It was known to looters as the "miracle mile", actually three miles of four-lane highway west of the city, jammed with vehicular junk, parallel lines of rust and glitter and human ruins. The horror and stench deterred looting at first, afterwards the difficulty and danger of travel, finally the diminished numbers of able foragers. Rumors of how it came to be were forgotten in successive waves of catastrophes. From time to time wandering refugees came upon it, took all they could carry and moved on. Thousands of vehicles made good pickings even after all this time. Nobody stayed. Even by the standards that had become normal, this place was an unspeakable horror. What really happened was even worse.
When the collapse happened, it happened with astonishing speed. All wealth in digital form disappeared in less than an hour: bonds, checking accounts, investments, credit, debt, savings—everything. The economy immediately contracted to cash-and-carry with a side of barter. There were "addresses to the nation" and summit meetings and announcements, with draconian and contradictory decrees from, state capitals, mayors and even sheriffs. Everybody was in charge and nobody was in charge. The permanent government soon revealed itself for the madhouse it had been all along. Federal and state agencies were arresting each other, expanding, disbanding, merging and going rogue. Coup de 'tats and alliances and insurrections were reported and denounced and denied by turns until the tangled narrative became incomprehensible and, finally, irrelevant. Aside from the hobbyist preachers, the rumor mill took over short wave radio. Travelers from any distance were questioned closely. Only what they had seen with their own eyes was credited.
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