By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
Deep, deep below a gun shop in far west Houston, they waited.
It was almost exactly a year ago that they entered the vault and descended the circular stairway to their new home. Others -- the nonbelievers -- had scoffed that all this "Y2K" business was hogwash, media hype, and that society and government and the country would weather any crisis.
As they climbed down the steps at the approach of 2000, this collection of Houstonians knew better. Y2K would wreak havoc on computers, food supplies, the monetary system and the very fabric of America; chaos would reign and mere anarchy would be loosed upon the world.
They had packed well. The shelves of their stronghold were lined with nonperishable food items, everything from canned meat to powdered milk to the "snacks" that Southwest Airlines serves on its longer flights. Cell phones were charged and ready to communicate with the outer world if the need arose. Education was not forgotten: Both the kiddies and the adults would be able to indulge in an intellectual feast courtesy of back issues of Soldier of Fortune and The Limbaugh Letter.
These survivalists would have the last laugh. When the rest of the world cratered shortly after December 31, 1999, they would be safe, snug and happy in their new home. If somehow society didn't collapse, they'd be none the worse for their underground vacation.
It was simply a matter of staying inside their fortress until it was safe to come out. It would do no good to survive the first few months of chaos only to open their doors prematurely and step right into madness. They had to sit tight until the time was right.
A simple plan. But like so many simple plans, it soon went awry.
The first trouble sign was the cell phones. The idea was to call up to folks who had elected to stay above ground and get a feel for what was going on.
But most of the phones wouldn't work. Bob, head of the Communications Committee, insisted it was because they were 150 feet underground; he also darkly hinted that Construction Committee chair Wally had ineptly built their new home in the middle of "a bad cell." Wally pointed out that Bob had chosen his contractor based on the number of photocopied flyers the company had stapled to telephone poles.
Matters worsened when residents discovered that one of their number, an engineer named Dave, had used one of the few good phones three times a week to call the sports-radio shows to see how A&M was doing in recruiting. Compounding the residents' frustration was the fact that Dave, trying to sound like an old pro, inevitably would ask his question and then say, "I'll hang up and listen." With no radio reception available in their lair, the residents soon found themselves deprived not only of cell phones but of any information on the Aggies.
But Dave didn't have an engineering degree for nothing, and he set out to make things right. The batteries on the cell phones were so low that calling out was no longer an option, although he jury-rigged a few together in the hope that they could at least intercept some calls from the surface.
He thus inadvertently created the First Crisis of Confidence.
Hopes soared when Dave announced that he had the system working.
"I'm tapped into the official City of Houston cell-phone system," he said.
The crowd groaned. "The City of Houston? You expect us to get any kind of truth from a bunch of politicians?" one resident asked.
"I'm no fool," Dave retorted. "I'm not proposing we listen in on the mayor or one of those lefty councilmembers. But what would you say if I told you I could tap into Rob Todd's cell phone?"
Instantly, frowns turned into smiles. If there was a beacon of truth Up There in Houston, it would be Rob Todd, the family-values paragon who didn't let council business take too much time away from excoriating Bill Clinton and other Democrats for their decadent Bible-flouting ways.
"Now you're talking!" exulted Johnny, the group's leader. "Turn it on!"
Moms ran to gather up their kids. Just like families would congregate around the radio to listen to one of FDR's fireside chats, little groups of survivalists shared their nervous expectations as they got ready to listen to an elected official they could trust.
Static crackled through the speakers at first. Everyone leaned closer as they could begin to make out the reassuring sound of Todd's voice.
"What're you wearin', baby?" they heard.
And they heard more. A lot more. Moms held their hands over their kids' ears, but it just went on and on. Eventually they sent the young ones out of the room. Not too much later, the moms left the room. The dads stayed, to get ideas.
It went on for hours, and days. At any time of the day or night, the phones would crackle to life and Suave Rob's dulcet tones would fill the room, talking to a woman that the residents eventually figured out was the wife of Todd's fellow Councilmember Bert Keller. "Doesn't he ever shut up?" Dave wondered.
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