Y2K? Why Not? (January 27, 1999)

Mendoland is gearing up for the Y2K crisis in its usual ways: inflated rhetoric with a sub-theme of muted hysteria and meetings. Folks as diverse and as, well, grounded, as 5th District Supervisor David Colfax and former 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches are involved, as are the staid Ukiah Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Bell and the County’s Emergency Services office. (PG&E didn’t participate in a recent County Y2K meeting because they are “concerned about litigation.”) Supervisor Colfax says he’s getting a series of community forums going because, “There are many things to be concerned about.”

Agreed. The end of modern civilization is a matter for concern. But Y2K is not likely to be the end or even much in the way of fodder for the Evening News. But it’s fun to contemplate, and contemplation is what Mendoland does best.

Yorkville’s Barbara Lamb declared on a KZYX radio show recently that one of her main concerns was the lack of toilet facilities in the wake of Y2K, adding, “If the sewer system doesn’t work, people in the city aren’t even going to have the wherewithal to go out and dig a hole in the backyard to use. Whereas people in the country know that that’s the first thing you would do: Go poop in the yard!” Orlean Koehle of Rincon Valley agrees, urging Press Democrat readers last week that, “We should re-learn how to build an outhouse.”

Are we to believe that city dwellers might heave poop out their windows, or hide it under their mattresses? Are they that remote from common sense?

Advertisers for various Y2K survival products on Art Bell’s wildly popular late-nite talk show — paranoid insomniacs from coast to coast — aren’t missing a beat: “Get your orders in. Due to high demand, prices will be going up soon.”

Then there’s the Spam solution: “If people buy an extra case of Spam, it will help the economy,” said Y2K planner Donna Jones of Santa Rosa. “If we have some disruptions in the supply lines, we will have Spam. If nothing bad happens, we will have to eat the Spam.” A week of Spam might kill you deader than a computer glitch here and there.

Jason Kelly’s apocalyptic book entitled “Y2K: It’s Already Too Late” has been invoked at several Mendo meetings; it calculates that the steps necessary to avoid the Y2K catastrophe should have been taken last year or earlier and it is now too late to prevent it, so everybody ought to stock up. Say your goodbyes and retreat to the rumpus room with enough booze to last until at least January 3rd, 2000, seems to be the message here.

The Domino Theory has been reborn in dire warnings of mass power blackouts, hospital equipment failures while patients are hooked up, factory breakdowns, fire equipment malfunctions, runs on banks, (and whole banking system collapses), food shortages, riots, jail doors popping open, transportation coming to a halt, thermonuclear war... KZYXers and hard-core Christians have even been speculating on martial law and totalitarian measures being imposed to ensure the orderly dispatch of the final boxes of Cheerios from your neighborhood Safeway. 

A large number of Americans are already planning to carry extra cash as the big day approaches and are stockpiling food, water, and fuel. The hardcore hysterics are buying guns and moving to rural areas. These folks expect computers to fail and banking to be disrupted. Fully 38% expect riots and social unrest. And 9% (representing maybe 15-20 million adults?) answered yes to the proposition: “The world as we know it will end.” 

The techno-Apocalypse has become a serious market. 

Absent from all the wild talk is what will happen to the large majority of the American population — the people who barely get from pay check to pay check in the present chaos and who do not have the resources to stockpile a case of beer let alone a year’s supply of rice, beans or ammo. A neighbor of mine in Philo has his own Y2K plan: “I hope my neighbors stockpile plenty of stuff,” he said. “Then all I’ll have to stockpile will be a few shotgun shells.”

But for those of us with the means to prepare for the end of the world, not only are we advised to have up to a year’s worth of food on hand, but the bargain rate mystics among us suggest that we also stockpile some “Inner Preparedness” and “transformation potential” along with laying up hens and shotguns. 

But if Y2K is as serious as some people say it is, will a few buckets of rice and several crates of oat bran energy loaf be enough to weather life off the grid?

The fact is that apart from law enforcement and road maintenance, if county government disappeared altogether it might be years before the average Mendo resident knew a whole level of government was no longer with us.

Minucha Colburn has been holding Y2K meetings at the Mendocino Art Center on the Coast. “A friend has found a lot stuff on the Internet,” Ms. Colburn says, “a lot of truth. We have not been given the truth about this.” Ms. Colburn uses words like  “meltdown” when referring to simple Y2K bookkeeping glitches.

Some people think that maybe the collapse of Western Civilization wouldn’t be that bad. Coast activist Mary Walsh says that Y2K is “an opportunity to STOP this hideous destruction on every level going on all around us. It seems like it’s the only way to get all these things to grind to a halt.”

Please, Mary, speak for yourself. Frankly, I like life on the grid. My grandparents lived off the grid and it was hard work every day all day all their lives.

Rumors wafting out of the software world have it that some unscrupulous programmers may be creating careers for themselves next year by inserting simple Y2K glitches into computers, glitches that look bad but are easy to fix, but which the Y2K fakers will milk for as many billable hours as possible.

But seriously, while all of this nonsense has been a major boon for local bulk food stores and other doomsday businesses, nothing as exciting (or as desirable) as the end of industrial civilization is going to happen. The machine will grind on, hiccuping as usual, thousands of sillies will go on buying the Utne Reader, the Mendocino Art Center will continue to produce moving renditions of the lives of chipmunks, KZYX will move on to the next manufactured crisis, and Mendocino County’s weekly consignments of potato chips will arrive on schedule in big trucks driven up highway 101.

KZYX’s Ross Murray — a sensible 80 years old — has so far issued the only sensible Y2K advice I’ve heard. He told a caller worried about Y2K Social Security and Medicare problems, “Social Security is OK. I don’t know about Medicare… But don’t let ’em scare ya, hon.” 

One Response to "Y2K? Why Not? (January 27, 1999)"

  1. Betsy Cawn   January 20, 2020 at 6:05 am

    December, 1999, Lake County’s “Women’s Business Association” (I wonder what happened to them . . .) offered a dinner event featuring a speaker who was a “computer consultant” with plenty of advice about the Y2K disaster ahead. $20, a lousy steak and cold baked potato, mostly women all gussied up in their professional outfits and gushing cheap business cards, and this DOS-dork predicting chaos as major utilities failed and our CPUs went 5150.

    Visiting from the Bay Area, I thought at the time it was an entirely Lake County form of rural ignorance — glad I missed the Mendo madness, which seems to have spawned the present-day slob mob mass hysteria.

    Maybe the world really did start coming apart on 1/1/2000, only the machines didn’t take much notice. 20 years later, “mental health” shapes the daily fare of plaints and spite confounding the public servants tasked with spending public money responsibly — in a completely new framework of crazed communications called “tweets.” Looney tunes, we miss you!

    Reply

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