On hailstones, tornadoes, stalled traffic, and full bladders


It’s one thing to be sitting in your house, listening to hailstones hit the roof. It’s quite another thing to be driving in a car when ping-pong sized hailstones begin smacking the  car. It’s loud. Distracting. Frightening.

While driving in the rain to my off-site office at Owens Community College on Wednesday, an object hit the windshield — I thought it was a stone. Then the rain became hail and the car was suddenly battered by increasingly large chunks of hail. Pulled into the parking lot, thinking I’d wait out the hail/rain before heading indoors.

Apparently, security had other ideas. One of them pounded on my window and yelled “I need you to get inside.” Puzzled, I pointed out the rain and hail….that didn’t seem to matter. Seems I had no choice, so I headed out into the maelstrom. Once inside, I understood his urgency. A tornado had been spotted 14 miles due west and was moving at 40 mph.

In the interior hall by my office, I joined about 25 others — most talking at once and/or reporting the radar outlook from their much-smarter-than-my phones. About this time, the headache I’d woken up with, morphed into a migraine.

Tornadoes have always scared me, dating back to the one that hit Bluffton on Palm Sunday in 1965. I was 9 years old, and slept through the entire storm. After that, whenever tornadoes  threatened, our family would head to the cellar– not to be confused with a basement. Cellars are dark, dank, often damp. Ours housed a giant freezer, the furnace, lots of home-canned goods, and an assortment of large spiders, cobwebs and bugs. But hey, it was safe.

Now, when the emergency sirens start to wail, I happily ensconce myself in our basement office. If I’m bored, I can (a) ride the stationary bike; (b) watch a movie on the nearest computer; or (c) re-read one of my ancient collection of Agatha Christie mysteries. My husband, not so easily scared, often rides out the storm on the front porch, attempting to take photos of the clouds he finds so fascinating.

Anyway…back at Owens, we sat on the floor waiting for the all clear. It was a brief respite. Five minutes later, we were being herded to another room — an interior room with no windows. This time there were about 35 people — a mix of faculty, staff, students and small children who’d accompanied mom or dad for registration. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your opinion), this was a tech lab filled with computers which — oddly — had not been knocked out by the storm. This is when things got a little dicey.

One person decided it was her job to report exactly where the rotations were located at 30-second intervals. Her reports quickly began to grate on our nerves. I tried to tune her out (no pun intended) by engaging in a discussion of musical instruments with one of the deans, who just happened to have her cello at her side. It’s interesting how being close quarters in an emergency can produce interesting conversations that otherwise wouldn’t take place. In fact, it even served to turn a simple acquaintance into more of a friendship.

When the final all-clear sounded for the second time, most of us raced for the nearest exit in the hope that we could escape before the next round. A few minutes later, as I reached the interstate, I heard the familiar wail of the emergency siren. Black clouds loomed to my left. Just as I began to relax and breathe again, both lanes of traffic came to a dead halt. Now what?

We sat. And sat. Unmoving. I considered the situation. On one hand, I had water, food and a good book to listen to. On the other hand, I’d been drinking so much tea — intended to defeat the headache — and in my haste to get out of Dodge so quickly, had bypassed the restroom. Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

Of course, about the same time, my mind – which my husband sometimes refers to as “overactive” — began to whirl. What if I saw a tornado? Where would I go? The ditches were filling with water. Would you sit in a water-filled ditch in a lightning storm? What if the road was flooded and I was stuck here all night?

All those thoughts of water only served to remind me of my overfull bladder. Just when I was considering the empty plastic food container as a portable restroom, the trucks lined up ahead of me began to move. Very slowly. After 45 minutes of sitting perfectly still, I could hear a collective silent cheer from the drivers around me. Fifteen minutes later I was home.

That bathroom never looked so good.

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3 responses to “On hailstones, tornadoes, stalled traffic, and full bladders

  1. Oh, I can so feel for you. I mean, my bladder can. How horrible.

  2. Pannabecker Steiner Mary

    I knew you’d understand. BTW, I can’t wait to see you!

  3. James Pannabecker

    When I commuted from Baltimore to Northern Virginia every day, one forgotten bathroom stop taught me that lesson, but sitting on the Beltway with thousands surrounding me was before I ran marathons and grew accustomed to the pre-gun communal outdoor bathroom facilities.

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