The Millennium Bug

A Report from the Hinterlands

Y2K or Ynot2K, that is the question.
                        -Hamlet no?

Rumor has it that the Yuppies who cut down the woods behind Mario's house and built the huge mansion there are planning on having a genetically-engineered baby. You know - a baby with perfect blue eyes or one that wouldn't ever get the flu or the arthritis or maybe one who would be able to belt a baseball over the fence at the Richfield Woods in a few years.

But that's all that the MaddMan had to hear to set him on a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon down at this year's Junkyard Bar-B-Que. His voice got so loud that you could hear the echo throughout the neighborhood, and his face turned a brilliant-red, the color of the Slow Bus in the late afternoon sun.

"Howling like a hound on a short chain" was how Denise described it.

The Yuppies don't know Mario, much less suspect that he is the person on whom they continually call the police - dirt bike noise, dune buggy noise, air tool noise - too bad they didn't leave any of that woods standing as a noise barrier. But they do know Mario as the fellow who comes around every month or so in the Summer to ask their permission to collect mushrooms on their property. Mario never lets on who he is or where he lives, and he is always polite. So far, the Yuppies have let him pick all of the mushrooms he finds - but this last time, after they divulged their plans to go genetic-engineering shopping, they asked him to leave some of the Amanitas because they might want to try them later.

And that's Mario's plan for revenge. He doesn't use the mushrooms - he throws them away as soon as he's around the corner. But he knows that after a while that ignorant, Yuppie greed will start to work, and one morning those Yuppies will try a passel of amanita muscaria formosa in their scrambled eggs.

But the MaddMan didn't have a problem with the Yuppies. He has a problem with Mankind in general. The genetically-engineered baby was the just the trigger that started the MaddMan's sermon.

It was one of those days in June when you really can't remember last Winter and wouldn't even think about next Winter. It had been a perfect day for the Junkyard Bar-B-Que - an informal party that happens every couple years, when everyone shows up with a covered dish, swills beer from plastic cups, and the younger kids get to help paint the Clubhouse (1965 II) with tempera paints (although AJ sprays it with clear afterwards to preserve the artwork).

And usually there's something memorable that happens each year, so that later folks can refer to a specific BBQ as "the year Josephine (71 SB) got stuck in the gully" or "the year the police showed up". This year will be "the year the MaddMan gave the sermon".

When Mario told the MaddMan about the Yuppies and their genetically-engineered baby, it was as though he had thrown fireworks down his pants. That baby was the the trigger that started the sermon, a sermon that started with men and God and quickly moved to a graphic description of the destruction of the world.

Because that's the kind of sermon that the MaddMan has preached for as long as any of us have known him. Death and destruction and flames falling from the sky. Nostradamus, St John the Martyr, and David Koresh all rolled into one; he is a man tortured by visions of the end, prophesies that he believes have been given to him in order to warn everyone.

We don't call him the MaddMan for nothing.

But that in no way detracts from the fact that he is the best welder any of us have ever seen. Thick metal, thin metal, thin metal to thick, German steel to Japanese alloy - the MaddMan does it all. He claims he can weld a butterfly to a flower if he could just find the right rod.

Usually when the MaddMan starts preaching, the party draws to a premature close because nobody wants to hear about their own mortality or be told of their mistakes. But this time was different, because when the MaddMan sort of ran out of steam while describing airplanes falling out of the sky, Mario jumped right into the middle of the sermon and told the MaddMan about some of that year 2000 - Y2K - stuff - in particular about the number of microcomputers embedded in modern airplanes and how they might fail once the date rolls over to the new millennium.

That was all new to the MaddMan and he wanted to hear more. And as Mario related more of the problems that might emerge from the inability of computers to handle the new dates starting with Saturday, January 1, the MaddMan was stunned. His visions of God silencing all the machines fit right into Mario's exposition of cars unable to run because of failed onboard computers and fire trucks stubbornly stopped in the fire house waiting for maintenance that is 99 years overdue.

The MaddMan was twitching. He would pick up his sermon for a while, but then would let it trail off, looking to Mario, who would have a new piece of Y2K information that fit right into the MaddMan's current topic. Outbreaks of cholera because urban water systems would be out of commission. Fear and darkness because the electric utilities would be inoperative. Riots and looting because that seems to be human nature these days.

And something else - something that the MaddMan had never had before. A date.

Everyone sitting around the long table at dusk was disturbed by the conversation, except maybe for AJ who is a software engineer and is working on Y2K repairs these days, and maybe Kevin, who was pretty inebriated and more sitting under the table than at it. Pretty soon, everyone was chiming in.

The first reaction was generally one of disbelief, but everyone knows that Mario is not an alarmist - he's a sensible, rational fellow who never buys lottery tickets and seldom watches TV. So despite the temptation to dispute specific scenarios ("but the fire truck would think that the maintenance was 99 years in the FUTURE, not the PAST"), everyone graduated from that stage pretty quickly. So maybe the fire truck will start anyway, but maybe there won't be any fuel for it because the oil company computers have bumped their heads against the date-ceiling. Or maybe none of the volunteer firemen will have working radios. Or maybe the security system won't allow the big overhead garage door in the firehouse to be opened.

But sitting in the semi-darkness - broken only by a kerosene lamp on the table, it was a little easier to believe that something could happen - something pervasive and internal - to end Western Civilization as we know it. Maybe easier to believe than if electric lights were blazing and the stereo blaring.

So - gradually - everyone came to a realization that their lives were at the mercy of the computers, and - more to the point - at the mercy of errant computer software. "What about dams?" Pam asked even though there isn't a dam within 100 miles of her house up in the Canadian wilderness, "are they controlled by computers?"

"What about that regulator at the gas company?" the Swinging Fatbob was thinking of the town in Indiana where 119 houses - including the Fire Station - burned to the ground because of the failure of the high-pressure regulator.

And what had started as a sermon became an intensive discussion, everyone throwing in thoughts as they occured. Even the MaddMan was swept up in the topic, and he and Grim were considering the problems of running a welder from a windmill. Pam and Lisa were considering food supplies - we in northeast Ohio used to have a lot of apple orchards, although many have now been replaced - like Mario's woods - with manicured lawns that produce no comestibles. And - as Kevin pointed out - you can make liquor from apples.

In the darkness and the intensity of the conversation, nobody noticed when AJ slipped away, and in fact the first anyone knew he was gone was when the headlights came on in the back field.

"Who's that" Mario asked, and everyone sort of shaded their eyes from the kerosene lamp, peering back through the woods. Headlamps - and from the sound of it - Volkswagen headlamps. And they didn't have to wait long to find out who it was because the headlamps were moving, casting stark shadows from the trees as the vehicle threaded its way around the back field and then the road through the woods and then it was there - the old 66 bug with the purple fenders.

While everyone else had been wrapped up talking about imminent destruction, AJ had gotten the battery out of the Clubhouse and carried it and a gallon of gas out to the back and with only a flashlight had started the bug that had been sitting in the mud for 10 years.

"This one starts" he said when he popped out of the bug, engine still running. "Do you know what I'm going to name this car?"

Everyone waited.

"The Millennium Bug," he said, and we all laughed.

The BBQ went on a little while after that, with people filtering off to head home or put up the pop-tops on Westphalias. Kevin fell asleep right there under the picnic table and woke up consumed by grass fleas. Later, Mario and AJ took the Millennium Bug over to the shop and tuned it and rebuilt the 28-PICT carb just for the fun of it, because it really didn't need any attention. It was running just as well as it ran when it got parked in the back field and just as well as it would run Saturday, January 1.


That was back in June. It's October now as this is written, and we are all thinking a lot more about Winter than we were then.

The news from Canada - Pam writes:"Well, we got 7 more piglets from Dave's work. All male. Two of our pigs were pregnant. One had two piglets, one stillborn & one made it through the night & then died. Our other pig had five. So that brings us up to 13 pigs. Dave and I started building our chicken coop this weekend. We tried to get it together this Spring, but Spring is a busy time."

Back in Richfield, Kevin built a still and has been experimenting with the fermentation and distillation of apples. The still has been redesigned and rebuilt three times already, each time improving performance and yield.

And AJ started canning again. He hadn't done it for twenty years, but says that he remembered how anyway. It seems like everyone in town brought him their excess garden produce, so at the distillation parties at Kevin's house, we all get pickled beets and salsa too. Mario expanded the garden by 150%, using the Troy Bilt to mix a mountain of manure into the new area so that next year's crop will be the largest possible.

Grim's already using his new wood stove to cook, and the shop at the Junkyard will be heated (first time ever) with wood this Winter. The Swinging Fatbob, on his missions to flea markets and garage sales every week now has a list of goods to pick up for other people, ranging from mason jars for AJ to a working kitchen pump for Buggyman's cistern.

The MaddMan is still preaching destruction, but consider this - even if nothing happens with the turn of the century, even if all those computers are well-behaved and everything continues as normal, Pam will have pigs and chickens to feed the family, and Grim won't have a gas bill anymore. Kevin may not ever have another bar tab, and we are all eating more from the garden.

And the Millennium Bug is running.

So the Y2K BBQ has been beneficial. We have all prospered by taking at least some of our lives back into our own hands. Even if the Y2K bug turns out to be a bust, we do well. And if things turn really nasty on New Year's Day, we at least have a leg up

How about you?

Back to the Junkyard

c 1998 Air Cooled Volkswagen Junkyard of Richfield, Ohio "Where Advice Is Always Free"(216)659-3638
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