Winds of Wisconsin

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Out of everything to be afraid of in the world, high winds rank somewhere in the middle of reasonability. It is not a constant threat in the way germs are nor is it ridiculous like those afraid of spiders that sets you off in random situations. With high winds, you have a fear that is based in reality (i.e. wind can hurt you if it goes fast enough), but the speeds that it must get to be a threat are pretty rare.

I have heard many times that the best way to overcome this fear is to face it and in a recent trip to Wisconsin, such an opportunity presented itself. After enduring rain for two days straight on our inter-state road trip to various breweries, we found ourselves in Capitol bar, a small establishment that acted as an outlet for a brewery of the same name.

The bartender, Andrea, was a friendly woman in her mid-twenties that sported a degree in Human biology…meaning she studied yoga and alternative healing methods. As an advocate of whatever works, I got behind her enthusiasm and anecdotal experiences for the effectiveness of her practice, even feeling compelled to sign up for her Moksha yoga class despite being half-cut and from another country…perhaps more because I was half-cut.

After consuming enough beers to hit our conversational limit, by which I mean we could not continue intelligent conversation if we drank any more, we settled our bill and called our hotel shuttle; courtesy of the bartender’s phone lest we wish to experience obscene roaming charges. As the bar was now closing, we stepped outside to blankets of water that saturated and sobered us as we waited for our shuttle.

Fifteen minutes later, the shuttle arrived. The driver, a small elderly man with massive spectacles greeted us with a smile despite being almost as drenched as we were. The short drive back to the hotel was pleasant up until the catchy indie tunes of the car radio were overtaken by an emergency broadcast. A robotic voice proclaimed that a tornado moving 50 miles per hour was touching down in an area that meant nothing to us, given our lack of familiarity with Wisconsin’s geography in general, let alone the arrangement of counties.

As we left the shuttle, the driver mumbled something about the tornado being 30 miles away in a voice loud enough to be heard, but quiet enough to discourage further conversation. The blood immediately drained from my face the same way it does whenever I hear about a windstorm in the area, but this time it was an actual tornado!

Going back into our hotel, they were gathered around the front desk, eyes trained on computer screens. A few moments of conversation revealed two important facts:

1)      The tornado in question was 30 miles out and headed straight for us

2)      Madison didn’t get many tornadoes and the staff needed all their focus to brush up on their emergency procedures manual

After a brief conversation, I leftthe front-counter staff to focus on their studies, which happened to be preventing the hotel patrons from dying in the event that a tractor is thrown into the third floor.

Looking to restore blood flow to somewhere other than my feet, I sought out the caretaker, a woman in her late thirties with blond highlights bright enough to see from space. I had been introduced to her earlier that day when she fixed our room’s air conditioner, which was leaking enough to transform our carpet into a small swamp. Seeing the concern on my face, she offered to show me something if I promised not to scream. “No promises”, I replied. The caretaker rolled her eyes and held up her smartphone. She began to explain the situation, but the image was clear enough that her voice became white noise. A swirling red mass that covered most of the screen was moving eastward toward the city of Madison and engulfing it.

“Basically, it’ll be here in less than an hour and I need to leave before it gets here”, my mind returning to catch the last sentence of the caretaker’s explanation. I nodded knowingly, not wanting to accept what I was seeing and hearing. After watching me stand paralyzed in stunned silence for more than a few moments, the caretaker sighed and asked if I wanted to see the safest place in the building. “Yes!” I shouted, my voice far louder than I intended.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I do want to know how to live.

The caretaker took me down a concrete staircase with an entrance adjacent to my fourth floor room. Taking me to the lowest level, she explained that this section was surrounded by reinforced concrete and the one door would not be ripped open from the suction of the high winds. “Just don’t open it, otherwise you’ll create a vacuum”, warned the caretaker. “Got it”, I replied before thanking the woman for her time and returning to share the news with my friends.

Going up to my room, I walked into a rave courtesy of the hotel window and the constant lightning outside. The lightning created an unnerving strobe light effect that made sleep difficult until I decided that I did not want to see my doom approaching and pulled the curtains. Sleep remained a theoretical however, as I lay on my bed with my clothes on and jacket stuffed with passport, wallet, phone and all the other essentials to survival in modern America. As I lay awake in bed, listening to the howl of high winds and the slivers of bright light at the uncovered edges of the window, I went over the plan for dealing with the storm again and again.

Step 1: Jump out of bed and scream “every man for himself” to my two friends, who foolishly choose to sleep.

Step 2: Throw on jacket with enough pockets to put Blade Runner to shame.

Step 3: Use years of experience distance running to sprint out of the room and to the staircase.

Step 4: Ride Mary Poppins style down the banister to the main floor

Step 5: Kill anyone who tried to touch the fire door that would turn the staircase into a vacuum

I continued to go over the plan for a full forty minutes until everything went black. *I woke up in a panic; not from the threat of a Tornado but from a nightmare about brewing beer with a strident feminist that flipped out at me for suggesting that she help me clean the kitchen after I spilled malt extract on the floor.

I sat upright, my jeans and shirt equal parts tight and sweat drenched. Looking around the room, I realized that I was safe. There were no feminist angry about my beer brewing habits (though the consumption of beer may have contributed to the dream). More importantly, there was no more wind or lightning, the tornado, I later learned, having changed direction at the last moment. I was instead greeted with total silence. No screaming woman, no howling winds, no lightning show. Just silence and it was that moment that I came to appreciate the adage “silence is golden.”

*I have plenty of respect for the feminist movement and recognize the diversity of groups and ideologies within. This story is simply a retelling of my experiences that night, nothing more and nothing less.

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