On the Internet, you can find preparation instructions for just about any emergency you can think of. That's good, since we're entering tornado season here in the Midwest. But I've discovered that in everyday life, there are so many more predictable, unavoidable things that nobody is ever prepared for. Fortunately, the only thing you'd need to pack into your emergency kit is awareness. And, according to your mom, some extra underwear. But mostly awareness. For example, most people are woefully unprepared to handle things like ...
Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
Most of us are prepared for our own impending illness because we know our bodies and what we can handle when we turn into human petri dishes. We know how much work we can handle, how much time we can afford to miss, how long we can go without performing professional wrestling moves on our unsuspecting pets. We can make those financial and physical adjustments on the fly and go on living after it's passed. But when our kids, parents, or spouses get sick, it's a whole other awful universe.
"I tried telling her to man up, but it didn't seem to work. At this point, I'm out of options."
In her younger years, my daughter had huge problems with dehydration when she got sick. She wouldn't drink anything -- we couldn't even force feed her. Not even those Popsicle things that all parents say do the trick. She was hospitalized three times from it, and every time, our world stopped. When you're in that situation, your entire life becomes focused on that moment, making sure that your child gets through it safely. Everything else can wait.
When it happens to a parent, the kids now have to take over their own meals, getting their own homework and chores finished with minimal or nonexistent guidance ... which usually means it doesn't get done. It's the same with business. How many times have you arrived at work and seen a manager bouncing around in chaos as she tries to lure some poor sucker in to cover someone else's shift? Yes, getting sick yourself shuts down your week, but it's hard to remember that it does the same to the worker who has to cancel all of his plans on his only day off in order to make sure your shift gets covered. Or the single mom who now has to skip work in order to take care of her kids. Or the magician who has to find another assistant for tonight's show because the mosquito trick gave his last one malaria.
John Rowley/Photodisc/Getty Images
"This is what I like to call the 'handful of rattlesnakes' trick."
It always comes out of the blue, because how insane would you have to be to constantly monitor someone else's chances of catching a virus? But when it does happen, it sends out a shockwave of disruption that can travel a pretty impressive distance. You will undoubtedly be one of the affected people, and if you're not prepared for it, it will blindside you like your grandma's left hook when you try to turn off her Oprah.
At my wife's job, she has to look at people's bank statements. I don't know why -- I just always assumed her job was "money thief." Regardless of what she actually does or steals, one of the most common things she finds in financially troubled cases is a $500 cellphone bill. And we're not talking about families with three or four phones -- these are single college students in their early 20s working part-time jobs. Part of the reason is that we live in a weird area where we don't have much selection in companies and coverage is spotty. So going to the neighboring town often puts you into roaming. But even more damning is that the fine print for seemingly cheaper plans often goes ignored.
On my wife's cellphone, she once went over a certain bandwidth on her "unlimited" plan, and they throttled her download speeds so much that it was virtually unusable. Again, it was all spelled out in the fine print, but the problem is that it's almost always a mile long and filled with indecipherable legal jargon. So much so, in fact, that the people selling you the product may not even be trying to trick you into a sale when they answer your questions incorrectly. They just can't decode the lingo because they don't have a legal degree.
Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
"Yes, as far as I know, you never have to pay for it as long as you live. I think that's what 0 percent financing means."
It's why TV and radio commercials have that ridiculously fast, quietly spoken jumble of nonsense at the end. And when we slow those down (by law), they become ridiculous parodies of themselves. Even Googling the terms "medication commercials side effects" gives you page after page of comedy sites making fun of them.
But without forcing companies to make things like the terms of car leases painfully clear and honest, they simply wouldn't. And since no one wants to find out at the end of a lease that you can't paint your car to look like the bus from The Partridge Family, we insist that they make good with the fine print. And you always have to be on the lookout for the less obvious things so you don't get taken advantage of. That's where we get comedy goldmines like Macy's infamous "Worst Coupon Ever Made."
Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
When I was a kid, I (and many people I grew up with) didn't have a phone. Not just a cellphone -- those hadn't quite become mainstream yet -- but a house phone. The Internet didn't exist, at least not in a way that was accessible to anyone outside of the military or criminally nerdy computer geeks. If you wanted to visit friends, you talked to them at school or work, wrote them a letter, or just showed up at their house and hoped that their father wasn't in an "answer the door in his Blue Man Group costume" sort of mood. We were off the grid pretty much permanently. Now understand that this is not a bitter old man pointing his cane and yelling, "When I was a kid, things were different!" It's about dependency. You can see a real-life example of our dependency on electronic communication by the complete and steady collapse of the U.S. Postal Service.
Right now, if I lost my Internet for a day, I'd be screwed. All of my work requires communication and immediate response, because like many people, time is a precious commodity for me. Even the simplest things require me to have solid communication. If I need something from the store, I don't have the cushion to show up and just hope that they have what I'm looking for. A wasted trip cannot be justified because it means I just spent time doing something unproductive. It's time that I could have used toward work or my family or constructing my special glitter cape. If I'm looking for a questionable item, I have to call the store first to make sure they have it.
Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Finally. I didn't think I'd ever find one.
Even if you're not working a high-pressure, time-consuming job, losing cellphone access or email can just wipe out your entire day. Because when that happens, it's exactly when everyone you've ever met suddenly needs to get a hold of you right now. And when you don't respond, they're not thinking, "Hmmmm ... he must have a problem with his connection." They're thinking, "That jerk won't answer his phone because he obviously hates me!" Your boss thinks you're ditching work. Your mom thinks you're screening her out of your calls. Your kids assume that the answer to the horrifying request they were about to ask is "Yes."
And the worst part is that there's nothing you can do about it but sit there and wait for it to come back on, passing the minutes with solitaire because all of your other games now have online DRM that prevents you from playing them unless you're connected to the Internet.
"All I want to do is melt the skin off of the undead with my inferno spell! Is that seriously too much to ask?"
But it's going to happen, and all we can do is expect it and not drive ourselves into a flame-thrower-wielding panic when it does.