I once was sturdy on the road, careful though never afraid. I didn’t think twice about driving 80 in the fast lane or passing an 18 wheeler on the right. Not even my fear of bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls kept me from going where I wanted to go. Now, I am as frightened as a cat in a covered dumpster and think I will one day die in a fiery twist of metal.
Late yesterday afternoon, while trundling down the open road under a sky the color of soot, I thought that day had come. It started as a light rain, then a heavier rain, then a few claps of thunder, and then everything went dark. “A tornado warning is in effect for Baltimore County until 6:00 PM,” said the radio announcer, who apologized for interrupting All Things Considered. I was in Baltimore County, and it was 5:35. “If you’re in a vehicle or a mobile home,” he continued, “move to a location with a substantial structure and watch out for flying debris.” I looked around. Everyone was slowing to near gridlock. I looked out my windshield and up. Funnel clouds were forming above. Even if I had wanted to hightail it to a safe building, I wouldn’t have been able to budge. I seriously entertained the idea of leaping from my car and throwing myself under a flowering shrub at the side of the road.
Although I’m not very good at praying, I began to pray hard and to bargain: If You do this, I’ll do that; if You do that, I’ll do this. Perhaps it worked because, soon after, the sky brightened, we began to move, and the immediate threat seemed to pass. Phew, I thought. And with that thought came a lightning crack, a deafening boom, and a sideways downpour. Another round of praying brought the rain to a drizzle.
Once off the Beltway and onto a four-lane road, I saw that the water was running high. “There are flash-flood warnings in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and the District,” the interrupting radio announcer announced. I was in Maryland headed towards the District, and I was begging God to keep me safe for a while longer. But for the muscle-bound sun king who stepped off a traffic island when I had the green light and who shook his head at me when I almost hit him and for the screaming fire truck with which I nearly collided head on, I made it to my home without incident.
This morning, I went outside and saw that the sky was clear, except for a scattering of cloud wisps. When I got to my car, I discovered white and brown diarrhea smeared across the hood. Even the birds had been scared poopless.