Current Events Are Scarier Than Halloween

Strange and even scary events, things we wouldn’t normally think twice about, have been occurring in these parts and Halloween had nothing to do with them.

For instance, maybe it isn’t odd anymore but going days without mail service is really amazing to me. We recently received Saturday’s mail on Sunday night about 7 pm. At that point, why bother? Maybe the mail carrier is new and wants to learn the route when not rushed.

I’m dismayed that they aren’t following their motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” I remember when our mail was delivered almost to the minute each day. But that was back when it was tough to get a job with the U.S. Post Office. Now, apparently, no one wants to work there.

Well, I guess you need staff before you can adhere to a motto. Maybe the motto should be updated to include the ending clause, “provided that an abundance of couriers exists.” I never thought I’d see help wanted posters for mail carriers. But they are on large display at post offices. I wonder if eliminating Saturday mail would improve service.

Apparently the delivery business in general is in disarray. With everyone ordering much of their needs online, there’s a lot of competition so delivery trucks are everywhere. You know these services are in trouble when they are even testing drones for delivery service. I’m grateful that in Red Wing our garbage and recycling collection is provided by the city. Imagine the traffic if everyone had to hire their own service.

Another shock in the area was the recent HBC service outage. I first became aware of it when I stopped at a store downtown. They were trying to figure out why their credit card reader was unable to take payments. I didn’t pay much attention to it but when I got home I quickly noticed that my service was also down.

As was reported, there were two simultaneous cuts to the fiber optic network. Most fiber optic cable is buried and anything buried is susceptible to interruption from inadvertent digging. This happens often enough that the network is purposely designed to reroute most single cuts of major lines, limiting the outage to a small area. But two cuts on critical parts of the network is much harder to survive and can stop service for thousands. And repairing the many small strands is no easy task. Just take a look at the photo of the cut previously shown in the paper.

Catherine and I suddenly realized the significance of it. We couldn’t watch TV or use the internet. We looked at each other and laughed, wondering out loud how we would survive the evening. Verizon cell phone service still worked, although apparently that depended on which tower you were connected to. Local HBC staff said they couldn’t connect to Verizon during the outage. It’s a bit sobering to be reminded how addicted we are to these services and how fragile they are.

They are also likely the first services to go in a nuclear war, something we read about every day now. Since my generation grew up with the threat of nuclear war, I’m used to it. I wasn’t around yet when the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan but I do remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I think my folks were silently terrified. Their constant monitoring of the news gave them away. I only knew that it could be bad. Watching ships carrying nuclear bombs headed to Cuba provided a stark image on black and white TV. Maybe we could survive in the basement. Mom had a lot of preserves stored there.

A recent article I read discussed the safest locations to be in the U.S. in the event of an all-out nuclear war. Minnesota was one of the safer areas, probably because there are many other locations where nuclear bombs would inflict more damage to more infrastructure and people but also because we’re part of “fly-over land” – less significant and not as susceptible to earthquakes that a nuclear bomb could cause.

But one statement in the article caught my attention: “Some estimates name Maine, Oregon, Northern California and western Texas as some of the safest locales in the case of nuclear war, due to their lack of large urban centers and nuclear power plants.” Wait. What? We have a nuclear plant in our backyard.

A search on the internet revealed that the U.S. has 93 commercial nuclear reactors operating at 55 locations in 28 states. The majority of nuclear reactors are in the eastern U.S. I suppose that’s good news. The plant here wouldn’t likely be the first target. There are emergency plans in place to deal with a leak at the plant but how do you plan for a nuclear bomb? If any U.S. location is struck, where you live probably won’t matter for very long. So, to me, it’s not worth worrying about.

Halloween wasn’t all that scary this year when you consider all the other things going on around us. With any luck it be less scary once the election signs are gone, too.

But I’m not counting on it.