|Enter the Dragon*Con, or The Problem With Atlanta
||[Sep. 4th, 2012|02:30 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
I have once again returned from Dragon*Con, my quasi-annual trek to the heart of the geek universe. I had a great time listening to the cast of various iterations of Star Trek talk about their favorite episodes and seeing the amazing costumes that very bored or devoted people worked on for months to wear for four days out of the year. Since I started attending the convention in 2009 I have looked forward to it each August like it was Christmas. There is only one thing I dislike about Dragon*Con (see note 1), and that is the location. Atlanta is not an awful city the way Detroit and Newark are awful, but it has its own brand of sticky and hot weather, bad food, and general disagreeableness. But worst of all, Atlanta is an incredibly dangerous place to be during a natural disaster, like an earthquake, a tornado, or most importantly, a zombie apocalypse.|
First, Atlanta, despite being named for two oceans (the city was originally called Atlantica-Pacifica and later shortened to Atlanta), has no water. Actually, I should rephrase that. Atlanta has no bodies of water. Water is plentiful in the form of humidity, but for some reason it never seems to condense and pool up on the ground. There is technically a river, the Chattahoochee, that runs through the far northern part of the Atlanta Metro Area, but the city was deliberately built as far from the water as possible. Why? It is not clear, but today Atlanta, which rests on the heights far from the river's valley, pumps so much water out of the river that oyster farms downstream are running out of water.
What does Atlanta's water infrastructure have to do with a zombie outbreak? Well I don't know about your city, but if Atlanta is anything like most towns, the department of water and power is unlikely to keep the whole pumping system going while the rest of society collapses around them. And even if they wanted to, odds are they are now zombies, so unless they happen to be dyslexic and are shambling about moaning "drains!" it is unlikely they will be maintaining a citywide plumbing system. So Atlanta, sitting high above its only water source, would be unable to get water if the pumps stopped. This is not just a problem with not being able to turn on a faucet to get water, but rather anyone in search of potable water would need to climb across the landscape, down onto the floodplains of the Chattahoochee, gather water, and then climb all the way back up. I hope you are good at running uphill while carrying enough water to not only replace your normal water loss, but also compensate for the water lost through climbing and being chased by zombies. That is a lot of water.
Atlanta does get rain, so perhaps you could collect water in rain barrels. This has the advantage of not needing to climb onto a flood plain, but it puts you at the mercy of the weather, which if current trends are to be believed is not getting rainier. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists the Atlanta Metro Area as suffering severe to exceptional drought. Even in good years Atlanta experiences dry springs and falls, so you had best have a way of reliably purifying and storing that water, lest it become a breeding ground for disease carrying mosquitoes.
In addition to having a curious shortage of ground water, Atlanta is also exceptionally hot and humid. The city has 40 days out of each year that are above 90 degrees F, and the average daytime high temperature in July is 89 degrees. Keeping in mind that a zombie situation is unlikely to include the air conditioning that makes Atlanta liveable today, you will spend a good amount of time sweating, i.e. losing water. Given all these factors, it seems likely that one would eventually succumb to dehydration.
Normally dehydration is quickly remedied by drinking water and resting, but as noted above drinking and resting seem to be mutually exclusive aims in zombie Atlanta. It is likely that dehydration would worsen before it got better. And eventually the symptoms of dehydration manifest as slowed mental function, tingling limbs, and loss of muscle control. One does not need to lose very much water to start to exhibit these symptoms, so it is conceivable that in the course of a particularly hot day or by the end of a prolonged escape from the murderous hordes, you could be a disgusting, clammy, shambling creature of limited mental function. Wait, why does that description sound familiar? Oh, right, zombies!
What do you think the odds are that other survivors are going to correctly guess that your rapidly deteriorating condition is due to simple dehydration as opposed to the world ending horror that causes the same symptoms? Chances are they won't let you get close enough to them to make the case. You will likely get pumped full of buckshot, or if it is far enough along in the scenario, a makeshift crossbow bolt, and frankly there is nothing worse for dehydration that bleeding. Your blood pressure is already going to be near terminally low, and the loss of blood from even a glancing blow from a weapon could prove fatal under the circumstances.
Of course as every casual football watcher knows, water does not replace electrolytes. Hence Gatorade and other sports drinks are favored by athletes looking to stave off muscle failure due to the loss of sodium through sweating. At a basic level, this can be accomplished by mixing a small amount of salt into water and salted drinks are actually quite popular in very hot places like India. However when you are on the run from zombies and barely able to stay hydrated enough to keep running, finding and drinking salt is probably going to get more and more difficult as time goes on. The human body needs between .5 to 2.4 grams of salt every day depending on activity levels. Currently this is not an issue because we mine and produce salt, but when the supply lines are cut and the grocery stores are being held by armed biker gangs, salt will be at a premium. Here again Atlanta is at a disadvantage. Unlike many cities along the Eastern Seaboard, Atlanta isn't near the ocean. Unlike Boston, New York, or even Newark, Atlanta has no salt water from which salt could be fairly easily extracted. Atlanta would have to rely on available supplies, which are likely to become inaccessible and eventually run out, or the survivors would need to rely on much more complicated and cumbersome methods of extracting salts from other living things, or each survivor would need to eat an incredible amount of food.
Actually, each survivor would likely need to eat several thousand calories per day in order to keep up the energy needed to run, climb, and resist zombies. While the average sedentary people need no more than 2000-2200 calories to keep their hearts beating and weight stable, athletes, distance hikers, and other active people need a lot more. And calories are hard to come by in cities crawling with zombies. Most people currently in a city are blissfully unaware that it requires supply lines that stretch around the globe to keep a city fed. Cities generally produce little to no food. Traditionally, cities were surrounded by farm land and the population of the city exchanged money for food grown near by. But urbanization and urban sprawl have boosted the populations within cities and destroyed the food production capacity of the surrounding areas. A city like Atlanta would experience food shortages in as little as four days if the supply lines to the city were cut. Of course this effect might be lessened by the fact that most of the city's residents will now crave brains, and frankly that might be a positive development given the dismal state of Atlanta's culinary culture (hint: fried Coca-Cola should not be the city's delicacy). But even assuming you could extend the useful life of the food supply within the city by a factor of ten, you would still be looking at just over a month of food. Someone would have to grow food, and that would require standing still, in open fields and orchards, somewhere near water. Atlanta lacks open fields (except stadia, but crops hate astroturf), and water is barely attainable for drinking, let alone for mass irrigation. Considering the effects of hoarding and spoilage, it seems that waiting out the end of the world in Atlanta would be a thirsty and hungry thing to do.
And how long would you need to stay in Atlanta anyway? It seems clear that anyone in Atlanta at the start of a zombie incident would have about a month to get out before lack of supply would kill them. However, getting out of Atlanta is a more difficult task than it would initially appear. Atlanta is not just a city center, but rather a large metropolitan area with over 5 million people. The City of Atlanta proper has 500,000 people on its own. This means that in order to move into the country side you would first need to fight your way through a city center with a zombie population about on par with the current population of Luxembourg, but with the Luxembourgian urbanity and wealth replaced with a desire to eat your brain, followed by a fight in the suburbs with a population the size of Ireland. And unlike the Irish, zombies are rarely shambling up to you to ask if you want to get a drink and sing dirty songs.
So you will need to plan your escape carefully and make a single coordinated effort to move all of your people to safety without being eaten by Zombie Ireland. Perhaps you could arrange to have some distraction draw the undead monsters to one side of the city while you and several survivors escape along another route. That can't be too hard, right? Zombies are stupid, so they can't be very good at tactics. But the question is, what street should you draw your foe down while you escape? Obviously it will need to be a broad thoroughfare so the most number of zombies can crowd in and away from other streets. You instruct your most trusted ally to travel a certain route and lure the zombies away to Peachtree Avenue. Or was it Peachtree Drive? Did you know that Atlanta has 71 public rights-of-way with the word "peachtree" in the name? This includes seven that have no other words than lane, street, circle, drive, way, avenue, or a directional marker to distinguish them. How good are you at finding things without a GPS? Do you think you will have time to read the small print on signs? Also, these streets intersect each other. Why? Because Atlanta is a huge fan of Abbott and Costello and wants you to be eaten by zombies.
Fig. 1: Heaven help you if you need an ambulance to find you here.
So you hope your trusted agent is leading the zombies away from you, and has not accidentally wandered onto the wrong street of the same name, but it is not so bad because if the zombies do decide to come after you, you would be able to smell their rotting flesh before they got to you. Zombie stench is like a warning siren letting you know something undead is approaching. Funny, now that you mention it, I can smell them. Holy cow THE ZOMBIES ARE COMING!! RUN!!
You run some distance before you notice that the smell isn't going away. This is because Atlanta smells like a rotting corpse. In fairness to the city of Atlanta, I say this based only on my experiences attending a science fiction convention where the closest many get to hygiene is a New Jersey shower (see note 2), so it is possible that Atlanta only smells like the undead four days out of the year, but somehow I doubt that is true. All cities smell terrible, which is why people from cities go other places to breathe "fresh air". Atlanta produces garbage, including food waste, sweat, other bodily fluids, and is subject to the natural pressures of decay. Even with a functioning waste disposal system, Atlanta's blend of heat and stagnantly moist air quickly converts garbage and hobo encampments into an inescapable reminder that you are currently standing in a city whose only readily demonstrable culture is visible under a microscope. This is true of Boston, New York and many other cities, but unlike northern cities, Atlanta rarely gets cold enough to arrest the growth of the bacteria that produce the noxious smells that seem to permeate the city. This ultimately means that your nose will be of little value in detecting zombies unless you are great at distinguishing the smell of a trash can full of rotting sandwich meats from the smell of rotting people.
It also stands to reason that Atlanta would be a place with a lot of zombies. In the zombie disease scenario (i.e. The Walking Dead), Atlanta, with its dense population and great breeding conditions for microbes would probably be hit pretty hard. In a Romero zombie situation where the zombies actually rise up from the grave, Atlanta likely has much to offer. The land where Atlanta sits was once a Native American meeting ground, but was depopulated during the Native American removal from Georgia. Depopulation is rarely used as a euphemism for buying everyone a condo near the beach, so it is safe to say that the body count under Atlanta rose steadily from 1802-1825 while the process was carried out. Atlanta was also the target of many invasion attempts during the Civil War, including a five week siege. And of course Atlanta is best known for being burned to the ground by General Sherman. All told, nearly 70,000 military personnel died in Atlanta during the course of a four month period from May-September 1864. While there is likely some overlap, Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery has 70,000 bodies in it and is just one of many cemeteries in Atlanta. Let's just say that in an end of the world scenario, the zombies are getting reinforcements before you do.
Well, you got lost on your way out of the city and you were flanked because you couldn't smell the replacement zombies coming at you from the other side. You are thirsty and hungry and it might be time for a dramatic last stand of humanity against the embodiment of our secret fear that deep down we are just mindless consuming animals. You pour out the contents of a can of gasoline you somehow acquired, dramatically light the last cigarette in a pack you have been carrying since you said it would be your last one the morning of the incident, and just as you are about done with it the first zombies begin to approach. After you flick the cigarette butt into the gasoline, the street erupts into a wall of flame and the zombies begin to catch fire as they approach. Everyone knows fire is the best tool to subdue zombies and it looks like your literal firewall has given you a chance to fight them off.
It turns out that fire is not only good at destroying zombies, but also great at destroying the city of Atlanta. In addition to the famous burning of the city by Sherman's troops in 1864, the city was significantly burned in 1917 in an event that is called the Great Fire of Atlanta. It must have been pretty great to get that name since the last city-wide fire inspired them to adopt the phoenix as the city emblem. Even assuming that the city is no longer built strictly out of tinder and oily rags as it seems to have been in the past, the current severe drought and lack of fire prevention would most likely mean that the city would be apt to catch fire when flaming zombies started wandering around it. Unfortunately, this would likely trap any remaining survivors in the destruction. It is possible that they would burn to death and perhaps thereby avoid a fate as zombies, but in all likelihood they would be injured but not killed and the zombies would be able to catch them. It would probably be a spectacular fire, but unfortunately no one would be around to commemorate it and give it a name as anyone left in the city would likely be in the final stages of being turned into a zombie. So yes, you got your dramatic last stand and the city lies in ruins, but that won't stop zombie Atlanta. After all, the city's crest is devoted to rising up from the ashes. Heck, even the city motto is "Resurgens", which is Latin for "Resurrecting".
Wait, what? Atlanta's motto is actually about rising from the dead? I think I got this all wrong. Atlanta has already prepared to be the best place to be in a zombie apocalypse. It just assumed you would be a zombie.
Note 1: This is a lie. I also dislike standing in line and paying $3 for bottled water.
Note 2: Apparently this term is not as widely understood as I thought. The New Jersey shower consists of spraying oneself with an entire can of Axe Body Spray. This can be done in addition to or in lieu of bathing.