POD: Set in the future
All Fall Down;
Things Fall Apart
|Type of Appearance:||Direct POV|
|Date of Birth:||20th century|
|Occupation:||Poet, Professor, Graduate Student, Research Doctor, Technical Writer|
|Professional Affiliations:||UCLA; Wayne State College|
Bryce Miller was a doctoral candidate at University of California, Los Angeles in history. His thesis was on Ancient Greek poets of the Hellenic Period. He had dated and then lived with Vanessa Ferguson until she eventually broke up with him. Strangely, he remained friends with her father Colin, coming over to his house for a visit and a few games of chess every week or two.
In addition to working on his thesis, Bryce occasionally wrote poetry inspired by the poets he studied. Several months after breaking up with Vanessa, he had a poem accepted by pretty good journal based on the works of Theocritus. Typically, the journal paid in copies rather than money. He also began seeing a fellow student, Susan Ruppelt, who specialized in the Holy Roman Empire.
When the supervolcano erupted, Bryce was on a flight back to LAX from O'Hare. He had just finished attending a conference on the Hellenistic world at the University of Chicago where his critique of a paper was well received. He was dozing in his seat when the captain came onto the intercom to announce an emergency ahead and the aircraft was returning to O'Hare.
Bryce immediately thought that it might be a replay of 9/11 but, having no further information, he relaxed and looked out the window. There he saw a black column rising into the sky far higher than any anvil-topped thunderheads he had ever seen. As he stared bug-eyed, the man in the seat next to him said "Supervolcano. The fuck is a supervolcano?" as he looked at his iPhone. Bryce had heard about supervolcanos from Colin and he immediately connected it to the black column.
The captain came on again and confirmed that the plane had turned around due to the supervolcano eruption and warned that there might be some turbulence shortly. Bryce then heard the engines change tone indicating they were working harder. The captain came on to announce that they were cleared to land in Lincoln, Nebraska and again to warn of impending turbulence. Suddenly, the plane experienced a "kick in the ass" and severe shaking. Food carts came crashing over and the oxygen masks deployed from panels above.
Eventually, things calmed down and became quiet. Too quiet, the engines had quit. The captain announced that he wasn't able to restart the engines and that they were not going to be able to glide to Lincoln. He then said he was going to attempt to pull a "Sully" into Branch Oak Lake. The passengers took up the brace position and the airliner's belly smacked the surface of the lake. It skipped once like a flat stone and then came to rest floating on the lake. The chief flight attendant ordered the emergency exit doors opened and told the passengers to exit in an orderly manner. Bryce took his flotation seat cushion and when his turn came, he exited the plane, stepping onto the wing and then into the lake. The water wasn't particularly cold and he was picked up shortly by a local in a power boat.
The local Red Cross put up Miller and the other unhurt passengers from the flight in a Lincoln Motel 6 commandeered for that purpose. Miller gravitated to the campus of the University of Nebraska since the academics in the Classics Department were the only locals he was acquainted with. He befriended Marcus Wilson, a grad student, who took him to see a sub-branch or the Ashfall State Historical Park. There they saw the fossilized aftereffects of a supervolcano eruption some 12 million years ago and found that many of the animals had died from Hypertrophic Pulmonary Osteoarthropathy. After reading about the disease, the two were more careful with the surgical masks they wore outdoors.
When air travel resumed, Wilson gave Miller a ride from Lincoln to Omaha so he could catch a ride home to Los Angeles. The flight was uneventful and Miller was picked-up at LAX by Ruppelt and his mother Barbara. Despite the eruption, Miller did finish his dissertation and gave the customary three copies to his chairperson Harvey Harriman. The two then discussed Miller's future prospects. Miller stated he would take anything remotely related whether teaching Western Civ at a community college or Latin at a Catholic high school. Harriman agreed with the necessity but also that it was a shame that Miller would have to turn his back on what he worked so hard to accomplish.
Miller tried to get an academic position but no one wanted a newly minted classicist. He also applied to every Catholic high school in L.A. and Orange County who might need a Latin teacher, but again came up empty. In desperation he applied to the Department of Water and Power (DWP) for a position of grant writer. He survived the preliminary screening process and was invited to take a written test. It was conducted by Stella Garcia in a cafeteria in the DWP offices. Miller found it similar to a SAT English test and thought he did well when he finished the two hour test forty minutes early. In the event, Miller was offered and accepted the position.
By the second summer after the eruption, Miller found gasoline too scarce and expensive to use for a daily commute to the DWP even though it was only downtown Los Angeles. Instead, he would bicycle, rain or shine, to a bus stop where he would catch a bus to a Red line station near Harbor Freeway. He would then take the train through South Central L.A. to the downtown core and then walk to the DWP office building.
Miller found the work relatively easy but tedious. On a typical day he cut down text in a newsletter to fit on one page, reworked a brochure for the public from bureaucratese into English, reworked the fine print on DWP bills to reflect new rules and reviewed a Federal Request For Proposals to see if the DWP could get some grant money. Between tasks, he would sneak in work on a new pastoral poem he was working on, Theocritus meets the supervolcano. The work paid well enough with medical, dental, vision and retirement plans but Miller wondered if it was what he wanted to do for the next quarter century.
Miller decided he wasn't willing to continue at the DWP and so continued to apply for teaching positions. He was called for an interview at Junipero High School in the San Fernando Valley and spent over two hours one Saturday getting there on public transit. He was interviewed by Vic Moretti, a teacher at the school, for a Latin and history teaching position. Miller did well, his references and degree checked out, and so was offered the position. Despite the substantial pay cut, Miller accepted and started that fall.
The commute from San Atanasio would have been difficult even if he could afford to drive and so Miller needed to move to the Valley. He discussed it with Susan Ruppelt after the interview and before he received the job offer. He asked if she would be willing to move in with him in the Valley and explained that it would be no further for her to continue to go to UCLA. He also proposed marriage. After hesitating for a bit, Ruppelt accepted.
Miller found the work at Junipero interesting if limited to teaching the basics. He understood the need but wasn't completely happy and so continued to apply for university and college positions. During the spring of the third year after the eruption, Miller received a letter from Wayne State College which offered him an assistant professorship due to the death of Prof. Smetana which he accepted. He and Susan moved to Wayne, Nebraska for the fall session.
Assistant Professor, Wayne State College
The work at Wayne State College was an improvement over Junipero High in that Miller was able to teach more in-depth than he had at the high school. One course was on Ancient Greece including the Peloponnesian War and the Melian Dialogue by Thucydides. Miller found some students could see how that would apply to modern day politics but others didn't. Those that did provided a sense of satisfaction.
Living in Wayne, Nebraska proved a mixed blessing. As expected, the weather was much colder with blizzards and heavy snows starting in early autumn. Also, culture including variety in cuisine was limited. On the other hand, electrical power stayed on better than it had back in L.A. Also, some foods, especially those that could grow in the abbreviated growing season, were plentiful although meat and milk were severely limited. Gasoline supplies, while in short supply and hideously expensive, were still better than in SoCal. In the balance, Miller was satisfied in his choice to take the professorship.
In the 1980s, Harry Turtledove worked as a technical writer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education after not finding a permanent academic position. In 1991, he left the LACOE and turned to writing full time. See e.g. TOR.COM Author Profile He may well have incorporated his personal experiences in Bryce Miller's immediate post doctorate career.
- Eruption, pg. 7, HC.
- Ibid, pgs. 7,54.
- Ibid, pgs. 55-57.
- Ibid, pgs. 178-180.
- Ibid, pgs. 180-181.
- Ibid, pgs. 181-186.
- Ibid, pgs. 186-189.
- Ibid, pgs. 254-259.
- Ibid, pgs. 324-333.
- Ibid, pgs. 378-381.
- All Fall Down, pgs. 43-46, HC.
- Ibid, pg. 117.
- Ibid, pgs. 117-120.
- Ibid, pgs. 120-123.
- Ibid, pgs. 153-162.
- Ibid, pgs. 159-162.
- Ibid, pgs. 230-235.
- Ibid, pg. 301.
- Ibid, pgs. 297-302.