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Archive for November, 2009

Monsoon Enough

After three days in Dallas (the sunniest of which I ironically spent writing in a windowless office), feeling overdue to go back to my patiently-waiting kitty, I drove off like an idiot into a monsoon.  My stay in Dallas was, despite mostly lousy weather, a sick kid in the house, and my friend Pedro himself fighting off the bug, nonetheless pretty darn warm and fuzzy.  No distress, no confusion, no angst.  I rested, wrote, and spent time with my friends.  I de-garbaged the Blubaru, reorganized my luggage, and bonded further with the Mamacitas, a trio of fantastic women who function as Pedro’s sisters, advisers, and family (and coincidentally, keep his law practice humming).  And although I could have stayed in Dallas through Halloween weekend, waiting out the huge storm that blocked the nation from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, I felt compelled to push on and begin the 25-hour drive home, especially as I was intending to do it over four days so as to keep writing from the road.

What an idiot.

After a lively and loving sushi-sendoff at Pedro’s office, I headed east into dismal weather, yet felt warmed to the core.  Initially, my spirits were kept aloft by a delightful NPR program I stumbled upon on my way out of Dallas.  It was a local show with a word-geek guest, a self-described “snoot” regarding language, grammar, and usage.  Distracted by the wit of a man who says he can’t read six consecutive words of a legal brief without getting offended, I felt little troubled by the rain, wind, and generally murky environment.  I found my thoughts returning to Sarah the Healer back in Boulder.  Had she really worked magic?  Had I worked magic somehow on this trip?  I suppose there is no single turnkey explanation to any changes wrought on this journey; but again, I observed that I was unruffled by these last days in Dallas, and was even now holding pretty steady despite the awful weather.  I would be curious to see if and how these changes might be sustained under more ordinary circumstances after returning home.  Meantime, I was driving in downpours. Every now and then, I’d look up at the sky, certain that I would soon drive out from under the front.  I did this at least four times, each time thinking, “Hey, the cloud layer is getting higher and thinner just ahead,” only to get clocked again by a torrent of water.  Eventually, in what was clearly a bit of weather-gods trickery, I did hit a few drier spells and a miraculous, teensy bit of sun.  I even stopped to gas up in Texarkana, just to see it fog-free.

What an idiot.  I wasted over 15 dry minutes in Texarkana, which turns out to look just like every other freeway-side swatch of suburban Generica.

Onward I went, back into Arkansas.  I approached Little Rock at “rush hour” in the worst rains I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  I had known I would be driving into a storm, but heck, we’ve all done that, so I hadn’t been daunted.  I knew it would rain most of the way home, so figured there was no point in waiting if it would continue for days anyway.  What I didn’t – and couldn’t – realize until I was well into it was that this appalling monsoon, the likes of which I have never seen in 45 years, would continue at this intensity for two solid days before easing up in the slightest.  It was the kind of rain you sometimes hit for five or ten minutes, usually in the summer, and just wait out, or drive through carefully, knowing it will spend itself out shortly.  Except this slow-moving storm did not.  Visibility reduced to near zero, speed down to 15 mph on the highway around Little Rock, I was hit with literally one wall of water after another crashing against my windshield.  Windshield wipers were a joke, akin to intercepting a cruise missile with a fly-swatter.  And I thought to myself, “I am going to die out here, and FOR WHAT?  I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO BE HERE.”

Have I mentioned what an idiot I am?

As I scanned for NPR west of Little Rock, hoping for a weather forecast that would tell me what I wanted to hear, I caught a snippet of a country music song, twanging as only Country & Western music can, “It’s haaarrrrd to get a daaaate…Much less a reeeallll girlfrieeeennnnd.” I could barely laugh.  My spirits were now unliftable, not because I was sad or depressed, but because I had to focus on somehow getting through these horrendous conditions safely.  I tried listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, but they got on my nerves after a while, and I had to switch off the stereo.

I kept on, following tail-lights and the painted line of the shoulder just far enough to make the changes from one highway to another.  By the time I realized the going was too bad to continue, I had little choice but to press on yet a bit longer, as I could not even see if there were any hotels off the exits.  Continuing, even at 15 mph, seemed marginally better than getting stranded off the side of the road.  So long as I didn’t die first.  Finally, I saw a billboard for a Holiday Inn 15 miles ahead on I-40.  I seriously was not sure I’d make it that far; but the rain eased slightly and briefly, and I put a few safer miles behind me.  Then it came back, hitting harder than ever, and I inched my way in such biblical torrents and winds as to drive out any thought unrelated to hanging on tight and concentrating with all I had on survival.

At long last, I reached the Holiday Inn’s exit in a place called Lonoke, Arkansas.  There are not words to express the relief I felt upon turning off the Blubaru’s engine beneath the front awning!  As I arrived at the hotel desk, just as the clerk was about to check me in, sirens went off outside, a call came in with a tornado warning, and the overworked and solitary clerk had to start calling rooms to persuade all the guests to come downstairs to the safety of a windowless room.  Before she completed this task, the sirens mercifully ceased, and the warning was cancelled.  Checked in and unloaded at last, I longed for a drink, only to discover that despite all this water, I was in a dry county.  The closest liquor was a county away, and I was not going back out there tonight for anything!  Settled into my hotel room, with intermittent internet and nonstop Weather Channel, I began to suspect I should’ve stayed in Dallas a few more days after all.  But I had known this storm was large and slow, and to fully wait it out, I would’ve been stuck until the following week.  Based on all prior experience, I really believed I’d drive out from under it.  I tried not to smack myself upside the forehead too often, and hoped that tomorrow’s going would be less brutal.

The next morning, I awoke to intermittent rain, but generally quieter conditions.  Grateful for my safety and the night’s shelter, I nonetheless did not relish the notion of sticking around Lonoke, Arkansas, smack in the middle of Tornado Alley.  In a relative lull, I hauled ass out of there, not even stopping to gas up first, wanting to not waste any rain-free time.  I had forty minutes’ good and peaceful driving before again encountering deluges as I crossed the Mississippi River into Memphis.  I plodded onward.  In the sky ahead of me, I could again see a lighter, higher cloud layer.  If only I could catch up with it!  My friend John from Tennessee called to check on me.  By then I was west of Nashville, was catching up with the eastern end of the storm, and the rains were finally abating.  I wanted to clear Nashville before dark.  John kindly called ahead and booked me a room east of Nashville, and said he’d come down to meet me for dinner.

Exhausted, relieved, and questioning my own good sense, I settled into a room in a largely empty Hampton Inn in Lebanon, Tennessee.  When John showed up to take me for a steak dinner and that long-overdue bourbon, I could have cried, and could barely speak coherently.  Unwinding over a first-rate meal (in Lebanon, TN…who knew?), we had a jovial visit, and I reveled in cementing another friendship.  I returned back to my room with a full belly, a smile on my face, and too tipsy to write, much less pay any mind to signs of incipient illness.

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