Before last week, I'd never met a doomsday prepper in person. My entire knowledge of them was culled from stuff like Tremors, Louis Theroux documentaries and that one show on National Geographic where the guy cried.
I'd learned that preppers are, without exception, a bunch of fat racists playing with guns in the woods and throwing money down the drain to buy underground shelters and dehydrated foods to survive an event that's never going to happen. Also, probably, they have at some point posted in the same internet forums as someone who went on to be a spree killer.
Last weekend, I attended the Arizona Survivalist/Prepper Expo in Prescott Valley, Arizona – an event featuring more than 75 vendors selling everything to get you "prepared and ready for any natural, man-made or economic disaster".
Entry was $10 (£6), which also got me a pocket-size copy of the Constitution of the United States for me to keep on my person at all times.
Stalls sold pretty much everything you'd expect to need to survive any kind of apocalypse scenario. Everything from live rabbits ("the other other white meat") to women's jewellery that doubles up as firelighters. Other stalls sold things that I'm not totally sure would be neccesary in a survival situation – like acupuncture needles and ear plugs – but people seemed interested in them nonetheless.
As I went from stall to stall, I asked people what they thought was going to happen in the future that might lead to them requiring all this stuff.
People were, without exception, very defensive when I asked them this.
I suppose for anyone who belongs to a group that is universally LOL'd at, being defensive becomes a way of life. They were very keen to point out that they were buying this shit because it's best to be prepared, not because they think the world is going to end next week.
What they felt they needed to prepare for varied. People told me they were worried about socialism, about terrorists, about earthquakes and hurricanes, about Obama taking away their guns. The only common factor was a strong desire to point out to me that they weren't insane.
It was while I was chatting to two men who run an emergency broadcasting network that I got to thinking about how massively unprepared I am to deal with a crisis.
They began to ask me questions about what I would do in an emergency. "And I don't mean the apocalypse," one of the men said. "We deal with personal disasters every day. What would you do in an earthquake? What would you do if you lost your job? What would you do if your house burned down?"
Like most people, when I'm watching The Walking Dead or playing Fallout I like to imagine I'd fare pretty well in an apocalypse scenario. This is, however, quite obviously bullshit.
In my apartment, I have maybe, like, three things that would come in handy in a survival situation: a box of Cliff Bars, a promotional Nalgene bottle and a knife that I bought because it looks cool. I also live in a major city. If something big were to go down, it would take about 20 minutes for me to get robbed to death.
Even at the lower end of disasters, like getting fired or my apartment flooding, I would be fucked. I could last maybe a week on my box of Cliff Bars, but then I would have no choice but to go find somewhere to quietly die.
Like you, I have been pampered and privileged by the modern world. And it's not like it's completely out of the question that I will be in a survival situation some day.
America is a scary place, one that's always doing something to try to kill its inhabitants. There are earthquakes and hurricanes and mass shootings and mudslides and SWAT raids over weed. On my daily drive to work, I pass tsunami warning signs and buildings that had to be rebuilt after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That's not to say that I'm 100 percent sure I will one day be in some sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max survival battle, but I doubt the residents of the Ninth Ward ever seriously thought they might one day have to swim out of their attic windows, either.
Briefly, I toyed with the idea of becoming more prepared, which wouldn't be easy. Surviving disasters that might not ever happen is expensive business. As the threat could come from anything from ice storms to wildfires, there's a lot to stock up on. A basic survival pack costs $300 (£170). Modifying your windows to become unbreakable costs $100 (£60) per window. Body armor is $195 (£120). A non-electrical torch is $20 (£12). Etc., etc., etc.
I got talking to a woman who was working at a stall selling water purifiers and camping stoves, and I asked her if she thought she was going to require any of the stuff she was selling in her lifetime. She told me, "I don't know. But If there was an apocalypse, I'd be running for the flash. I don't wanna be a cockroach."
And she has a point. Why would you want to survive the apocalypse?
Even though there was everything you could possibly need to make it after the world ends (up to and including DIY gunshot-treatment kits, Hello Kitty-branded knives and a terrifying-looking concoction called "Worm Wine"), there was not one single form of post-apocalyptic entertainment on sale. No card games, no books, no portable DVD players. Nothing.
I don't know what to do with myself in the ten minutes I don't have a phone signal on the subway. I once hiked ten miles to get to a Wi-Fi signal. I can't imagine spending the rest of my life solely surviving, living in an underground box, with nothing to do but stare at the wall and shit in bags to save as fertiliser.
And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who is too pampered by the modern world for survival to be an appealing option. I counted four people at the expo rolling around on Rascal scooters. I can't imagine all the guns and solar panels in the world are gonna save you in a The Road–type situation if you need a scooter to get you around an air-conditioned expo hall.
I intend to get just as much as I need to survive a small-scale disaster, but not enough to survive the apocalypse. Fuck surviving the apocalypse. Maybe I'll buy a couple of extra boxes of Cliff Bars, IDK.