Tornado Alley. This was my next challenge after The (Not So) Rocky Mountains. Trust me on this, if you want to see a California Kid scared, just talk about tornadoes, he’ll be trembling. Just as I was, as I bicycled through the rows of cornfields, as far as the eye could see, in both directions, into a dark and gloomy thunderstorm cell ahead. With no shelter in sight, I decide to bicycle in the opposite direction to a gas station 10 miles back in the town of Hoxie, Kansas. As I ride into the storm, I can make out the water tower, “Hoxie”. Soon after I can see the gas station in the distance. I flew into the parking lot, pulled the brakes and my back tire skidded up the driveway, just like when I was a little kid!
I entered the gas station and was immediately greeted by the cashier, and a gentleman sitting in the corner of the closed restaurant area. He is staring blankly at a television set, throughly intrigue by the colorful illumination, lighting up the dark and gloomy interior of the gas station. As the storm grew nearer, it was very clear to me that this was not the average storm. I go to visit with the gentleman, fixated on the television, to see if there are any tornado warnings in our area. I walk up to the television, only to see a numerical system, and a ball of red paint splashing on selected numbers. The guy was playing KENO! Rats. I asked him if we can change the channel to see watch the news for warnings. His response, “Ahhh, it’ll miss us, it always does.” I didn’t trust him. For all I knew, he was inside all day playing, because he was winning big, and never looked outside. I ran outside again to check the status of the storm. But it only took my anxiety to another level.
I had no idea what to do. I scrambled get my phone charger to revive my exhausted phone. I sat down next to the big winner and found a broken and rusted outlet. After shimmering my power cord around, to connect the power points, I had power. As soon as I get enough juice, I went to accuweather.com to the live doppler radar, and ended up wishing I didn’t. It showed a huge storm cell, displaying all the colors of the rainbow; green, dark green, red, yellow and even a little sprinkle of pink. I then click the “severe weather warning” flashing at the top of the page, resembling flashing fire engine lights. It redirected me to a novel, documenting all the of the warnings there were in and around Hoxie, Kansas. Tornado, flash flood, severe thunderstorms, you name it, it was on there. The only warning that wasn’t on there was an earthquake warning, which I would have been okay with!
I dart back out of the gas station to see what kind of tools I had in my tool box. A swiss army knife, an all-in-one bike tool and duct tape. Rats. I see my bike lock at the bottom of my box, which was never used prior because the bike never leaves my sight. (I ride it all day, eat sitting down next to it and even cram it into my tent to sleep with it; when your alone with your bike for so many miles, you tend to develope a unique, sometimes strange, friendship with it). I ripped of the price tag on my lock ($21.95- Ultra Secure) and locked my bicycle to a rusty pole, holding up the roof of the gas station. A gust quickly swoop in and blew my bike fell over. Rats. I didn’t lock it to the pole correctly. Before you laugh, that was the first time I had to lock up my bicycle since middle school. At least if the winds pick up, my bicycle will not fly away to another county.
I ran back into the gas station, this time with all of my luggage that is usually latched to the back of my bike. While setting my bags down next to the rusty power outlet, I asked the gentleman one more time if he would like to observe the weather channel for updates. He looked at me with a rather annoyed look on his face and said, “You’re not from around these parts, are ya? Where are you from?” I told him I was from California. He let out a low pitched, repetitive laugh, that sounded like a semi truck, slowing puttering up a steep hill. “Well, you’re not in California no more!” I quickly replied, “Isn’t that supposed to be the other way around?” All I got was a blank stare. I explained, “You know, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore..” Still no reaction. He checked his Keno ticket again and look up at the television screen. I guess he was playing Keno when that movie came out.
“It’ll miss us, it always does”, he repeated again. I checked my phone again for updates but my phone was dead. The power outlet was no longer working. After a few minutes of wiggling the cord, I stopped in fear of electricuting myself. I walked back outside to get a glance. The storm was about 5 miles away. Rats. I went back to my seat and put my head down upon my folded arms placed on the table. I am on the verge of falling asleep, when I was ubruptly shaken out of my pre-sleep phase. My head pops up from the table and the first thing I notice is the gentleman winning again. Dang, I need to play some Keno- that was the first thought that went through my head. The second- OMG look outside! I was awakened by a ray of sunshine that glanced off of the mirror on the sunglasses stand and onto my arm. I ran outside only to see what had happened and to my disbelief, the lucky gentleman was right! The storm did miss us. I hear my phone turn on, so I immediately go check the doppler radar. Not only did the storm miss us, it split and went around us. It was unbelieveable.
The gentleman was right about two things that day. One, the storm was going to miss us. And two, I wasn’t in California anymore. I wasn’t in the region of the country where you can trust the weatherman’s prediction, consisting of a morning marine layer, which will be burned off by noon time, resulting in an 80 degree day with a costal breeze. Just like clockword everyday (I often say the easiest job in the world, is being the weatherman for Southern California). I couldn’t trust weather predicitons going through the Midwest. That was the day I stopped checking the weather forecast. I relied on the locals and they have been correct every single day, Mr. Keno being the first. Now that I look back on it, that gentleman was right about 52 things that day- including the 50 plus Keno games he won.