WHAT A DAY

I woke up Sunday morning super excited. After taking my first cold shower of the day (the air conditioning in the house has been out for a week, and acknowledge that I have become a full-fledged California resident — 78 is too cold and 80 is too hot, hit the computer to check e-mails and hit Facebook before writing a prepared, light-hearted blog.

My last AChiO Pledge Class at San Diego State was graduating, and I couldn’t wait to see their pictures in caps and gowns.

And the “Bay to Breakers” race was scheduled San Francisco. There’s nothing like it in the world. Everyone races in costume (except those who wear no costume at all — though nudity was outlawed this year, no one stops it. Hey, it’s San Franciso.) By the time I logged on to Facebook, there were already pictures of teams from all four of my sororities dressed as Smurfs, in “All-American” red/white/and blue mismatched outfits, tutus topping striped leggings, and everything in between.

It’s more interesting because not all the people who “race” actually pay admission and sign up to run — they just jump into the race course whenever/wherever they choose. That’s where the nudity/semi-nudity/lack of costumes find their way among the Santa’s tied together in tandem and other outfits no one would wear outside a Bay to Breakers (B2B) race. It’s a celebration of Bay Area life at it’s best, and I miss it. Trying to get a team together for next year — maybe other house moms –we could dress as Donna Reed in white gloves and pearls, or fuzzy robes with cigarettes hanging out of our mouths and bottles of wine. But doubt if that will happen. People my age tend to be pretty old. Most don’t get me. No surprise there.

Then, the news from Oklahoma started hitting the Facebook posts, changing the day. My first instinct was to divert back to the Oklahoma tradition of turning the TV (in my case, computer) to Gary England’s Channel 9 OKC streaming feed, complete with storm chasers on the ground and helicopter pilots risking their lives in the air. And, as if I still lived there, was glued to it all day, sending texts to friends as the tornadoes ripped through or near their home areas. There was a post from Kimi Winkler, one of Abbi’s old cheerleading team members who lives in New York City. She, too, was glued to Gary England’s streaming videos.

If I had been in OKC, at my 1911 NW 33rd Street home just south of Penn Square Mall, I would be watching the weather channel in the family room we called “The Lodge;” it had a great fireplace, and the back wall was almost all glass, looking out over our 16′ x 32′ pool, deck with hot tub, and my beautiful 20’stand of 50 year old trees. I would be worrying whether I’d be lucky yet again and not have any trees uprooted, whether the neighbor’s tree would fall onto the deck outside my bedroom again or crash through the roof this time, how much debris would be in the pool — and if I could add enough chlorine to keep the water from turning to a green pond of algae sludge or have to drain, scrub it down, and start all over with fresh water.

Like all Oklahomans, the safest closet had already been cleared out in case I needed to revert to the closest thing to safety my house afforded. The safest is usually a bathroom — get down into the tub under a mattress…but both our bathrooms were on outside walls. The closet between the living room and lodge was my safest option. And not very safe at that because the house had a crawl space and the whole house could have been picked up or leveled.

I would be thinking back to the house we almost bought that backed up to Westmoore High School. I chose against it because the fence backed up to the school’s parking lot and my concern of liability if the kids decided to jump the fence to swim. And that was a no-brainer. That entire neighborhood, plus the house we would have purchased, was wiped out in not one, but two tornadoes a year apart.

And flashing back to the days when our shop, Greeks Bearing Gifts, was in the University Center at University of Central Oklahoma and we’d all head down to the basement to hunker down until the storm passed by/over the building. Jarrett Jobe, who was head of Greek Life, would be on a central computer watching the streaming weather and keeping us apprised of the storm’s location and velocity. We would all be worried about homes, friends’ homes, businesses, Abbi’s gym that was little more than a corrugated metal shell, if our cars would still be in the parking lot when we went outside, and if we would get home that night. As I sent out texts/FB posts to friends (ex “kids) in the area, I found that some who lived nearby had already gone to the basement of the UC for shelter.

When I turned on the Channel 2 CBS news at 6:30 pm here in Los Angeles, they mentioned the Oklahoma tornadoes as if they were mere hiccups. I sent them a website e-mail telling them to watch their sister station in OKC and keep up.

This storm was all over the place. First news was from Edmond; just north of Oklahoma City where UCO, Abbi’s cheerleading/dance gym where she both coached and was a member of 3 squads, and most of our friends lived. Then, another storm started up east of OKC on the I-40 — threatening Shawnee, the mall, the casino, and two recreation areas. The casino was evacuated, the shoppers were diverted to the shelter within the mall, and the twisters barely missed both. The Shawnee Reservoir and Lake Thunderbird weren’t as lucky. An entire trailer park was leveled. Why anyone would chose to live in a mobile home in Oklahoma is beside me. The helicopter crew watched as water was literally sucked out of the Reservoir. A housing development on the banks of Lake Thunderbird was wiped out — and in true tornado behavior, three houses in the middle of the development were untouched while everything around them was flattened. At one point in time, there were 6 circles overlapping on the video — 6 storms that could merge into one superstorm. I watched as two tornadoes merged with a “halo” around the top meaning it could become even larger. Where the tornadoes touched down, brown debree clouds whipped up forming clouds at their bases. We wouldn’t know what was in them until later — just trees? Crops? Homes? Livestock? That would have to wait.

The news came out that at least one life had been lost in the trailer park. From past experience, news about missing people wouldn’t be forthcoming for days.

The messages I sent out were answered over the hours — a pix on Facebook from one of my sorority nieces showed the tornado parallel to their car on I-40. There’s nothing you can do in that case except keep driving — you never know what it’s going to do — stay the course, turn onto the freeway and hurl you in circles then tossing you to the ground….you just keep on moving.

Others showed hail in sizes ranging from golf ball to baseball and sometimes larger. One newscaster claimed, “Just another softball-sized hail storm.” Only in Oklahoma.

Stories of near-misses — “It came within a mile of the house.” “We got home. We’re safe.” “My plane landed just in time.” “We had roof damage, but were OK.” “We’re in the shelter. The kids and dogs are all in my lap.” “The house is gone.”

Back to the news, I-35 and I-40 were hit hard. Cars that parked under bridges for safety were slurped out and tossed around. One tractor trailer truck was picked up off a highway bridge and pitched to the road below – smashed like a plywood toy. Another had been turned over and was perched precariously over the railing.

Tornadoes are so common, we often take them for granted. We’re outside taking pictures as the ground-touching tails travel straight towards us. Jokes hit the internet about grabbing a lawn chair and a beer to hit the lawn and watch. But there’s nothing funny about these things. They’re unpredictable.

Then, the word came that a storm was headed for Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma. The newscaster admonished “Don’t look for it. It’s wrapped in rain.”

The next from Prague and Meeker – east and south of the University. This day was never going to end. Again, a storm wrapped in rain that would be undetectable if someone was looking for the normal signs: Rain, hail, eerie silence, and the sound of an oncoming train.

At the end of the day, most of my friends were OK. A couple of houses sustained major damage. One family came out of their closet to find it was the only thing left standing. But no one was hurt. That’s what really matters.

Of course, that’s not the end. There was still the threat of more tornadoes during the night, when there’s no defense. And today will bring more tornado watches and warnings. These are never one-day events.

But Okies are a resilient lot. They know spring is coming, and with it tornado season. They know spring will be followed by a drought-ridden summer and winter will bring blinding blizzards and ice storms that will knock out power lines and send trees dropping through roofs. There’s always fall — time to breathe and watch football.

And, as the old song says, they’ll “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.”

In times like this, no one cares whether you’re Republican or Democrat, whether you’re white, red, black, yellow, or green. Everyone comes together to make sure their neighbors have a place to stay, enough food to eat, a shoulder to cry on, clothes when necessary, and they’ll work together to rebuild.

Then, they’ll hit the back deck, grab a beer, grill a steak and live their lives until the next scare. They know it’s coming, but there’s no sense to worry about it until it happens.

Abbi and I spent 18 years in Oklahoma. It was an adventure. It still amazes both of us that most people never think of leaving. She had many friends who had never been out of the state. Most of them went to OU, OSU, or UCO. They go to Eufaula or Grand Lake for vacations, get jobs in Oklahoma and stay to raise their families…”Sooner born, Sooner bred, and when they die, they’re Sooner dead.” And they’ll always persevere. It’s who they are. It’s in their genes. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, until the next time, I’ll probably be switching “weather TV” off and on my computer until Gary England is no longer talking about tornado watches, warnings, and imminent danger, and go on living my life — knowing that an earthquake could come at any minute, but hey..I’ve been through tornadoes in Oklahoma and Nebraska, blizzards and ice storms in West Virginia, Ohio, Nebraska and Oklahoma, a tsunami, hurricane, and the only tornado to ever hit Hawaii (it came through Koli Koli Pass, just like the Japanese planes on December 7 — and a mile from our house), and earthquakes in California. No, I haven’t been in a big one yet, and hope I never am, but if it happens, that 18 years in Oklahoma will kick in. And I’ll be OK.

Take care of yourself. Every day of life is precious. Stuff is just stuff. Treasure your family and friends. Tell someone you love them today, and every day. And live life to its fullest.

See you soon.