Friday, February 08, 2008

in a small town there isn't much to see, but what you hear makes up for it. that's what they told me a few years back, and i've come to believe it, having lived fourteen years now in this one. our lives are busy, not much time to reflect, but we drive the same roads over and over again, sometimes a house will go up for sale, or something will change, and when you drive by it three or four times a day, it's old news by the time you get home at night. if you mention it at dinner time then maybe it'll seem like news again, at least for a minute, but everyone gets used to it so fast, it's almost like in their starvation for something new, anything different gets devoured. and they go about exaggerating, telling stories a little, to pass the time.

these days we live on the far west side, and take highway thirteen quite a lot, up a hill by the grocery store, past our friends' house with the two stone salukis out front, past the payday loans, across the tracks in the center of town, down to an almost imperceptibly flat and low spot by the drugstore, across from the old carnival strip mall near what's now the gold gym, and up another slight hill to the mall, wal-mart, and the high school. there isn't much to see, really, though it's three lanes going each way, and pretty soon you recognize the car license plates, although they're all illinois and you have to be encyclopaedic to remember which ones were actually issued in carbondale. there have been some potholes on this road recently, and my wife gets mad at me if i don't see one and happen to drive over it- it's been there for days, it's old news, you ought to know it's there by now.

when the storm hit on tuesday we were at home, our small family, with a two-year-old and six-year-old, though the fifteen-year-old was still at the high school for an international festival. the weather radio came on and the storm got worse; finally the tornado siren went off and we all got into a small tornado shelter that we'd put behind the house last year. it's fiberglass, big enough to hold a small family like us, dark, cozy- it was a little wet, too, as they'd left the top open just a minute in order for me to run in last, come down the small steps and shut the door on top. the weather radio gave us a report and said it would be over in twenty minutes, but we lost the station, and instead got the basketball game, where announcers were killing time and all the spectators were down on the arena floor, waiting for the warning to pass and for the game to start up again. the two little ones were afraid, but it was cozy down there and we assured them that everything would be all right. the phone rang twice, and we knew it was the boy at the high school, but we couldn't answer it; the shelter blocked the signal. we also knew he'd be ok if he stood still at the high school and waited for the storm to pass.

but when the warning was over, i was worried, and got in the van to go across town and get him. out onto the main road i went; it was raining hard now, but hey, i've driven this road a million times. at the grocery store cascades of water came down the hill and it was about a foot deep at the bottom, but i was going up the hill, so i didn't worry about it. through the center of town i followed a line of cars slogging along, going across the tracks, beginning to slow down because of the rain.

came to the drugstore though, and this imperceptibly low spot was taking the brunt of the storm. water was pouring into the corner from all sides; i couldn't see the ditch on either side of the road, couldn't even pull off the road. it was now over a foot, and looked higher in places, for example, on the cross-road in front of the drugstore. ahead of me, across from the carnival strip-mall, cars were stuck; they weren't moving, and now, cars near me weren't either. i was trapped behind some cars and unable to get off the road to either side; water was rising at my wheels, and i was getting nervous. finally i pulled into the cross street and up the driveway of the drugstore; parked in a high spot, and got out, stood under the drugstore canopy for a while, watching people navigate the flood. firetrucks and police came by. people stood helplessly by their cars, which were now in a couple of feet of water.

one never imagines being in a situation like this, although, as the woman at the drugstore said, it happens every once in a while. it seemed like the whole town was in crisis, although some cowboy truck-drivers were galoshing through it like it was a weekend rodeo. a friend of mine was standing there; she'd pulled her car off the road but into mud that was so thick, the car had kind of sunk into it. another friend was also heading out to the high school, and now was stranded, like me, unable to get past that last low spot. we stood and talked, watched the rain for a while. the lady at the drugstore said, it'll clear up about a half hour after the rain stops. it'll wash away; it just doesn't have anywhere to go, for the moment.

cell phones made their appearance; eventually i found out that my son had found another ride home and left the high school. apparently if you weren't in that one low spot, it wasn't so bad. from where we stood, it sure seemed as if you couldn't go anywhere, in any direction, without trouble, but, just looking at the road itself, which had at one point had a couple of feet of water, and now was down to almost nothing, we knew that the lady was right- soon it would clear up, and be ok. eventually i tried to pull the friend's car out of the muck, but a generous tow truck driver apparently helped her out later anyway, and i just went home, waterlogged, trying to go around various roads that were shut down between that spot and our house. when i finally arrived at home, the little ones were in bed; the teenager had made it too, and now we had to pick stuff up and get on with the week, which would be no less busy just because i'd lost a couple of hours of it. it seemed like, to most of the town, it was just another storm, you wouldn't have gone out in it, unless you had to, so most people didn't. i, though, felt the waves of flood water lapping at my sides, the stones in the walkway giving way beneath my feet, the water dripping down my pantleg and into my shoes, for days. i actually had a good visit with some people, standing under that canopy; saw people i hadn't seen in years, and told a few stories. there was some speculation about whether certain routes out in the country would be underwater, or whether vast lowland fields, always flooded, would be a good absorbant and actually keep the roads clear. the problem is, you'd have to go way out there to find out. at least, in town, you were always in town, and if things got bad, you could just go shopping at the drugstore, or maybe sit down at the old soda-counter. what strikes me now is that it was really only at that corner, the epicenter of the flood, and maybe a couple of other places that were bad; it was only me and a few other people that were really put out by it, and even i was only put out by an hour or so, a break i actually sorely needed, in my own kind of way. the little ones were pretty strongly impressed. the six-year-old said, next time we have a storm like that, dad, check to see if i'm still awake when you get home, and if i am, come and talk to me for a while. the storm was a scary thing to him- the thunder, the weather radio's sirens and beeps, the shelter with the wet floor, the town siren, the floodwaters, and people coming in from outside, dripping water, soaking wet. you'll have a story to tell, when it's over, but then, such stories are common, you hear them every once in a while, you always meet people who knew people who got caught out in one of the storms. and, if you don't push your luck, you'll live to see another one.


Blogger Peggy said...

Man! That's some storm! I wouldn't expect a storm like that in February! Poor little Eli, he was a bit overwhelmed by it all.

I'm so glad that you and your family are okay.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous bruce said...

Interesting what the 6-year-old said. If you go and talk to him about the storm when it's over, the storm will be a more interesting and memorable experience for him; going over it with Dad will reinforce it in his memory, as well as helping him to make sense of it. That goes for any big event, I guess.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noey told me a bit about the storm, and how he got a ride with some of his 16 year old friends, and I imagined myself at that point... we had one or two major storms while I was tooling around in the tiny Honda, and I remember the feeling of pushing through collected rainwater up to my bumper and wondering whether my car would make it. It's very Carbondale- the way those long, dry unremarkable roads suddenly have two, three feet of rainwater frothing around, and just as quickly, it disappears. I love your blog, daddio, keep it up!

11:19 PM  
Blogger J-Funk said...

Wow, what a dual ordeal! I'm glad everyone came out of it ok! and that at least you made use of your tornado shelter! and that you didn't stall out your car in the deep water and have to pay to have it dried out and replace the parts that couldn't take it (like I did when that happened to me...).

9:48 AM  

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