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Gimme Shelter

Here we were, on the brink of nuclear destruction, and my parents couldn’t grasp the necessity of a fallout shelter. We were a typical 1950s middle class family. Dad brought home the bacon and Mother fried it. They were glad when one payday stretched to the next. Forget money for a fallout shelter.

Still I persisted, having witnessed the scenario a dozen times on TV: after the Russians launched their rockets, no one else in the neighborhood was going to let us into their shelters. Come nuclear winter, prudent ants with cocked shotguns would not show mercy on us grasshoppers as we begged to get into their shelters.

Except, come to think of it, everyone on Cedar Street foolishly presumed, as did my denial-burdened parents, that huddling in the basement would have to serve when the warheads came raining down. I envisioned how those bottles (glass bottles no less) of fresh water that I ran along the basement wall might prove to be the difference in our survival through those first few grim days fol­lowing the attack. Later, when the wisdom of my plan­ning paid off as our family emerged into a brave new world, wouldn’t everyone be sorry for how they had made fun of my far-sighted preparation?

While many of us think of fallout shelters as Cold War relics, shelter manufacturers and installers report business is better than ever. Given today’s threats, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev’s rants almost qualify as “the good old days.”

Shelter manufacturers and installers such Radius Engi­neering in Terrell, TX and The Vivos Group of Del Mar, CA cite civil anarchy from total economic collapse, earthquakes, tsunamis, biological and chemical attacks. As Radius reminds us their website, “The future belongs to those who plan.” When the streets are given over to total anarchy, their clients will be safe and snug under­ground. When the sort of asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs clobbers earth again, thousands will be safe in shelters while the rest of us grope for flashlight batteries.

You can still build a backyard shelter — 1950s style with bunk bed cots and supplies of fresh water and dried foods. But today’s big shelters are communities, like underground cruise ships. You buy the right to admit­tance, like a membership, not the shelter itself. In addi­tion to private living quarters, huge shelters contain entertainment halls, restaurants, libraries and work out rooms in an air filtered safe environment. Thousands of people can remain underground for a year or more in fully stocked safe havens. Of course, the underground cruise ship may be two hours away from your house so after a disaster you may have to do some broken field running to get there. Once there, show your I.D. and the guy with the shotgun waves you in. Everything is stocked and waiting.

Name a “last person on earth novel” or “final colony” book and I’ve probably read it. Until the last year or two, I always identified with the survivors, seeing myself marching down a crumbling and deserted Wall Street or throwing out my bedroll under the splintered steel of what had once been the Golden Gate Bridge. Give me a jackknife and a water bottle and I could face anything.

Maybe it’s a sign of aging, but now I’d just as soon fall in the first wave of victims after someone reconsti­tutes the dinosaurs. I’d much prefer to live in a world where I pour breakfast from a cereal box than one where I must hunt it down.

That said, I do have several gallons of plastic water jugs out in the garden shed — glass breaks too easily.

(W.E. Reinka may be reached at

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