NRA: I need a new car

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 8-12

If you were ever a Cold War kid, then at some point you’ve thought about what you would do when they drop the Big One — when the big map from War Games lights up, the red phone starts blinking, and mushroom clouds start blooming on the horizon.

If you had a particularly vivid — or particularly morbid — imagination, then you may have even concocted several elaborate scenarios for how you might escape and survive The Day After. Me too.

But I know it wasn’t just me. I’ve talked to dozens of folks who had daydreams and nightmares that played out this scenario. I’ve heard or read or watched endless variations of these “what would you do if …” or “what will you do when …” schemes.*

Yet in all those fearful fantasies from all those conversations, articles, books, TV shows and movies, I don’t ever recall anyone saying: “Well, the very first thing I would do is hightail it to a luxury car dealership and buy myself an overpriced, gas-guzzling SUV.”

Until now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last week I was too distracted by the aggressive sexism of these pages to note the jarringly weird interlude that begins at the top of page 8. Armed soldiers of the Antichrist have just whisked away Rayford and Amanda Steele, leaving Buck and Chloe alone on the side of a clogged highway in the middle of World War III. And then, abruptly, this:

“This reminds me of when we were first married,” Buck said as Chloe snuggled close to him.

“What do you mean ‘when we were first married’? We’re still newlyweds!”

“Shh!” Buck said quickly. “What’re they saying about New York City?”

Chloe turned up the radio. “… devastating carnage everywhere here in the heart of Manhattan. Bombed-out buildings, emergency vehicles picking their way through debris, Civil Defense workers pleading with people over loudspeakers to stay underground.”

Savor that. Look at those first two paragraphs, then at the second two, and admire the awful audacity of trying to place them in the same chapter, let alone right next to each other like that.

Leave aside the logistical difficulties of “snuggling” in a car that doesn’t have bench seats and just try to imagine what Buck could possibly mean when he says this situation reminds him of “when we were first married.” It’s been less than an hour since they learned that Bruce, the friend who performed their wedding, is dead. Oh, and by the way, World War III has just begun with millions dead as at least three major cities have been destroyed. It might be a time for holding one another close as a shield against the shock, horror and trauma still unfolding around them. But I don’t really think it’s “snuggle” time.

The radio news report is from “the Cable News/Global Community News Network,” which is these books’ version of CNN. Notice that CN/GCNN, at least, is reporting on World War III as it happens. Contrast that with Global Community Weekly, which is not. This doesn’t seem to bother the man in charge of GCW, who only briefly mentioned needing to get to his office before forgetting all about that. He’s now content to snuggle in traffic and let someone else cover this breaking news.

Two things about Jerry Jenkins’ portrayal of CNN here ring true: 1) When a big story breaks, even other journalists turn to them for the initial report; and 2) That initial report is sketchy and uninformative.

The unnamed CN/GCNN reporter in New York doesn’t so much report on the destruction of that city as shout random phrases about his own efforts to escape it:

Buck heard the panic in the reporter’s voice as he continued. “I’m seeking shelter myself now, probably too late to avoid the effects of radiation. No one knows for certain if the warheads were nuclear, but everyone is being urged to take no risks. Damage estimates will be in the billions of dollars. Life as we know it here may never be the same. There’s devastation as far as the eye can see.”

The reporter doesn’t say “as far as the eye can see” from where, but since he seems to be somewhere in Manhattan, I’m going to make a bold guess that these bombs were not nuclear. The map to the right comes courtesy of Carlos Labs’ “Ground Zero” app. It shows the heat effects of a single 1958-era nuclear bomb (like the one Slim Pickens rode in Dr. Strangelove) striking midtown Manhattan. This is only the heat effects — not the blast radius or the radiation effects. That big dark green circle would be on fire. Anyone in the next three concentric circles would suffer third, second or first-degree burns, respectively.

I would guess, then, that if “damage estimates” are only “in the billions of dollars,” and if there are so many survivors that “everyone is being urged to take no risks,” and if “take no risks” remains an imaginable option, then this could not have been a nuclear bomb.

Hard to say, though, since this reporter doesn’t mention any locations, landmarks or people in his report. (I’m not sure he even tries to answer Who, What, When or Where in that report.) What does he focus on? What is the major theme of his perilous effort to report live from the site of a perhaps-nuclear bomb attack? What else?

All major transportation centers have been closed if not destroyed. Huge traffic jams have snarled the Lincoln Tunnel, the Triborough Bridge, and every major artery out of New York City. What has been known as the capital of the world looks like the set of a disaster movie. Now back to the Cable News/Global Community News Network in Atlanta.

The Triboro, as that name suggests, is not an “artery out of New York City.” (At first it seemed strange to me that so many people would be trying to flee to Queens, but then I realized that there are a lot of car rental places out by LaGuardia and — as we’re about to learn — in the world of Left Behind, one’s first concern following a nuclear attack should be to return one’s rental car.)

Having a reporter describe the devastation of a real-life bomb blast as “like the set of a disaster movie” could be a good device in a satirical novel skewering the ineptitude of broadcast journalists or lampooning the abstraction of our mediated culture. But this not-CNN reporter uses this phrase because Jerry Jenkins thought it was a sufficient, meaningful and vivid description. (Apprentice level courses still only $1,000 at the Christian Writer’s Guild!)

Here is where we get a page of Chloe whining and fretting indecisively while Buck ponders his own manly resourcefulness and perceives the powerful-yet-unused engine of his car as a metonymy for his manhood. And then:

Suddenly an explosion rocked their car and nearly lifted it off its tires. Buck wouldn’t have been surprised had the windows blown in around them. Chloe shrieked and buried her head in Buck’s chest. Buck scanned the horizon for what might have caused the concussion. Several cars around them quickly pulled off the road. In the rearview mirror Buck saw a mushroom cloud slowly rise and assumed it was in the neighborhood of O’Hare International Airport, several miles away.

I don’t know for certain if that mushroom cloud is nuclear, but I would urge everyone to take no risks. (If that was a nuclear bomb, and it merely “rocked their car,” then I’ll assume that Nicolae Carpathia is just stretching his legs in the early going of World War III by using up all the little nukes the Global Community confiscated from places like the former nations of Pakistan and North Korea before he moves on to the big ones confiscated from the former nations of the U.S. and Russia.)

Buck’s response is his idea of the manliest thing that a man’s man can do:

Buck looked quickly behind him and out both side windows. As soon as the car ahead gave him room, he whipped the wheel left and punched the accelerator. Chloe gasped as the car jumped the curb and went down through a culvert and up the other side. Buck drove on a parkway and passed long lines of creeping vehicles.

“What are you doing, Buck?” Chloe said, bracing herself on the dashboard.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, babe, but I know one thing I’m not doing: I’m not poking along in a traffic jam while the world goes to hell.”

In every town in America, there’s a road with a douchebag lane. It might be the shoulder of a highway, or the stretch of left lane after the third sign warning “left lane ends 500 feet.” Or it might be a “right turn only” lane at a busy stoplight.

The d-bag lane wasn’t intended to be the d-bag lane. It was intended to be the shoulder, or a right-turn only lane, and it is still, occasionally, used for those intended purposes. But more often it’s used by d-bags. Hence the name. Thus while everyone else is merging in an orderly manner on the highway, or while all the rest of the cars going straight at the light wait their turn in the proper lane, the d-bags use their designated lane to speed past all those other suckers and cut to the front.

Like all line-jumpers, the drivers who use the d-bag lane seem to think this is an ingeniously clever ploy. They seem to imagine that everyone else waiting their turn in traffic or in any other such line is only doing so because they weren’t clever enough to come up with the idea of running to the front and cutting everyone else off. They seem to imagine that the rest of the people in the line, seeing them pull this d-bag move, are kicking themselves and thinking, “Wow, he just went all the way to the front without waiting! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I always assumed that none of the people in that line, or in any line, ever, was actually thinking that. But apparently Jerry Jenkins was. Apparently one day he saw some d-bag race past a line of cars in the right-turn-only lane and thought to himself, “That guy is so cool! Someday I’m going to have the hero of my novel do that so that readers will see just how awesomely clever he is!”

One difference between the usual scenario of d-bags using their designated lane and what Buck is doing here is that usually there isn’t a mushroom cloud rising just a few short miles away. It seems unlikely that Buck would be the only driver to decide to get creative after seeing that.

Buck was waved at, pointed at, and hollered at by traffic cops, and he was honked at and obscenely gestured at by other motorists.

He was not deterred.

Because, you see, everyone’s car was just rocked by the blast of a perhaps-nuclear bomb and everyone sees the mushroom cloud, but only Buck Williams thinks about trying to get away. So there’s no mass panic, no other cars trying to cut across medians or swerve onto the shoulder. No pile-ups and collisions as thousands of drivers simultaneously slam on the gas thinking “Holy crap! A mushroom cloud!”

Nope, only Buck.

I think that sentence — “He was not deterred” — does a good job of getting inside the head of the kind of person who utilizes the d-bag lane. All those people waving, pointing, hollering and honking may perceive him, rightly, as a colossal douchebag, but he perceives himself as brave, resolute, resourceful and “undeterred.”

“Where are you going?” Chloe insisted.

“I need a new car,” he said. “Something tells me it’s going to be our only chance to survive.”

“What are you talking about?”

With that last question, I think, Chloe speaks for all of us.

“Don’t you see, Chlo’?” he said. “This war has just broken out. It’s not going to end soon. It’s going to be impossible to drive a normal vehicle anywhere.”

“So what’re you gonna do, buy a tank?”

“If it wasn’t so conspicuous, I just might.”

I would not. An M1 Abrams tank gets about 0.6 miles to the gallon, and even though we’re only about an hour into World War III at this point in the story, I’m guessing that gasoline is already difficult, if not impossible, to purchase even paying 10 times yesterday’s prices. Plus a tank only has a maximum speed of about 45 mph.

Come the apocalypse, I’d go with a motorcycle. Much better fuel economy, much easier to navigate around traffic jams and checkpoints.

Better yet, in this particular form of apocalypse, I’d go with a horse. By that I also mean that I’d make a beeline for the kind of place where a horse makes more sense than a car. “Flee to the mountains” Jesus advised in the one place where LaHaye-style End Times enthusiasts believe he directly addressed their obsession. Seems like good advice in this scenario.

Buck drives “between tennis courts and across soccer and football fields” and we get a couple more paragraphs about the geography of suburban Chicago (“write what you know”):

He wanted to wind up on Northwest Highway, where a series of car dealerships comprised a ghetto of commercialism.

A last sweeping turn led Buck out of the subdivision, and he saw what his favorite traffic reporter always said was “heavy, slow, stop-and-go” traffic all along Northwest Highway. He was in a mood and a groove, so he just kept going.

As with the instance quoted earlier, in which Buck refers to Chloe as “babe,” I’m reminded here that there are some words that some people just shouldn’t try to use. Buck Williams should not say “babe,” ever. And Jerry Jenkins should probably avoid the word “groove.” Also: “ghetto.”

Pulling around angry drivers, he rode along a soft shoulder for more than a mile until he came upon those car dealerships.

“Bingo!” he said.

Imagine you work at a car dealership on the Northwest Highway near Chicago.

It’s kind of a slow morning. Business has picked up over the last few months after the auto market cratered in the aftermath of the Event. But today there’s not much happening.

And then World War III starts. New York, London and Washington are all destroyed and there’s even been an airstrike at an old military base not far from where you are. After that you get almost no foot-traffic at all in the dealership. So you and your co-workers are just sitting around watching the scenes of devastation unfolding on the television as “the Cable News/Global Community News Network in Atlanta” breathlessly fails to provide any coherent details of what’s happening.

Then the walls shake and the CN/GCNN anchor reports:

“This from Chicago: Our news base there has been taken out by a huge blast. No word yet on whether this was an attack by militia forces or a Global Community retaliatory strike. We have so many reports of warfare, bloodshed, devastation, and death in so many major cities around the globe that it will be impossible for us to keep up with all of it. …”

You don’t hear the rest of the broadcast, though, because this d-bag pulls up in a Lincoln and says he wants to buy a car.

That’s the annoying thing about trying to follow a breaking news story when you’re at work. It seems like some customer always interrupts you just before you get to hear what the deal is with that mushroom cloud you see out the window.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* I’ve never seen any studies on this, exploring the potential or actual effect of growing up with a constant background fear/expectation of nuclear annihilation. It seems odd not to think it would have some effect. I’ve no idea how such a thing might be measured, but it seems to me that two generations raised with the prolonged anxiety that their future may consist of only mushroom clouds might have something to do with how those generations think and plan for the future. Maybe some small contributing factor in our inability to come to grips with the long-term implications of climate change, or our failure to think long-term when it comes to maintaining and upgrading the national infrastructure. Perhaps this even contributes to the notorious failure of boomers and Gen X-ers to save for retirement (although the biggest factor there, I think, is that these generations were taught that income rises over time — which hasn’t been true since the oldest boomers were kids).

This question of anxiety and fear of a futureless world, and how such views affect one’s ability to plan for the long-term also seem pertinent with regard to the followers of apocalyptic “Bible prophecy” teachers like Tim LaHaye. It seems to me that if it’s 1995, and you’re reading Left Behind and believing every word it says about how Jesus is coming back very, very, very soon, then you probably don’t much care that your city’s water mains were built 90 years ago and were originally intended to be replaced after 50 years. They’ve made it this far, you probably think, so they should last until Jesus comes back, right?

P.S. The title of this post comes from a terrific Daniel Amos song spoofing prosperity gospel preachers. Here’s how it sounded on the 1983 album Doppelgänger, and here’s how it sounds these days from the still-out-there-working band.

I mention this here because I love that song, and because it’s yet another reminder to myself to see if I can’t someday get around to that big post exploring how early Jesus rockers like DA moved past the End Times-obsessed themes of Left Behind to a more sustainable form of faith.

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  • Tonio

    Is Fred sure that this section of NRA wasn’t intended to be Buck’s Walter Mitty fantasy? I keep expecting Buck to wake up from his fantasy while covering a water board meeting.

  • Tricksterson

    Was the SUV’s engine going pocketa-pocketa?

  • Raj1point618

    “This reminds me of when we were first married,” Buck said as Chloe snuggled close to him. “What do you mean ‘when we were first married’? We’re still newlyweds!” “Shh!” Buck said quickly. “What’re they saying about New York City?”


    “Hey Baby, you must be very impressed with this very witty yet very romantic thing I just said!”

    “WTF? What you just said makes no sense at all!”

    “Silence, woman! There’s important stuff on the radio! This is no time for your silly prattling!”

  • Joe Smith

    Why does that Jesus band soud so much like the Cramps?

  • Warlockfemale

    As a 1/2 German-Polish Jew to very paranoid parents and grandparents, I have a plan for all sorts of things that will hopefully never happen. Living after a bomb blast VS a plague wiping out most of the world VS people going after the Jews again. And just like Makabit I had it drilled into me as a child to give off any name but a Jewish one if my plane was overtaken, which changed each time that I took a flight, just in case someone knew of the false name I had used before because you never know if a friend will turn you in, just like the great-grandparents’ friends.

    Five year old me could have made a lot better story about the end of the world.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Given that Left Behind tends to include a healthy side slice of misogyny, I’d like to note that it’s also present in the gaming sector (signal boost, note possible trigger warnings in the text of the writeup).

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    two generations raised with the prolonged anxiety that their future may consist of only mushroom clouds might have something to do with how those generations think and plan for the future.

    Actually, this would go a long way to explain most of my problems in my life. And would solve precisely none of them. *sigh*

  • Mary Kaye

    On the LB/fast food analogy:

    A teenaged member of my husband’s gaming group came down with food poisoning, traced back to his having eaten a two week old carton of Chinese food from the fridge.  His family asked, “Didn’t you notice that it tasted bad?”

    “It did taste kind of funny, so I ate it real fast.”

  • Jon Maki

    I was just thinking that in fairness to Buck, when I lived in Minnesota, I actually had a favorite traffic reporter.

    Of course, in my case, it had nothing to do with traffic or the quality of reporting – I lived in a relatively small town and had about a 10 minute commute at the worst of times – and everything to do with the fact that she was funny and cute.

    I suppose it’s possible that Buck has a favorite for similar reasons.  Maybe the traffic reporter reminds him of Rayford.

  • PepperjackCandy

    Am I the only unfortunate person who  has Huey Lewis stuck in hir head from the title of the post?

    (link for those who don’t get it)

  • Joshua

    For those still on the topic of EMPs frying cars, I’ve linked to this site before.

    An EMP can be produced by a low-altitude burst if the burst is low enough for the fireball to intersect the ground. The pulse is very quick and very high-power, but also very localised – there’s not much actual energy in it. Any electronics that would be affected would probably be melted and/or smashed anyway.

    Nuclear detonations designed for their EMP effect would use a very high-altitude burst, which is a different kettle of three-eyed fish. “Normal” attacks would use a fairly-high altitude burst where the fireball does not touch the ground, and would have relatively little EMP.

    And I’ll second the earlier comment that the effects of EMP in real-world scenarios are not exactly well-studied, because there thankfully haven’t been any.

    In short, even if the mushroom cloud in the story were nuclear, the lack of a car-wrecking EMP is not necessarily a writing fault.

    If I were in his shoes, and assuming I wasn’t a useless jelly quaking in terror, I’d say the lack of visible flash or fireball indicated a low yield and very low-altitude burst, so there’d be a lot of fallout from where the fireball vapourised the ground and did nasty things to the atoms previously therein, and that now’s a good time to high-tail it out of there before dust started settling. I wouldn’t stop to buy a new car while the old one still drives. I guess what would stop me would be the huge number of other people who also had the idea of driving on the shoulder.

    I’d also set the air to recirc until I was a hundred kilometres upwind.

  • Münchner Kindl

    From what I’ve read of the Cold War-era Soviet Union, they really were that paranoid about America. Reagan’s jokes about bombing the “evil empire” weren’t funny to them; they took that as more evidence of our *real* attitudes and what we’d do to them if it looked like we could.

    Well, the Russians have some reason to be paranoid about invasions, looking at their history. Whereas Americans, who (aside from that skirmish in 1812) have never been invaded, come off simply as irrationally paranoid to an outside observer.
    In addition, the Soviets did have good reason to be afraid of the US doing crazy inhuman things given that the US had a history of doing such things. It wasn’t crazy of the Soviets to accuse the US of undermining the government of foreign countries or trying to kill leaders they didn’t like since the US had actually done that several times.

  • Lori


    In addition, the Soviets did have good reason to be afraid of the US
    doing crazy inhuman things given that the US had a history of doing such

    Totally unlike the Soviets themselves.

    It wasn’t crazy of the Soviets to accuse the US of undermining
    the government of foreign countries or trying to kill leaders they
    didn’t like since the US had actually done that several times.

    Again, something the Soviets never did and thus had every reason to fear.

    My eyes can not roll hard enough.

  • Joshua

    My eyes can not roll hard enough.

    Münchner Kindl made no statement concerning what the Soviets did or how it matches up against the USA’s foreign policy. You inferred one, she or he didn’t imply one.

    Your eyes are rolling at your own statements. I hope you enjoy the exercise, at least.

  • Lori


    Münchner Kindl made no statement concerning what the Soviets did or how
    it matches up against the USA’s foreign policy. You inferred one, she or
    he didn’t imply one. 

    Foreign policy attitudes don’t exist in a vacuum.


    Your eyes are rolling at your own statements. I hope you enjoy the exercise, at least. 

    Yes, it was lovely. And now I’m enjoying it again.

  • Mau de Katt

    Whereas Americans, who (aside from that skirmish in 1812) have never
    been invaded, come off simply as irrationally paranoid to an outside

    I have a friend who is a massive Second Amendment fan and gun-nut, and he invited me to a Project Appleseed shoot last Autumn.   (The program combines marksmanship training with Revolutionary War History lessons, specifically the history of the start of the Revolutionary War.)

    I don’t know if this is true or not, as I have not studied history enough to prove or disprove it, but I was told in complete earnestness that the only reason continental America has not been invaded by a foreign power (except in the aforementioned 1812) is that “everyone knows” that Americans love their guns and will not hesitate to use them should the sitation warrant it.  (Basically, any invading army “knows” they’ll be facing an armed and ready citizenry.)


  • Invisible Neutrino

    And even there, the Wolverines were infiltrated by one of their own, forced to do so by the Soviets, and at least one of them died in a partisan skirmish in addition to the Wolverines executing the infiltrator. For all that the 2nd amendment fetishizers fantasize they’d be the heroes in their own narrative, that heroism would come at a pretty high cost.

  • PJ Evans

    Probably not true.
    (It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with all the other major countries (except Canada) being at least an ocean away. And the US has only been a major world power since WW2. /s)

  • Ian C. Racey

    Absolutely false.

    In order for the claim to have even the most distant, tenuous connection with being “true”, there’d have to have been even one enemy the USA has ever fought who was in a position to invade and then, magically, turned around and gone home and sued for peace instead.

    Who would that be?  The British?  Actually did invade.  The Mexicans?  As soon as they were at war with the USA, found themselves invaded from three directions, an invasion that didn’t let up until it took Mexico City, so no opportunity for them to mount an offensive of their own.  The Japanese?  Conspicuously failed to clear their invasion route of that pesky obstacle, the US Navy Pacific Fleet (not to mention having most of their manpower tied down in an invasion of China and South Asia).

    If your friend thinks the Soviets didn’t invade because they were afraid of gun-happy American patriots, he must presumably think that the USA didn’t invade the Soviet Union because we were similarly afraid of gun-happy Soviet commies?  I have to say, the threat of immediate nuclear holocaust seems a much more convincing deterrent to me.

    And any other credible threat (so, uh, Germany) had an ocean to cross before it could get to the USA, and no way of crossing that ocean.  The reason the USA has never been invaded is because it’s protected by the greatest moat the geology of Planet Earth could see fit to create.

  • Tricksterson

    And nukes, don’t forget those.

  • Mau de Katt


    If your friend thinks the Soviets didn’t invade because they were afraid of gun-happy American patriots, he must presumably think that the USA didn’t invade the Soviet Union because we were similarly afraid of gun-happy Soviet commies?

    Oh, but you see, unlike those Commies, America doesn’t  just go and invade anyone without just cause for… doing….



    …um, I got nothing.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Being the bitter cynic that I am, I have to wonder how many of the Brave Gunhaving Defenders of FREEDOM(tm) would happily sign up with the invaders if they were given the chance to lead their own death-squad.

    Other subjects brought up:  I currently work for a company that’s on Interklocken Crescent, off of Interlocken Boulevard, off of Interlocken Loop.  I think you can guess which company owns most of the real-estate around there…

    On post-apoc fantasies, they got summed up pretty well for me by this:  “After The Bomb, you won’t be Mad Max, you’ll be one of the skulls on the side of the road.”

  • Invisible Neutrino

    As far as collaborationist attitudes go, I don’t know how much has been written about such things in past wars and occupations, but fictionally, collaborators have worked for occupying forces due to fear of superior firepower, or attracted by as banal a motivation as money.

  • Jamoche

    The Military Channel ran a series of lesser-known WWII collaborators, and fear or money are pretty much the motivation in real life too, plus a fair number of the sorts who’ll jump on anything that gives them free rein to be bullies.

  • Mau de Katt


    I currently work for a company that’s on Interlocken Crescent, off of Interlocken Boulevard, off of Interlocken Loop.

    Oh hey, another Front Ranger!  ::waves::  How many of us are there here in Slacktivist land?