I may have set myself a much harder task than I originally thought. I paid a visit to a nearby gas station. The fact that it smelled like fuel, I thought was a good sign. I brought along a hand pump used for barrels I found at the tractor store. My first thought was maybe I could just find the spot they pump the fuel into and use my hand pump to pull it out.
It turns out gas stations are more complicated than I thought. I tried to open one of the spray-painted covers I’m sure I’ve seen the big trucks use to deliver fuel. Turns out they are not only heavy but complicated. It took me an hour to figure out how to take the top off. Once it was, I was kind of mad at how long it took me. Unfortunately, this particular opening to the tank leads to an elbow and my hand pump is neither flexible or long enough to navigate it.
I decided to check inside, maybe they have something that can help me. Getting into the store isn’t hard. It’s a little tougher than getting through the mall doors. What isn’t easy it getting into the back office. I don’t know who owned it or what they have back there but that security door would not budge. I take a good look at the lock. It doesn’t look like it uses a regular key. The hole looks like a sideways three or a Euro sign. I’ve never picked a lock and this looks like a poor one to start with.
I look around the cashier’s area. There’s a bunch of control stuff I don’t recognize. I always thought working at a gas station as an easy job. People get gas, you take money. Having to figure this out myself, is a challenge. There’s no books, pamphlets, or material out here that’s helpful. I slumped over the counter in frustration. Next to me is a big display of lottery scratchers. Out of curiosity I grab one and scratch it off. It’s a loser, not that it matters. I pack up my truck and head back to the house.
I told Ruth about my plans that morning. She told me she thought it was a good idea but didn’t let me take Abby to the station. When I got back for lunch her and Rusty were playing in the front yard. For a moment I feel the need to chastise the dogs. What if a car came up the road and they ran in front of it? Then I remembered the only thing that’s come up this road in a while has been me.
I tell Ruth about what I discovered. She mentioned that some gas stations may have backup generators to pump gas when the power goes out. She suggests I look for another on my travels. After lunch I take Abby with me to another neighborhood with a dozen gas and diesel cans and my pump. It’s surprising how hard fuel is to come by now. It seems few people were keeping their tanks full. It took about three hours to fill up all the cans. Abby has caught a few small animals which she has brought back to the truck. I’m not sure if she’s a good hunter or there’s just more animals around.
The next morning, I took Abby with me to the local University. I hoped I could find some books on chemistry and electricity to help me understand what I’m trying to do. I got excited at first. Finding books with the names of the subjects I was looking for was easy. I was puzzled at how thin the text books were. A quick look inside gave me a bad feeling. The few chapters I skimmed would give some basic information, then informed the reader to go to a website for quizzes, tests, and more information. I’m worried that these textbooks may be useless for what I need.
I decided to break into the university book store. Abby races in ahead of me into the big pile of school mascot plushies and starts eviscerating them. While she’s busy tearing the stuffing out of several copies of an off-color animal I start searching for books. For a place called “the book store” there’s precious little books. Most of the store is taken up with t-shirts, sweat pants, and other useless items with the school’s logo. Finally, near the back of the store I find the books. They are divided by subject, using the strange systems that only College books stores use to sort them. Most of the books are like the others I found earlier, lots of glossy pages of simple pictures and examples but little else. Then there’s the others, the hard-core books.
I picked up a book called Basic Algebra. I laughed and thought what college student is still taking algebra. I opened the book. I’m pretty sure the thing was written by an alien. There are no words or pictures. There are a few symbols I recognize but the rest looks like it was found in some farmer’s field. There are a few other books like this, too dense or indecipherable to be of much use to me. I go find Abby who is now ripping the pile of shreds that remains of the stuffed mascots and leave.
I didn’t want my trip to be a waste so I figured I would have a look in the offices. Some might have older books that have better references. The question is where to start. This isn’t the biggest university in the nation, but it’s not small. I know they train engineers and chemists here and there has to be something useful. I went to the building that looked the most industrial. I got excited when I saw how old the place looked. I had flashbacks to movies about the 20s and 30s where people worked with the old equipment that had the big toggle switches.
The first office I got into had only the most recent textbooks. They were the teacher’s editions so they had all the answers for the other book but none of the answers I needed. The next office was a little better. I found an old teacher’s edition that could have come from the late 2000’s. This one said to consult the CD. A CD which was not in the book. The rest of the offices provided about as much. I did find a small handbook called Pocket Ref in what must have been an old engineer’s office. One look at the table of contents told me I should take it with me. It didn’t hurt that the book literally fit in my pocket. From what I’ve seen the book is filled with a little information on almost everything, and is mostly lists of needed equations and charts of information on hardware. At least that’s what I gleamed in my few minutes of skimming the book.
The rest of the trip netted little more than a couple bags full of blank notebooks and writing supplies. I think I need to start writing stuff down, in case I forget. I’m a little disappointed, I thought I would be coming back with stacks of books that I could use to fix all our problems. The disaster movies always played up the angle of knowledge being the key to rebuilding society. I don’t think the people in Hollywood have seen the state of modern text books.
I spend my last hour at the school letting Abby run wild through the large open field in the center of the University. It feels so weird, there are no signs of people here either. There aren’t even any cars or bikes. I purposefully avoided the dorms. I’m pretty sure anyone left here isn’t among the living. Dorm rooms and frat houses are dirty at the best of times. I don’t think the current situation has done much to improve them.
As I walk the sidewalk that boarders the field watching Abby tear up the grass, I notice a flyer. Its weather worn and I can’t read the address on the bottom. It reads “Book Hoarders- Used text books. Buy, Sell, Rent.” I got a little excited, but how old can some of these text books be? I’m also not sure where this place is. The only reason I knew anything about the University is because of the computer parts store nearby. It was one of my favorite places till five years ago when I graduated to a new level of shut in and started ordering all my parts.
I figured the store had to be close to campus. Most places that service students are. I pile myself and Abby into the truck and we drive the outskirts of campus. This is a lot harder than it sounds. I’m not sure when it happened but the University seems to have taken over several buildings in the past few years. The sun is starting to set by the time I find the store. It’s nestled between a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a Cajun theme, and a frozen yogurt store that looks like it has been closed for longer than the recent problems.
Getting in to the store is almost too easy. A single deadbolt that barely makes it into the other door and a chain which took a little more effort. I start to get worried as it looks very similar to the University book store I raided before. It even has a similar pile of plushies which Abby more than happily dives into. I think I many need to find a book on training her soon. Like the other store I make my way to the back. I notice the area behind the counter has two levels. A click of my flashlight and I see the second floor. Shelves upon shelves of books. It looks like a library in the 90s.
I jump the counter and break open the hollow core doors that block first floor entrance. I’m starting to get a little concerned about how easily I break things now. Not about getting in trouble. I haven’t seen another person aside from Ruth in almost a month. I’m just starting to feel like a different person.
The downstairs is much like the upstairs. I start browsing the shelves. I find a lot of the same books I saw on campus, but I also see older editions. Some have up to five older editions on the shelves. I grab the oldest of these. It’s an old calculus book. After I open it up and skim it quickly, I know I’m in the right place. Lengthy explanations, copious examples, and no mention of a website or cd.
It’s a little harder to find the type of books I came for. Mostly because of the sheer volume of books. I grab the oldest editions of any book I can find with electricity or chemistry in the name. My search isn’t very long. It’s already getting dark and I don’t have infinite batteries for my flashlight. I leave with about twenty books. Abby brings along one of the stuffed mascots she didn’t tear the stuffing out of and snoozes resting her head against it the whole ride home.
November 30, 2021