On December 27, 2023 US President David Collins met in the White House with his advisers and a team of scientists to discuss the alarming situation at Yellowstone National Park. For decades scientists had known that underneath the huge park was a gigantic chamber of hot molten rock, one that was growing bigger ever year. A half a million years ago, such a chamber had erupted, burying North America in ash. Now the geologists were worried that the same thing might be about to happen again.
“So give it to me straight,” said the President. “What are the chances that this thing is going to blow up this year?”
“All the signs are there,” said geologist Leonard Parks. “The smoke is starting to seethe out. We see lava bubbling up in places where we never saw lava before. We're starting to see just the type of seismographic activity that was predicted to precede a gigantic continent-burying Yellowstone Park eruption.”
“Give me a simple probability figure,” demanded the President. “As a percentage.”
“My best guess, is there is a 50% chance that Yellowstone will erupt in the next three months,” said Parks grimly. “If if does, most of the country will be buried in ash.”
The President considered the possibility of a national evacuation to foreign lands. But he decided against it.
“We can't evacuate,” said the President. “It we evacuate and the volcanic eruption doesn't occur, I'll be the laughingstock of the world.”
But that night the President had a terrible dream. He dreamed the eruption occurred, and the whole country was covered in ash. Children were wandering in the streets, weeping, as the ashes covered their faces.
The dream caused the President to change his mind. He called in all his main subordinates to the Oval Office, and announced a dramatic decision.
“We can't risk the entire population,” said the President. “I order you all to begin drawing up plans for the evacuation of America.”
The government-funded evacuation ended up being the craziest chaos the country had ever seen. America just hadn't been designed with the possibility of a complete evacuation in mind. One of the citizens who experienced the worst of it was 70-year old Sally Davis, who lived in St. Louis.
Sally reported to the bus station to get on one of the evacuation buses. But she told the bus was full. Sally looked out at the bus station mobbed with hundreds of scared people.
“It's now or never,” Sally said to herself. She sneaked into the luggage storage slot at the bottom of the bus, an area not designed for human passengers. She stayed there for the entire journey from St. Louis to New York City.
When the bus got to New York, Sally thought that the worst of it was over; but it wasn't. She now had to elbow her way onto one of the ships carrying people across the Atlantic. Some lucky people got airplanes, but there weren't enough planes to evacuate so many millions of people.
When Sally got to the pier area, she found a scene of chaos. Countless thousands of people were trying to cram into a diverse assortment of boats and ships. The scene looked like the hasty evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II, but far more crowded. Sally checked out the lines in front of the big ships, but they were way too long.
She finally found a small fishing boat that had been loaded up with passengers. She was told the boat was full, but after some pleading the crew let her on. After the boat left to begin its voyage across the Atlantic, Sally found that it was way overloaded with passengers.
When night came, it was impossible for Sally to find a place to sleep below deck. She had to sleep on the freezing deck.
“Please help me – I'll freeze to death up here,” pleaded Sally.
“There's no room below deck,” said one of the fishermen. “Too many passengers. But we have a haul of fish we caught before we were dragged into this job. We can cover you in those fish to keep you warm.”
It wasn't too bad the first night – at least being covered in fish kept Sally warm. But by the third day of the voyage, the fish had started to rot. By the fifth day, Sally was praying: “Please, God, let me freeze to death tonight so that I don't have to smell these rotting fish one more night.”
Finally after days of great discomfort for the passengers, the fishing boat reached England. Sally asked a young man: in which hotel would they be sleeping?
“Hotel?” said the young man. “Are you kidding? The hotels are all full. So are all the houses, with all these millions fleeing America. We'll be sleeping in some field.”
Sally almost froze to death sleeping in the field, but she finally figured out she could protect herself from the cold by grabbing trash from trash cans, and stuffing the trash underneath her clothes.
At the White House, the President was about to evacuate all of his staff. But then one of the geologists made a surprising announcement.
“It turns out we goofed,” said the geologist. “There was a bug in our calculation software. It turns out that while the great volcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park will probably occur, it probably won't occur for another 50,000 years.”
The order was sent out from the White House: bring back all of the 300 million Americans who had evacuated the country.
For Sally the journey back was almost as bad as the journey over. She was assigned a government-issued ticket for a ship that would sail back to America two months later. But she had no funds to last her until then. For days she hung around the piers wondering what to do. Finally she lucked out. She saw an old man who had been waiting for his place on a ship about to depart, and she noticed the man had died. She grabbed his ticket, and used it. The ship took her back to New York.
Having no money for the bus trip back from New York to St. Louis, Sally had to hitchhike the entire trip. Much of the time she spent bumping around in the back of various delivery trucks and pickup trucks. She suffered a terrifying scare when she was harassed by a biker gang that saw her hitchhiking.
At the White House, the President called a meeting of advisers to discuss the issue foremost in his mind: his upcoming campaign for re-election. It seemed like an insurmountable task. How could the President ask for re-election when he had needlessly subjected 300 million Americans to the horrors of a hasty forced evacuation? But the President urged his top political strategist Albert Baker to “do the impossible” by coming up with a viable re-election slogan.
The next day Baker showed a proposed campaign poster to the President.
“Talk about turning a minus into a plus!” said the President. “Now that's what I call turning a sow's ear into a silk purse! Now that's what I call making some lemonade when life has given you a lemon!”
The poster read:
Re-elect President David Collins – the only President who ever gave you a free vacation.