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Fallout: How a category-5 hurricane and its aftermath soured me on dystopian stories... until, maybe, now

Dystopian fiction only works when real life isn't worse

Hurricane Michael
Image credit: Christon Anderson

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It was late. Too late for a weekday, but I was up playing Fallout 4 after a long and stressful day at work. Amidst a life where sometimes I didn't feel completely in control, one thing I could control - with an actual controller no less - was my fate in Fallout (as long as I paid attention to my Rad counter). The next day was going to be busy and unpredictable, so I deserved a few moments of a fictional dystopian world.

But after what happened the next day, I never played it again.

On Wednesday, October 10, 2018, a category-5 hurricane appeared just minutes from where my family lived. The day prior it was a category-3 hurricane expected to hit an hour or two away from us, but overnight things changed. What was once abound a 100 mph storm became a 178 mph juggernaut which passed directly over a 2-bedroom house built in the 1940s with 8 people huddled inside.

While my all of my family and friends survived Hurricane Michael, for many of us our homes and community didn't. For two weeks we were without electricity, cell phone towers, and in most cases passable roads. The kind of world I used as an escape from the real world had become the real world for myself and over 30,000 people in Northwest Florida.

How a hurricane & its aftermath soured me on Fallout (and fictional dystopias)

Image credit: Bethesda

Make no mistake. I didn't want to be in the middle of the wreckage that was my hometown after a 175 mph hurricane (and its eyewall) came through. I wanted to lose myself in a video game, a movie, a comic book, or even work to get away from it. But it's all there was.

Immediately after the hurricane, a typical day started with three things: the sounds of axes, chainsaws, and sirens as people began to emerge from their houses and try to individually regain contact with the outside world. The day became about making some semblance of a life - taking care of food, shelter, and the medications of my family and friends who sheltered together in one home. My friend Christon Anderson took a picture of his daughter in the immediate aftermath, which is the feature image above for this story - and helps contextualize what, he, I, and thousands others woke up to for weeks and months to come.

After our immediate needs were secured for the day, then became the search of luxuries such as a way to get a fresh bath (for days, damp wipes had to do), and listening to one of two radio stations that survived the storm and could be picked up on a solar-powered radio.

Just as in Fallout, the generator was reserved for essential tasks - although I did still the juice intermittently to powered my phone. The hurricane had blown down all 4g and 5 cell towers, and there was no wifi, but it had a cache of as-yet-unlistened to podcasts and a few songs stored as ringtones.

It wasn't until two weeks after the storm that I was able to sleep somewhere with running hot water and electricity - and that was by getting a ride several hours west to stay in a hotel room so that I could get back to work and earn a paycheck.

Related: Amazon's Fallout TV show isn't for kids, as mature rating warns us (just like the apocalypse it portrays).

Over the next year, my family and I lived in hotels, trailers (I wouldn't even call it a mobile home), and friend's houses as the home we built for ourselves for nearly 20 years was slowly tore down to the studs and rebuilt.

About four months after the storm we hooked up our gaming console for the first time (it doubled as our TV box), and while games were on my mind - I avoided picking up that Fallout4 save file. I think it's still there, with over 90 hours of playtime in it. Sometimes I wonder about it, like thinking about a lost Tamagotchi. But in a way, I was lost as well. But one thing I knew, I didn't want to find myself in the wreckage again - even if I knew it was fictional.

How Fallout prepared me for a hurricane's aftermath

Fallout 4
Image credit: Bethesda

As weeks turned into months after the hurricane, sleeping in someone else's bed and waking up to the new refrain of dogs baying every morning over the life they too were missing, I began to be able to process what had happened after the hurricane and how Fallout impacted the choices that I made.

I didn't join the Brotherhood of Steel, but every time I used a chainsaw, I was reminded of it in the game. The town I lived in was a dried-out tourist town, which-post hurricane had shades of Nuka-World throughout. Our house, which was within percentage points of being considered totally demolished by our insurance company, was eeriely similiar to the homes of Sanctuary Hills in Fallout 4 - and when we began to live there again before construction had been completed, it was furnished much the way you do in Fallout.

Did I learn survival skills with Fallout? Physically? Not so much. But mentally - at least in the ability to find dark humor, and a thicker skin and a more disillusioned look on life that can make thw worst of times a little more bearable.

Fallout of the fallout of a hurricane after Fallout

Here now over five years later, the memories of Hurricane Michael persist - from abandoned houses, vacant lots where houses used to be, ratty blue tarps over houses who for one reason or another (mostly, home insurance issues), and a horizon missing many of the trees I grew up with.

In a few weeks, Amazon Prime Video's Fallout TV series will debut. And for the first time in five years, I feel like i might be ready to return to the end of the world... as long as its fictional.

Get ready to get out of your Vault and into the Fallout world - with our help, of course. Here is a guide to the Fallout timeline, how to play and watch all of Fallout, details on the Fallout cast, how the Fallout cast & crew really get the harsh humor we're looking for, as well as a Q&A with Fallout showrunners Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner.