The Long Journey Home

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It took me 7 hours to get home during the epic thunder snow of January 26th, 2011.

  • 2 hours on the train

    F-ing Metro was single tracking both Red and Orange lines for non-snow related reasons.

  • 1.5 hours waiting for a bus

    My toes began to freeze. Many people were not adequately dressed. Needed to pee, but no bathroom or convenient tree.

  • Continue reading “The Long Journey Home”

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TEotWaWKI Alert: 10′ of Rain in California?

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Folks worry about zombies, asteroids or nuclear war as the agent of humanity’s demise. It’s the more mundane things, though, that should keep us up at night. To wit:

ARkStorm: California’s other “Big One”

While this is a hypothetical scenario, it still scares the crap out of me. Floods always have since childhood. I grew up in hurricane country. This is a tough balancing act, though, because you don’t want to be too far from a water source.

This is also another reason to ensure you understand your local climate. Your life may depend on what you know might be possible.

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Paternal Legacy Expressed in a Can of Breakfast Meat

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Everything I know about breakfast I learned from my father. It was he who fed me those early school mornings, at least when he was in town. I took care of myself when he was not because my mother was not exactly a morning person. The fare was simple: Either scrambled eggs liberally dosed with sauteed jalapeños or fried eggs, sunny-side up on toast. But the best was sunday brunch: omelets, pancakes or my all time favorite: corned-beef hash.

This is not as bad as it looks
This is not as bad as it looks

Yes, that’s right! I’m talking about breakfast in a can. I still enjoy it to this day. Open up the can and plop it right into the frying pan. Sure, it looks like dog food (may even taste like it, for all I know), but when it’s done right — the perfect balance between the crispy outside and warm, soft inside — it starts my day off very well, thank you. I’m not claiming this is better than home-made, which it’s not. Just that the ratio of work to joy is quite favorable.

A very tasty breakfast made quickly
A very tasty breakfast made quickly

Doing It Yourself

If you have the time, though, and the circumstances are right, I recommend making your own. It’s simple to do:

  1. You need some left over meat.

    Leftover prime rib from Christmas dinner
    Leftover prime rib from Christmas dinner

    I only make hash when I have some leftovers. The meat needs to be cooked before you start, so it doesn’t make sense, to me at least, to set out to make this from scratch.

    Any meat will do. For me, it’s usually a left over roast beef of some sort, which is ironic since I don’t like the canned roast beef hash, but have never made my own corned beef hash. I’ve used turkey after Thanksgiving and with ham after Easter, both worthwhile.

  2. Chop the meat up fine.

    It's like watching laws being made, not for the squeamish
    It's like watching laws being made, not for the squeamish

    I run it through my meat grinder once with the large die. You could just use a knife. I wouldn’t recommend the food processor because it will turn the meat into a paste that isn’t very tasty.

  3. Dice up a potato.

    You need the starch in there. Well I do, anyways. It ain’t breakfast without it. Don’t limit yourself to the potato, though. If you have any other leftovers in the fridge that look like they might work, chop them up and toss them in there, too. You can’t go wrong with onion, peppers of any sort, garlic. Just make sure you dice them up small.

  4. Toss all of the into a frying pan at medium heat with some butter or oil.

  5. Add a liquid.

    You might – might – be able to skip this step if your meat is particularly fatty, but even then, I wouldn’t recommend it. Last thing you want is a dry, crumbly hash. You don’t need much, a quarter cup or so should be enough. I’ve used my pig shots (2 ounces of pork broth), milk (yes!) or even gravy for my post Thanksgiving hash.

  6. Keep cooking until you get a crust, but not so long that it dries out.

  7. Throw a fried egg or two on top.

It's more work than canned, but certainly worth it
It's more work than canned, but certainly worth it

Is It Worth Ordering when Eating Out?

This is tough to answer for someone else because it depends on your willingness to suspend your disbelief. I know that the hash I order is coming out of a can most times I order it. Usually it works out just fine. The Yorkshire Diner in Manassas does it well. I enjoy it with a short stack of pancakes in addition to the usual sunny-side up eggs.

This isn’t always the case, though. I’ve had hash served without any crispiness, could still see the shape of the can. In other cases, I’ve been served a uniformly consistent paste. Where they try to make their own? Doesn’t matter, it was a disaster either way. And this really pisses me off. This isn’t hard to do.

I’ll Never Give It Up

Despite the less than pleasant experiences, hash will always be on my menu. The warm fuzzy feelings it conjures, memories of my father, make it a tasty meal, even if it is from a can.

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TEotWaWKI TV Review: The Walking Dead (Episodes 3 and 4)

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The Walking Dead Episodes 3 and 4
The Walking Dead Episodes 3 and 4

Developed by Frank Darabont

I’m on the edge of my seat watching this series. I’ve heard from others that they find it a bit slow, too much sitting around and talking. This ain’t no Earth Abides. Decisions are made and action is taken. My jones for action is satisfied.

These two episodes clearly display an issue that is critical to surviving TEotWaWKI. No, I’m not talking about zombie fighting techniques or the best shelters to seek; rather, the composition of your group. Most teams formed up from whomever was available at the time. This led to a less than optimal cohesiveness for most and disaster for more than a few. One should never team up with someone they cannot stand for reasons that range from psychological to physical well-being.

  • Surviving TEotWaWKI is tough business. Why make it harder by forcing yourself to deal with assholes? This kind of stress will keep you up at night, sapping the energy you need to continue the struggle.
  • If you don’t like them, they probably don’t like you. This could cause you major problems at a crisis point, such as a food shortage. If you’re the weaker party, you’ll probably be kicked out, as I saw happen more than once during that first terrible winter. If you’re the stronger party, they may strike pre-emptively, probably killing you.

You don’t always have the luxury of choosing your team-mates. The exigencies of the moment may work against this. Or someone who seemed nice at first, grew to be a pain in the ass over time. You shouldn’t just accept this as an unchangeable fact. You MUST do something. Here are your options (in descending order of desirability):

  • Insist that they change

    This may seem naive, and it would be in certain circumstance, but if you act early and the differences are not fundamental, not only might you remove the pain in your butt, you may also strengthen the ties of your group. Many folks do not realize that their behavior irks others and will willingly change when it’s pointed out.

  • You change

    Maybe YOU are the pain in the ass. At least consider that. Even if it’s not true, circumstances may require that you suck it up. If you choose this path, it is imperative that you at least appear to have changed. Do not continue with your prior modus operandi or you risk the same outcome that inaction would have triggered. After a while, you may come to terms with the group or you may choose the next option.

  • Leave

    Ideally, this option would be like an amicable divorce. You justly divide up your assets and then part ways. Before you do anything, though, consider how the group may react to your departure. It may not be welcome news, especially if you have a skill or possession that the group desperately needs. If you’re in the minority, they may hold you against your will or take your stuff. If there’s the slightest doubt, I would keep your departure a secret. Also, while it might be tempting to walk off with more than your share, remember that you may well run into these people again.

  • Kick them out

    This is a tough option to pull off. It may result in a civil war or the outcasts could stalk you, waiting for a vulnerable moment to exact revenge. Even if you’re the majority, I would approach this just like the previous option; that is, make it appear you’re leaving rather than kicking them out. If feasible, leave them with a greater share of the group’s assets as a salve to their wounds. It might be necessary to execute the separation in penny-packets, smaller sub-groups leaving separately with a plan to rendezvous elsewhere.

  • Kill them

    This is the least desirable option, but it shouldn’t be ruled out. There are certain violent personality types that do not take well to rejection. If you cannot be sure of a clean break, you may have to take pre-emptive action. You will be crossing a line, though, so fully consider all of your options. You may find that the group, though fully supporting the measure beforehand, will break up when the reality of what you did hits home. Still, given that, there may be situations where this is the only option.

The group of survivors that The Walking Dead is following, not surprisingly, have several cases that highlight the dangers of sub-optimal group relations (spoiler alert):

  1. The abusive husband Ed should not continue as a member of the group. Asking him to change will not likely work and kicking him out may result in the wife leaving with him. Perhaps the man should meet with a hunting accident. No one else needs to know. The fact that Zed took him out was opportune.
  2. Daryl Dixon is an angry, well armed man with good reason to be pissed. T-Dog’s action most likely did result in his brother’s death. Can you trust that Daryl will be reconciled? Or will he just bide his time. I’m not willing to risk it. Though Daryl is outnumbered by those who clearly don’t like him, kicking him out won’t be so easy. Killing them would be risky, too, as he appears to be hyper-vigilent. Ditching the man might be your only option.
  3. If I was Shane, I’d probably leave. Your lover doesn’t want you around any more and her husband may well learn the truth. I wouldn’t want that nagging at me day and night, but then I’d’ve never lied to her about her husband’s death.

Like I said, the fact that there are so many dysfunctionalities should not be a surprise. It’s a rare group that had none, and even in those cases, over time, things evolve from better to worse and then back again. Nothing remains the same. Just be aware of what’s going on and act when necessary.

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TEotWaWKI TV Review: The Walking Dead (Episodes 1 and 2)

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The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

Developed by Frank Darabont

It’s been more than a decade since the initial zombie outbreak, but only now are we beginning to see it portrayed in drama. The new TV series on AMC, The Walking Dead, is the first serious portrayal of the period just after SHTF. I’ve only seen two episodes, but beyond a few nitpicks and similarities with other TEotWaWKI stories, I’m hooked.

The focus is on survivors in the Atlanta area starting a week or two after the outbreak reached a crisis. Those poor bastards down south had it much harder than even up here in Virginia. They had no appreciable winter to slow the ghouls down, so they never got a break. Even today, the Florida peninsula, surrounded as it is by water, is still pretty much a wasteland.

The main character, Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), is a cop who was severely wounded before the outbreak and in a coma during it, only to regain consciousness in an eerily empty hospital, scattered with corpses. This is reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand and 28 Days Later. He’s trying to figure out what the hell happened while still staying alive. I’m surprised he’s lasted this long, given his proclivity to fire off all of his ammo at anything which stumbles. He’s lucky, though, to encounter folks willing to help out.

His motivation is to find his family. This drive is a common theme to most stories that cover this period. It, too, was my spur as I was in Manhattan when hell brook loose and had to make my way back to Northern Virginia. Alas, I have yet to learn what happened to my family. In this case, Mr. Grimes makes it back to his house, but his family is missing. We learn separately that they are alive, but there should be some interesting fireworks should they reunite.

The nits I have are how the undead are portrayed. For the most part, it is in line with reality: dumb, slowly stumbling and killed with a headshot. Occasionally, though, we encounter some outliers. Some use tools like the one with a rock used to break through a glass window. Others are agile and rather speedy, being able to climb a fence. These are rare, though, so not enough to kill my disbelief.

I am happy to see that this show has been extended another 6 episodes. I will surely watch them all.

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TEotWaWKI TV Review: Man vs. Wild

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Man vs. Wild, starring Bear Grylls
Man vs. Wild, starring Bear Grylls

Starring Bear Grylls

This show should be required watching, period. Granted, none of his shows focus on the undead since this was recorded pre-SHTF, but that shouldn’t stop you. The host is a hard-core dude who will eat anything, scale sheer cliffs and self-administer enemas. You don’t argue with that kind of crazy.

Crazy like a fox, though. You would do well to listen to the man. Mr. Grylls teaches you what you need to know in order to survive in extreme situations. His approach is simple, focusing on the basics:

  1. Water: This would seem to be a no brainer, but back when potable water was ubiquitous, folks who suddenly didn’t have ready access to a plastic bottles of water were at a loss. You need to know where to find it, how to decontaminate it and how much your body truly needs. Basic, yes, but absolutely life saving.
  2. Food: Ditto for food, but the emphasis here is getting over the icky factor. I’ve written about picky eaters before and want to re-emphasize some of the points I made. Eating is first and foremost about fueling your body. Everything else about a meal is a luxury. Bear shows you various sources of protein that will help you in the short term. Master that gag reflex and eat some bugs!
  3. Shelter: A mistake many folks made was waiting too long in the day to seek out shelter. You cannot do that as the sun is going down. I realize that many folks were in a hurry to get back home to their loved ones, but it was death to be caught out at night. Bear teaches you when and where to look, which applies even in a world overrun by zombies, but I would try to elevate my shelter more than he recommends. Another issue to consider that wasn’t taken up by Bear is escape routes. You may be out of reach of grasping hand when you’re up that tree, but you’ll surely starve to death.
  4. Rescue: This is where Mr. Grylls’ usefulness ends. There is no rescue in a world ruled by the undead. Even uninfected humans are a danger, indeed your greatest threat. This speaks to your ability to pace yourself. Patience is the key.

There are 5 seasons’ worth of episodes, but you do not need to watch them all. At minimum, find those shows which match your local conditions. However, don’t limit yourself since you never know where you might one day find yourself. I would watch at least one of each of these type:

  • Desert
  • Mountain
  • Arctic / Winter Conditions
  • Jungle / Swamp
  • Ocean / Desert Island

Bear Grylls is a man I want on my team, though probably not as chef.

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TEotWaWKI Alert: Zombie Fungus Discovered

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From the Smithsonian: The Scariest Zombies in Nature

It’s unclear whether or not this is related to Solanum; however, at the moment, we are not in danger. This fungus, while 100% fatal once it has infested an organism, does not appear to cause its victim to get violent. Also, for the moment, it does not affect humans.

We’ll keep an eye on this, though.

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Literary Feasts: The Witch of Hebron

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The Witch of Hebron
The Witch of Hebron by James Howard Kunstler

by James Howard Kunstler

After a hard day of brigandage, a man needs to eat!

“Put them onions there into the mush and mix them in good,” Bill Bones told his protégé, Jasper Copeland, as they prepared their feast in the abandoned house on Goose Island Road. Billy had his goat-meat skewers jacked up on a couple of concrete blocks over the fire, and the meat juices dripped aromatically into the coals.

“Okay,” he said, “now take them cheese crumbles and stir them in.”

“Now taker her off the heat and just keep stirring until the cheese gets melty.”

A good meal can take your mind off the fact that the world as you knew has ended. This book is full of good meals and food references.

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TEotWaWKI Book Review: Cell by Stephen King

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Cell by Stephen King
Cell by Stephen King

Stephen King is the go to guy when you want a great TEotWaWKI story. I have reviewed The Mist and I need to so for The Stand, which I haven’t read that since pre-SHTF days. That is the granddaddy of all end-of-the-world stories. I figured his novel Cell wouldn’t disappoint.

I was wrong. I don’t want to say this book is bad. I really respect Mr. King. This is also his first book after his horrific car accident. It is still infinitely better than anything I could write. Let’s just say that it’s not his best book, but it has it’s moments.

The opening grabs you right away. You barely have time to absorb the ordinary world before he brings it crashing down via cells phones that corrupt callers’ brains, driving them into homicidal rages. This is Stephen King at his best:

  • Pass the test of immediate survival, but just barely.
  • Assemble a small group and seek shelter.
  • Figure out what the fuck to do now.

I’m lapping this up as it’s classic TEotWaWKI story-telling, but then we hit some speed bumps. The writing’s not that good. It feels rushed, lacking an editor’s touch. I may be unusual in this way, but these kind of mistakes begin to affect my ability to suspend disbelief. Some of the story flaws begin to nibble at me:

  • Driving is a task that can rarely be accomplished because the roads are all clogged. I’m not buying this. Sure, there will be clots of vehicles, and you may have to drive off to the side, but I cannot imagine it would severely restrict you to the level represented in the book. At least that wasn’t my personal experience during the outbreak.
  • The “zombies” behaved weirdly. I can’t go into detail on this since it would involve serious spoilers, but this ultimately killed it for me.

I’m not saying there aren’t worthwhile lessons. He was correct to point out that obtaining one or more fire arms is a top priority. Also, group cohesion is extremely important. There are times when you’ll need to subordinate your desires for the good of the group. Truly, though, you’re better off reading some of his other works. My apologies, Mr. King.

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TEotWaWKI Alert: Alleged Zombie Sighting in Colorado

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Man shot cop because he thought he was a zombie

The facts are not all in, yet, so let’s withhold judgement. Let me just say that, a decade after the end of the Zombie Wars, more people are killed when mistaken as undead than at the hands of actual zombies. Listen, folks, you don’t have to kill the thing right away. Unless someone is in immediate danger of a bite, evacuate, isolate and call the authorities.

Don’t be stupid.

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