Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Austin Chronicles: Duck and Cover

I'm a drought baby.

That makes is sound like I was born during the dustbowl, but really it just means I was born in California. California is always in a drought - or, at least has been since I was born. I've never seen a full reservoir. I thought those stair-stepped lines of earth around all "lakes" in California were normal.

It wasn't until El Nino came that I saw an honest-to-goodness downpour. At twelve I sat in the back yard with my mom, sister and a few family friends as the moms tried to talk down the kids under ten who were sure it was the end of the world.

Only that wasn't really a downpour, at least not what people in the rest of the country would call a downpour. It was really just enough rain to actually use an umbrella, with some thunder and lightning to send the cats under the bed.

I didn't see a real thunderstorm until I spent a summer in Washington, DC. As I was sitting in my dorm room, laying on top of the air conditioner, wondering if I would ever stop sweating, the sky started to turn a funny shade of green. My parents had lived in Michigan for a bit until they couldn't handle not being able to barbecue all year long, so my mom had told me about when the sky turns green. It meant run to the basement. To the south....south-something corner.

But, I was in the third day of living on fourth floor of a dorm. I could barely find the bathroom, let alone the south-something corner of the basement. So I called my mom.
Mom: Hello.

Me (barely concealed panic): The sky is turning green.

Mom: Oh, well what are the clouds doing?

Me: I don't know, I'm in a building surrounded by buildings and the fullest, lushest trees I've ever seen, I can't see the sky!

Mom: Turn on the television. Is there a read ticker on the bottom of the screen?

Me: No.

Mom: Oh, okay.

Me: Oh my god. Its started its pouring...I can barely see outside the window!

Mom: Oh, yeah. That's weather.

Me: Oh, my god! Lightening just struck the tree!

Mom: Hang up the phone.

Me: Why?!?!

Mom: Because there's lightning. It can go through the phone.
This was during the Clinton administration, when we still had land lines, kids. And, yes, it's true.
Me: What?!?! Oh crap.
So I hung up the phone. And I watched the rain pour down. Then it dawned on me. This was the mid-Atlantic. Rain didn't mean cold, it was still warm outside. I ran next door and was officially given the title of The Crazy Californian.

I knocked on the door of the girls from North Carolina and Texas. And screamed: "Who wants to go jump in puddles!" And we did. Or I did, and the rest looked at me like I was, well, The Crazy Californian.

So, when I moved to Texas in August, I figured I knew what I was in for. I had spent a summer in DC so I knew about humidity and thunderstorms and hot nights and feeling like you'd been slathered in grease for three months.


That cute little clapboard house built in 1922 had survived 80 years of Texas weather, but the first night I spent alone in the house I wasn't so sure.

I was awoken by a horror movie thunderclap shaking the windows and lightning flashing through the curtains. I shot out out of bed and into the living room. I was sure the world was coming to an end. The living room had nine windows all of which were shaking as the thunder and lightening continued and the rain whipped branches against the house.

I turned on the television. And there it was. The red ticker.


We did not have a basement and I still didn't know what south-something corner to go to. And besides, all those windows weren't going to do much to help. So, I decided that the best plan of action would simply be to continue to watch the news until 3 am. The ticker was going, but the weather wasn't breaking through the one o'clock infomercials, so it couldn't be that bad, right? And if they did break through, they would tell me what to do, right?

At 2:57 the warning was cut off. I peeked out the front door to make sure Armageddon had not hit (it hadn't). And went to bed.

The next day I woke up to Grace the landlady knocking on the door. Evidently the storm had been mentionable enough to take a branch or two off the trees in the yard and she was overseeing the handyman.
Grace: Quite the storm!

Me: Oh my gosh! Yes! I thought I was just being a baby since I'm from California. There was a tornado warning and everything, I didn't know what to do!

Grace: Oh, honey. That is what the bathroom's for. We put that in when that one touched down downtown.

Me: - - -

Grace: Yeah, that's why its got no windows. You go in there and get in the tub with your mattress over your head. Those pipes should hold up.

Me: - - -
Grace patted me on the shoulder and went back to overseeing the handyman, as I stood there. That was why the shower had no windows? Because somehow I'd transplanted myself to tornado country?

I went back in the house and tried to figure out how I would be able to fit my mattress into the bathroom. Then I called my mom.

Mom: Yeah, the rest of the country has weather.

Me: I like earthquakes better.


  1. That bathroom is also good for coughing up lungbutter if you are a hippie. Sleep through that!

  2. I remember your first summer in Austin! You were dyeing in our lovely humidity! When I was an undergrad in Fort Worth I witnessed the tornado that hit downtown (summer of 98). TCU is not too far from DT Fort Worth and on that day I was leaving class and heading for my car. The wind was horrible and the sky was yellow. As I got near my car I noticed a few guys staring up in the air far past me. I turned to my left and saw the most terrifying yet most fascinating act of mother nature I have ever witnessed. The tornado was just forming and had not touched down yet. I jumped in my car and made it to my father's hotel (who was visiting that week). We had plans to go to dinner in DT FW that evening. I banged on his door and greeted him with, "I don't think we are going to make it to dinner, Dad". The tornado touched down soon after and pretty much ripped through DT FW.


be nice.


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