This probably would have been a more appropriate entry last night, but I fell asleep shortly after 8pm. I’m more restless tonight. So here it is.
The last seven days, so far, have produced two of the scariest driving experiences of my life. The first, which isn’t the focal point of this post, was last Thursday. I was driving back from Broad Ripple around 3:30am, speeding up from Binford to get on northbound I-69. As I was doing this, a black man wearing black clothes darted out maybe 30 yards in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and veered into the right lane, not even thinking if there was traffic there – thankfully there wasn’t given the time of night – but solely focused on avoiding hitting this man. I watched in a stupor as I passed him, as he stood by another man next to a car on the side of the highway, large bag over his shoulder. No idea what that was about, but Christ…if I hadn’t taken a wrong turn earlier that night, if I had left sooner etc etc, I would have surely killed this man. I mean, who runs across an interstate, right? Especially with oncoming traffic. I realize I mentioned this incident in a previous entry (“Designated Driver Blues”), but over the past few days it’s really dawned on me how a certain series of events led me to arrive at the interstate at just the right time to avoid him. It could have been different, though. And I could have hit him.
So there’s that event, and as if that wasn’t enough, I had to take to the roads Tuesday late afternoon. Well, at least this time, my dad was driving.
The object was to do what every red-blooded American does: visit the local library to check out DVDs, not books. As we were leaving, I pointed toward the sky just slightly southwest of our house, which looked incredibly nasty. Now, I’m no meteorologist (though I’m sure my forecasts are just as accurate.) But near-black is a bad color for sky, right? My dad, however, assured me that the storm would stay south of here, so we took off.
I remember the exact moment when we realized the decision to leave the house was a bad one. We were stuck on a bridge over the interstate, suburban rush hour and all. Not moving, just waiting for everyone to spill out of the adjacent office park. And we’re looking down the interstate during this long span of sitting in traffic, and you can see it. It’s like a wall. Like a tidal wave. Just coming down the interstate. One minute, the horizon is blurred and obscures so many cars. The next minute, so many more cars are blurred, out of sight. It reminds me of a hallway at night, in a building where lights are automated and motion-sensitive. Gradually, they just begin to turn off in the distance, leaving behind a trail of darkness. That’s what this was like.
As we’re sitting there, we start to hear what sound like remarkably fat raindrops landing on the car roof (not related to any bastard child of Tay Zonday and Bowfinger.) Figuring nothing but trouble resides in those stormclouds, we cut off this road and peel back around the interstate, attempting to do something that nobody ever really manages to do in these situations: beat the storm. I can “beat the storm” walking my dog before it hits. I can “beat the storm” mowing the lawn before it hits. But every time I’m stuck in traffic? I never beat the storm. That trend continued here. And the storm even worsened.
Because then came the hail. And it was bad. I’ve been in hailstorms before. They’re nasty, but they usually pass quickly, and the hail is usually of a fairly insignificant size. Not this hail. It ranged from golfball-to-baseball sized. I don’t think you can really convey how frightening that is while driving. First off, you’re certainly worrying about whether or not it’s doing damage to your car. But more than that, there’s the immediate safety risk of the hail creating a visibility nightmare – try driving with this stuff pelting your windshield with more frequency than the rain, and yes, I’m convinced there was actually more hail than rain for a majority of this. And the lingering fear that the stuff is going to actually break through your windows, shower you with glass and start pelting you. So I looked frantically out of the side for some kind of shelter, a gas station or storefront or whatever, but everyone else had the same idea and there simply was no room. We pulled off the main road and weaved back through the municipal complex, going back to the library parking lot. Everyone had managed to cram under the overhang there as well.
Figuring there was nothing more he could do, my dad parked between two vans and we just waited it out in the car. And that hail…I can’t really describe, with any justice, the velocity at which it was coming down. It was tearing limbs off trees. It was just smashing against all the parked cars. Just scary as hell, I found myself shielding my face in case any of the windows were going to give. And my dad and I thought, surely, if the hail was this bad and if the wind was whipping the debris around this bad, a tornado was going to follow. We kept looking around for a funnel cloud but found none. Which is sort of odd, because you only really ever see that intensity of hail when associated with a storm that produces tornadoes.
Anyway, it turns out we got lucky. The part of town we were in mostly “just” got two-inch, golfball-sized hail. Just up the road from where we were, there was baseball-sized hail. Hail that shattered storefront windows and turned neighborhoods into the visual equivalents of warzones.
(If there was a positive from that, though, it’s that it severely crippled my former place of work, destroying most of their inventory, so that twister I’ve been hoping for that puts them out of business should be just around the corner.)
So, yeah, the experience was pretty terrifying. There was a point in time where I was just certain the window was going to give. Luckily it did not, and the car remained largely intact. Saturn might be dismantling due to GM bankruptcy, but damn, their cars could survive WWIII. That’s a good thing.
I guess that does it as far as my (interesting?) story. Today I cleaned out three mouse nests in the frigid rain. It almost made me long for the hailstorm.