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Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

The Year 2K problem, or “Y2K” as it was known, revolved around speculation of what would happen when software written with dates expressed using only two digits for the year rolled from 99 to 00, making the year 2000 indistinguishable from the year 1900. Most companies had plans in place to avoid disaster by implementing system fixes ahead of time. Of course there were those who could not pass up the opportunity for a good scare who began publishing “expert opinions” assuring everyone that when the new year arrived the world would erupt into chaos due the cessation of transportation, communication, and commerce as we know it.

Some of us paid no attention and assumed that it would all work out. I talked to my programmer husband who assured me that Y2K would be a non-event, worst case suffering a few bad reports due to insignificant code that did not make the change list. There were lively discussions at lunch and even in line at the grocery store but most people went about their business as usual. There were some exceptions. My mother-in-law, Jodi, loves nothing better than a good conspiracy theory and was energized by the need to hustle around like a pint-sized general preparing for the disaster. She lived with us. Soon, our garage was stocked with vats of peanut butter, 5-gallon jugs of water, saltine crackers, powdered eggs, candles, paper towels, and baby wipes. If we found ourselves without electricity, we would be empowered to have romantic peanut butter dinners and take care of business. This was mildly irritating but fairly harmless, the most significant effect being the resulting total of charity donations we claimed that year.

There were a few really special folks who went to the extreme joining planning groups as early as 1990 and beginning a multi-phase survival plan that encompassed securing land and shelter out of the city, developing a means to defend and power that shelter, and growing and storing food sources. The idea was to establish self sufficiency in a rural location on the assumption that those of us who did not prepare would be too starved to crawl through the dark to find them and rob them and if we did, there was the means to defend. These folks were called “Y2Kers.” Some called them crazy but, hey, if the disaster theories had proven true, they would have had the last laugh. Instead, they provided a bit of laughter. Our department had a couple of Y2Kers. They had their land and house in the country and their guns, or means to defend. When the raising food phase started, Y2Ker “Janet” talked about raising chickens to stock two of her freezers with poultry. She staked out a pen of sorts in her yard out of six-inch planks, no cover. She then mail ordered 200 baby chicks. It was February. She turned her little peepers out into the open pen and, the next morning, was shocked to find them other than vertical. It was awful but I am ashamed to admit I laughed at the absurdity of it all. As it was, the year 2000 arrived with no mishaps. We held our breath as the new year arrived in Japan, then Europe, finally America each with the expected celebrations. The only thing that dropped was confetti and the proverbial New Year balls. At our house, we sat in candlelight with all doors securely locked anticipating our New Year dinner of peanut butter and iodine infused water. When the roof did not welcome a plane and the television continued to broadcast, Jodi asked for a glass of champagne and blew out her candles. Happy New Year.

The economy improved with the new year as businesses moved forward with plans on hold until Y2K was history. However, American Airlines still continued to restructure and, for me, managing work and home continued to be challenging. In September, I found myself with a separation package. It seems part-time jobs are the first to go. I could feel it coming when I saw others called into corner offices then walked to the front door. I packed my things in a box and waited. My boss Molly and I were joined in the corner office by a couple of corporate employees who looked like they thought I was going to jump out the window when they read my termination letter. I smiled, told them thank you, and snagged the box from my desk on the way to the door where I was ushered outside. Molly was very upset. I said “Don’t worry about it, maybe now I can grow something other than sticks and stubble in my vegetable garden.” I was finally a full time domestic engineer.

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