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I celebrated Earth Day by setting the dryer to the "Tumble Endlessly" cycle, then wandering out of the room.  And then the Earth exacted revenge by hurling pieces of itself at me.

The Bridemobile
, successor to the Bellemobile, is a Corolla who was born and bred in Florida.  She was owned by two old people in Ormond Beach, Florida.  She was treated very gently and was used primarily to progress in state to the Early Bird Special.  Over the past three years, I pushed the poor thing from DC to Cincinnati and back so often that we knew which truck stops offered the toilet seats  featuring the lowest number of STD's, and then we loaded her until her bumper dragged and went to Alabama and back, to North Carolina and back, to Oklahoma City through sort of big square thing called "Missouri."

This latest journey was a fairly uneventful drive, if you don't consider the sleet storm at the border of New Mexico and the ENORMOUS FREAKING FUNNEL CLOUD in the Texas panhandle.

You must understand that tornadoes and I have this... history.  They terrified me as a child, because you simply do not grow up in the Midwest without learning to hit the deck on instinct the second the Emergency Broadcasting System enters the picture.  Then I grew boobs and moved to Florida and there were tornadoes there, too, and they often brought friends with them, in the form of horizontal rain and fenceposts shot straight through church steeples.

The thing about Texas is, there's nowhere to squat.  It's kind of flat,  and roadside cows typically don't take kindly to serving as shelter, especially when you try to cut their hides open with your lightsaber and climb on in.

So to the shock of pretty much everyone who I have ever met, I did a streetsmart thing.  I disconnected Jimmy Buffett (he was kind of pissed; I'll bring him around) and found an AM Rangers broadcast.  Because I was pretty sure that the sky wasn't supposed to be green like that.

The thing about traveling in foreign countries (and I have been very firmly informed, on many occasions, by many different people wearing a great deal of denim, that Texas is, in fact, a different country) is that the geography and county names are unfamiliar.  My mother learned early on in my childhood, as she watched me sit on the floor of the living room in front of the Weather Channel, clutching an emergency bag crammed with Little Golden books and Jolly Ranchers, to teach me which counties to worry about.  Ours was Hamilton; to the west was Dearborn, and once the storm passed to Warren and Butler Counties, it was time to turn off the television and resume regularly scheduled childhood.

In Texas, however, everything looked the same, and by the time I noticed that all the cows, terrifyingly, had left the side of the road, I was well off the interstate and firmly trenched down a county road.  On which there was nnnnnnothing in the form of civilization-- not so much as a vending machine peddling little bags of Andy Capp Hot Fries for $4.75.  I had no idea which county I was in or when I might reach a friendly drainpipe.

You know, I'm no meteorologist.  I didn't have fancy weather classes like Josh The Pilot did at the University of Airplanes, like "Weather Discussion," in which he and his classmates sat around staring at a radar screen, earning college credit for, quite literally, talking about the weather.  My English major and I have not benefited from such rigorous isobar-based instruction.  And yet, I was fairly sure that the large and scary funnel cloud over the horizon was something to, like, not be around.

It is well that I am directionally impaired, and have passed much of my driving life executing U-turns, because one of my very few motoring skills came to play.  Matter of fact, my entire Midwestern childhood was kicking in here-- all those elementary school tornado drills when we deployed our Super Secret Catholic Powers of Forming Lines, trooping from the classroom to the cafeteria, where we crouched under tables and folded our hands behind our necks, like hostages, or small, plaid skirt-wearing yogis.  We never did have to do this for an actual tornado, but we did face death by ickiness from what the principal insisted upon calling "water bugs"-- the roaches stirred from their slumber by the tramping of many Keds-shod feet.

The really good thing about the Texas panhandle, despite its deplorable lack of elevation, is that there are maybe two roads in it, and it's fairly difficult to get lost on them, even when you've angered the GPS into a sullen mass of turn commands and "Recalculating" snaps. And there are times in life when we wonder about our major life decisions, our gut-instinct moments.  This was not one of those times.  This became not-one of those times the second I passed the NOAA Storm Chasers, setting up the CrazyShop two miles from my fleeing point.

And then, just before I-40 began to edge into the GPS' passive aggressive viewfinder, I saw... an intersection.  Buildings with foundations.  I pulled into the gravel lot of the Red River Steakhouse, grabbed my laptop, purse, and Jolly Ranchers, and made for the door.

The last time my family and I were caught in severe weather away from home, we were at the Denver Art Museum, and standing next to a rather enormous plate glass window as the sirens wailed.  "Where should we go?" my mother asked the employee at the information desk.


"Your tornado shelter.  Where is it?"

"Oh.  Well, I suppose you could go in the basement.  It's kind of near to the ground."

The inhabitants of the Red River Steakhouse were somewhat more life-endangerment savvy; they at least had the presence of mind to look somewhat concerned about the pea-green clouds going on outside the window.  I found an inward-facing ladies room and the bar, and I was happy.

We face down flashing Doppler events not with the shelter we want, but with the shelter we have; windows were scant in the Red River Steakhouse, but you know what's really soothing to have over your head as an F-5 chugs past?  A tin roof.

In my old neighborhood, upon the occurrence of any out of the ordinary event, including the squeaking of a neighbor's breaks and nuclear bomb detonation, you go out on the front porch to see what's what. When there's a tornado, you go out on the front porch with your camera.  I did not want my camera.  I did not want anything to do with what was going on outside, especially when the inside had sweet tea and two more Storm Chasers who were all, "Um.  There's a tornado out there."

The storm passed; Texas commenced dripping, and I returned to the Bridemobile, who looked at me with weary resignation:   "Really?  A tornado, now? Was Pompeii all booked up?"

As you can imagine, at this point, I kind of had to pee.  So I re-entered I-40, and drove precisely one mile to a rest area.

Where there was an official, brand-new, state-of-the-art tornado shelter.

may I recommend the chef salad at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (5)

[...] her way to Colorado, Mary Beth meets her childhood nemesis.  It drives her to have salad. Share and [...]

[...] View post: Twisted « Blonde Champagne [...]

[...] View post:  Twisted « Blonde Champagne [...]

I read this with half-fond/half-terrified memories of hunkering down in my great-aunt's bathtub...and then switched to another tab on Firefox to learn that I am currently under a tornado watch.

No funnel clouds in sight, because I refuse to look out the window...

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

[...] Not while I’m driving, of course, but ain’t nothin’ like an utter pants-crapping freakout by all four local meteorologists.  Back home in Cincinnati, there are no hurricanes to worry about, nor tsunamis or volcanoes, so everybody makes do with tornadoes and the occasional light flurry activity (“STOCK UP ON ESSENTIALS GATHER YOUR LOVED ONES AROUND YOU AND PREPARE FOR THE WHITE BLOWY DEATH.”) [...]

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlonde Champagne
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