Asheville is out of gas. It’s gone. Sold out. Nada. Nothing.
I rolled into town today and installed my exhibit at UNC. I hadn’t been paying attention to the news. I hadn’t heard that the Colonial Pipeline had ruptured in Helena, Alabama, effecting delivery from Houston to New York.
I arrived with 1/8 tank of gas. My truck computer told me I could reach my destination and then some. I figured I would fill up once I installed the exhibit. The first gas station I found had plastic bags over all the pump handles. “Out of order” they read. I drove down the road to another and found the same thing. There were workers inside the pay booth, behind the bullet-proof glass. I rapped on the window to get their attention and they mouthed that they were closed. “No more gas,” they said. I asked another driver, parked in the lot and he said, “It’s the pipeline.” I Googled it, and sure enough, Asheville was running out of gas.
Down the road I found a station where people were filling up. I got in line and 30 minutes later, I was next. People were well-behaved, although the news reported a stabbing earlier in the day. Attendants were directing traffic. The woman in front of me filled up her tank, and then a gas can from her trunk. She pulled away and it was my turn.
I swiped my card. “Pump stopped,” the screen read. I’ve never seen that message before. I called out to the attendant, “What does it mean, “pump stopped?” He shrugged, and another employee came out to say the gas was gone.
Eight drivers waiting to fuel their vehicles got none. 20 people in line drove away.
“When will you get more?” we asked.
“We don’t know.”
Asheville is out of gas.
I had visions of Mad Max, when fuel becomes a precious commodity, and people become barbaric to acquire it.
We expect that life will be convenient. We need gas, so we go get some. We need food, so we buy it. We expect that things will work, so we are shocked when they do not. Suddenly when my computer says that I can drive another 52 miles before I run out of gas, life seems fragile and tenuous. Suddenly it becomes clear that everything we take for granted can come to a grinding halt if just one cog in the complicated wheel gives out.
People were reasonable today. People drove away calmly, with the belief that things would get fixed, and everything would be ok.
But what if things don’t get fixed? How would that play out? What holds us accountable and allows us to continue to function as a society when everything goes wrong?
In my first book, Harry Williams says, “We are red in tooth and claw.” We all have claws, and it is simply a social agreement that we all adhere to that allows us to keep those claws in check.
It’s easy to be peaceful when everything goes right. The true test is how we respond when everything goes wrong.