The Zombie Apocalypse, Part 10: Can you spare a square?
What to do when you can’t run for things when you run out of things ~
Jonathan Glazer, 11 March 2016
“Do we have any advil left?” Running out of stuff today is a minor inconvenience. I have been known to dash out of the house 3 or 4 different times over the course of a day to get forgotten, depleted or lost items needed right away. Fortunately for me, I live within 5 minutes of a couple of big box stores, not to mention a choice of super markets and major chain pharmacies. What happens when the lights are out, the undead roam the earth and every other person with a pulse is competing with you for everything? Your biggest problem won’t be sneaking 13 items in the 12-items-or-less aisle. Scrounging will be an extremely valuable skill in the days when there is no more civilization. Even the best prepper will forget something, not anticipate the need for something that becomes invaluable or just plain run out of necessary items. Perhaps a badger will sneak in your shed and eat your spare fuel line for your generator just before you need it most. Where do you get a new one?
Walmart may seem to have everything in stock now, but once all goes to hell in a handbasket, your neighbors will likely forget their manners and chaos will ensue. A day or so after the big one hits, shelves will be picked clean quickly. In the days before the last two hurricanes here in the Northeast, things like batteries, flashlights and generators disappeared. Even a heavy storm makes people buy eggs, milk and break like there is a French toast bakeoff the next day. Once it is clear there are no consequences, people stop waiting in line and just take what they need. There are videos of the stores in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina and they were enough to give any retail manager nightmares. The scenes in many zombie movies of survivors entering supermarkets to find what they needed are not likely to happen. Markets, big box stores and discount clubs will look like empty warehouses with scattered debris everywhere. The only exception might be if an armed group takes over one of these centers of consumerism as a means of safeguarding the contents and using them until the cavalry arrives. In that case, you are looking at a hell of a fight to gain entry and get your hands on some toilet paper and baby wipes.
With all of that in mind, what is a lucky survivor to do, six months into the end of the world as we know it when they realize they need another pair of underwear or a rectal thermometer? The answer is that you go to where you are most likely to find what you are seeking. That is what a scrounger does. The usual sources become the least likely places to find what you need because that is where everyone else goes. If you need household items, instead of going to an abandoned destroyed supermarket, go to an abandoned home. Pick one that is not on a main street and is perhaps a little out of the way. There will be missions of abandoned homes across the continent. Most of the former owners will be either dead, undead or scattered and displaced. I can guarantee you that they will not have taken the time to pack every single item in their pantries, medicine cabinets and cupboards. Plus, they will be fleeing for their lives and will not have the ability to take all their stuff with them. In the time after laws cease being relevant, taking a bunch of canned goods from the closet of an overlooked house in a less traveled part of town will be like hitting the lottery. Just be careful because any house has a chance of not being unoccupied. Whether inhabited by an armed squatter or the room temperature former resident looking to have their first post ZA human home delivery snack, every structure needs to be quietly and carefully cleared one room at a time.
If knowing where to find what you need is the most valuable competency within scrounging, the second most valuable competency will be knowing where to look for stuff that you may not know you need or may not have a need for now, but that could become useful later, whether for barter or for repurposing. For this type of scrounging, I personally favor self-storage facilities. These little rent-a-garage places are in every rural, urban and suburban neighborhood and are often stacked one after another. People store all kinds of stuff in them. That is the basis of a few reality shows in which the unknown contents of storage units seized by the facility owners for non-payment of rent are auctioned off to speculators who are allowed only a quick peek into the inside of the room. You find the contents of homes, businesses and lives that are usually stashed there for any reason one can imagine. Most of the things in there are junk to me, but then again, my prized possessions are most likely to be seen as garbage by others.
After Target is pillaged, a self-storage facility will likely yield any tool you might need, boatloads of clothing and potentially other useful items such as guns, ammunition, canned food and camping equipment. I would pass on taking the artwork and Atari video game units, but that is just me. The point is that if you are lucky enough to find an unmolested self-store warehouse, you can find so much stuff that it would make your head spin. You just need to be able to defeat the locks on each unit, so a set of bolt cutters might be your best friend.
Medical supplies will be highly valued and tough to find. The first aid aisle of CVS will not be well stocked at this point. Hospitals are a bad idea. They are a really bad idea. Did I mention that going to a hospital at any time following the zombie apocalypse is a bad idea? Hospitals will be where the early adopters of the people eating craze will be brought. From there, carnage will be an outward spiral. There will be shuffling gizzard chomping ghouls wandering the halls of every former hospital for as long as the planet is infested by them. Plus, the medical supplies will be consumed almost immediately as the medical professionals try to treat anyone they can until they are overrun or eaten and digested. In case you didn’t get my point, do not scrounge at an abandoned hospital.
Instead, try the fire department, whether it is volunteer or professional. Most have rescue squads or ambulance corps and are well stocked with medical supplies. Keep in mind that you face the possibility of running into entrenched survival minded fire fighters who are hunkered down and trying to ride out the storm. Or you may find some volunteers who were not aware the world ended and are just hanging out because they have nowhere else to go. Either way, you may have a big fight on your hands, or perhaps some new found friends. Schools and other large institutional buildings may have a nurse’s office with forgotten supplies in them. Municipal buildings may also be good sources for basic first aid materials.
When it comes to guns and ammo, you would do well to avoid the obvious places. Gun stores, police stations, overrun military bases and hunting clubs will be emptied. Most of the ammo will have been expended. Once again, homes and storage units are where you are most likely to find what you need. I tend to stick to guns with calibers that are common and easy to obtain. Esoteric ammunition which hasn’t been fielded by an army in the last 100 years might be tough to source. If you have a gun and can’t find ammo in Walmart for it today, I don’t think it is a good idea to rely on it for the end of days. Military calibers are a pretty good bet as are very popular hunting ammunition. And if you stumble across a box of ammo that doesn’t fit any of your guns, perhaps you will find someone else who wants it and will trade you something useful for it, like a big can of chocolate pudding. Knives and other weapons are also items you may find in your travels and which can be either used or traded. It doesn’t have to be a big gnarly hunting knife. After the dead rise, plenty will be stopped with butcher and steak knives.
My point is that you need to start thinking like a scrounger. Look for unconventional and overlooked places that might contain useful items beyond the obvious. Take the road less travelled. Be able to identify if something you find has value beyond what you need immediately. Is it something that you feel is valuable to you or others, either now or later? If so, take it. Is it heavy and useless, like a politician? Then leave it. There is a difference between being a scrounger and a hoarder. Scroungers keep things that are useful and discard what is not useful. Hoarders keep everything. I tend to be more of a hoarder and I am trying to reform my ways. I recently got rid of a pair of leather pants from the early ‘90s. It was difficult for me to admit to myself that the world would be a better place if I tossed them. Know where to look for what is useful, how to make that determination quickly and how to transport your new found goodies to where they can be used or stored. Being a first class procurer of things will be a highly sought skill in the coming days when everyone has to carry their weight, or be used as zombie bait.
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