Our twenty-fifth cross country drive was uneventful if you don’t consider the near brush with a tornado in Kansas.
There is terror in the skies over that flat land.
….and by the way, maybe it’s the eighteenth or the twenty-seventh crossing, I don’t know and it doesn’t much matter anyway. We make the driving journey from eastern Pennsylvania to southwestern Colorado-or vice versa– without consulting a map anymore. (And no, no GPS. There are map people, and there are GPS people. We’re map people. No technology on our dashboard.) Takes us 30 hours, engine time, and I refer you to Roger for all the statistics and lap record if you’re interested in the numbers, mileage, and other emotionally barren data associated with the trip. We spend 4 days driving in daylight and each of 3 nights on the road in the environs of a Best Western motel. We plan-or, I should say Roger does–on either the northern route or the southern route, depending on the time of year. Both routes have their hazards regardless of when you’re traveling, as well as their delights. We took the northern route, also known as the barbeque route-a certain gastronomic delight–as the car goes on auto pilot to Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, the 17th Street Bar and Grill in O’Fallon, Illinois, with a mandatory stop for the year’s supply of chocolates at the Russell Stover Factory in Abilene, Kansas. (Abilene also has the distinction of having the oldest Best Western with the smallest bathrooms in the western world.) Kansas supplied a new terror for us this time.
Driving Day #3 began with a thunderstorm before we were even out of our Best Western bed in the middle of Missouri. Thankfully, high-speed wireless Internet was up in our room (always advertised but often not available) to check the weather for the day’s trip across Kansas. Interstate 70 would take us west (after spare ribs in Kansas City) with several options as to exit points in the middle of the state, after which we would make our way southwesterly on state and county roads. Every postulated route showed the likelihood of severe weather including large hail, high winds, and possible tornados. Egads. All except for Garden City, Kansas. There, it was merely large hail and high winds; no mention of the T word. Well, that’s it then. We’re going to go for no T at our destination although little t’s (thunderstorms) were predicted for the entire route from where we were to there.
Like Batman and Robin out to conquer evil in the world, Roger and I climbed into our car in the heavy rain, determined to conquer the wet stuff with our resolve. (Or me with mine, speaking for myself.) I-70 cleared up to sunshine within minutes on the road, and we drove across three-quarters of Kansas wondering where all the horrific weather was and convinced the weathermen were idiots. The cashier at our last I-70 gas stop informed us with a smile that tornado warnings were posted for the sunny area we were in and definitely for the area where we were headed. How could this be??? The state roads running in perpendicular dog legs took us southwesterly. Skies were sunny alright but feathery high-altitude clouds thickened, almost imperceptibly, although I had my eye on them the whole way and knew, in my heart of hearts, that we would be meeting up with a little t at the very least somewhere along the way unless we were some very favored individuals in the universe that day. Roger pointed out that a thunderstorm is, after all, only rain. And I pointed out that one was brewing in the very direction we needed to go.
A look at the map showed we could drive due west to our destination Garden City, in which direction the sky was now a dark shade of navy blue. Or we could drive southwesterly to Dodge City, spending the night there, letting the brewing storm pass us to the north. “The choice is yours.” I always let Roger make the final decision after we both engage in discussion and debate of the alternatives. ( I don’t want to be chastised for a bad decision, even considering the glory that comes with a good one.) We looked at the sky, hoping that critical variable would cast an important input. It did. “Let’s go for it.” What he meant by that was to blast directly toward the darkest part of the sky as it was the direct route to our Garden City destination. (If it were me, I would have chosen the Dodge City route. Yes, the dark sky intimidated me. But you’ll see in a moment what a good decision it was for him to decide). Unlike me, Roger had considered the easterly movement of the dark storm. We would have to blast through it, but while it was cooking up rather than after developing into a fullblown something-or-other.
Now, Kansas…. in this part of Kansas…there’s nothing. NOTHING. Flat fields of endless wheat. The road straight as a ribbon. The radio comes on with ***raaagh*** raagh*** raagh, this is an emergengy broadcast from the U S Weather Service and brought to you by Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, for the better way to start your day….telling you there’s a tornado warning for southwest Pawnee County and to take shelter immediately. If there is no shelter, get out of your car and lay flat in a ditch. Oh, Kay. A quick consult with the atlas showed we WERE in southwest Pawnee County, there wasn’t a stick of shelter to be seen to the horizon, and was it time to go lie down in a ditch? It was downpouring, thundering, and lightning, and in a quick discussion of our options for the moment, Roger and I agreed that lying down in a ditch was what we would do if either we saw 1.) a funnel cloud or 2.) things flying (like roofs, cows, or tractors), but not do that right now. Roger continued to drive, now with two hands on the wheel, unflappable despite nearly zero visibility and that oh so unnerving lightning. I continued to convince myself that fear is controllable, I have nothing to worry about but a little rain, and did my deep breathing to stave off palpitations. It would do me no good to be in a state of panic before even encountering a tornado. On what reserves would I call upon then?
The raging downpour lightened up a bit, enough for me to check our westward progress on the map and regress to a slightly ameliorated state of fear. We were now in Jetmore, marked only by a dot on the map and a crossroad we just crossed. ***raaagh*** raagh*** raagh, this is an emergengy broadcast from the U S Weather Service. A rotation has been sited near Bellefont. Southwest Pawnee County is advised to take cover immediately. Travelers should seek shelter (Good luck. There’s only wheat and grass out there.) If you are in a car or mobile home, exit immediately and lie flat in a ditch. And then there was a discussion about how more people are injured and killed in their cars than lying flat in a ditch. Provided you don’t drown in the ditch. Bellefont was exactly eleven miles, as the crow flies, from Jetmore, where we were. The storm intensified as we traveled through a visibly nasty local area of extra heavy downpouring and electrified atmosphere. ***raaagh*** raagh*** raagh Another rotation sited in Offerle. Where the heck is Offerle? Maybe we’re in Offerle and this is a tornado. I’m thinking if I concentrated on the map and finding Offerle in relation to where I thought we were at that moment, I could either give in to panic and acknowledge that this was, in fact, a tornado, OR concentrate on subsiding the thumping going on in my chest so Roger could drive us out of this mess without me breaking his concentration because I’m the nervous wreck. The map showed Offerle right next door to Bellefont and therefore 12 miles from us. So I could relax. (Yeah, right.) This was not, in fact, a tornado, although it could not be called anything nice, either. Both Bellfont and Offerle were on the road to Dodge City, the route we would have taken had we gone the way I’d suggested, where surely we would have encountered the real thing and perhaps been catapulted into the universe. Roger’s superlative driving skills got us through, his impeccable strat
egic insights always yielding THEE right answer. In minutes, we were under blue sky, the rains stopped, the road dried up, and we drove into the sprawling agricultural abundance of aptly named Garden City, Kansas….although a glance in the rear-view mirror showed sharply contrasting sky in that unforgettably ugly, dark navy blue.
The young gal behind the desk at the Garden City Best Western said our room would be 119 but it didn’t have Internet. She was a very pleasant young lady, although weirdly attired in gothic with short spiked black hair and pierced ear holes large enough for a pencil to go through. I tried not to stare and pondered the diameter of the Best Western guest pens. “We’d like to have Internet.” (knowing how the Internet provided critical weather info for us earlier.) “I’ll give you 104. Has Internet. Not wireless. Here’s a cable.” She tried very hard to please. “We just came through a terrible storm. There was a tornado in Bellefont.” Blank stare. “Do you know Bellefont?” No, she didn’t know Bellefont, even if it was little more than eleven miles away. “Only a little rain, some lightning here.”
I don’t want to know Bellefont either. I don’t want to fry my nerves in Bellefont. Maybe all those folks “gettin’ outta Dodge” met their Maker in Bellefont.
And by the way, Room 104 didn’t have Internet either. Maybe the lightning in Garden City fried the cable.
Love to you all,
From the calm in Colorado