NEW YORK—Drawn by a strange force they could neither resist nor describe, millions of Americans reportedly dropped what they were doing Tuesday and, acting as if by instinct alone, gathered into one massive nationwide breadline.
According to witnesses, citizens across the country exited their homes in near unison, leaving behind growing stacks of bills, empty kitchen cupboards, and what was once a life of comfort to form the spontaneous, 2,000-mile-long queue.
"Grab your coats," uttered Michigan resident and mother of four Margaret Hochschild, who, along with her husband, was laid off more than three months ago. "Children, grab your coats and follow Mommy. We're going out now."
The mysterious line, which currently stretches across seven states, first took shape around 8 a.m., when former Pennsylvania steel worker Gerald Wilkins stood up from his porch and, without saying a word, walked to the corner of Douglas Street and Maple Avenue.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Americans have followed in Wilkins' path, their feet suddenly carrying them to a destination they knew not.
"I was on the phone with my bank when it happened," said Dennis Weinback, an out-of-work school teacher from Alabama who has already made 85 cents selling wooden pencils to others in line. "I just put down the receiver, got dressed, and walked out the front door."
Added Weinback, "I don't really remember it, but I must have also made a trip to the attic, because I was wearing my grandfather's old tweed jacket when I got here."
In the hours since the breadline formed, a number of unexpected and vaguely familiar events have taken place. Shortly after 10 a.m., three men slowly approached a nearby trash can, filled it with old newspaper, and lit a fire to warm their weary hands. Minutes later, observers reported seeing several women, suddenly overcome with inexplicable sorrow, pull their children close to the warmth of their breast.
The first few bars of a wistful folk song, cries from a hungry infant, and the tense, frightened whispers of "rations" were also heard at this time.
"What's happening to us?" California resident Rebecca Baker said after glimpsing a group of investment bankers leaning against a broken-down jalopy, their suit pants rolled up to the calf and their feet muddied and bare. "Why why is that man carrying a bindle?"
Stretching past abandoned car factories, repossessed farms gone to seed, and shuttered strip malls, the lengthy breadline isn’t the only new development across the country. In Detroit, giant vats of soup have been carried out and onto the streets—the scent of thinned-out broth jogging a kind of distant memory. Meanwhile in St. Louis, volunteers have been sent door to door, collecting scrap metal and old nylon stockings in support of the war effort overseas.
Early reports indicate that scarlet fever has also broken out in a number of U.S. cities, including New Orleans, Atlanta, and Jackson, MS.
"Will work for food! Will work for food!" cried unshaven Arizona resident Ed Gallagher, who, upon waking this morning, intuitively put on a sandwich board, rinsed his face in a pail of water, and started wandering the streets in search of work. "Have graphic design experience! Will work for food!"
"We've lost everything," said Janice Mann, an Iowa native, who watched helplessly as dozens of so-called Bushvilles sprung up across her state. "The land, the house—it's all gone. They say this could last an entire decade. That it's going to get worse before it gets any better."
At press time, nearly 250 million Americans had found themselves waiting in line for bread. Though few could explain how they wound up huddled together in the cold, clad in threadbare fedoras and fingerless black gloves, others seemed less surprised.
"I told 'em it was coming," said 97-year-old Wyoming man Howard MacGregor. "They didn't listen to me, oh, no, but I tolds them. I did."