Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
Kelly Alwood didn’t say a word as he handcuffed my hands behind my back, opened the trunk of a rental car, and ordered me to get inside. With his shaven head, which looked like it could break bottles; his glassy green eyes, which revealed no emotion whatsoever; and the .32 caliber pistol hanging from a chain around his neck, he didn’t seem like the kind of person to cross.
As he shut the trunk over my head, the blue sky of Oklahoma City disappeared, replaced by claustrophobic darkness and new-car smell. Instantly, panic set in.
I took a deep breath and tried to remember what I’d learned. I curled my right leg as far up my body as it would go and dipped my cuffed hands down until I could reach my sock. Inside, I’d stashed the straight half of a bobby pin, which I’d modified by making a perpendicular bend a quarter inch from the top. I removed the pin, stuck the bent end into the inner edge of the handcuff keyhole, and twisted the bobby pin down against the lever inside until I felt it give way.
As I twisted my wrist against the metal, I heard a fast series of clicks, the sound of freedom as the two ends of the cuff disengaged. I released my hand, then made a discovery few people who haven’t been stuffed inside a trunk know: most new cars have a release handle on the inside of the boot that, conveniently, glows in the dark. I pulled on the handle and emerged into the light.
“Thirty-nine seconds,” Alwood said as I climbed out of the trunk. “Not bad.”
I couldn’t believe classes like this even existed. In the last forty-eight hours, I’d learned to hot-wire a car, pick locks, conceal my identity, and escape from handcuffs, flexi-cuffs, duct tape, rope, and nearly every other type of restraint.
The course was Urban Escape and Evasion, which offered the type of instruction I’d been looking for to balance my wilderness knowledge. The objective of the class was to learn to survive in a city as a fugitive. Most of the students were soldiers and contractors who’d either been in Iraq or were about to go, and wanted to know how to safely get back to the Green Zone if trapped behind enemy lines.
The class was run by a company called onPoint Tactical. Like most survival schools, its roots led straight to Tom Brown. Its founder, Kevin Reeve, had been the director of Tracker School for seven years before setting off on his own to train navy SEALs, Special Forces units, SWAT teams, parajumpers, marines, snipers, and even SERE instructors. As a bounty hunter, his partner, Alwood, had worked with the FBI and Secret Service to help capture criminals on the Most Wanted list.
For our next exercise, we walked inside to a shooting range behind the classroom where an obstacle course had been set up. Alwood handcuffed me again, adding leg chains to my feet. I then ran as fast as I could through the course, ducking under and climbing over chairs and benches, simulating a prison escape. By shortening my stride and putting extra spring into each step, I found it easy to sprint across the room. I knew those childhood jump-the-bum games would come in handy.
“You look like you’ve done this before,” Reeve joked.
Though I was hopelessly out of my element when it came to wilderness survival, I actually wasn’t too incompetent in this class. Because I’d lived in cities all my life, I had at least some semblance of street smarts.
“We’re nine meals away from chaos in this country,” Reeve lectured afterward, explaining that after just three days without food, people would be rioting in the streets. “With gas and corn prices so high, the events of the last six months have made it much more likely that you’ll be needing urban escape and evasion skills in this lifetime.”
To prove his point, Reeve told us of gangs of armed looters that ransacked neighborhood after neighborhood in New Orleans during Katrina. “One of the police officers there told me they shot on sight three people out past curfew,” he added.
For some reason, I was more disturbed by the idea of killer cops than marauding gangs. Maybe it was because of the recurring nightmares I used to have as a teenager about being mistaken for someone else and taken to jail. In the dreams, I’d be so petrified during the ride to prison that I usually woke up in a cold sweat before I ever made it there. Since then, I’d come to realize it wasn’t actually jail I was scared of in those dreams, but the loss of freedom that it represented.
As the sun set, we drove to an abandoned junkyard, where Reeve let us practice throwing chips of ceramic insulation from spark plugs to shatter car windows, using generic keys known as jigglers to open automobile doors, and starting cars by sticking a screwdriver in the ignition switch and turning it with a wrench.
As I popped open the trunk on a Dodge with my new set of jigglers, I thought, This is the coolest class I’ve ever taken in my life. If I’d had these skills in school, I would have been playing much more fun games than jump-the-bum, like hotwire-the-teacher’s-car or break-out-of-the-juvenile-detention-home.
Over a barbecue dinner later that night, Reeve asked why I’d signed up for the course. “I think things have changed for my generation,” I told him. “We were born with a silver spoon in our mouths, but now it’s being removed. And most of us never learned how to take care of ourselves. So I’ve spent the last two years trying to get the skills and documents I need to prepare for an uncertain future.”
I’d never actually verbalized it before. I’d just been reacting and scrambling as the pressure ratcheted up around me. Reeve looked at Alwood silently as I spoke. For a moment, I worried that I’d been too candid. Then he smiled broadly. “You’re talking to the right people. That’s what we’ve been thinking. Kelly has caches all over the country—and in Europe.”
On the first day of class, Reeve had taught us about caches—hiding places where food, equipment, and other survival supplies can be stored away from home, whether buried in the ground or stashed in a bus-station locker.
“The thing with caches is that you have to be able to survive if one is compromised,” Alwood explained. “So each one has to contain everything you need: gun, ammo, food, water.”
“You’ll need lots of ammo,” Reeve added, “because that will be the currency of the future.”
I pulled out my survival to-do list and added, “Make caches.”
I’d noticed that the way people prepare for TEOTWAWKI has a lot to do with their view of human nature. If you’re a Fliesian like Alwood and Reeve and you think that without the rules of society to restrain them, people will become violent and selfish, then you’ll build a secret retreat, stockpile guns, and start a militia. If you’re a humanist like the permaculturists and believe people are essentially compassionate, then you’ll create a commune, invite everyone, and try to work in harmony together.
Just as I had my triangle of life and Tom Brown had his sacred order, Alwood and Reeve had their own list of essentials: water, food, defense, energy, retreat, medical, and network.
By this point, I already had at least the basics of most items on their list covered—with one glaring exception. I didn’t have a network.
I’d found no groups where I felt like I belonged. The billionaires were out of my league. The PTs were too paranoid about Big Brother. The survivalists were too extreme about guns and politics. The primitivists were too opposed to technology and modern culture. And the growing tide of 2012 doomsdayers seemed more interested in trying to prove it than doing anything about it.
And unless you’re Robert Neville in I Am Legend—and even he died at the end—the best way to survive WTSHTF will be to have a well-organized team with members cross-trained in every necessary skill.
I’d recently read a book called Patriots by an infamous survival blogger named James Wesley Rawles. A how-to book disguised as fiction, Patriots tells of a future in which inflation has made the dollar worthless, leading to social, economic, and government collapse. Fortunately, a group of eight friends has been training and stockpiling supplies for years—Just in Case. So they hole up in a compound in rural Idaho and, thanks to their military organization, survival skills, Christian values, and weapons expertise, successfully fend off looters, gangs, and even the United Nations.
The lengths they go to in order to accomplish this are not just extreme, they’re inspirational. They build a 900-gallon diesel storage tank; a solar pump and 3,500-gallon water cistern; a 57-foot-high wooden tower for a wind generator; seven camouflaged foxholes to ambush intruders; and bulletproof steel-plated doors and window shutters.
And that’s just a small fraction of their preparations. They even add an extra fuel tank to their vehicles, which inspired me to look into doing the same.
I needed to start putting together a similar, if slightly smaller-scale, network. At the very least, I needed a few allies I could trust. A pack of wolves, after all, is a lot more powerful and dangerous than a lone wolf. Even Kevin Mason, the CERT fireman, had strategically made friends in his neighborhood.
Who did I have? No one.
“Now you do,” Reeve replied when I shared my thoughts. “You can always come to us.”
Although Reeve lived in New Jersey and would be difficult to get to WTSHTF, I appreciated his offer. It made me feel less alone. At least I now had someone with more experience than Spencer whom I could call for advice.
“But you can’t come to us tomorrow,” Alwood said, a cruel smile forming. Tomorrow was our final exam. “Because we’ll be hunting you in the streets.”