Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Day in the Life - Part 2

The continuing saga of a day in a life that might not be too far away... a life in a world of expensive energy and a contracting economy... a life filled with adjustments, sacrifices, and unexpected pleasures.


When I wake from my nap, it's time for lunch. Hubby takes an hour off from his telecommute, my son Connor comes home from the rec center, and we all sit down for a vegetarian lunch (we save fish for a once weekly dinner). We have hummus and veggie sandwiches on our freshly baked bread with some fruit for a nice refreshing end. Gotta love those first cucumbers and strawberries! My son washes the dishes outside while I take the clothes in from the clothesline.

I've gotten used to life without most appliances. Lucky for me, we installed wood and tile floors the year before electricity prices went through the roof. I don't know how women with carpets clean them - vacuums suck a lot of energy. Even though we don't use clothes dryers and dishwashers, getting the household work done isn't much harder because attitudes have changed. Now, we expect our kids to help around the house, and if we have guests they all pitch in to clean up. Expectations are different too. I don't feel like my house has to be "perfect" to let a friend in the door. People understand that the house is now the center of life and not just a showplace for our possessions.

Afternoon - time to make a little cash. Today is the day to run our Prius cab. Since Oklahoma City is so large (still the fifth largest by area), most people can't afford to travel across the city. We never did get a decent bus system, although the city has improvised the best that they could under the circumstances. So, like many other families with high-mileage, low-emissions cars, we offer our hybrid as a carpooling and shipping service. Of course, we can only run the cab during the times when the state is not rationing gasoline. But it's a way to make some extra money, and despite the fact that we have cut expenses way back, and we barter a lot, we still have to pay taxes.

We load up the car with five people and all the stuff we can cram in the hatchback. This week is the week to head down to south Oklahoma City. I'm excited since I will get to see my in-laws who live down there. That is the saddest part about the gas price increases - they spelled the end for the anytime two-hour visit, and my mother in law only gets to see Connor once a month now, even though they only live thirty miles away. These days, most people have to plan out their visits and make them last.

The roads aren't too dangerous yet. The city stopped repairing potholes a while back, just one of many cutbacks, but OK-DOT still maintains the overpasses and bridges. When you can only travel at 25 mph (the city speed limit), you manage to avoid the potholes, even though some are getting to be pretty wide. We see more cyclists than cars on the highway. There are quite a few electric vehicles out there, but they aren't too much more useful than gas cars since the grid is unreliable. Overall, it looks like traffic is down about 75%, and most of the vehicles we see are corp-buses, destination buses, or jerry-rigged city buses.

I always feel a little sad when we pass over the devastated part of town. A large section of the Southwest side burned last year after a tornado outbreak, and it's still a smoking wreck. I wish I could tell you what happened, but all I know is rumors and some reports from the refugees. I'm glad the tornado sirens still work in most parts of the city.

We see a few Tree Teams working in some of the neighborhoods. They are re-foresting the city with pecan, pear and apple trees. Quite a bit of OKC lost it's tree cover during the extended winter power outage a few years ago when people started cutting down anything they could find to heat their houses. The trees are sometimes on city land, other times on church or other private property, but anyone can forage the fruits or nuts. We still haven't solved the problem of winter heating, but there are a lot more wood cooperatives that sustainably coppice wood fuel, and people have learned how to move into their south-facing rooms during winter time.

After dropping my cabbers and my shipments off, only my son and I are left to head down to my mother-in-law's neighborhood. It's basically as far south as you can get and still be in Oklahoma City. Their four-bedroom house is beautiful, but every year it becomes harder to keep clean and more expensive to heat and cool. Why do they stay there, far away from anything, far from us? Pride? Independence? Mulish stubbornness? I hope that they decide to move near us soon, because the city is threatening to close down all city services next year, including their food ration-station. The city says they can't afford to maintain that area any more.

My mother in law is overjoyed to see her grandson. We unload some food we've brought, and I do some chores around the house and weed their garden. Grandma has mended and hemmed some laundry for us (one of the skills I haven't yet mastered). She makes sure to take at least one picture of Connor before we go. I send her pictures over the Internet, sometimes, but she likes to have a monthly one of them together. I distract Connor as we pull away so he doesn't see Grandma cry. I hate to leave so early, but we have to pick up our returning cabbers.

We return home safe and sound by 7 pm. The Sun Oven has kept dinner warm, and there's bread leftover from lunch, so we just snip some lettuce for salads and some flowers for the table. As we set out the food, I'm reminded of James Howard Kunstler's book World Made By Hand. I know I'm mangling his quote, but he wrote something like "Life had become so hard that living without beauty had become unbearable." That's why we grow flowers.

We take a moment of silence for our friends who died in the West Nile epidemic last summer. Since then, a local herbalist has developed a pretty decent mosquito repellent, but the big improvement came when the neighborhood alliance got the abandoned and neglected pools under control. We had no idea there were so many until they did a house-to-house inspection. Now, instead of cesspools, we have several backyard fisheries in our area keeping us supplied with fish through most of the year. It also helps that most people have a few chickens in their backyards. Chickens are voracious bug-eaters, and that includes mosquitos.

Our friends from a few blocks over stop by for a glass of homebrew and a lively game of Spades. They've brought a peach pie as thanks for some kale we gave them in the spring. As we eat and play cards, my friend fills me in on the juicy gossip so vital for understanding our community. Pregnancy, birth, marriage, illness, injury, death - these events aren't just cause for celebration or mourning, but times when people need help. It took a while for us as a community to get over our hyper-individualistic need for "independence", and our narcissistic need for perfection, but I think we've finally learned that none of us can go it alone. At least, I sure as hell can't.


To be continued in Part 3 (the end of my day - finally!).


nika said...

We are well and truly there here in the USA.

Read this true account and also the comments... it reads like fevered peak oil future thoughts but its today and its many of our neighbors.

Wendy said...

I realize this is fiction, but if you're really working toward this kind of future, you might consider also including ducks, which would work great in those backyard pools AND are voracious mosquito larvae eaters :).

Great story! I'm reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which isn't as optimistic as your scenario, and frankly, if the world becomes his vision, there isn't much point in continuing. Yours is much more what I would wish to see.

Aimee said...

I'm delighted to have stumbled on your blog recently. I'm very much enjoying your fiction. I think it's very plausible. Recently, my sister and I were talking about the possible futures here in the U.S. and she asked me "do you think we'll become like Africa?" I said, "I think it's more likely we'll become like the former soviet union." The ability of federal and local governments to provide services will decline and americans will have to show the ingenuity that our third world cousins are so practiced in to make ends meet (love your taxi idea). The services that remain will be increasingly expensive until eventually only the wealthy will have access to treated water and electricity. Those with the knowhow to produce their own will find their skills in demand. Thanks for your very entertaining vision of the near future!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Wendy - I plan to never read the Road (although I have heard it is great). I need to focus on the positive as much as possible! I hope this series will inspire people to work towards the future they WANT rather than just prepare for a future they FEAR.

Aimee - thanks!

Gavin said...

Great story. I also loved part 1. I know it is just fiction, but it rings so true to me as well.

Can't wait for part 3.


nika said...

Here is a link to more collapse happenings - sawmills shutting, chickens and solar panels being stolen.

Over at Seeking Simplicity

Michelle Ellis said...

these are so fun to read, it's like time travel(:

Lewru said...

Yay! Love it! Thanks for continuing your series. It's so inspiring and hopeful!

Anonymous said...

but add a few more years to your story and it may have a different tone.

at some point a critical mass of disrepair is likely to happen. scavenging in the dregs of modern civilization maybe ok at first but not so fun when things really fall apart and shortages that can't be avoided. if life is without most appliances is it also w/o other industrial products?

if you still haven't solved the problem of winter heating what will keep people from cutting down the newly planted trees?

How are you dealing with civil unrest and policing in your future?

ps i also noticed women are still cleaning carpets... men doing man stuff in your scenario?

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Anon - Good points. I am probably not going to address every aspect of life in my short scenario. It might turn darker in the future, other places in the US have certainly experienced a far harder time than "we" have. Feel free to check out the next and final installment to see if any of your questions are answered.

Anonymous said...

Its already happening:

Alabama’s most populous county is preparing to stop road maintenance, close courthouses and shutter services for the elderly after a court struck down taxes that pay for about 35 percent of its budget.