Friday, November 16, 2001
My dad called me at about 2:30 to report tornado warning near where he works, down by Ben White and IH-35. I’d been inside all day and hadn’t really been paying attention to the weather so I flipped through a few radio stations. That didn’t yield any information and we don’t have a working television in the house, so I figured I’d get in my truck and go drive out towards that part of town just to see what was happening. I’ve never seen a tornado first-hand before and — living in such a tornado-rich part of the country — I really would like to see a tornado sometime, so, well, off I went in my little white Chevy S-10 pickup southbound on IH-35 at about 3:00. I’m not going to let some al-Qeuda Afghan assholes tell me what to do, you’d better believe. Um…
It rained, but I could see fine until I got to about 12th street. At that point torrents and torrents came down and traffic moved at about 40mph. I kept going until I got down to about Oltorf and the rain was extremely dense and I’d heard on the radio for the tenth time that “the tornadic activity is heading north-east along I-35” and that “a tornado would be especially dangerous because it wouldn’t be visible through the rain until it got very close.” The warning would be the deep rumble. I rolled my window down and turned off the radio for a second to listen for any deep tornadic rumbling. Well, it didn’t sound like it, and I wasn’t the only person heading south on I-35, but I still managed to freak myself out enough to anxiously get off at the next exit and get myself moving through town in the opposite direction.
I live close to I-35, so I decided to go to my parent’s house up in the Mount Barker area of town, where the rain seemed to be the weakest. I zigged through streets until I got to Congress and made my way up Congress to 6th Street. I couldn’t se anything — no Capital Building, almost no buildings on on the side of the street — just grayed-out rain on my winshield and the taillights of other vehicles. Considering the constant radio warnings to “stay off the streets,” the streets were surprisingly packed. So my drive went on like this — slow and with almost no visibility. I got to try out my truck in a couple of flood situations for the fist time. Many of the intersections along Enfield were flooded up to a foot and the MoPac entrance ramp at Enfield was flooded about a foot.
Just blocks away from my parent’s house I nearly got myself stuck in floodwaters on Perry Lane. I’d been driving just fine except some guy in an SUV had decided to stop in front of me and block traffic. A guy in a raincoat exchanged a few words with the driver and the SUV did a three point turnaround and came back towards me. Huh. So drove forward and then noticed the scene: about a twenty-foot wide river of fast, dirty water with a white car stranded about halfway out with water up to its headlights. The water was being funneled by a street into a narrow, fast rush that washed directly under some poor house. All the houses seemed okay except that one that was hit with the main force of the rushing water.
So I turned around to try and find an alternate route and picked up my cell phone to call my mom to warn her not to come home this way (since it was 4:30, already — nearly quitting time). I found a side street and turned quickly onto it and — holy shit! — I find myself heading straight into deep waters. My truck slid up to its own headlights into the water. The engine steamed, water leaked into the cab and the bed. My phone had a difficult time finding service. In emergency situations, everyone tries to use their damned call phones and service gets spotty. I jammed the vehicle into reverse and — with much difficulty — backed the poor truck back out of the water and onto “dry” land. I went back and drove through neighborhood roads on the other side of MoPac up to Hancock and got to my parent’s house using that route without much of a problem.
At home I watched the local news teams freak out about the weather and helped my parents (after they arrived home) sweep the water out of the garage and seal underneath the garage door with towels, my dads weights, and bags of pete moss. We had dinner and hung out until the rain seemed over with and I went home.
Home was dark. When I came in the front door I was surprised by Kurt, doing his German homework in the dark using a head-mounted light to see. I verified that the power had gone out and went and lit a few candles, placing them around my room and the house. I tried to turn on my computer, but it wouldn’t respond, so I just sat in the candlelight for a few minutes and enjoyed the technological silence. It got to be a little much. I’m such a computer-kid that I just need the refreshing ambient hum of a cooling fan or I feel uppity — like something has gone wrong. So I rushed out to Mojo’s for a soda and to read a few more chapters of The Bell Jar. I came back and still felt agitated and my computer still wouldn’t work so I took off for Starseeds to see what happened if I plugged the laptop into the wall. Nothing. So I had a breakfast taco and read the Austin Chronicle cover-to-cover and came home.
The only way I could settle myself enough to sleep at home in the silence was to get out a pad of paper and pen and start writing and scribbling. I’m not sure why this helped so much, but I wrote a couple one-page pieces of fiction and felt really good. The pieces aren’t so good, but the activity was quite relaxing. I then set up some candles by my bed so I could read in the dark and read a few more chapters of The Bell Jar until I got tired enough to put out the candles. I ended up spilling wax on myself while trying to relight a candle at one point — and it felt really good — and I got to the “bell jar” reference in the book, finally. (I originally thought it had to do with women being put in bell jars by men for display, but it actually refers to the way she felts in the deeper stages of her schizophrenia — like all of her senses were dulled and she existed in isolation from the world. Anyway.) So I put out the candles and listened to the night world in east Austin as I drifted off… Dogs barked in the distance. Somewhere way, way off a big clanging sound created echoes through the neighborhood (garbage truck?). The drips of water coming off the roof and trees sounded like the footsteps of little people walking around outside my window. I fell asleep……
And woke up today with a call from my mom making sure I was alright. Then the power came back on around 2:00 and my computer started working again and the rain’s totally gone. Maybe yesterday was a mass dream of some sort…
I'm Josh Knowles, a technology developer/consultant on a variety of mobile, social media, and gaming projects. I founded and lead Frescher-Southern, Ltd. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live in New York City.
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