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A Day in the Life - Part 2

The continuing saga of a day in a life that might not be too far away... a life in a world of expensive energy and a contracting economy... a life filled with adjustments, sacrifices, and unexpected pleasures.

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When I wake from my nap, it's time for lunch. Hubby takes an hour off from his telecommute, my son Connor comes home from the rec center, and we all sit down for a vegetarian lunch (we save fish for a once weekly dinner). We have hummus and veggie sandwiches on our freshly baked bread with some fruit for a nice refreshing end. Gotta love those first cucumbers and strawberries! My son washes the dishes outside while I take the clothes in from the clothesline.

I've gotten used to life without most appliances. Lucky for me, we installed wood and tile floors the year before electricity prices went through the roof. I don't know how women with carpets clean them - vacuums suck a lot of energy. Even though we don't use clothes dryers and dishwashers, getting the household work done isn't much harder because attitudes have changed. Now, we expect our kids to help around the house, and if we have guests they all pitch in to clean up. Expectations are different too. I don't feel like my house has to be "perfect" to let a friend in the door. People understand that the house is now the center of life and not just a showplace for our possessions.

Afternoon - time to make a little cash. Today is the day to run our Prius cab. Since Oklahoma City is so large (still the fifth largest by area), most people can't afford to travel across the city. We never did get a decent bus system, although the city has improvised the best that they could under the circumstances. So, like many other families with high-mileage, low-emissions cars, we offer our hybrid as a carpooling and shipping service. Of course, we can only run the cab during the times when the state is not rationing gasoline. But it's a way to make some extra money, and despite the fact that we have cut expenses way back, and we barter a lot, we still have to pay taxes.

We load up the car with five people and all the stuff we can cram in the hatchback. This week is the week to head down to south Oklahoma City. I'm excited since I will get to see my in-laws who live down there. That is the saddest part about the gas price increases - they spelled the end for the anytime two-hour visit, and my mother in law only gets to see Connor once a month now, even though they only live thirty miles away. These days, most people have to plan out their visits and make them last.

The roads aren't too dangerous yet. The city stopped repairing potholes a while back, just one of many cutbacks, but OK-DOT still maintains the overpasses and bridges. When you can only travel at 25 mph (the city speed limit), you manage to avoid the potholes, even though some are getting to be pretty wide. We see more cyclists than cars on the highway. There are quite a few electric vehicles out there, but they aren't too much more useful than gas cars since the grid is unreliable. Overall, it looks like traffic is down about 75%, and most of the vehicles we see are corp-buses, destination buses, or jerry-rigged city buses.

I always feel a little sad when we pass over the devastated part of town. A large section of the Southwest side burned last year after a tornado outbreak, and it's still a smoking wreck. I wish I could tell you what happened, but all I know is rumors and some reports from the refugees. I'm glad the tornado sirens still work in most parts of the city.

We see a few Tree Teams working in some of the neighborhoods. They are re-foresting the city with pecan, pear and apple trees. Quite a bit of OKC lost it's tree cover during the extended winter power outage a few years ago when people started cutting down anything they could find to heat their houses. Although the trees are sometimes on city land, other times on church or other private property, anyone can forage the fruits or nuts. We still haven't solved the problem of winter heating, but there are a lot more wood cooperatives that sustainably coppice wood fuel, and people have learned how to move into their south-facing rooms during winter time.

After dropping my cabbers and my shipments off, only my son and I are left to head down to my mother-in-law's neighborhood. It's basically as far south as you can get and still be in Oklahoma City. Their four-bedroom house is beautiful, but every year it becomes harder to keep clean and more expensive to heat and cool. Why do they stay there, far away from anything, far from us? Pride? Independence? Mulish stubbornness? I hope that they decide to move near us soon, because the city is threatening to close down all city services next year, including their food ration-station. The city says they can't afford to maintain that area any more.

My mother in law is overjoyed to see her grandson. We unload some food we've brought, and I do some chores around the house and weed their garden. Grandma has mended and hemmed some laundry for us (one of the skills I haven't yet mastered). She makes sure to take at least one picture of Connor before we go. I send her pictures over the Internet, sometimes, but she likes to have a monthly one of them together. I distract Connor as we pull away so he doesn't see Grandma cry. I hate to leave so early, but we have to pick up our returning cabbers.

We return home safe and sound by 7 pm. The Sun Oven has kept dinner warm, and there's bread leftover from lunch, so we just snip some lettuce for salads and some flowers for the table. As we set out the food, I'm reminded of James Howard Kunstler's book World Made By Hand. I know I'm mangling his quote, but he wrote something like "Life had become so hard that living without beauty had become unbearable." That's why we grow flowers.

We take a moment of silence for our friends who died in the West Nile epidemic last summer. Since then, a local herbalist has developed a pretty decent mosquito repellent, but the big improvement came when the neighborhood alliance got the abandoned and neglected pools under control. We had no idea there were so many until they did a house-to-house inspection. Now, instead of cesspools, we have several backyard fisheries in our area keeping us supplied with fish through most of the year. It also helps that many people have a few chickens in their backyards. Chickens are voracious bug-eaters, and that includes mosquitos.

Our friends from a few blocks over stop by for a glass of homebrew and a lively game of Spades. They've brought a peach pie as thanks for some kale we gave them in the spring. As we eat and play cards, my friend fills me in on the juicy gossip so vital for understanding our community. Pregnancy, birth, marriage, illness, injury, death - these events aren't just cause for celebration or mourning, but times when people need help. It took a while for us as a community to get over our hyper-individualistic need for "independence", and our narcissistic need for perfection, but I think we've finally learned that none of us can go it alone. At least, I sure as hell can't.

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To be continued in Part 3 (the end of my day - finally!).

Editorial Notes: Some fascinating insights, such as the idea that just by changes cultural expectations one can get along with much less money and energy:
Expectations are different too. I don't feel like my house has to be "perfect" to let a friend in the door. People understand that the house is now the center of life and not just a showplace for our possessions.
Part I of the series and Part III. -BA

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