Special Note: In this latest Alt-Market piece we try something a little different; short fiction based on fact. Make no mistake; while the characters and events in this story are products of imagination, the issues presented and their probable consequences are anything but fantasy. The message? What will you choose to be in the face of hardship and crisis; a mountain? An impassable obstacle to tyranny? Or, a silent and beaten passenger of the Redline?
Adam awoke to a distant murky warbling in the back of his mind, just beyond the sound of the wind and the gentle clap of cold rain against the vinyl tarp overhead. His fresh morning eyes stung as they met the chilled air within the tent. The thin fabric membrane rippled with the rush of the dreary weather outside and he curled into a ball, burying his head under the folds of his rather inadequate sleeping bag, attempting to stay warm. He wished he could remain there, just lay there within his cotton and nylon shelter forever, and never again step outside into the harsh world. If it weren’t for the love of his wife, Sarah, six months pregnant and hungry, he probably would have given up a long time ago.
She lay next to him blissfully still, her swollen belly rising and falling with her breath, the kind of rhythm that comes with deep and all encompassing dream. He loved her. Unbearably so. The thought of anything terrible happening to her frightened and enraged him. He had never felt so useless in his life, or so lost. Only a year ago he had everything; his prosperity was acquired, his destiny assured. He was in control of his future, or at least he thought he was. Homelessness and destitution was something that you heard about in passing, a fact of life for “other” people. Fifteen minutes of cable news a day had somehow convinced Adam of the otherworldly nature of catastrophe. The theater of disaster was meant to be observed from a distance, not actually experienced first hand. That was absurd! Who ever heard of affluent upper-middle-class people actually losing everything and being cast to the roaring tides of fate? It was something out of a movie. It wasn’t reality.
Of course, here he was, bankrupt, without a home, and unemployed. Unemployable, in fact. His banking background and mutual fund middle-management experience was virtually useless in a country that was in the midst of losing its entire financial structure, not to mention lacking any investment class to speak of. Such paper coated industry was truly an illusion, utterly dependent on the existence of easy capital often derived not from savings, but from debt. If only he had realized that months ago.
Adam pulled on his socks and leather boots, unzipped the tent, and stepped onto the moist grass and weeds at the doorway. Rows of cars, tents, and motor homes stretched across the open field before him. The patch of land near the edge of Highway 5 cutting through the Central Valley of California used to hold only a few dozen migrants. Now, it was a veritable tent city occupied by hundreds of people traveling the corridor north looking for work, or looking to stay with relatives still above water. The area was relatively peaceful, but with the growth of the camp, and the ever increasing poverty of its residents, problems were beginning to arise.He once made the mistake of leaving his shoes outside the tent in order to avoid tracking in mud, which seemed to quickly spread over every surface until he and his wife found themselves sleeping in it. The concept of a sterile living environment was difficult to let go. A certain level of cleanliness was always possible, but never near what they used to expect in their long gone suburban castle.