CAMPOUT: A Rehoboth Journal - Why Too Kay, or It's Geek to Me
|by Fay Jacobs|
I knew if I put off writing my column until dangerously close to deadline, something especially weird would happen.
It was the day the Congressional report on the Y2K mess was released, with newspapers and TV all squawking about the coming computer crisis. Along with reports of the woeful unreadiness of government agencies came tales of survivalists digging shelters to hoard food and guns. They seem convinced that on Jan. 1, 2000, when the whole countrys power grid goes down (oh, if it were only that simple to stifle Jerry Springer.), with frozen ATM machines and people bartering toilet paper for Lean Cuisine, they expect Bill Clinton to revoke the Constitution, declare a dictatorship and end democracy as we know it.
Lock and Load! These rabid survivalists plan to lock shelter doors, load their AK47s and keep less prepared citizens away from their stockpile of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. One enterprising family ordered waterbeds for extra H20 storage. Yecccch!
All this sounds pretty alarmist to me, but then Congress recommends that "Americans should prepare for the year 2000 computer bug like they would a hurricane, by stocking up on canned food and bottled water in case vital services are cut off."
Now unless youve been under a non-digital rock, you know that many computers cannot recognize the year 2000. To save expensive disk space, early programmers tracked dates with only the last two numbers of the year. If not fixed, many computers will read 00 as 1900, no doubt causing them to crash since computers werent invented until the 1950s. You gotta love writer Peter de Jagers comment blaming the programmersin a recent on-line column he called it a Geek Tragedy.
But so far, my all-time favorite Y2K comment comes from an e-mail memo now spamming the web. Its addressed to an unnamed company from an unnamed technical guru, noting "As you requested, staff has completed 18 months of work on Y2K Compliance. We have gone through every line of code in every program in every system, analyzed all databases, all files, including backups and historic archives, and modified all data to reflect the "Y-to-K" date change. All dates reflect the new standard: Januark, Februark, March, April, Mak, June, Julk, etc. as well as Sundak, Mondak, Tuesdak, Wednesdak, Thursdak, Fridak, Saturdak I trust that is satisfactory."
Ill say. So with Y2K scenarios in mind, Bonnie and I arrived at our Rehoboth condo the other night to find a total power outage. No lights, no heat, no welcoming frozen Margarita. No frozen anything. In fact, sticky low fat faux ice cream was leaching out the freezer door and drooling down towards the kitchen floor.
In the blackness, I groped for the phone, hoped I dialed 411 and asked for the electric companys emergency number. When the operator started to spout numbers, I couldnt see to write it down. "Could you connect me?" I asked, having a flashback to days on Walton Mountain when operators did those things.
"You have reached the emergency number for Conectiv Electric. If you are reporting a gas leak, press 1, an electric outage, press 2."
Who can see the numbers? Im lucky I found the phone. I punched something, heard an odd digital burp and realized Id punched redial. I had to start again with the operator.
"For a gas leak, press 1..
Auggghh!!!!I I prayed for the kind of kinetic memory accountants get where their fingers memorize the calculator key pad. The only number I seem to know without looking is 227-FAST for pizza. Finally, I accidentally hit a key that got me to an actual person.
"May I help you?"
"Yes! I have no electric in my condo and its freezing everywhere in here except my freezer. Can you send somebody to fix this?"
"How many units in the building are out? How many people have no electric?"
"Just two of us and a dog, but if that means you wont send somebody then there are a hundred of us here."
Fortunately, she laughed. And told me shed send somebody out but that it might take a while. "Do you have plenty of blankets?"
This was starting to sound bad. Just because Id been thinking about Y2K preparedness didnt mean I needed a drill.
"Do I have to stay here?" I asked, knowing that Cloud 9 had lights and comfortable bar stools.
"Oh yes, because if theres an appliance or circuit in your apartment that caused the problem they want you to be there when the electric goes back on."
Oh good, they want me in here when it blows up. I guess I understood their logic, but not being a survivalist myself, it didnt make me happy.
After lurching around and groping for the walls like Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark, I managed to find a candle or two, but no matches. So I left Bonnie and Moxie waiting for Godot while I went to the Blue Moon for a light. Hmmm. Nearly last call. I wonder how long its been since somebody asked for matches because they needed a light, not a place to write a phone number.
I hadnt been home long with the matches, the condo glowing like some retro counter-culture opium den, the three of us huddling for warmth, when the Conectiv truck appeared.
A thousand apologies, they said. Theyd meant to turn off a neighbors electric, not ours. "Call the Claims Department and tell them about the food you lost in the fridge."
Well, to be honest, there wasnt too muchhalf gallons of Mudslides and Margarita mix, some fat-free cream cheese, and a jar of Hellmans Real Mayo (just in case medical data reverses itself and Mayo is prescribed to reduce cholesterol and stop hot flashes). Oh yeah, there was that Heart Smart stuff we use instead of butter, but it showed no signs of meltingjust like when you cook with it.
And since our total culinary reputation lies in our making reservations, Im sure even the Conectiv claims department would smell a rat if we cited lost rump roasts and tuna surprise.
As these things go, our little Y2K preparedness drill put the problem in perspective for me. Let folks in Montana dig their bunkers; let New Years Eve revelers chance the air and cruise lines. Let conspiracy theorists protect themselves from dictators, banking paralysis and less reactionary neighbors trying to replace their canned Spam with fresh arugula, portobellos and moral pollution.
As for me, I intend to be here in Rehoboth with my friends, hunkered down with a stack of Blue Moon matches, a glow-in-the-dark Timex watch, and plenty of party food.
Well lock (the door) and load (up the battery-powered blender) and welcome the millenium.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 2, March 12, 1999