Don't Take it Personally

The Pork King of South Carolina was more florid than his personal standard for four in the afternoon. F. Jimmy Denton held his fourth mint julep. His jowls shook as he hollered into the phone. “The hell with what you thought you were going to do with that pile. It’s goin’ on the next sulfur seeding run, headed north over New York tomorrow mornin’.” Jimmy parts the vertical blinds with his belly, moves onto the deck, and stares out at the beach.

“Don’t EPA me, those jokers are all for seedin’ these days anyway.” Jimmy chuckled, adding, “They might even quit hounding me over the hogs for a few days on account of me joinin’ the fight against global warmin’ an’ all.”

Actually, although Jimmy was interested in keeping his Columbia beachfront hotels on dry land, he wasn’t just your average robber baron bent on doing some charitable climate-altering. After a business trip to New York the previous week, he was bent on raining down brimstone (sulphur-based fertilizer) on the city in general, and in particular a certain statue of General Sherman in Central Park. He’d stumbled upon the monument to the Damndest Yankee last week on his way back to his hotel and ever since he had been apoplectic (to the point where his chief of staff had arranged to have him followed by an ambulance on standby). Sulfur melts statues, right? Jimmy thought he remembered something like that from science class.

It was the coldest winter New York had seen in fifty years. Under the leaden, streaked sky, the Hudson froze for the first time in anyone’s living memory. Gina Digitaldo, third generation corporate shakedown artist (part of the Capone family tree), was starting to realize that her short of Alberta natural gas might have been ill timed. In the fall, the plan had seemed brilliantly executed - gas prices had danced exactly to her whims and she made a quick $900M. She had bought the condo in Soho with a small part of the money. She hadn’t expected the late-fall price increase to trigger the Denouncement. Or the subsequent blockade from the Philadelphia homesteaders, which cut off the city’s gas supply.

Insult was added to injury when Pennsylvania gobbled up the gas to can the tomatoes from the balmy fall harvest, the warmest on record with no sign of next year being any different. The blockade had been spectacularly effective, by Christmas gas flows to non-critical infrastructure had completely ceased. Further insult was added when the pipes in Gina’s now un-heatable condo froze and burst.

All of this would never have happened if the homesteaders hadn’t been on the move back in September, fleeing drought ridden Albany for the greener pastures of brownfield lots in Philadelphia. Evan Aldridge, the spiritual, moral, and environmental leader of the homesteaders, would freely admit amongst friends that caravaning through Manhattan was slower than expected. Lured by offers in solidarity of housing by affiliate groups in the deserted suburbs of Long Island and the wilds of the Meadowlands, the multitudinous assemblage of bicycles and human powered trucks had careened its path through central Manhattan.

The caravan stretched through both morning and evening rush hours, turning business as usual gridlock into something that moved at the approximate pace of nearly-set concrete. Aside from the disastrous pace, things had gone pretty well, Evan thought. The closest brush with disaster happened when his security team, sadly necessary in these dark days, had tussled with a group of professionals guarding a sweating fat man in a pink shirt. This jowly man with his bowtie and smell of gin had carelessly doored a cyclist in the caravan, while getting out of a black car that had run out of gas as it sat in the gridlock. The cyclist wasn’t badly hurt but got up off the pavement yelling, full of adrenaline, and itching for a fight. The caravan’s security team, headed by an ex-pipe layer’s union woman named Arty, a quick hand with a length of steel, had channeled the energy of the riot that ensued into the destruction of the abandoned black car rather than a brawl with the security goons.

Evan still credits Arty’s quick thinking for his being able to make it to his scheduled speech in Giant’s stadium that night. It was there that the dogmatic groundwork for the gas boycott was laid. Evan came out against New York City’s natural gas use, in a textbook settler speech that invoked every argument from the tyranny of carbon, to Wall Street’s greed, to energy independence, to Jimmy Hoffa rolling in his grave. Few people noticed that the Philadelphia settlers quietly benefited from the cheaper power, or that Pennsylvania’s last coal plant shut down due to it’s inability to compete. Evan will admit, amongst friends, that he isn’t displeased by these unintended consequences.  


The first group of homesteaders had actually been on the West coast, not the East. They sprung up the lots of LA, after the division of California into six states had fractured the state’s water system into at least that many bitterly opposed fiefdoms. These factions quickly resulted in the abandonment of the desert-climate cities south of King’s River, due to complete lack of any potable water. LA remained populated the longest, but depopulated the quickest after the Colorado River swept away the aging Hoover Dam one wet spring weekend - taking the city’s last water source with it. That summer, as the city emptied, the small initial group of settlers were headed by Sylvia Castor, a one time folk singer, tea shop owner, and boutique weed grow-op expert. In semi-deserted buildings around the state of Southern California, she created a series of successful cooperatively-run indoor farms.

They were profitable enough that they were able to pay the premiums of water imported by barge from the independent Republic of Alaska. During this period they became a nationally cited permaculture model, inspiring similar groups in hundreds of other cities. In what has become tradition for the settlers, Sylvia was publicly a mystical, inspirational god-head for the movement, while privately being a highly pragmatic, quietly money and influence savvy leader.  But the LA settlers weren’t prosperous enough to pay the water bill and pay off the heavily militarized federal Department of Drug Enforcement, which destroyed the entire early Southern California homesteader movement in a single night ten years ago. Much of the movement remains unaccounted for, while the DEA claims the raid never happened. Old-timers in the desert now report Sylvia sightings with higher frequency than Elvis and UFOs combined.

Since then, the homestead movements have scrupulously avoided the “SoCal crop model”, or else have been even more scrupulous in the size of their DEA bribes.


In a biker bar in West Oakland, Bob the Belt Buckle Consultant set his bike under the bar and ordered a drink. A “Personal Portlander” style consultant working in the city state of San Francisco, he knew that no one would ever leave a bike outside, what with the acid rain and the roaming chop crews from the tall bike gangs. As he took the first sip, some hella wasted wiry little rider he didn’t recognize leaned heavily on the bar a few feet away, over a strange old bike he couldn’t quite place.

“Hey dude - are those brakes? Are you kidding?” the rider called from down the bar.

This deadly insult from a loud stranger, in front of a full house, could be properly answered only by a knife fight. Arty had taught him well in Philadelphia, and he could carry his own and more with a knife. He had already drawn his switchblade behind his back when something about the stranger gave him pause, made him think that fighting might be a mistake.

And then he recognized the bike and knew it was her. Bianca, the legendary courier of top secrets for Cascadia. He shuddered for a brief second as he closed his knife and realized how close to death he had come. And he smiled and shouted back the only possible response: “Is that a Huffy? Let me buy you a drink.”