Pense just sold his company, Gardening Revolution. For 20 years he shipped the proprietary iron, zinc, manganese, copper, sulfur and boron soil blend. Each bed costs $800, after you buy the cinder blocks and mat. On his best year, he shipped $580,000-worth of them. The magazine John Deere Homestead featured him. He’s taught classes on raised-bed gardening and survival in his cabin ever since. “The record on tomatoes is 274 pounds for one plant. Think about that,” Pense says. “That’s a lot of ’maters for one plant.” More than the ’maters, he’s proud of teaching people younger than him to grow their own food.
When you go back to the last depressing days when we were in a survival mode, the last one the Y2K of course, before the 1970s, what had happened was you only saw this one element of survivalist, you know, the caricature, the guy with the AK-47 heading to the hills with enough ammunition and pork and beans to ride out the storm. This is a very different one from that: you're seeing average people taking smart moves and moving in intelligent directions to prepare for the worst. (...) So survivalism in every way possible. Growing your own, self-sustaining, doing as much as you can to make it as best as you can on your own and it can happen in urban area, sub-urban area or the ex-urbans. And it also means becoming more and more tightly committed to your neighbors, your neighborhood, working together and understanding that we're all in this together and that when we help each other out that's going to be the best way forward.
On the opposite side of the country, similar awkward conversations have been unfolding in some financial circles. Robert H. Dugger worked as a lobbyist for the financial industry before he became a partner at the global hedge fund Tudor Investment Corporation, in 1993. After seventeen years, he retired to focus on philanthropy and his investments. “Anyone who’s in this community knows people who are worried that America is heading toward something like the Russian Revolution,” he told me recently.
Here is a mental exercise: Put yourself in the mind set of Mr. Joe Sixpack, Suburbanite. (Visualize him in or near a big city near where you live.) He is unprepared. He has less than one week’s food on hand, he has a 12 gauge pump action shotgun that he hasn’t fired in years, and just half a tank of gas in his minivan and maybe a gallon or two in a can that he keeps on hand for his lawn mower. Then TEOTWAWKI hits. The power grid is down, his job is history, the toilet doesn’t flush, and water no longer magically comes cascading from the tap. There are riots beginning in his city. The local service stations have run out of gas. The banks have closed. Now he is suddenly desperate. Where will he go? What will he do?
In recent years, survivalism has been edging deeper into mainstream culture. In 2012, National Geographic Channel launched “Doomsday Preppers,” a reality show featuring a series of Americans bracing for what they called S.H.T.F. (when the “shit hits the fan”). The première drew more than four million viewers, and, by the end of the first season, it was the most popular show in the channel’s history. A survey commissioned by National Geographic found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”).
“Next thing I see is, they hanged the colored boy, ’cause they caught him stealing. And they had established, I think, about 1,000 trees in the forest out in Mark Twain to hang people from if they catch them stealing or whatever. And I had a big dog—my dog died of bone cancer of all things two years ago. Buddy was half-Rottweiler, half-German shepherd. He was a dog, and he was with me in this. And I also have a police riot gun, a 12-gauge, that holds eight magnum shells. So I’m seeing all this stuff happening, and then I look around, and my dog’s gone. So I picked up my shotgun and went to look for my dog, and I found five men, and they were already skinning him to eat.”
“I started saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, what does the government know that we don’t know?’ ” Hall said. In 2008, he paid three hundred thousand dollars for the silo and finished construction in December, 2012, at a cost of nearly twenty million dollars. He created twelve private apartments: full-floor units were advertised at three million dollars; a half-floor was half the price. He has sold every unit, except one for himself, he said.
Say you're at work and a terrorist attack occurs. Roads are closed to any and all traffic but you only want to get home - even if that means walking. You may not want to grab your full on family pack in the car or you may not even be able to get to it. But you just want a light kit to get you through. How far is it to get home from wherever you may be? This get home kit should provide for 1-3 nights of traveling on foot till you make it home.
The morning after I arrived, I was picked up at my hotel by Graham Wall, a cheerful real-estate agent who specializes in what his profession describes as high-net-worth individuals, “H.N.W.I.” Wall, whose clients include Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist, was surprised when Americans told him they were coming precisely because of the country’s remoteness. “Kiwis used to talk about the ‘tyranny of distance,’ ” Wall said, as we crossed town in his Mercedes convertible. “Now the tyranny of distance is our greatest asset.”
Wherever readers planned to hide out, their safe space needed be stocked with useful items such as tools, fuel, first aid kits and Geiger counters, PSM advised. A month’s supply of food was also desirable. One advert even promoted a wine club, with vintages you could keep in your shelter. As one article put it, “You don’t want to be caught in a queue at the supermarket when the bomb drops!”
He points to the cash registers over his left shoulder. “I’ll bet you there’s not one thing you bought today that didn’t use electricity in the transaction,” he says. Before Y2K, Finelli says he owned a small computer manufacturing company and personally upgraded 8,000 operating systems so the dates would roll over from 1999 to 2000. “Because they wouldn’t,” he says. “There was a defect. I know that computer systems are frail because I built them.” He says a widespread power outage would cripple us—no electricity, no trading debt portfolios, no buying wholesale taquitos on credit.
During his 45th Infantry Division, Pense taught field wiring, instructing G.I.s on setting poles and stringing wires to rig together a communications network from scratch. After the war, he was an electronics engineer in the private sector, sometimes on military contracts, learning the frailty of the nation’s power grid firsthand. On one government contract, he witnessed a nuclear warhead knock out power in Hawaii after detonating high above the Pacific.
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