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Assume the Worst

Beat the Crowds

by BEN TRIPP

Even a sack of day-old White Castle hamburgers couldn’t help but notice there’s something missing from the administration’s terrorist emergency plans. It’s the same thing missing from all this administration’s plans: the welfare of the general public. The White House is currently operating under the assumption that there will be a major terrorist attack on the United States before November 2, 2004. According to a top official in the nation’s capitol, "We assume an attack will happen leading up to the election and it will happen here." We’re not talking about a worst-case scenario: this is the middle-of-the-road scenario. One assumes the worst-case scenario involves the planet Neptune tumbling out of its orbit and hitting Tom DeLay on the nape. This bad news might explain why Bush is spending our shinplaster like there’s no tomorrow: if you live in central Maryland, it’s an 80% chance there won’t be.

To prepare for this looming terrorist action, the government has developed an elaborate system of ultra-secure emergency bunkers, communication networks, and evacuation strategies intended to get the entire United States command structure out of Washington, DC. The trick will be to change all the locks before they get back. Let us review the facts so far: the government is assuming – not guessing, conjecturing, or spinning moonbeams, but assuming – that there will be (not could be, might be, or ought to be, but WILL BE) a terrorist attack on Washington, DC. The last time I was there, the population in the city alone was 600,000, and there are four million more people living within spitting distance, if you really hocked up a good one. The very top tier of the federal bureaucracy, not including the guy who checks hats at the Senate building, runs to some 6,000 persons. 6,001 if you stretch the definition of ‘person’ to include the President. Running these numbers over my beloved hand-knotted macramé abacus, I discover a surplus of 4,593,999 persons not covered by any particular emergency plan, and most of them no dental plan or HMO, either. So what happens when this inevitable attack on the very seat of our nation’s business (the fleshy part of the seat) occurs? That is when the duct tape and plastic sheets come in.

Sirens cry out. All the civilians in the metropolitan area of DC grab their rolls of that venerable mucilaginous plastic-impregnated fabric and affix polyethylene drop cloths over their doors. Meanwhile the reigning quomodocunquists are whisked away according to plan: black helicopters swoop down and extract the Republican leadership. Democratic leadership is given cab fare and ten minute warning. Somehow most of them make it out of DC alive. Government reconvenes in secure location such as the basement of the Denny’s on Edsall Road in Alexandria, VA (take the I-395 to Exit 2A East, turn right on Edsall). Secret shelter is equipped with positive-pressure HEPA-carbon air filtration, redundant anti-EMP power supply, and full mini bar. Lethal cloud of radioactive gas or concentrated Hai Karate fumes rolls over the city. Three weeks later, all they have to do is bundle all the dead civilians in the drop cloths, tape them up tight, and voila! No unsightly mess, and the taxpayers footed the bill!

So if Bush’s so-called administration isn’t making extra-special plans to ensure the safety of all the humans who are forced due to poverty to live near the White House, why not? Call me paranoid – all of you, go ahead, I know you say it behind my back – but I suspect it’s because they don’t really care. Terrorism, schmerrorism. The Feds know there will be some kind of attack. They’ve said so. But they’re not visibly concerned about the impact on local civilians. Not enough to stage full-scale drills. Wouldn’t you want to practice evacuating the city if you were operating under the assumption that it was definitely going to be attacked? Or at least hand out gas masks, and maybe some oyster crackers or moist towelettes? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m meshuggeneh. But could it be they have no idea what they’re talking about, just like last time, and the inevitable attack (I agree with them, it’s inevitable) is just as likely to occur in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Cranston, Rhode Island? What do they care, they’ve got themselves taken care of.

This leaves the rest of us to make up terrorist emergency plans of our own. Try holding your breath long enough to make it out of town on foot, for example. My own emergency plan is a work of genius: the way the economy is going, by the time the terrorists attack, I’ll already be working at the Denny’s on Edsall Road.

BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter and cartoonist. Ben also has a lot of outrageously priced crap for sale here. A collection of Tripp’s essays, Square in the Nuts, will be published this summer. If his writing starts to grate on your nerves, buy some and maybe he’ll flee to Mexico. If all else fails, he can be reached at: credel@earthlink.net