My arrival in Duncan, Oklahoma was altogether uneventful. It’s a sleepy town by definition, with the biggest (and most popular) attraction being the local recreation center. It wasn’t hard to find the Holiday Inn; it’s sits just of the main road leading into (and out of) town. I parked, paid and headed upstairs to my room.
Having flown all afternoon and driven until dusk I was ready for a good meal, a hot shower and a couple of hours of Cinemax (Is there anything better than road Cinemax? I mean really).
I unpacked, changed into some shorts and a t-shirt and headed to the hotel bar/restaurant to grab some dinner.
I took a seat at the bar, gave the old hello head nod to the two gentlemen also sitting at the bar and started looking at the menu. I ordered a burger and fries and sipped on a diet coke, reflecting on the days travels.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
As I’m eating my dinner, I notice that the TV keeps cutting in and out above the bar.
“Is there something wrong with the cable?” I ask the bartender.
“No” she replies, “It’s satellite. It does this when the weather gets bad.”
“Huh, I don’t remember the weather being bad.” I thought as I turned around to look outside. Sure enough, it’s starting to rain.
“So am I not going to be able to watch TV in my room?” I asked, hoping I was not going to be deprived of my sweet nighttime entertainment.
“Oh no, all the rooms are on cable. It’s just the bar that’s on Satellite.” She said.
The happy look on my face soon turned to one of confusions as I hear an odd sound in the distance.
I couldn’t really tell what it was, but it was some sort of siren. It sounded a lot like an air raid siren that one would hear in an old war movie. You know the one that slowly elevates its volume to a high-pitched scream as a base is being attacked and army dudes in their skivvies run about preparing for their impending doom.
“What in the hell is that noise?” I asked the bartender.
“Oh, that? That’s the emergency siren. It means there is a tornado coming close.” She calmly replied as she washed a couple of drink glasses.
“I’m sorry, did you just say there is a tornado headed this way.” I asked, stunned and nervous.
She chuckled and replied, “Well yeah, that’s what the siren means. It’s pretty common to have those in tornado alley. You do know you are in tornado alley right? Where are you from anyway?”
And with that, the two gentlemen sitting at the bar began to chuckle aloud.
“I’m from Houston. “ I said, looking out the window.
“Well what the hell are you worried about” one of the guys at the bar piped up, “I mean, you all have to deal with Hurricanes. Those last a lot longer.”
“True, but we have plenty of advanced warning when a hurricane comes. Hell, we even name them and track them” I said, still wondering how everyone could be so calm. “So shouldn’t we be getting ready? Don’t we need to like seek shelter or something?” I asked.
“Well,” the other guy chimed in “I wouldn’t worry too much until you hear our pagers go off”.
Is this guy serious? Am I to believe that they are both carrying fucking tornado pagers?
“Oh, and why is that” I asked, trying to understand.
“Because, we’re both first responders, that’s why. If there is a tornado close, and it’s doing damage, we’ll know. ” He said.
“Huh, well, I guess that’s good to kn…” and before I could get the words out of my mouth…
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.
Oh you have GOT to be fucking kidding me! Why me. Why here? Why NOW!
“Let me guess” I said, trying to work up a brave smile. No answer was needed though. Both men stood up and started reaching for their wallets.
“OK, not to be all crazy and panicked, but what should I do?”, I asked.
“Well” the taller one responded, “You should be OK as long as your room isn’t on the second floor.” He said laughing, causing the others to laugh along with him.
“Uh, OK, problem. I am on the second floor. So, should I stay here in the bar?” I asked, trying to get everyone to be serious like me.
“Nahh, too many windows” One of the now leaving first responders pointed out. “Your best bet is to get into your bath tub and pull your mattress over you for cover. Good luck.”
And with that, they walked outside, got into a van and drove away.
I tried to rationalize this is my mind. I could remember hearing something like his advice before. So with that, I paid my tab, left my half eaten meal on the bar and headed quickly to my room.
RIDING IT OUT
To get to my room I had to go outside and walk cross the parking lot. It was in a detached building across the way. As I headed for my shelter o’ death I was bombarded with sideways rain, eardrum popping thunder, excessive lightning and the unnerving sound of the Tornado siren laughing at me as I ran for my life. I hurried into my room, slammed the door shut and headed for the bed. I flung the pillows across the room, tore all the sheets of as fast as I could, and steadied my back to heave the giant king sized mattress over my head. My first thought as I looked at the mattress was; thank god I got a king size bed, this should cover me really good. That thought quickly left my mind and was replaced with, “Now just how in the hell am I going to get this heavy ass mattress over my head, into that little ass bathroom and secured over me for protection?”
DAMN YOU LOGIC AND REASON, I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT, MY LIFE IS AT STAKE HERE!
I decided that the mattress was not going to be part of my tornado shelter because it was just to god damn heavy, but I figured that at least I could get in the bathtub; after all it is in an interior room, so that’s better than sitting out in the open of the hotel room. I made my way to the bathroom, shut the door behind me (I have no idea why I did that…safety first I guess) and got in the tub.
After the first 20 minutes of lying face down in the tub with my hands covering my head, soaking wet and freezing because I had left the AC on full blast, I started to wonder if this whole ordeal was ever going to end. If you have never spent 20 minutes, face down in a bath tub, wet and cold, I can tell you that each minute seems like 30, so by my calculations, I had been in that tub for just over 600 minutes.
The rain had started to let up a little and I didn’t hear much thunder anymore, so I told myself that the worst must be over and that it was safe to come out. I rolled over and took one more listen to see if I could detect any audible clues of death and destruction going on outside. I finally made the decision that it was OK to come out of my shelter. I stood up, leaned forward, putting my hand on the wall to brace myself as I opened the door to the great unknown. I paused for a couple of seconds, and then stepped out of the toilet/tub room and into the vanity area. Just as I did that…
WHAT IN THE FUCK???
That’s right folks, the tornado siren was once again bellowing its warning of impending doom to all those who would listen.
“You have got to be shitting me? ANOTHER ONE?” I thought.
“I can’t believe this shit. If I live through the night I swear to all that is not tornadic that I am leaving this god forsaken ‘alley’ and never coming back,” I promised myself.
I walked back into the bathroom, closed the door behind me, climbed back in the tube, laid face down again, covered my head and proceeded to try to make myself cry. I don’t know why, but I thought that crying might make me feel better. I was unsuccessful in my attempt, but it was not for a lack of trying.
And so as I laid there in my converted tornado tub shelter, protected from the torrential rains (but drowning in my fear and misery) I forced thoughts of dead puppies and small kittens burning alive in-house fires into my mind, hoping that these images would open the flood gates that held back my tears, giving me the emotional release that I needed.
I thought about a lot of stuff as I lay there, but the one re-occurring thought that I could not chase from my mind was, “I wonder how many asses have been in this space my face is now occupying”? I laid there for an entire hour as the thunder and lighting and rain and wind mocked me as it pounded on the windows outside. Why hadn’t I at LEAST turned the TV on, damn me for not planning better.
After about an hour had passed (which in panic-stricken idiot years is 3600 minutes) I finally had enough. Death by tornado was now a better option than death by a mixture of boredom and hotel bathtub ass residue. I pulled myself to my feet, flung the bathroom door open, walked outside, grabbed my wallet and headed outside.
I needed a beer to calm me down and then I just needed to get some sleep. I hope the bar made it through the storm.
As I walked outside, I noticed that the rain had lost a lot of its strength, and that the lightning and thunder had fallen out of sync, signaling that the storm had passed and the worst was over. I walked across the parking lot, opened the door to the bar, walked up and took the seat that I had previously occupied. I looked down at the bar and mumble to the bar tender, “Bud Light”.
“Well, what happened to you?” The bartender asked.
“What do you think? I’ve been riding the storm out in a hotel bathtub for the last hour and half.” I bluntly replied.
“Hour and a half?” she asked as she started to laugh. “Why have you been riding it out for an hour and a half?”
“Well, just as I had gotten out of the tub, that damn warning siren went off again, so I got back in the tube and waited until things calmed down.”
I was so upset and tired that I didn’t even notice that the two gentlemen that where in the bar with me before, the ‘First Responders’, had returned to the bar and where once again enjoying a cold adult beverage. What I DID notice however, was that all three of them were laughing uncontrollably, and I’m pretty sure it was at me.
“Ok, I give up. What’s so funny?” I asked, not caring either way, just wishing that this beer would drink itself so I could go back to my room and go to sleep.
“Well” the bartender replied, trying to fight back a delicious cocktail of laughter and tears, “that second siren that you heard means ‘all clear’. That was your signal that the threat of tornado’s had passed and that it was safe to come out.”
Now unable to hold back her laughter, she finished up this oral magnum opus with “I guess I should have told you that before you left”.
There isn’t much one can do in situation like this, so I stood up, chugged my beer, put $10 on the bar, thanked the bartender, gave one more half-hearted nod to the FR’s, walked slowly out of the bar and went to my room.
I managed to make it through the week with no more incidents, but pride wouldn’t let me go back to the hotel bar for dinner or cocktails. I returned home and swore I would “never ever go back to that place again”. Much like my efforts to stay alive that night, my promise of no return was pointless, as my boss sent me back to Duncan 5 more times on business.
I have since changed jobs and have never been back to Oklahoma, or any state in tornado alley for that matter.