceless.  But while this is fun to see how badly one can destroy the other, neither is likely to become sympathetic between now and November.

However, Democrats are now in a position to begin running the table.

Republicans, in a fit of pique over the first President who was not completely white, played upon the basest bigotries of white voters and managed to elect an extreme House of Representatives in 2010.  This was a House which has managed to accomplish next to nothing in the 15 months since their inauguration.

Not only did they fail to turn back any legislation from President Obama's agenda during the first two years, they have also failed to propose any new alternatives from their own agenda in the same time span.  It is as if someone were hired to clean and restore a dwelling, and decided that the fastest, most effective method of accomplishing that end were by setting that dwelling ablaze.

A convicted arsonist would likely be able to relate, the fire is a LOT of fun, but Fire Investigators can be so blamed fussy.

There is a not-unjustified call of "a pox upon both of their houses," from moderates and the sincerely apolitical.  This call has its root in the propaganda of the right, which is heavily invested in maintaining the illusion that both sides are equally culpable in the betrayal of the majority of American citizens.
Should the Democratic campaign committee choose, an opportunity exists in the next few months to destroy the Republican Party's congressional aspirations, too. One hopes to show some possible examples of advertising which could work well.

Commercial 1: "I believe that using government to install the most restrictive principles of my faith is more important than improving the economy and creating jobs."

Commercial 2: "I believe in smaller, less intrusive Government.  Which is why I believe that they have no right to mandate birth control, but they have a right to obligate a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound."

Commercial 3: A montage of signs with ever-climbing fuel prices topping 5 or 6 dollars a gallon.  Dark, minor chord piano follows the montage as we are taken to a senior citizen under a blanket in a dark home. There is a can of pet food with a spoon sticking out of it, and the senior citizen coughs as the viewer is taken to a boardroom with the words "Big Oil" on the wall.
"So, what are you going to do with your part of the subsidy?" One executive asks another.

"I'm going to contribute to (Republican Congressman) John Smith!  He made sure that we, the job creators, kept that money instead of giving it to people who are doing nothing for the economy."

And so on...

Should the Democratic Party get serious about not only winning the White House but both houses of Congress, it will likely take but a mild examination of the actual priorities of the Republican Party and a small dash of sarcasm to do so.  Because everyone knows that they can dish it out, but they can't take it.