They See Dead People 

These Bay Area residents have spent a lot of time preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

click to enlarge The Walking Dead returns to AMC next month.

Photo coutesy AMC

The Walking Dead returns to AMC next month.

A surprising number of Bay Area residents have thought about what they would do to survive in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Philosophy instructor Wayne Yuen of Fremont's Ohlone College, the editor of The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now and The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy: Hungry for More, doesn't really expect the zombie apocalypse to occur but regards it as a useful thought experiment, nonetheless.

"Living through the Loma Prieta quake has instilled in me to be prepared for earthquakes," Yuen said. "Being prepared for earthquakes is basically being prepared for any kind of disaster, including a zombie apocalypse. With the exception that in my earthquake kit I don't think I need weapons for an earthquake, but I would need them for a zombie apocalypse."

As a philosopher, Yuen wonders about the nature of zombies, and the morals of killing them, but is not above doing it to survive. "I would absolutely use zombies as a resource," Yuen mused. "They could serve as bait for fish, or left to rot and attract flies, and use the resulting maggots as bait. Trapping zombies should be easy enough. Digging trenches and pits in the sand could work, as well as attracting them towards cliffs and having them fall, either disabling them or killing them."

Sadly, Yuen does not believe that he would survive a zombie apocalypse on his own.

By Yuen's logic, the Bay Area ought to be much better prepared for zombies than most other parts of the world. Citizens keep earthquake kits, and some have access to boats and aquatic escape routes should life on land become too hairy.

San Jose resident Al Guerrero feels like he is better prepared than most people. "I have enough food and water to last for several weeks, and the ability to acquire more if necessary," Guerrero said. "Modern society is a thin veneer; it doesn't take much to push a society over the edge. Take for instance New Orleans (after Katrina), or Syria, or Venezuela. Desperation can quickly turn into violence, the longer a city/country is deprived of basic necessities, the more desperate its population becomes. Most people simply aren't equipped to handle living without immediate and constant access to resources (i.e. grocery stores)."

Zombie culture has retained steady popularity for the past several years, and does not appear to be losing steam. Zombie folklore is about as old as humanity itself (Zebediah 14:12), and the zombie cult classic Night of the Living Dead dates all the way back to 1968. But in October of this year alone we will have a fresh season of AMC's The Walking Dead, as well as a sequel to the movie Zombieland. Along with other films like World War Z, and the game and movie franchise Resident Evil, these fables continue to engage us. Publications as diverse as Time and The Washington Post have played along with articles like "Where to live if you want to survive a zombie apocalypse: The definitive guide" and "Thirst: Why Vampires Beat Zombies." Even Live Science has gotten into the act, with "Zombie Neuroscience: Inside the Brains of the Walking Dead."

What is the reason for the enduring zombification of America? "They can stand for so many things," said Stanford Professor Angela Becerra Vidergar, a scholar of disaster and post-apocalyptic fiction. Vidergar attributes some of this interest to the creation of the atomic bomb, the rise of the environmental movement, and the moon landing. In different ways all of those developments, she said, highlighted the delicacy and insignificance of Earth.

"We have become a lot more aware of how fragile we are," Vidergar said. "And we are capable of destroying ourselves or the planet. Out of all of those possible disaster scenarios we return to that one over and over. Unlike a pandemic or nuclear war — things like that that are more depersonalized — with zombies we're kind of being attacked by ourselves."

The Bay Area in all its eccentricity is home to many enthusiasts who address their love of zombie culture in different ways. Edan Kahane is regional director for Trackers Bay, which offers a week-long zombie camp every summer in Berkeley. Trackers teaches outdoor skills and connects children to nature and teaches them to battle zombies with skills like tracking, camouflage, archery, and fire making. "When I think about this kind of a zombie apocalypse situation, I think it's a really useful tool to use to get kids thinking about a survival type of mentality and it's an immersive story that's really enjoyable for them," Kehane said. He said he regards a zombie apocalypse as "improbable," noting that earthquakes and wildfires require similar preparation and are closer on the horizon. Still, in a zombie situation, he recommends escaping densely populated areas and staying in small groups ideally with the help of a bicycle, horse, or donkey.

Other Bay Area enthusiasts who took things to the next level were Rob Oshima, and Skot and Ryan Leach, who launched the website Lost Zombies in 2008. The website was designed as a social network in which users created profile for themselves and make posts, but all about the zombie apocalypse. Film student Skot Leach, a Pleasanton resident, said the goal was to create a "community-generated zombie movie" with content from site members such as the following: "I was part of a massive mobile UK contaminant team. We had received word that an airplane caring people infected with the Super Flu virus was dying to land at London's Heathrow airport. Instead, they were diverted to a smaller airport where we had quickly set up decontamination units and a medical team."

The three ultimately shut down the website when it became too time-consuming, but they thought fairly extensively about their apocalypse plans, not all of which they want to be made public. Oshima, an Orinda resident, says we should remain vigilant for any disaster, nonetheless describing the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse happening as a "non 0 percent chance."

San Franciscan Joshua Grannell, also known by his drag stage name Peaches Christ, is the creator of "Apocalypse," an immersive zombie escape room experience taking place at the San Francisco Mint for the first time this year. The premise of the game is that it is 1985 and a zombie apocalypse has already taken over the world, but the US Military has managed to secure the Mint where a vaccine is stored. In groups of eight, participants undergo a quest to get the vaccine before they are killed by their infection while live zombie actors attack them. "I don't think it's likely," Grannell said. "Unless, you know, I have to say it if it occurred I don't think it would be the living dead; I think it would be some sort of pharmaceutical concoction."

San Jose resident Andrew Torres has a bit more invested in the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. Torres is the CEO of First My Family, which sells survival kits that used to be licensed by The Walking Dead and available through AMC. Several kinds of kits are available, all of which include important survival tools such as glow sticks, pocket knives, and first aid kits to prepare you for any kind of hazard.

Of all the ways that humanity might meet its end, Torres believes zombies are unlikely. "When you look at major health risks around the world like Ebola," Torres said, "something like that could be a serious risk to public health but whether that turns into something creative or fictional like a zombie apocalypse I kind of doubt." Still, Torres believes that in an emergency people will swarm banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores. He cautions that a safer route is to fortify one's home and bunker up with supply kits. After 22 years in the survival industry, he believes that he is well prepared having a wife who is also a nurse — and of course, a house full of supplies.

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