Saturday, March 31, 2018

They started running

Jeff had just gotten back from picking up dinner from Pappy’s Barbeque which was just up the road from his house. The smokey aroma of the ribs filled The Sipper.  The only thing that kept him from grabbing one was having to deal with greasy fingers sliming up the steering wheel.

He cradled the bags of food in his arms as he tired opening the door to his house – the most used door that opened straight into the kitchen.  Then his phone rang. Crap.  A third thing to do.  Two things were bad enough.

He rushed in and dropped the food on the breakfast table. Reached in his pocket…it was his nephew, Chris.

His 27 year old nephew moved to Las Vegas a year or so ago. It had been eight years since Chris’ dad – Jeff’s brother – had died. Jeff and Chris had kept in contact, talking frequently about news events and money. 

Chris was in Vegas to make money the best way he knew how:  gambling.  He was an avid card player and did surprisingly well.  He wasn’t rich…but it paid the bills.  Jeff always marveled at this – since he himself always needed a little more certainty in life.

“Hey, Uncle Jeff!” Chris’ smooth voice was the exact opposite of off putting. Calm, quiet and seem to draw you in.  It expressed a curiosity and hidden knowledge that people picked up on. Jeff realized this was a perfect persona for a gambler.  Silent, non-aggressive and harmless, yet a foe one better be prepared to reckon with.

“Chris!  How are things in Sin City?”

“Well, ok, I guess.  I think they should change the nick name to Binge City.  It better describes what people do when they come here.”

Jeff chuckled. “Well that for sure is “A” sin.  Settling in ok there?”

“Yeah, that’s what I called to talk to you about.”

Jeff picked up on something.  Maybe he wasn't doing as well as Jeff had thought he could do. 

“What’s wrong?  Running into a bit of a bad streak? The Mob after you?”

“What?  Hey! No!  I’m doing pretty well.  The bills are being paid.  The Mob loves me –“

Jeff sort of lowered his voice “uh…I’m assuming that’s a joke?”

Chris, chortled “Yes, I’m joking there.  But I am doing a little better than treading water. The bills are paid, I get to eat out.  Stuff a few greenbacks in the bank.  Life is good.”

“So….what’s the call about?”

Chris paused for a second.  “There’s something going on.  There are people here.  A lot of them.”

“You mean over and above the flow of tourists?  Are we talking military?  What?” Jeff wasn’t really serious about the military.  At least he hoped he wasn't.

“No.  No military.  But after the first six months I moved here, you could see something was not right.  I asked my neighbor about it.  He seemed to know more about it than I did.”

“Chris, what’s happening?  What’s going on?”

“My neighbor just said ‘it’s those damn Californians!  I wish they’d stay the hell away.’ Uh, he said that second statement, too.  I didn't say that.”

“I don’t think I understand.  I did read a lot of people in California were moving to Oregon, Nevada and Texas to get away from the taxes.”

“No.  No.  These people here didn't run away from California for that. In fact, I think a lot of them probably haven’t worked in some time.”

“Oh, so they were laid off or something?  Explain to me what you’re seeing.”

“They live in tents.  They are all gathered around the southern end of the city – “

“How many are we talking about?  Ten? Fifty?”

“No.  More like a hundred maybe.  Maybe two hundred – I haven’t tried to count them.  Keep in mind this has been going on for a year or so.”

Jeff realized there was something going on that the news wasn't telling. “Chris, what are others saying?”

“I was at the grocery store yesterday.  I started chatting with a man and his wife.  Turned out they were from California.  They didn't live in a tent.  They’d been living in Vegas for a couple of years.  But they knew more about the people in the tents than I did.”

“So, what did they tell you?”  Jeff was starting to not like Chris’ personality at this point.  It was clear to him that Chris knew a LOT more than he was telling.  This “story building” was getting in the way.

“Okay.  Okay” Chris could sense the impatience. He knew he had to deliver.  “So, the couple said that things in California were way, way worse than we had been led to believe.  The husband and wife were maybe in their 70s. But they still had many friends and family in…what was that city…. [Jeff was losing it now] oh – Oakland. Yeah.”

“So, what’s happening in California?”  Jeff forgot about the ribs. They were cold now.  Dinner was going to have to wait.  His wife had just walked into the kitchen looking at Jeff with that that  “what’s going on?” look.

“Uncle Jeff….the – the…”  Jeff had never ever heard Chris stutter.  He was searching for words to encapsulate what he was seeing happening.  And, being Chris, he wanted to make sure he aptly described the situation in as few words as possible.  But then the words came out in one steady and intense stream.

“California is a listing ship.  Things are getting bad.  This is only the beginning.  It will be holy hell when the ship is upside down.  And the pain won’t stop there.  The true agony will occur when the ship tries to right itself.”

Jeff was stunned.  His mind whirling.  “I…don’t understand a thing you just said.”

Chris – his voice getting calmer and lower – never a good sign. “The shit isn’t about to hit the fan.  It started hitting the fan for a while now.  And it probably won’t stop…for years.  Those people in the tent city?  How are they going to survive in the Vegas heat?  WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?”

Jeff’s eyes popped out. 

“They’re refugees. From California.”

There was silence.  Chris broke it.

"There's gonna be millions"

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