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Friday, August 12, 2011

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road

This is the “crisis of confidence” story I referred to two weeks ago. After I thought it over, I decided to go with it. See (Late) Wednesday Wibbles (the previous post) for some details and an invitation to join the writing fun.

It’s a peak-oil story, similar to FAR Future, set in a slightly different alternate universe.

“As much as we like to complain here in Atlanta about fuel rationing and long lines at the gas pump, it’s good to remember that there are people just north and west of here who don’t even have that. Some of them even still manage to commute to their jobs downtown or in the suburbs. Sean McKinzie has more, in our first segment of On the Georgia Road.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie standing under a large road sign: CAUTION / UNINCORPORATED AREA / PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK / SERVICES MAY BE UNAVAILABLE BEYOND THIS POINT. “Thanks, Marcia. You’ve seen these signs before. You may have even passed one, for whatever reason. But people live behind them. Some of them pass these signs each day. On the Georgia Road, we’ll have a look at their lives.”

Cut to: empty retail strips, deserted housing developments, lonely roads, overgrown yards. Lights going out, huge stacks of firewood, horse-drawn wagons piled with hay. Voiceover: “The Emergency Services Preservation Act, or ESPA, defined what we now call the Georgia Quadrangle, bounded by I-75 on the west, I-20 on the north, and I-16 on the south. It includes the five-county metro Atlanta region as well as Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. Muscogee County, including Columbus and Fort Benning, is an enclave. These are areas that the federal government declared essential. The State of Georgia added Hall County to secure the Lake Lanier water supply, and extended the northern border to US-78 to include Clarke County and the University of Georgia. The rest is Unincorporated Georgia, nearly seventy percent of the state by area.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie in front of the sign. “Roughly a third of Georgia’s population now lives in the Unincorporated areas. Some of it may have gone wild and is dangerous to outsiders, but the old bedroom communities still have commuters. For our first segment of On the Georgia Road, one of these commuters was kind enough to open his house to us for a weekend.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie, turned in a car seat to face the camera behind him. Beyond him, the camera points up a four-lane divided highway. A few cars can be seen going each way. “It’s Friday afternoon. In metro Atlanta, people are firing up their grills, planning a night on the town, maybe a day at the park. We’re on our way to the Unincorporated segment of Dawson County, to see how our fellow Georgia citizens spend their evenings and weekends.

“Our host and driver is Rich Grey, a senior IT technician who works in Alpharetta. He moved to Dawson County in 1988… Rich, could you tell us why?”

Pan to: Rich, driving. “I wanted a garden and some shade. I couldn’t get either one in most subdivisions, and land up here was relatively cheap.”

“Is it safe to live up here now?”

“Sure. The county still has a functioning sheriff’s department, and ‘400 east to the lake is still incorporated. It’s a lot like the ‘30s: services are spotty, not completely gone. I can’t say what’s going on up in the mountains though.”

Cut to: Sean standing in front of a large Cape Cod house, beige with white trim. The front yard is a garden. “Rich tells us he works with missions and charities who provide food, candles, batteries, and other essentials to people in need. They bring items to him, and he delivers them where they’re needed.

“An hour north of Alpharetta, you might think you’ve left civilization entirely. Rich tells us that they get two hours of electricity in the evenings — this time of year, from eight to ten p.m. To conserve resources, especially heat in the winter, there are three households living under Sean’s roof: his own, his daughter’s family, and a single mother: seven people in all.”

Cut to: Rich grilling, a young woman picking produce in the front yard. “But as Rich says, there’s more than one way to do it. We found the extended family coping quite well, and even finding some comforts and enjoyment along the way. By turning their lawn into a garden area, they don’t need to mow grass — and this time of year, getting produce simply means stepping outside. People cook outdoors during the summer so their houses don’t get even hotter.”

Cut to: lights coming on inside, people moving quickly. “Suppers are often rushed, because nobody wants to be caught sitting when the power comes on. The dishwasher and clothes washer are loaded and ready to go, people get showers or baths, and most of all the indoor toilets are usable.”

Cut to: lights going out. For a moment, all that can be heard are katydids chattering. An LED light comes on to reveal Sean. “We’ve all experienced rolling blackouts, but in Unincorporated Georgia they’re constant, and take on a special quality. In the metro area, there are emergency lights and cars going by, and the sounds of the city are only dampened. Here… beyond the walls, only the sounds of nature are heard.”

Cut to: Rich in the dim light. “Nights can be lively in the fall or winter though. People have bonfires, play music, get drunk and loud. This time of year, it’s still pretty muggy at night and people either go to sleep or read.”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, creek. People playing in the creek. “On weekend mornings, after taking care of the essentials, days are spent at a nearby creek. They pack coolers with food and drinks, and stay until it starts cooling off. There’s a screen tent for when the kids need a nap, or someone just wants a little time to dry off.”

Camera pulls back to reveal Sean in swim trunks. “On the Georgia Road, I’m Sean McKinzie.” Lays down microphone, jumps in the creek.


  1. I think I'd rather live in the unincorporated areas...they seem to have a better life, despite the lack of creature comforts.

  2. Cut to: live the movie! Half prose, half mental film, no way to fill up your tank in either. Those windfarms don't seem so bad anymore, do they?

  3. Icy, that's a good point, and one I make in FAR Future as well. It's not all doom and gloom.

    JohnW, that particular cut will be more like a slow-fade, I think. ;-) But it will likely happen pretty soon, if it hasn't already started.

  4. Quite an interesting way to structure the story. Made it more engaging, more approachable, I think. And I agree with Icy: the unincorporated areas don't seem so bad. Not at all.

  5. Very slowly, you pulled us along and made the unincorporated areas go from 'death zones' to paradise. Amazing how you transitioned the mood of this piece like that.

  6. I'm with everyone else. At this rate we're going to have more than half the population into the unincorporated areas.

  7. Like the way you did this story, half prose, half stage directions.

    And I am a city girl, but my own garden and a summer weekends spent by the creek sound pretty good.

  8. I suppose it could be a lesson in how to entertain yourself, if you have no facilities, you have to use your imagination.

    I agree with Icy.

  9. Hi all!

    Eric, thanks, I was trying for the feel of a TV "news" segment. Just remember, they didn't go very deep into the unincorporated area.

    Michael, I wouldn't exactly call it paradise… no Internet!

    Raven, people are mostly adaptable. And I recently found my old manual typewriter. ;-)

    Tim, again this is just the edge of the area. Things could be far worse deeper in. I've actually written another "segment" that I might post…

    Sonia, a lot of people do urban gardening. Some of them do it guerilla-style, growing stuff in abandoned lots behind a stand of weeds. I wouldn't want to play in a city creek, but you might find a park…

    Helen, I've said — tongue in cheek, but not completely joking — that there's no problems in this country we couldn't solve if we unplugged all the TV sets. ;-)

  10. Being unincorporated doesn't seem so bad. We all hanker for a simpler time ... especially now society seems to be edging towards the brink. I liked how you didn't over sentimentalize the concept. The televised structure worked as well.

  11. I like the news report format of this with the scene directions. And count me in for the unincorporated areas as well. A very interesting piece, FAR.

  12. I like the news reel story. I could see it all playing out in my head. Nicely job, Far.

  13. Howdy! In the real world, I picked some corn this morning, then fixed a barbed-wire fence after a cow showed me where it was broke…

    Jason, you pretty much hit the point there — not all the changes coming will be bad (even if they're not welcomed at the time).

    Chuck, Danielle, thanks much. I was wondering how the format would work — sounds like it went OK!

  14. Well-thought vision of the future. It almost makes it seem like a simpler time, and these people seem to lead nearly a romantic life.

  15. Considering their lack of resources they seem to have rich and full lives. Maybe we rely too much on technology.

    Hopefully when resources do run low people will behave and help each other like they do in your story :).

  16. Thanks, Aidan. I see things as both simpler and more complicated — notice how they're moving quick to not waste any of their two hours of electricity per evening?

    Craig, people tend to mostly behave well during a crisis, and I hope they will again.


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