We’re ready for Y2K, if not quite compliant

Column by Hal Walter

Y2K – March 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

I WAS LISTENING TO Radio-Free Jesus the other day while driving around in my truck. This is the umpteengigawatt Colorado Springs station where “one nation, under God,” means the religious right gets to make up all the rules by which everybody must live. I didn’t need to see the opening scene in the movie “Elizabeth,” in which several religious “heretics” (in this case Protestants) were burned at the stake by the Catholic-run government, to know that theocracy is a real bad idea.

At any rate, I digress. My purpose here is not a rant against the religious right because that’s too easy. I just wanted to explain to my patient readers why I let such mindless drivel come out of the speakers in my truck. It’s the same reason I sometimes tune in to Rush and “All Things Considered”: I want to know what these alarmists are up to.

What they’ve been up to, lately, has been a lot of talk about the much-heralded “Y2K Crisis.” And what’s scary about this is that in between unsubstantiated claims (statements like no utility company or bank in the country is Y2K compliant), the Bible folk are actually talking sensibly on the subject. They’re saying that it probably won’t be a tumultuous socio-economic collapse with rioting in the streets, but that there probably will be glitches and it’s not a bad idea to have some extra food, water and cash around… and maybe not take a ride in a jet around midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.

I can buy that.

But I sometimes wonder how a worst-case Y2K scenario could make much of a difference in the Central Colorado lifestyle. Looks to me like we’re headed for what guys in the military always called a “SNAFU” (Situation Normal — All Fouled Up). Of course we all know “fouled” isn’t the real word, but this is what is known as a publication with family values and we wouldn’t want to get those people with the aforementioned radio station all worked up. I understand the signal is so powerful you can pick it up in heaven.

I’ve been informed by Publisher Ed Quillen that Colorado Central is Y2K compliant, so God willing and lightning doesn’t strike, I’ll still be mouthing off right here. Ed, of course, knows that I own Macintosh computers and will be willing to give him and Martha a hand if his PCs get stuck in a two-digit HAL 9000 loop (Ed, … are you there, Ed?). However, if I may offer advice based on my experience with both publishers and PCs, don’t hold your breath waiting for that February 2000 issue.

But all that aside, let’s start up in Leadville, at the top of the watershed, and work our way downriver through Central Colorado, sampling topics and see how Y2K will dawn in the land of the free and the home of the urban refugee.

In Lake County, the government-operated water-treatment plants that have been keeping heavy metals out of the Arkansas River for the last few years could conceivably be affected by time-warped computer chips. If so the metal-laden water would flow untreated into the Arkansas just like it has since before Abe Lee discovered gold near Oro City in the spring of 1860. No massive trout die-offs should result, so most members of the area’s working public will continue to cast their sunny days away on the river.

Meanwhile back in Leadville where the natural gas has ceased to flow into furnaces, Leadheads will tend to congregate where it is warm — places like the Silver Dollar Saloon, Manhattan, Pastime, Grill, Tabor Coffeehouse and Diamond Shamrock. Not a problem — most Leadheads already consider these places second homes.

Down in Buena Vista, the Department of Corrections will impose a full lockdown at the prison just in case some sort of computer glitch jeopardizes security. But guards there have had lots of practice at this since cigarettes became contraband, the equivalent of a Y2K economic collapse among the inmate population. Nothing different here.

In Salida, the only stoplight in town might stop working at the stroke of midnight and New Year’s revelers may stagger out of local taverns and, due to the outage of this GPS (Global Positioning Stoplight), they won’t be able to find their way home. SNAFU takes on a different meaning here, but the grass has always been pretty soft in the park.

IN CUSTER COUNTY, authorities worried about looting and other crimes will hire more law enforcement officers than the community could ever need and post them in expensive shiny four-wheel-drives in the high-school parking lot where they will wait for absolutely nothing to happen. In this respect, Custer County has been Y2K compliant for three or four years now.

Meanwhile, up and down the Main Range the electricity will go out sporadically, blipping on and off, willy-nilly, for a fraction of a second or a full day, depending on just how fast utility workers get around to fixing it. Homeowners on well systems will scramble to fill — with the last gasps of their pressure tanks — bottles, pitchers, pans or anything else that might hold water. We’re already conditioned to doing this during lightning season, or whenever one of the local backhoe contractors gets crosswise with an underground powerline.

Likewise, phone service may go out for a few minutes or a few days, and you can forget ever getting credit on your bill for the downtime. That’s the way it’s always been here, regardless of which Baby Bell is currently running the phone company.

Area residents won’t be able to get on the Internet with any reliability, and when they do they may suddenly lose their connections and their computers will lock up faster than a local business at the stroke of 5 p.m. The Internet service will be lousy, but most of us won’t know the difference.

With their power, phones, and Internet services defunct, those of the Lone Eagle ilk will spend their time racing to and from town for cappuccino on the dirt roads between their ridgetop trophy homes and their small communities, just like they did before Y2K. Their high-speed rooster and fish tails will fill the air with dust and cause a permanent toxic haze to hang over the area on rare windless days. Some locals will be afraid to walk, ride bicycles or breathe on the country lanes. Just like they are now.

With the transportation industry on its knees, certain area grocery stores will be unable to procure fresh fruits and vegetables, and will run out of basic items. The lettuce will be wilted, and broccoli will bend at the stem when you pick it up. You’ll be able to tie a granny knot with the carrots, and they’ll be fresh out of half-and-half. Just like when I went to the store a couple days ago.

I hate to admit it, but it looks like the religious fanatics are right about this one — Y2K is nothing to get alarmed about. Those of us who live in Central Colorado have been in training for this crisis for years. Either that, or Y2K is already here.

Hal Walter has been stockpiling 50-cent tins of tunafish for Y2K, using the vast earnings he makes as a free-lance writer based near Westcliffe.