Home > Creative Writing Exercises, Out and About, Social Networking, Writing > The Road to World Conquest: Stormbringer, Part II

The Road to World Conquest: Stormbringer, Part II

April 28, 2011

I hadn’t eaten since after the blackout the night of the tornadoes. I’d sat in the darkness, eating tuna from a foil packet that reminded me of the astronaut snacks we used to buy in the Orlando Science Center gift shop when I was a kid.

In another example of poor planning on my part, I had neglected to grab a breakfast bar from the kitchen before taking Huck on our big gas hunt.

The drive to Athens really drove home for me how woefully unprepared I seemed to be. Had I given it any real thought, I would’ve stopped by the apartment before making the run to Athens. I would have grabbed some food. Fed the cat. Grabbed my luggage. And then I would be ready to just get the hell out of town once the Scion’s tank was full.

But, no, I played this far too much by the seat of my pants. While the gas dwindled toward empty, I found myself contemplating what might happen if we ran out of fuel. Huck and I would be stuck out between Huntsville and Athens, and we would become an unnecessary problem for emergency personnel. Calling AAA wouldn’t do much good: I had very little signal, if any, most of the time. On the radio, they kept saying, again and again, “Stay home. Don’t travel on the roads. Don’t become a problem.”

Yet here I was, potentially doing just that. No, I’m not proud. But, the simple fact was that I had made plans to get out of Alabama before this disaster struck, my girlfriend was stuck at the airport, and if I could get us out of town – well, we would no longer be a risky drain on local resources.

So, it was foolish, but I meant well.

While I waited in line at the gas station, I tried sending texts to family, friends, and co-workers. I texted my cousin Donna, a longtime Huntsville resident, but the message didn’t go through. I messaged my boss, Jamie, and that went through – but I wouldn’t hear back from him until the next day. I messaged my old friend Jeff in Florida, so I could follow up on plans to meet with him and his wife on Saturday, but that didn’t go through. I contacted my mother in Deltona, and that text transmitted just fine. I heard from Josh Drescher, one of my co-workers, who was heading north to Nashville with his wife. I tried calling and texting Catherine at the airport, and only got through to her once to let her know I was alive and well and seeking gasoline.

I had not seen any of the horrifying footage of the giant tornado wall that churned across Tuscaloosa. Since the power outage, I had been cut off from TV news, the Internet, and, for all intents and purposes, my iPhone. My only source of information: Local radio. It may be antiquated, but it sure is reliable in crisis situations.

Primarily, I listened to Lite 96.9, which has offices on Memorial Parkway, not far from my apartment. Their transmitter was on generator power. They asked for donations of fuel to keep the generators running. They talked about a TV meteorologist who had tried going into his house, only to have it blown away by a tornado. A church and a Doppler radar station had been obliterated outside town, they said. A neighborhood called Anderson Hills was largely destroyed. A huge swath of TVA power distribution lines were down and would have to be rebuilt practically from scratch.

It was a little piece of Armageddon, right in our back yard. I couldn’t wait to leave town.

As I drove south from Athens on I-65, I saw more devastation with my own eyes: A wrecked fuel tanker, shattered billboards, downed power lines, twisted trees. Traffic driving north to Nashville had slowed to a crawl, but the southbound lanes toward Madison and the airport were relatively clear.

Within 20 minutes, I pulled up in front of the airport terminal to find Catherine waiting for me. We loaded her bag in the back of the Juicebox and then drove onto I-565, making the eastward run to the apartment so that I could get my luggage and make sure the cat had plenty of food and water for the long weekend.

Again, I didn’t think this through. If I had, I would’ve packed Sienna along with Huck in the back seat. By just leaving Sienna with a limited ration of food and water, I created an unnecessary time pressure on myself that might require me to return to Huntsville prematurely. What if power wasn’t back on at my place for more than a week?

I opened a window for the cat so she wouldn’t get too hot, filled several food bowls for her, left a door open to the toilet and gave her a couple of large bowls of water. Then we locked up the apartment, jumped in the car, and drove west on I-565 toward the airport and I-65.

We then drove south. We made our way past more wreckage of the storm – outside Birmingham, we saw highway light poles that had been twisted like soda straws. We saw caravans of power crew trucks rolling north. We saw what might have been a Secret Service detail proceeding north, escorting a presidential-looking golf cart on a flatbed truck. NPR reported that President Barack Obama, fresh off the silly birth certificate issue, would be stopping by tornado-shattered Alabama on Friday morning.

Eventually, we stopped a couple hours south of Birmingham for gas and food. My first meal of the day? A burger and fries from Jack’s, with sweet tea to wash it down. Not diet friendly. Not cholesterol friendly. But, hey, I felt stressed. I needed comfort food.

My goal that day was the Florida Panhandle. We reached that goal at about 8:30 p.m., when we pulled off I-10 into the little town of Marianna and checked into the Super 8. This motel was conveniently located next to a Sonny’s BBQ. I called just before 9 to see what their hours were.

“Actually,” said the man who answered, “we’re closing right now.”

So much for barbecue!

We left Huck in the motel and drove to a strip mall across the street, where we found a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant that appeared to close at 9, but the waiter insisted that we could come right in. However, we had to order everything we wanted right then – even dessert – because the kitchen was closing.

We passed on dessert.

  1. Josh Drescher
    May 6, 2011 at 12:10 am

    We decided to leave town before the storms had even passed us. We had a short wave in the pantry we were hiding in and it was clear that things were going to be very, very bad for a while.

    I’d fueled up the cars ahead of the storm, so we knew we could easily make it an hour or so beyond the state line where power would be on and fuel was easy to come by. It was very weird leaving the next day. We drove through a couple of absolutely devastated areas and it reactivated some long-dormant inner Boy Scout inside of me. I felt a sense of profound middle-class guilt because we were:

    1) Leaving an entirely intact house simply because the idea of no a/c and hot showers bothered us.
    2) Enjoying the fact that we had the OPTION to leave at all. Spending a week in a hotel (even a creepy, low-grade one) is a bizarre luxury.
    3) Abandoning our (admittedly still quite new) home town in a time of crisis. This still bugs me and will probably result in my doing endless hours of community service in the coming months.

    Anywho, I became oddly fixated on making sure everyone in the studio was safe. Apparently, I need specific people to fret over in emergencies.

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