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When he first pops up on our radar, Randy Bragg is a womanizing, day-drinking, failed politician who would be rightfully classified as a loser…if he wasn't also kind of a hunk.
By the end of Alas, Babylon, however, he's the strong and stoic leader of a post-apocalyptic tribe, like if Mad Max had a code of ethics instead of a hankering for destruction.
Let's go back in time and hang out with Randy the bachelor-about-town first. A prominent local citizen and son of a former judge, Randy is Fort Repose's current case study in "wasted potential." He ran for political office a year prior, but lost the campaign because he didn't vocally support segregation and war, two foundational beliefs for this 1950s Florida town. Even worse, he lost to a guy named Porky Logan.
How do you lose to a guy named Porky Logan?
Randy is a stark contrast from his brother Mark. While Randy's "taste meant living with as little exertion and strain as possible," Mark is a true go-getter, married with kids and working in a prominent role in the Strategic Air Command, or SAC, the American military organization largely responsible to handling nukes (1.22). Fort Repose wouldn't trust Randy with political office, much less the nuclear arsenal of an entire country.
As luck will have it, Mark's position in the SAC helps Randy in a big way. Having received advance warning of the war between the U.S. and USSR, Randy is able to prepare mentally and gather supplies ahead of the disaster. On the flip-side, Mark entrusts his family to Randy, sending them to Florida because it'll be safer there than their home in Omaha. This is a massive responsibility to be placed on our playboy. How will he react to the pressure?
Exceptionally well, as it turns out. Randy stops drinking booze entirely, despite having stocked up on multiple cases of whiskey prior to the attack. More importantly, however, he becomes a leader. Check it out:
Without being conscious of it, he had begun to give orders in the past few days. [...] He had assumed leadership in the tiny community bound together by the water pipes leading from the artesian well. (7.205)
In this moment, Randy realizes that he's done more than survive a nuclear war. He's built a community.
As time rolls on, the biggest threat to that community becomes highwaymen. Jim Hickey, the beekeeper, is murdered alongside his wife during a home invasion. But the worst comes when Dan Gunn is brutally assaulted and robbed coming back from a house call. Not only have the highwaymen beaten and partially blinded Randy's best friend, but they've also stolen his medical equipment. That hurts the entire town.
Furious, Randy kicks into actions, launching an ambitious secret ambush against the highwaymen. Here's his explanation:
"I am an officer in the Reserve. I have been legally designated to keep order when normal authority breaks down. [...] And the first thing I must do to keep order is execute the highwaymen." (10.69)
By now, Randy has comfortably slipped into a leadership position in Fort Repose. He's going to protect his town from the baddies, even if he has to get his hands dirty along the way.
In a bizarre bit of synergy, Randy launches this assault on the same day he marries Lib McGovern. He and Lib were an item before The Day, but he never dove in head over heels, perhaps because he saw her as some spoiled, stuck-up Yankee.
But after spending months together in post-apocalypse, he's gained a new appreciation for her as a strong, determined woman. (Of course, there are perhaps a few un-woke things about the novel's portrayal of Lib, but you can read more about them in her section.)
Then, about a year after The Day, a military helicopter touches down on Randy's property. The pilots, who are performing a recon mission in the contaminated regions, are shocked to see Fort Repose: it's in better shape than places untouched by nukes. Good job, Randy. The pilots have permission to evacuate survivors, they explain, and they can start with the Braggs if they want.
No way, says Randy.
This was Randy's town and these were his people and he knew he would not leave them. (13.90)
After all, it's this community that finally forced him to fulfill his full potential. Why would he turn his back on that?
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