Last night I was comfortably ensconced in the Garden City, KS WalMart parking lot, Tillie (my van/home) parked on a nice flat spot, my shoes off, feet up, watching a movie I had downloaded earlier when I received a disconcerting text message from my Kansas friend:
"R u safe? Storms heading your way within an hour! Storm system coming from the west of you. Tornado warnings in Lakin..."
I grabbed my iPad and checked weather radar, finding that she was not exaggerating the dire circumstances. Living in a "turtle" can be an advantage in times like this. I peeled off Tillie the Turtle's "nightshades" and jumped into the driver's seat, and skedaddled south, out of the path of the storm.
Lightning flashes lit up the sky when I peeked in my rearview mirrors. I could also see the ominous thunderclouds barreling down on Garden City. Feeling like a chicken, I ran. Better a live chicken than a dead one I reasoned.
Having just the day before visited the jaw dropping display of the EF5 tornado that wiped nearby Greensburg off the map in 2007, I wanted nothing to do with being in the path of one. I experienced lots of guilt pangs thinking of the few people I knew in GC, and those I'm connected to by virtue of my humanity. Would the city be erased? Would people be killed? What would happen to my lot-lizard mates in the WM parking lot?
With each flash I saw bits of the eerily moon-like landscape. The bowling-alley-straight pavement was helpful as strong gusts of winds blasted me and the few others escaping southward. Carnival-like lighting decorated the oblivious cattle-carrying semis heading northward.
This area was desolate; flickers of light from silos and oil storage tanks the only signs of life. Oh yeah, and a neon blue cross on a building reminding me of the Christian warning of death’s power over us sinners. Not now, Jesus, not now, as I barreled hell-bent toward the unknown.
I knew Liberal was the next big city, 65 miles due south, so that was my plan. I’d find the ubiquitous Camp WM and park there. Then I’d return to GC for my meeting in the morning, if the tornado didn’t ravage this flower-oriented community.
When I saw a bedraggled truck stop in Sublette, a blip halfway between GC and Liberal, I stopped. The storm was, by all indications, 30 miles north, heading east. I checked with my KS friend who was tracking it on her computer and on TV, and she confirmed I was in the clear.
I pulled into the empty dirt lot next to this dingy truck stop haven, replaced Tillie’s night shades, and texted my friend that I was settling in for the night.
The advantage of being able to flee what could be a deadly situation was very clear in my mind. How many people experiencing domestic violence or other forms of life-threatening conditions can do that? I have resources—
sufficient fuel, a reliable vehicle, credit cards
and a bit of cash, my home wrapped around me, and the wherewithal to listen to
the warning that came my way.
|My truck-neighbors and the mud hole awaiting me.|
When a rumbling semi nestled next to me, his noisy engine running throughout the night, I vacillated between annoyance and appreciation. My weather app indicated Sublette would be in for hail, wind and rain later in the evening. My semi-buddy would at least block the wind.
Happily, I’m writing this the next morning, and not driving through the aftermath of Mother Nature’s ire. We didn't even get rain, a good thing because the dirt lot would have engulfed me 'n Tillie.
Life can change in a minute. Even with resources, one is not protected. When you’re given a chance to have another day, grab it. I’ll do what I can to make this one count!
I'm in Kansas filming a documentary, Worn Out Welcome Mat--KS on the invisible and misunderstood issue of homeless families and youth doubled up with nowhere to go. More info about my organization HEAR US Inc.