Part 4

We heard that one of the states that is doing really good is Oklahoma. Oklahoma, like all states, is divided into political precincts. I've heard there's about 186,000 such precincts in the nation, each of which would have an average population of about 1400 people. Every one of those precincts has an existing political party organization, usually two, sometimes three or four. In Oklahoma, for once the Democrats and Republicans got together on something and provided each of their precinct organizations with a packet of information in 1999 about what to do if things got really bad regarding the millennium bug.

In most areas, people were pretty disorganized for the first couple of months, but those Okies hit the ground running, with a dozen or more people in each district going door to door and seeing to the emergency situations, helping people rig for stormy weather, and generally being a calming presence and a nexus of organization and cooperative effort. Quite a redemption for a political organization, if you ask me. When I first heard about this, I could hardly believe it, but apparently it really happened there. The committees had already scoped out their areas -- these were the places they lived, so nobody downtown would know what was happening there like these committees would. Thus, they already knew the best places to establish heat shelters, which were typically schools and churches.

I wish we had thought of that in Missouri. Having pre-positioned information and organizers in every neighborhood would have been a big plus. Less reinventing of wheels, or even worse, reinventing of flat tires.

But anyway, we were talking about how we got through in Kansas City. March was lean, but we had soybeans and wheat and everything we could make from that, plus we had sausage and some beef (the cattle came into town after the pigs, and while we couldn't afford a whole beef, but we got some anyway as pay for helping the butcher in the parking lot). I'd say the opening of the Truman Road Market was one of the real major events of a very busy month. We were all rapidly becoming generalists, but this doesn't mean that specialization was a bad thing, or that it couldn't help us journey through. If we hadn't had a butcher, we still would've gotten the pig eaten, but it would have been a lot harder and the time we spent doing an inefficient job of butchering could have been invested elsewhere, doing something that we were better at.

Plus, everybody needed something (usually, some things). The stores were closed and empty, the shopping rush to end all shopping rushes happened in late December & early January (most stores did stay open, even without electricity, until they had no stock left, and prices went sky high). A lot of stores had seriously stocked up in the final quarter of 1999, especially grocery stores. Sales had been climbing all year long (it was a good year to be in grocery stocks, provided of course you got out before December, hehehe, and then managed to spend the money). There's no doubt that this last minute movement of goods from producers to consumers saved a lot of lives. If we had run out of food the last week of January, we would have been up the creek without a paddle, and it wouldn't be sweet smelling pure mountain water in that creek either.

So a market was essential to rebuilding our community. Fortunately, a market is easy to organize. All you need is space, merchants, and buyers. We had lots of space, and everybody was becoming a merchant and of course, we all were buyers. Never underestimate the ability of human beings to get together and make deals.

About a week after we put out our little newsletter, some people knocked on our door and asked how much we would charge to print them 100 announcements for a new market they were organizing at Truman and Hardesty. So, the famous phrase, "Whattya got?" came into play. As far as I was concerned, probably the most useful thing for us at this point was livestock, and it turned out that they knew somebody who had some chickens. So we ended up with a rooster and four hens and they got their flyers plus I threw in showing them how to make their own spirit duplicator. The first market was set to coincide with the St. Patrick's Day parade.

We immediately began to plot how we would win fame and fortune for ourselves at the new market. It's not that we expected we'd become the J.P. Morgan's of Old Northeast Kansas City, but I had stashed stuff for bartering purposes, just in case. I had quite a bit of extra spices and sewing thread and other notions, and a bunch of hard candy. We also had a printing press (it worked at least as good as Gutenberg's), with limited paper, so we would ask more if somebody wanted something printed and needed paper than if they had their own paper. At that first market, in fact, we did a brisk business printing, "JOHN SMITH WHERE ARE YOU" and "JOHN SMITH IS at X ADDRESS". We also printed sign bills for tailors, carpenters, plumbers, and several other trades. People were starting to put up large sheets of wood at the heads of streets, and people would come by and tack notices on them. Kind of a substitute for the daily news on the TV or in the newspaper.

We did a lot of printing business on credit for "favors" (especially the advertising, one never knows when you will need an expert at something) as this was just before the neighborhood bucks program began, about which more will be said presently), but we decided we needed to see some hard goods before letting loose of any of the spices, sewing notions, or candy (other than the free pieces we handed out as samples). We took a little US money, but if you were paying with dollars, prices were sky-high, which is another way of saying that the value of the dollar was low. The government had really let people down, most people figured, and so its money was suspect.

A barber showed up and was busy all day cutting hair, people were doing hair wraps and weaves, offering all sorts of "consulting" services, announcing meetings, classes, some people brought drums, there were a dozen bars operating in various corners of the lot, and of course, there was all the typical Irish craziness; the end of the world may come and go, but the Irish will party on St. Paddy's Day. I guess people bought green dye as part of their emergency preparations because there sure was a lot of it around (grin). . Imagine crossing the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert with a St. Patrick's Day parade and throwing in a large flea market/garage sale, and you'll kind of get the picture. Much more interesting than any mall ever even thought about being.

The day began with a big mass concelebrated by all the priests of the area parishes, and the recessional procession of the mass was the initial unit of the parade. Three processional crosses led by a half dozen altar boys and girls swinging incense and carrying candles, followed by a statue of St. Patrick carried by the Knights of Columbus (in full regalia), then the priests and parish banners. There were Irish setters, leprechauns, and lots of clowns, Chinese and Vietnamese dragons, Native American dancers, Korean drummers, the Guadalupanas were out in force and we even had a bagpiper. When I heard the skirl of the pipes, I realized that I had truly forgotten something in my preparations: I hadn't bought any bagpipes! What else had I forgotten! Anyway, one didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know this was a diverse area, but it was nice seeing it all together marching down Truman Road. In the afternoon, a military truck pulled up and some National Guard troops started handing out MRE's; they were liberally repaid with beer (there were some very potent and raw home-made beverages available). I hope they didn't get into too much trouble when they got home.

After the day's business wound down, the partying intensified. People brought instruments, and pretty soon there was a 20 piece orchestra carrying on (with minimal direction, but great enthusiasm, and there were some experienced players there), everything from a plastic wastebasket drummer to a flute, clarinet, several string players, and one group even hauled a piano down on rollers, so I got to get in a lick or two. People were dancing, singing old songs, everybody went home quite happy and satisfied. I noticed the next day that there wasn't any trash at the market site either, not even the containers of the MRE's. We were learning about this new world, and it would appear the learning curve was accelerating sharply.

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