The Collapse of Civilization –- Damn Close

I really wanted to see a movie. Simple desire. Now that we live in the burbs, we I don’t have access to all the wonderful old theaters in the big city. I knew what I was getting into here. It’s a compromise. Sometimes, I would have to go see a movie at a Mega-Whopper-Plex. But hey, Sally’s office had “generously” given her 4 Regal passes as at thank you for a year’s hard work. An entire year. Passes in hand, we were off to Bridgeport Village Regal to see The Fabelmans.

I have never been to Bridgeport Village. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me. From my front porch, I can see the roof of Nordstroms at Washington Square. I haven’t been to that mall since 1985 and don’t plan on breaking that record. I was expecting a mall at Bridgeport. Nope. My first surprise was that it was some an ersatz village of places to buy and eat things. Narrow streets through retail canyons. Chain restaurants. And today, a special treat, bitter cold driving rain. Nice. 

My first question for the designers. Do you hate humans? You see, the parking garage is expansive, but they strangely placed the human exits. The side of the garage facing the stores, the happy village, has no human exits or entries. Nothing. Oh, I see, it’s in a dark corner of a small surface lot on the other side of the automobile exit ramp. No useful signage, just the feeling that the designers said, “You got here genius, you figure it out.” Noted.

I was still happy to see the movie. In the Mega-Whopper-Plex world, the snacks are everything, the real profit center. But we had those passes, so we needed to talk to a human. Tucked next to the entrance doors was a lonely, confused human with a phone ear-jack standing on a sort of podium surrounded by screen kiosks.

Sally waved the passes and said, “Hello, we’d like two seats….”

Before she could finish, “The system is down.”

“What? We still want to see a movie.”

“I can’t help you.”

I looked at the surrounding screens, and they had an error message of some sort. Ear-jack was still looking around for someone, anyone, who could help him. I looked behind us at the many lines at the snack counter and realized that they had not moved since we arrived.

“Go to the refreshment counter. They can take your passes.”

I have been blown off before. This was a punt, but we obeyed the command. Sally, because it is her nature, remained hopeful. We picked a line. Behind the long counter, a row of teenagers in Regal gear were huddling with a roving boss who, by my estimate, may have been 20 years old, but he was ear-jacked which seemed to be the chevron of rank in the Regal army. Sally kept a place in line, and I wandered over to the now abandoned podium. The number of confused people in every line was growing.

To the left of the empty podium were two terminals that looked older, doing things I recognized from my IT days. Slightly staggered in their progress, on ancient green screens, they were working through what looked for all the world like a vestigial DOS PC reboot. I laughed out loud.

A woman walked up and asked, “Are they fixing it?”

 “Oh yea,” I said, “by the looks of it someone has just pressed Control/ALT/Delete.” Pointing to the screen, “See, those are Windows operating system boot up messages.”

 She flashed a look of recognition. Younger than me, but old enough, she knew the bitter disappointment of the Windows screen of death. She shook her head and walked away.

I went back to Sally.

 “Sal, we are fucked. A crashed Windows system has killed everything in this place.”

 Then behind us another ear-jack yelled, “We are now cash only!!”

I laughed again and looked down the counter. Young people who clearly had never dealt with cash without a screen in front of them to do the math were a herd of deer in the headlights. The older couple in front of us attempted to pay with a twenty. After much stumbling about, the kid handed them an uncertain amount of change and told them to just take the food. “It’s good.” The couple paused, looked around like thieves, and made their escape.

Counter Ear-jack had gone down the line handing out pens, pencils and little pieces of paper. A lad to my left stood looking at the pen in his hand as if an alien had just handed him a rectangular egg. The surface tension of basic technology, upon which he relied, had broken, and he was sliding into waves of chaos.

To her credit, Sally went into problem-solving mode.

“We have these passes. Can you just take them and write a note that we have paid then we can still go to the movie?”

The Regal soul presented a look like he had just time-shifted into a Fellini movie and Sal was speaking Italian.

“This will not work,” I whispered to my wife.

“The can figure out how to adapt to this,” she insisted.

“No, honey they can’t. Look around, no one prepared for this. There is no plan. They assume the tech will always work.”

She persisted, trying to help the dazed kid. Finally, he handed the passes back and said, “I can’t do it.”

At last, some truth.

I nudged Sally to leave. The crowd of the confused was growing with more victims still coming in the doors, blissfully unaware that, in this place, at this moment, their world had ended. Self preservation alarms went off. This could get ugly. I mean, they were there to watch more violent Marvel movies. Too many aspiring superheroes for the room to stabilize.

“But they aren’t problem solving,” said Sally.

“I know. We are old. We know how to do that, but they don’t know how. Honestly, look around. Look at their faces.”

Still, my wife wasn’t done. A female ear-jack, a tribal elder in her early 20s, had assumed the power position at the podium. Sally walked up to talk to her. I went back to the two screens. Now they were flashing messages that said they couldn’t find their DHCP server. I laughed harder than before. Basically, ET was trying to phone home, and the Internet had abandoned him. I walked back to my persistent wife.

“…but the system is still down. We can’t take those passes,” said elder female ear-jack.

I touched my wife’s shoulder. “Sal, it’s over here. This will not get better.” Female ear-jack looked down and offered what she could, the generic customer service smile. We walked away.

Back in the cold, apocalypse Sally told me what she says all the time.

“I have no expectation that we will always have power 24-hours a day.”

“I know. I know. Those kids in there are the resilient Zs we hear so much about. We just got a small taste. By the way honey, I am pretty sure that this theater gets its movies across the net. They digitally stream like everyone else, just with insanely expensive popcorn and vats of pop. So, my guess is that if there are people who made it into the theaters, they are sitting in the almost dark waiting for the Windows reboot too.”

We did not waste the afternoon. No, we got a benign preview of the collapse of civilization. But I still want to see that Spielberg movie.

This entry was posted in Essays and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Collapse of Civilization –- Damn Close

  1. Hannah Kuhn says:

    Oh boy. Apocalypse now. These kids can’t make change or operate a can opener….this is how China or Russia will take us down.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s