The Dead Series: That Time I Almost Kissed a Twister

The Dead Series: That Time I Almost Kissed a Twister

Before we had kids I had a job. My job rarely included travel with two exceptions. I spent a glorious choke weekend in downtown Minneapolis. I actually like Minneapolis but that downtown is scary on the weekends. It becomes what Oakland, California is pretty much all the time (sorry if you are from there–trying to be funny, don’t stab me and put down the gun).

The other travel was an entire week starting in Vancouver and working my way south down the west coast of North America. I spent my nights cruising the Lavalife phone system and the competitor’s systems. Essentially being trampy on purpose. During the day I would drive around to areas that our existing markets didn’t reach and pick up local newspapers and check out the personals. Like, totally normal right?

I got to do some fun stuff too like hanging out with my baby brother, having my portrait done for some guy’s portfolio in Sacramento, kickin with my homey in Los Angeles, having a beer with lunch in Palm Springs and hanging at the pool in San Diego. Overall it was really stressful.

When I made it to the States from Vancouver I started in Sacramento and travelled in a rental car south towards Los Angeles. I was on the I5 and singing along to the radio to keep myself company. It was a bright sunny day and I thought nothing of it until I rounded a corner. The sky suddenly went black and I could see a violent storm ahead. The radio went dead and I was frantically trying to find a station hoping that it went out because I was out of range but really knowing it went out because I was about to die and this is what death felt like.

The I5 is just over 2 miles away from Bakersfield, California. I could see the lights of the city come to life with the dark and then portions go out. Overhead was an eery brightness. Almost a blue orange. It was beautiful and scary all at once because I had never seen anything like it. This was before phone cameras and, truthfully, I was so petrified I’m not even sure I would have thought of it.

I was white knuckling the steering wheel and watching cars line up under these underpasses. The underpasses all seemed to be taken and I just kept driving feeling somehow relieved to see other drivers still moving too. The wind was whipping against the car bringing with it debris and sand from the roads and it felt like the tires were not always on the ground. The sound was a cross between deadly silent and a violent roar.

It was then that I saw the touch down. The tornado went from funnel cloud to fucking crazy in the flash of a second and I just kept flooring it. I figured if I just kept moving, the tornado would move past me and not hurt me.

What I remember most was the feeling of black. It faded to light just as quickly as it came. I don’t think my heart had ever beaten so fast. When the light returned it was time for sunset. I drove another half hour and found a gas station. I was shaking like a leaf even though the threat was obviously gone. I was upset by the normalcy of everyone walking around the shop and tried to pour a coffee from the vending machine when a police officer spotted me and asked if I was ok.

I wanted to fall into his arms and cry ‘NO!’ but I contained myself and asked if driving had been a good strategy versus sitting under the overpasses.

I am paraphrasing because it has been 16 years…

“Ma’am, I always think getting the hell out of the way is the right strategy. Sitting there waiting for that twister to take you up and away seems like a bad plan.” He may have been just trying to calm me down. Whatever he said did the trick and I made it to my destination in time for wine o’clock.

If I had pictures of that day it would be these. So pretty and yet so frightening.

If I had a picture of me on that day it would be like every one of my masthead photos (only 16 years younger which means I would look exactly the same). After that experience, I have a new appreciation for storm chasers and I have one word for the lot of you–why?!


Comments

  1. I could be mistaken but I seem to have heard that the space under overpasses can create low pressure zones that make you more likely to be sucked up into or pulled along by the twister. Even though it was unintentional you may have done the right thing.
    Actually whatever you did you’re still here to talk about it so that was the right thing.
    Christopher recently posted…Keep Looking Up.My Profile

    • I didn’t have time to think and coming from a non-tornado part of the world, we had never been schooled on what was best. Had it been a bear coming at me I would have known how to react. Remind me to tell you that time the bear almost killed me 🙂

  2. Guess where I was living 16 years ago. Oakland, CA. I worked there for 5 years and lived there for 2. I was a social worker and most of my work was in the field. But don’t worry—I don’t plan on stabbing you. You’ve had enough near death experiences already. Plus, a lot of Oakland *is* very rough and frightening. For a while my entire caseload was in the most dangerous part of Oakland. It used to be known as the “common area” at work since they divided it up between all of the social workers because no one wanted to go there. I was pregnant for a lot of the time though, and no one ever gave me any trouble. I believe the thinking was that if there was a white pregnant woman walking around she was probably either a nurse or a social worker and should be left alone. It gave me a lot of street cred though.

    I’m glad you lived to tell about this death defying experience. Do you know if the twister did a lot of damage and/or caused death and injury in Bakersfield? Where were you in October of 1989? It wouldn’t surprise me if you were somewhere along the fault line of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

    • Put the gun in your holster Margot and we can still be friends… actually, we should hang out because your street cred just might rub off.
      The tornado was an F0 which caused minimal damage mostly to chimneys and no loss of life. Had I been closer though, you know my luck and all… just a good thing I was 2 miles away.

  3. Whew, that’s majorly scary. I would have wanted to pull over just to get my fear underneath its threshold again but would have also been too scared to stop. I’m terrible. I’m glad you’re much less terrible.
    Jay recently posted…Lest We ForgetMy Profile

  4. My husband always told me that a tornado sounds like a train. I thought that was just stupid. Then one night at about 2 AM in Gainesville, Florida, we were asleep in a MOBILE HOME and I heard a “train”. I looked at my husband and said, “that train?”, and he said yes. We just sat there looking at one another as it passed just behind our trailer and destroyed the mobile home park across the street from us. There really wasn’t anything we could have done – it’s not like there’s a safe place to hide inside a mobile home!
    I’ve now been though an earthquake in Chile (it hit Peru), multiple blizzards in New York, hurricanes, a tornado and sink holes in Florida. I’m not sure there’s anything left to “experience”. Hopefully.

  5. I used to live in “Tornado Alley” (North Texas / Oklahoma /and whatever those other states are along that path) so we had our share of tornado drills. Somehow (and thankfullly) I lucked out and never had a close encounter like you describe. Of course I don’t have a penchant for near death experiences like you. Glad you lived to tell about it and admittedly, it would be cool if you had gotten a pic.

    • I really do wish I had snapped a picture but my fight or flight was screaming flight and I didn’t come down from the adrenaline rush and ugly cry for an hour. By that time all you would have seen was the gas station. Not as dramatic even though the cop was kind of cute.

  6. That does not sound like something I’d ever want to go through. Incidentally, did you see any flying cows? (My entire stock of knowledge about tornadoes comes from the movie Twister.)

  7. I’ve been in a hurricane (kind of, we evacuated and missed most of the storm) and have lived through a bunch of earthquakes (granted, they were all 5.0 or less), and I grew up in northern Utah – so I’ve had my fill of snowstorms. Seeing a tornado is on my bucket list – but from a safe, safe distance, far, far away. PS, Bakersfield is the armpit of California. I lived in California three different times in three different towns, but I always managed to have to go through Bakersfield on my way to anywhere. It was the pits (pun intended) and I can’t imagine wanting to live there – perhaps the tornado was just trying to clean things up?
    Jana recently posted…It’s a Prickly SituationMy Profile

  8. That’s scary shit…No, seriously, and I usually try to be all light and fluffy in my comments, but that would be terrifying. I live in Winnipeg, and we do have tornado touchdowns (I wouldn’t say often, but for sure once a year) but they’re always out in the countryside somewhere, and somehow it’s not scary to think of a few pigs spinning around the vortex. Nice to know that you did the right thing though by continuing on your drive.
    Sandra recently posted…Bipolar and the Word VaginaMy Profile

  9. I work downtown Minneapolis. But I don’t go downtown much on the weekends. But actually St. Paul is scarier to me because there is a lot less people around. No witnesses. Ha! Anyway, I enjoyed your post. Found you on the Bloggess’ page. I’m a new blogger and my recent post is an Ode to the Bloggess. I’ll be back to read more!
    Marcie recently posted…Ode to The BloggessMy Profile

  10. Eek. I would have froze mid freeway. The worst thing I’ve ever had to drive through is fog and I whipped around in a u-turn and just went back home. Kudos for braving it!!
    Shawna recently posted…It’s So Quiet I Can Hear My Coffee Burning My ThighMy Profile

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