I wake with that sinking sensation of dread which comes from knowing my day would be void of even the simplest of pleasures and instead would be one of test and turmoil; I would be driving across Oklahoma.
The day began slowly as they do now, our life having become less about rushing and more about experiences. Beth forgot her laptop charger at Wesley & Eryn’s and so several miles from our starting point we awaited its delivery at a McDonalds parking lot off the busy interstate, Beth enoyed the cool AC inside as I sweltered in the growing humid heat of the day. No need to rush, we’ve learned that when we have nowhere to be we can’t be late - so why not take our time?
On the road Westward we could hear our names whispered on the wind, the scenery blurring past us at 70mph - pastel smears of greens and blues slowly fading to grey. The morning was full of intermittent showers and the sky seemed less happy as we neared Arkansas and the state-of-which-we-will-not-speak.
I have not had good experiences in Oklahoma and try as I might to convince Beth of my opinions, she merely smiles and says, “yes dear.”
At mile-marker sixteen of this dreaded territory we stop for a simple dinner at the Oklahoma Welcome Center which jovially welcomes us to the land where the state bird is any object the wind can blow. The three of us had decided earlier to push Darlene and ourselves to the limits and trek the 1,200 miles from Nashville to Albuquerque in one run. The thought of resting my head in any of the states between unsettled me. Beth and I would continue to switch out driving every few hours, and Alfredo would stay sleeping and if he needed anything he would let us know. Good boy.
The Oklahoma weather gods must have heard my mockery of their great nation, and bequeathed on us of most terrifying landlocked storm I’ve ever seen. With salad hanging from my mouth like a brontosaurus, I craned my neck upwards with wide eyes toward the looming thunderhead rapidly approaching. I barely had time to swallow and speak.
“Babe, we gotta get out of here!”
With the last syllable off my tongue the wind shook the camper with a mighty fury and we were reminded of our fragile nature in life.
Beth leapt from the camper to help secure the roof from the outside - lowering it was showing to be a problem in the high winds as my surfboard had temporarily become a wing, and our dear camper was attempting a flight to rival the Wright’s.
In the cab we sat shivering with our cold wet clothing forming puddles in the floorboards around our feet as the water in our hair and clothes followed gravity’s pull.
“What should we do?”
Around us, the sudden congregation of the interstate road-safety indicator - the long distance trucker - solidified our decision to stay put.
We spend the next lifetime, or two hours - we’re not entirely sure, huddling in Darelene’s cab as the Terrified Trio. Alfredo’s heavy rapid breathing accents the heavy smacking of raindrops on the roof and windows, as the NOAA weather report repeats on the CB radio in a raspy metallic voice.
...Remember, it only takes 3 feet of moving water to sweep away most vehicles including trucks and SUVs. Most flash flood drowning deaths occur in automobiles. If there is water on the road, do not drive through it and take another route… Severe weather and thunderstorms have been reported in this area and a flash flood warning is in effect for…
A list of incomprehensible county names based off Osage, Choctaw, Apache and Wichita words rambles on, meaning nothing for us as we have no idea where we are. Our fear manifests as humor and we laugh at the absurdity of our situation - we are only sixteen miles within Oklahoma and already having an unpleasant time. Lighting cracks around us and we giggle at the towering lamp poles surrounding us, seemingly begging to be hit next. The NOAA report repeats endlessly as background noise. The phrase take another route morphs into take another trout - Beth and I swear we hear this and laugh manically at the idea of finding a trout to ride through all this water. After all it might help.
We have no idea how much time has passed, the rain has softened to a pitter-patter and the truckers who have been our canaries in a coal mine slowly take flight into the cold wet night. We check the radar one last time, turn the CB back to channel 19 and roll back onto the wet interstate, our eyes are peeled for another trout, ya know, just in case.
The miles drag by and the weather does not improve. We hit clear patches followed by torrential downpour, intermixed with the gentle patter of a spring shower.
I turn to Beth and in my best Forrest Gump voice, “We had big ol’ fat rain, little bitty stingin’ rain and sideways rain. We even had rain that seemed to come from underneath!”
We laugh like school girls, smile, and then hit a huge patch of hidden water and nearly hydroplane. The laughing stops. There will be no fun in Oklahoma.
The radar shows a looming storm system rapidly moving towards our location and our only salvation seems to be the lights of a Loves truck stop in the distance. We make the call between ourselves and park for the night under their harsh halogen lighting. Learning from our earlier mistakes we leave the top down and attempt to rest ourselves the best we can.
Anxiety runs through my veins and I can not sleep. In the camper Beth and Alfredo gently breathe behind me as I stare out over the hood from the driver’s seat. I am ready to take action at moments notice, but have no idea what I may need to do or if being here will help. The metallic voice of the NOAA channel gently whispers, advising me to take another trout as the cold glow of my phone illuminates the cab between the pop flash of lightning.
Outside the truck a group of high school kids run rampant around their trucks. The only thing pumping through their veins is a flood of out-of-control hormones, potentially alcohol and drugs by the looks of it. The boys and girls drive in circles around one another in their loud automobiles oblivious to the weather above them as they narrowly miss Darlene’s front end. I watch the swirl of clouds on the radar and I know either of these gyrating masses could potentially cause trouble for me, but I don’t know which I’m more concerned over.
The cloud of teenagers dissipates shortly after midnight, after all there must be school the next day, right? The thunder and lightning continues to pop and crack around us. Beth’s breathing remains steady and soft. Rain arrives and departs in waves, and my imagination repeatedly gets the best of me - I see tornados on the horizon, blink and realize they are shrubs or fence posts. I see movement from the corner of my eye, surely an F10 cyclone headed straight for us! Lightning pops and it’s just a cow chewing its cud.
The night continues like this until Beth stirs awake and beckons my restless body and mind to bed. I glance one last time at the radar and realize the clouds have slowed to a crawl. All night I have been waiting for this system to hit, and on the verge of sleep it just now arrives.
If shit does hit the fan, I’d much rather be in the arms of the woman I love than sitting alone in the front seat. I army-crawl through the pass to the camper and snuggle into the warmth and love of Alfredo and Beth’s nest. My eyelids droop and a bolt of lightning pops a mile or two away and I swear I see another twister. I let out a sigh, close my eyes and go to a happy place in my dreams. Anywhere but Oklahoma.