I’ve got this cousin, Sam. He’s my age and we practically grew up together in the country. About the time I went off to join the military, Sam went to college. He got advanced degrees in engineering and computer sciences, and from that point on the world was his oyster.

Sam lives in California and works as a senior engineer at one of the Silicon Valley big boys. You could say that Sam has it made. He’s one of those oft talked-about “millionaire-next-door” types. He has a small apartment close to his office and a number of investment properties scattered thoughout the Pacific Northwest. Those properties are held by a real estate “land trust” that makes Sam’s ownership fairly opaque to casual research.

Sam’s favorite – and in his mind, most important – property is located about 100 road miles from his work place and is probably one of the sweetest “bug-out” locations you could hope for in the state of California. It’s miles from any pavement bigger than a two-lane, and large enough for raising and grazing livestock. It has a couple of year-round springs, mature timber, fertile meadows and good southern exposure for gardening. From the standpoint of security, the road into his property is easily controlled and the cabin, machine shed, and barn that came with the place are invisible from the paved road that dead-ends about a mile past his place.

What a lucky man he is.

Sam’s been a prepper for years because he’s written some of the writing on the wall. Some of the projects he’s worked on involve military EMP-hardening desigs, and he’s even given testimony to a couple of Congressional subcommittees on the subject. He’s well aware of the real dangers of EMPs, as opposed to the “We’re all going to die!” hype you can read online. This doesn’t mean he takes lightly the prospect of an electromagnetic pulse, either naturally from the sun or from a nut-job despot; but he’s smart enough to know there are other conditions that could put the lights out. So he prepares.

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Like I say, Sam’s a smart cookie. To my mind he may be too smart – because Sam is practically broke. It’s hard to imagine, but there are a lot of well-to-do people out there that are living just as hand-to-mouth as we regular schlubs. Despite his apparent wealth, Sam has a problem … actually a couple of them. One problem is he regularly spends more money than he takes in; and the other (closely related) problem is that he’s a “Farmville” prepper.

So what’s Farmville? Well, for those who don’t remember the distant past (2009), Farmville is an online game that allows you to own and operate your own virtual e-farm. You can raise virtual crops and buy and sell e-equipment, net-homes and cyber-livestock. As one headline put it, “Farmville users plant 310 million virtual organic blueberries.”

The point of Farmville, as far as I can see it, is to experience the joys and trials of farming without the mud, the smells, or the waiting time to hopefully bring in a crop. And Sam has applied this philosophy to prepping.

In a book called “The Secret Lives of Hoarders,” the authors penned a section titled “Fake Future” which looks at the kind of people whose vision exceeds their reality.

The example they use is a guy who collects old airplane parts. His basement is full of those parts; enough, he says, to build three complete vintage planes. He’s going to build those planes when he gets around to it, sell them to some aviation museum and become “a sought-after expert on cloth-wing biplanes. He would write a book and appear on television, giving commentary on aircraft building and restoration. Maybe he would even get a job at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum …”

The reality, of course, is that none of this ever happens and the fellow who owns those parts (and adds to them as often as he can) never gets any of these things done. The dream is easier to live with than the reality.

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Sam’s bug-out Shangri-La is only one step beyond Farmville. It is an actual place, but that’s where the differences end. True, Sam’s barn is packed to the brim with food-grade barrels. He has boxes of Mylar bags, canning supplies, a copious medical cabinet, several hand-water pumps and associated plumbing, EMP-proof antique farm equipment and a 5,000-gallon buried diesel tank.

But the barrels and the tank are empty. The hand-pumps aren’t on the well. He’s never used those old tractors and he doesn’t know the first thing about first-aid. He’s got a three-acre garden area that is fenced for deer, but he’s never planted a seed (although he has pounds of heirloom seed ready to go). He also has a hidden safe packed with semi-auto rifles and handguns and thousands of rounds of ammo for each of them. But he doesn’t fire them often because he doesn’t want the fairly distant neighbors to hear.


He visits his bug-out about once a month, and sits on the front porch imagining a bountiful garden, cows in the field, and like-minded neighbors coming to trade or visit (he’s never met his neighbors or even knows their names). Then, as soon as he gets home, he whips out a credit card and buys the next whiz-bang fancy gizmo that he’s sure will make him an even better prepper.

We’ve talked about this many times. He’s inordinately proud of his technological prepper prowess. But when I suggest he fill those barrels with food, he’ll tell me that’s what the garden is for. When I suggest that he needs to plant that garden, he’ll say he doesn’t have the time. When I intimate that taking some tactical shooting classes would be wise, our conversation always seem to drift back to the five Gen 3+ night scopes he’s buying (on credit) or the 2400-watt solar cell system he’s going to install (on credit). I tell him, “You ought to try getting to know your neighbors,” and his reply is that there’ll be plenty of time for that if stuff hits the fan.

Now you might say, “At least he has all that stuff, and that’s better than nothing.” To which I reply, “No. It’s worse.” See, if you haven’t walked the walk, even if you’ve read every book out there, you simply don’t know what you don’t know.

I once asked Sam if he would hire a new college graduate as a senior engineer, and he told me that would be crazy because they don’t have the real-world experience needed to handle the job. Same thing goes for prepping; only with prepping, you don’t lose the job, but you may lose your life. All those tools are useless unless you not only know what they do, but how to make them do it. Or how to fix them … or how to do without.

But Sam’s greatest sin is he doesn’t know his neighbors. Because if you aren’t part of a community, you’re a stranger. And in really bad times, stranger means enemy … or prey.

So until next week, practice what you preach and get to know the folks next door. It’s the best way to get prepared.

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