Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 16, 2016
Discuss this story at the Collapse Narratives Table inside the Diner
For Karl, his mind was also racing as he exited Kenny's road onto the logging road, making his way down the 6% grade and then back up another 8% grade to get back to the paved road. He was exhilirated, but also needed time to think. Instead of making the right to take the most direct route back to his property, he made the left to take the scooter for a cruise on 135 to Quinn's Hot Springs Resort. It was a pretty long drive along the Clark Fork River to get there, but they had a great selection of beers in the Tavern there, and live music on the weekends as well. The Harwood House restaurant had fabulous food. The drive was near the end of the range of a round trip for the scooter, but there was no problem with plugging in there for a recharge for a few hours while having a nice lunch and a couple of beers, then spending some time soaking in the mineral hot spring water. That always made his arthritis melt away. So no worries about running out of juice on the way home.
Karl opened the throttle up for the drive, sometimes hitting 80 but not really pushing the scooter to the limit. This was not a good day to die on the highway. He had taken a few spills on the gas powered motorcycles he had owned before the ZEV in his younger days when he was not so cautious. He was fortunate not to get too badly banged up himself, just a dislocated shoulder on one occassion and losing some skin on another, but he also did total his prized BMW R100 RT in the mid 1980's, knocking one of the cylinder heads off of the horizontally opposed twin cylinder air cooled engine, which was the state of the art for air cooled motorcycle engines before BMW went to liquid cooling technology like cars use.
Along the drive he passed the usual number of cars going in both directions, which was not too many but still a reasonable amount of traffic. It was a beautiful early spring day, and the usual number of locals were out to enjoy a day of Happy Motoring and picnicing along the Clark Fork River. It was so easy today to make this almost 90 mile trip from where he lived to Quinn's, but once his scooter gave out or he could no longer recharge it with his solar PV, Wind Turbines and Microhydro system, even getting there on Horseback would take a couple of days. By foot, probably a week at least, although he doubted he could make a hike that long with his arthritis.
For all the people driving gas powered internal combustion vehicles, the timeline to when they would no longer be able to make the trip to Quinn's was likely a lot shorter than he would be able to do it on his ZEV. Based on depletion rates and the ever deteriorating geopolitical situation in the Middle East, Karl couldn't see any way the Happy Motoring lifestyle was going to last more than another 5 years, while he felt he could probably get 10 years out of the ZEV if he didn't wreck it. He had a spare battset for it, and he didn't put that many hours on it each year that he would burn through the expected charge cycles of the Li-I batteries that fast. His electric generating equipment would probably last at least 10 years with good maintenance, and he had plenty of spare parts for that stuff also. Ten years was probably all he had left to go zipping around the highway anyhow, at 66 already that would put him at 76. Maybe he could make it to 80 if he was lucky, but 76 was plenty good enough if he could make it that far.
Before the gas actually ran out at the pumps though, most of the clientele at Quinn's probably would be gone before that, as they simply ran out of working money to buy enough gas and then pay the pretty exorbitant prices at Quinns for the craft beers, the fine menu and a day soaking in the mineral water. Karl had already noted a decrease in the total clientele from the lively days of the 1980s and 1990s when he frequented it the most. Quinn's actually was around even before his time, going way back to the late 1800s. That was the Gilded Age, attracting the wealthy Robber Barons of the era, but how well Quinn's could attract enough clientele in it's current incarnation to stay open once gas was scarce was an open question.
Quinn's also was no longer the simple log cabins and baths in the native springs it was back in those early years serving just a few of the outrageously rich pigmen of the era, it had grown to a large resort with big industrially produced pools fed by the hot springs and dependent on plenty of electricity from the grid to keep all the systems operating. The motif still LOOKED like the rustic kind of log cabins you would expect in the Montana mountains, but in it's current incarnation just as dependent on industrialization to function as the city of Missoula. Without the steady weekly flow of visitors, maintaining the economics of the place to pay for all these ammenities was a dicey proposition.
Besides that, all the fine foods, wines and beers that were served were all brought in from 100s if not 1000s of miles away, many coming in from across continents. As international shipping declined and trade declined, all those scrumptious delights currently available in the Montana mountains would disappear. Maybe gradually, maybe suddenly, but they were bound to disappear, along with the Happy Motoring Amerikan Middle class still left patronizing the place.
As Karl pulled up behind the tavern and plugged in to one of the outdoor outlets to recharge the scooter, all that was still in the future though, and Quinn's was still a great place to hang out for a relaxing day at the Hot Springs. Even though he was basically a Hermit, during the season he had always been a regular at Quinn's and was well known by everyone, management and staff alike as well as the regular patrons. Plugging in the scooter was no big issue, everybody knew his ZEV, it was the only one of its kind around and when he parked it and plugged in, everyone quickly knew that Karl was in for a visit.
He walked in to the tavern and was greeted by an old acquaintance, the head bartender Big John who usually got Karl his drinks for free since he would always spend money freely everywhere else in the establishment. John was known as "Big John" because he stood 6'6" and weighed 245, and nobody gave no lip to Big John. Legend was he came up from Lousiana after a fight over a Cajun Queen, and a crashing blow from a big right hand sent a Lousiana man to the Promised Land. Big John. Big Bad John….(credit lyrics: Jimmy Dean, Big John). Billy was at the Piano, and Paul who was a Real Estate Novelist and Davey who was still in the Navy and probably would be for life were talking at the bar as always. (credit lyrics, Billy Joel, Piano Man). Well, it was sort of like that anyhow. 🙂
"Great to see you Karl! You're in early this year! What's up?" John inquired.
"Oh, nothing special" Karl lied, "Just felt like giving the ZEV an early spin this year and getting out on the road. Beautiful spring day we have here this year!"
As a matter of habit, Karl didn't give any details of what was going on at his doomstead, even though the long term employees mostly knew around where it was located, though not specifically. Over the whole 40 years he had owned the place, he only had a couple of visitors actually come to the Earthship, and that was long ago. His cousin Ingrid had come for a visit early on, and promptly pronounced him nuts to the rest of the family back in Wisconson. Then for a while he got to know one of the other cabin owners who came up regularly in the fall hunting season, who although he wasn't a prepper or doomer was a very down to earth guy with a good sense of humor. Karl gave him permission to hunt on his land, and he ran across the earthship on his own, despite the fact it was fairly well disguised being built into the side of the mountain. They stayed friends a few years in the 90s, but Martin eventually sold the place when he moved to Canada in the aftermath of 9-11. Karl had considered going ex-pat with him after this mockery which put even Tricky Dicky's antics to shame, but he had too much time and energy invested in his doomstead and couldn't bear the thought of leaving it and starting over somewhere else.
"So what would you like? We've got some great new craft beers on tap this year."
"Why don't you give me a Sampler selection", Karl replied, rehearsing the same line they had been using since John had become head bartender a decade earlier. The selection of beers changed every year, and on his first trip of the season to Quinn's John would pour one of each into a 2 oz shot glass, which Karl would sample. After the first round he would decide which half of the selection he liked most, then repeat the process for another half or so, until he was down to just 2 or 3 for the final decision. Whichever beer that was would be his selection for the rest of the season.
Karl and John talked across the bar about all the latest in news and about the business at Quinn's, which after the 2008-9 financial crash had recovered, but seemed to have dwindled again the prior year. All were hopeful though that the 2018 season would see another recovery.
After choosing a nice rich full bodied Lager as the best beer and with a nice little buzz on, it was time to go soak the bones in the hot springs, then come back later for a nice thick and juicy cut of Prime Rib and a couple of Maine Lobster Tails for dinner.
"Reserve my regular table for me for 6 o'clock." Karl told John. "Maggie working tonight?"
Maggie was even more of a fixture at Quinn's than John, she had been waiting tables there for nearly 30 years. Karl had even dated her back in the days he was still actively seeking the opposite sex, at least for conjugal purposes if not for a long term relationship. She had taken a few years off when she got married and had a kid, but then returned to Quinn's after her divorce, raising her daughter Karen as a single mom.
John's expression turned sad, a mist came over him and Karl could see tears welling up in his eyes.
"Maggie died over the winter. Leukemia."
"Oh God." Karl sighed. "She was only 56."
"We would have contacted you for the funeral, but nobody had your phone number or email address."
Karl silently cursed himself. His obsession with secrecy had exacted another price in his life.
"There is a small bright side to it though. Her daughter Karen took over her spot after the funeral. She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but so far hasn't been able to land a job in the field. She's waiting the tables until something turns up."
Karl hadn't seen Karen for years, just meeting her a few times when she was hanging around Quinn's while her mom worked. She was an adventurous girl, and on one occassion he did go rafting on the river in a group of regulars and employees from Quinn's with her, Maggie, John and a few others. She also kayaked the river on her own, and had been a nationally ranked White Water Kayaker in her teens.
"It will be nice to see her again." Karl said quietly. "At least I can express my condolences."
"I'll let her know you're coming when she gets here. Now go soak in the hot springs. It'll make you feel better."
Karl nodded. A sauna and a nice long soak was just what he needed.
Since he hadn't planned the trip to Quinn's before leaving for Kenny's encampment early that morning he didn't have a bathing suit with him, but he always left one that John kept for him on occassions he stopped in.
"You have my suit in the back John? I didn't bring one with me."
"Yea sure. Keep an eye on the bar for me while I go get it."
John was back quickly with the suit and a towel, and Karl headed down the hill to change and hit the sauna before soaking in the mineral water. As the dry heat soaked into his body and the sweat began to flow out of his pores, the experiences of the day also flowed through his mind, like the water flowing down the Clark Fork River. He had experienced more elation and more sadness in any one day that he could remember in his 66 years of life. Living alone and for the most part eschewing close relationships, he didn't usually have the kind of mood swings that come when wonderful things happen and when tragedies happen to friends and loved ones. Hermits, Monks and other Solitary individuals are different than the population of people who marry and have families in this way.
Karl meditated on Maggie, remembering the good times they had had together so long ago. The camping trips, and even the Las Vegas vacation she prodded him into taking her on when she insisted he had to "see how the other half lives". Even though the whole place was a sickening example of Amerikan Kulture, he DID have fun gambling in the casino, as just about all math oriented people do, especially those who played in the Big Casino on Wall Street. He still was actively doing that, making much bigger bets on the emerging Dot Com Bubble. Karl could count cards, he knew the systems and had a nearly photographic memory. He won enough money to pay for the trip 2 times over at the blackjack table, and gave all of it to Maggie to help her out, as she was struggling to meet bills at the time. He got a nostalgic kick out of seeing Chuck Berry perform, one of his favorite rock music acts from his childhood. He remembered the walks in the moonlight, and the soft kisses at night.
He knew Maggie wanted him to marry her, but by the time they met he was already well entrenched in the solitary lifestyle, and once it became clear to Maggie he wasn't going to change his mind, they drifted apart. She met another man, a lawyer from Spokane who was vacationing at Quinn's and married him, disappearing for about 5 years. Then she returned to Lolo after a divorce and came back to Quinn's, and they became friends again, although not lovers this time.
Thinking about Maggie and the good times they had together gave him some peace of mind, and he said a silent prayer for her, in his own Panentheistic way. He closed off his meditation on Maggie, and his mind wandered further onto what to do with Kevin, and how to approach this idea of creating a tribe of people to live on their land after TSHTF? Who could they find, and how to approach them without appearing crazy? How to keep security on the land while not relying so much on stealth and secrecy? These were hard questions, and would occupy his mind for the whole week, until Kenny returned from Missoula.
Karl felt relaxed and at ease as he exited the hot springs pool, showered and put his street clothes back on. His joints felt better than they had all winter; he felt almost like he was 20 again. OK, maybe not, maybe more like 50 he laughed to himself. He was mighty hungry though, since he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast with Kenny that morning. He walked on back up the hill, looking forward to a fine meal of Prime Rib and Maine Lobster Tails, washed down with one of the many fine wines in the list at Quinn's.
Walking into the Dining Room at the Harwood House restaurant, the Maitre'd Adam recognized him immediately and gave him a big smile.
"Karl! You're in early this season!" He remarked. "John said you were dropping in for dinner. Got your table all ready!" Pro Forma, Adam walked Karl over to the table and handed him the menu and wine list, although he really didn't have to look at it. Neither one changed that much from year to year, although periodically they would get in a new Head Chef with some different specialties, so it was worth browsing the menu to see if that was the case this year. He was pretty set on having the Surf & Turf though, which was always on the menu regardless who was chef.
Adam walked off, and a couple of minutes later after he had had enough time to do some wine list & menu browsing, the wine steward came over to ask him what he would like to drink, and he chose an Amavi Cellars Cabernet, out of Walla Walla Washington. He always picked a fairly local wine to go with dinner.
He was still sipping the wine and looking through the menu when Karen came over.
"Nice to see you again Karl!" she said with a bright smile. "Know what you want for dinner yet".
Karl looked up to see Karen, who had the same stunning combination of jet black hair and bright blue eyes as here mother, although her hair was cut a good deal shorter than Maggie wore her hair. In fact her hair was even shorter than Karl's, since he tended to let it grow and only trim it through the winter, taking only two haircuts a year in town, one in the spring and another in the fall before winter set in.
"It's great to see you too Karen. You look so much like your mom…" Karl said wistfully. "I am so sorry to hear about her passing." he said, taking her hand.
"Thank you Karl. It was rough. She wouldn't do chemotherapy or radiation therapy. She wouldn't go in hospital and she said she was going to die in her own bed."
"That sounds like Maggie, alright." Karl nodded.
"She always talked about you Karl. She called you "My big flame"." Karen said with a smile.
Tears welled up in Karl's eyes, and he had to wipe them off with his sleeve. There was an awkwad moment of silence, Karl simply did not know what to say. Karen broke the silence.
"We all have to move on though…" she said. "Now, what's for dinner?"
Karl composed himself, closing the menu. "I'll have the Prime Rib and 2 Lobster Tails. Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus." Karl replied, trying to keep back the tears.
Karen brought the meal a few minutes later, and while he ate he let his mind wander back more to the time with Maggie, realizing the empitness her passing had left in him. He was connected to people, despite his years of solitary living. Looking into himself, he wondered why he had chosen this path? Maybe he should have married Maggie? Maybe he shouldn't have cut himself off from others the way he did? How could he be so callous? How could he break her heart this way?
As he finished the meal, Karen came back over to the table.
"Can I get you anything else Karl?" She asked? "Maybe some Desert?"
"No, I don't think so Karen. That was quite enough food. Maybe a cup of coffee though. I have a decent drive back to my place. Need to be on my toes on the scooter."
"Sure, I'll go get some java right off!" she replied.
Karen had been in turmoil the whole night, and her emotions were running wild. She knew this moment would come some time while working at Quinn's and she had tried to steel herself and make ready for it, but even so it had been so hard not to blurt it out when Karl started crying over the loss of Maggie.
Karen brought the coffee back to Karl's table and set it down. Karl took a sip and smiled. "Same great Quinn's coffee."
"Karl, can I sit down with you for a minute?" Karen asked. "I have something to tell you."
"Sure Karen, have a seat." Karl replied, wondering what Karen wanted to say. What was there really left to say? There was just the sadness.
Karen sat down, and Karl noted that her hands were trembling. He reached for his cup to have another sip of coffee, and then Karen told him what she had to say.
"You are my father." she said quietly.
Karl dropped the coffee cup, and the only thing that kept him from falling off his chair was the fact both arms were on top of the table.
"Oh my God." was all he could say.