Frank's Handy Guide to Living in the Wasteland, Part 1

Regardless of where you fall (or more likely crash-land) on the political spectrum, one thing seems certain, at least according to every single internet comments section I've read -- we're doomed.

This is it, boys and girls, cry the naysayers. Western civilization is about to grind to a halt, topple over, and leave us all standing bewildered in a smoking, acrid ruin.

I don't believe that. But, just in case my cheerful optimism turns out to be wrong, there are things we all need to know about living in a Mad Max dystopia. As usual, I'm here to help.

So gather round! I'll start a fire in this rusty oil drum (cast-off oil drums are, of course, a staple of post-apocalypse settings), and we can discuss how to best survive once the Rule of Law goes the way of the dodo, the VHS tape, and people who sat quietly in movie theaters.

(To read this entry in the large print edition, click here)


The first thing you'll need to learn is how to maraud properly. There is an etiquette to the practice, and perhaps just as importantly, a style. Take a quick look at what you're wearing, right now. Then, after putting on pants, (and I'm truly sorry I remotely activated your laptop's camera), think about how your outfit will hold up while you roll around on the parched desert sand wrestling for the Earth's last intact box of chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts.

Not going to work, is it? Forget the Dockers, the thin cotton Beatles tee, the flimsy deck shoes. No, you're going to want leather, and lots of it. Leather pants. A leather jacket. Biker boots with extra-stompy heels and soles. I'm just assuming leather underwear also comes into play. 

Too hot, you say?

Well, buttercup, get used to sweating, because the Wasteland doesn't have any patience with your pre-apocalypse ideas about air conditioning or comfort. In fact, start each day by rubbing the slightly radioactive soil right in your face. First, it makes your skin less reflective, and therefore less of a target for the mutant snipers hiding in the ruins of that Costco you're planning to raid. Second, grunge is the new squeaky-clean, and if you think your social life is lacking now just you wait

Look the part, people. Get dirty and stay that way. Super-Glue your hair into spikes. Paint your face with whatever will serve as a pigment. You want to look fierce, because you aren't the only one out there scavenging for gasoline. 


Speaking of gasoline, you'll want some. All you can get, because your heavily-armored Toyota Corolla won't run on radioactive rainwater.

What? You haven't started welding spikes to the hood of your car yet?

Sigh. Yes, I know what that will do to the resale value -- but we're talking the End Times here. Start strapping armor to your car RIGHT NOW. If you don't have a car, okay, use whatever you've got, but don't come whining to me when you try facing down rival gangs on your militarized Craftsman riding lawn mower only to face a barrage of hurtful sarcasm. 

Motorcycles are another favored form of transportation in the Wasteland. You'll look good, speeding down the eerily quiet streets, and you'll be glad you're wearing all that leather when you get knocked over by the nice lady who used to run your book club. Of course now she calls herself Queen of Fifth Street and she's aiming a bazooka at your head, but due to your cat-like reflexes and the fact that she's pointing the thing backwards, you've got time to compliment her hair spikes before making your getaway on foot.

Vehicles to avoid, even in the Mutant Badlands, include tricycles, those bloody stupid hoverboards, and of course Jeep Wranglers.


I'm sure you've heard someone say 'anything can be used as a weapon.' Which may be true, at least figuratively, but the guy wielding the salad tongs is unlikely to emerge victorious no matter how well-executed his face paint might be.

No, you'll want guns. One on each hip, a rifle slung across your back, a snub-nosed .38 stuck down your right boot, and a second small handgun secreted down the back of your leather pants. If you lack such an arsenal, well, do the best you can. Comically large hammers look imposing. Swords too, although if the blade falls off the hilt every time you draw it the effect is certainly lessened. 

Look around your garage. There's probably a golf club or two out there. Maybe a hockey stick, or a baseball bat. Do NOT yell 'Fore!' before you swing the golf club. A muttered 'Batter up!' is acceptable when employing a baseball bat. 

Every kitchen has an assortment of knives. Decorate the handles and blades with permanent markers. Skulls are a favored motif. Avoid the depiction of smiley faces or motivational poster messages. This is the Wasteland, and nobody wants to be reminded that 'Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.' 


There are no Mr. Joneses or Miss Twilleys in the Wasteland.

Start referring to yourself as 'Cruncher' or 'Crazy Teeth.' Everyone in the Wastes has a catchy new name. It needs to be vaguely threatening but also contain just the right touch of gallows humor. Don't lay it on too thick; calling yourself 'Lord Deathstrike, Emperor of Lower Duluth' invites both scorn and small arms fire. Stick with one or two words. Forget what you did before it all fell apart -- Larry the Accountant is not a suitable moniker when you're competing socially against a mad-eyed cannibal named Crazy Teeth.


There is no "I" in Apocalypse, unless your face-paint is so toxic you can't remember how to spell. In any case, you'll need a tightly-woven gang of at least a half-dozen fellow survivors to have any chance at keeping the desperate hordes at bay.

The people you'll need most will be a mechanic, a doctor, a demolition expert, a Mafia assassin, and a taciturn sword-wielding Ninja. The people you'll have will be a copier repairman, Betty from Payroll, a homeless guy who hasn't even noticed the world just ended, the real estate salesperson you found hiding in your closet, and the shady dude who used to operate the kiosk at the parking garage. 

Still, that's what you've got. Maybe if you maraud mostly at night no one will notice shady guy's pot belly or Betty's insistence that everyone stop what they are doing and look for a functional expresso machine. 


You'll need a place to store your looted snack foods. You'll need somewhere to shelter from the roving bands of bikers angered by the sudden widespread adoption of their preferred wardrobe style. Your tidy two-story faux-Tudor house simply won't do, and anyway that half of town burned to the ground during the first night of rioting. 

Instead, locate an underground missile silo with foot-thick steel doors and concrete barricades blocking the gate. If you can't find one, okay, I guess a derelict Subway sandwich shop will do. Reinforce the doors, avoid showing any lights at night, and ignore the real estate person's endless lectures on how the property is sadly undervalued in today's bullet-based economy.


When the last checkout lane in the last Walmart shuts down, you'll find that toilet paper is the new gold, and dented cans of Van Camps Beenie Weenies command the sort of economic clout huge wads of cash did in the Old Days. Sure, money is no more, but homeless guy's shopping cart full of dollar-store tuna is now worth more than an old world yacht.

Be smart with your meager supplies. Your gang has tuna and one-ply. The gang down the street has ammunition and a vending machine filled with Snickers bars. Establish a dialog, after a polite exchange of gunfire. An exchange rate will work itself out, and if you play your cards right, you'll be dining on chocolate by the light of a flickering trash fire. That's a good day, in the Wasteland.


In between all the running and shooting and arguing over who is mutating faster, don't forget to have some fun, now and then. 

Prank rival gangs by egging their makeshift tanks. Restore an old radio station, and then play nothing but the same Nickelback song. Exceed the recommended daily allowance of carbohydrates. It's the Apocalypse, you guys. Nothing is going on your permanent record. You don't have to file taxes, or set the alarm for six, or even change your leather underwear twice a week. It's a Nihilist free-for-all, at least until the alien attack armada arrives, but that's a different TV show.

Look me up, after the dust settles. I'll be known as 'Frank,' since nicknames just don't stick on me. I'll be the pale guy tugging at his itchy leather pants and still pissed that he never binge-watched 'Game of Thrones' when he had the chance.

Now start hoarding Charmin, folks. We don't have much time.