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Thirty minutes or less...Part I

Ceason Ranson
Ranson Ritings
Jackson Newspapers

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a somewhat-true story I wrote for a West Virginia Writer’s Contest’s in the humor category. The story won third first place, probably because it seems improbable that anyone could be this bad at handling a crisis.

I have never been a girl who handles a crisis well. One of my earliest memories is performing during a ballet recital, and another girl slipped and fell on the wood floor. All the other little girls kept going, dancing like flowers over top of our fallen comrade, swaying to the music. But I, with my level-head, ran out into the audience, imploring my nurse-mother to come up on stage and use her medical expertise to save my friend, who by now was rolling on the floor laughing at herself. It’s not a surprise that afterwards, my teacher suggested I take up piano lessons if I needed an after-school activity.

Or take the time a bat got into my house. For sure, most people, men and women, would have screamed a few times, but eventually they would have calmed down, gotten out the phone book, and convinced someone from pest control to come out and take care of it. Oh, not this girl. This girl dropped the book she had in her hand (but kept a hold of her dinner plate; let’s not get totally hysterical here), ran into the nearest bedroom, then locked the door. You know, because bats have been known to knock and announce themselves before turning the doorknob with those teeny-tiny claws.

And once in there, I spent ten minutes making futile phone calls to my parents, leaving one hysterical message after another, until I realized that a) they weren’t going to call me back, and b) even if they did, no way were they going to come by and bust me out of a room I had locked myself in. So I did what any self-respecting girl would do: I unlocked the door, peeked out into the living room, made sure the bat was preoccupied checking itself out in the picture window, then hauled butt for my car. I spent the rest of the night at my grandma’s, who was nice enough to offer me use of her tennis racket when I went back the next day, although she wasn’t nice enough to offer to whack the bat herself. Which didn’t matter in the end, because the next day there was no bat to be found, prompting my mother to ask me if I’d laced my pizza with some sort of hallucinogenic drug.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone how I handled myself during an actual emergency. Heck, I didn’t even recognize it as an emergency at first. There I was, sleeping soundly in the New Philadelphia Hampton Inn when the world’s loudest alarm clock went off. And at three-thirty-five in the morning, no less. I mean, who has to get up at three-thirty-five in the morning? What horrible thing have you done in life to deserve that? I was actually starting to feel sorry for the person, except that after two minutes of that alarm clock going off, any sympathy I had turned into something very akin to hatred. In fact, I was about to break my cardinal rule against tattling on people to the hotel staff when something… something clicked in my brain. This was no alarm clock going off. This was something else, something I’d heard before, but never this vividly.

Twister. That’s where I’d heard this sound, from multiple viewings of the movie, Twister. You know, the one with Helen Hunt where she’s a storm chaser trying to release sensors into a tornado funnel, but Bill Paxton just wants her to sign their divorce papers so he can marry the girl with absolutely no sense of weather-related adventure. It’s no Titanic, but the soundtrack is way better. And apparently a far more useful bit of pop culture, because I knew what that alarm was then, and it wasn’t warning me that an ocean liner was getting ready to run aground off the Ohio River.

I’ll be honest, when I finally realized I was listening to the blaring of a tornado warning siren, I peed my pants a little. Because coming from the hills of Appalachia, I am way ill-prepared for a tornado. I’ve never had a tornado drill in my life, never scoped my house out for the best place to hide, never thought to suggest to my parents our underground cellar would be best used as a safe place during a storm rather than where they live out their sickest Hoarders fantasies. I mean, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do in a tornado, and now I’m on the third floor of a Hampton Inn. Am I supposed to get underneath my Cloud Nine mattress, then cling to it for dear life as the winds sweep me away? What do I do here?

Turn on the Weather Channel. Now, doesn’t that sound just a little rational? I was actually pretty proud of myself for even thinking about it. I mean, I could be wrong here. That could be a siren from one of the nearby factories, or some sort of test of all the fire engines in New Philadelphia at once. Just because I heard it on Twister did not mean this was a real tornado warning…

Except it was. The Weather Channel confirmed it, a tornado was spotted in a nearby county, and it was following a path that would lead it right through New Philly. Not a watch, not high-wind warning. A real freaking tornado, really heading in this direction. And we’d know if it hit in thirty minutes.

At this point, I think most people would do one of two things: call down to the front desk and ask for instructions, like if we should go to the basement, or stay in our rooms, or if it would be too late to get that upgrade to a suite because, hey, no time like the present to treat yourself. And I think most people would also take this time to contact loved ones, or at least send a text, something along the lines of “There’s a tornado coming. Just wanted to let you know that I love you and I care about you.” You know, just say something so it was said, so they never had to wonder what the last thing on your mind was before the tornado hit.

I took the time to put on a bra.

Yes, the Weather Channel gave me just enough time to get some real clothes on. Look, I wasn’t sure at this point what was going to happen, but if by some chance the staff at the Hampton Inn decided to herd us all into the basement, I did not want to be the girl in her ratty pajamas, hole-y sleep shirt, and no bra. If we’re all going to be crammed into a tight little space, frightened and worried, I was going to at least try not to scare the dickens out of my feller travelers with my unsupported boobs. Would you want that to be the last thing you saw in this life? I didn’t think so. I should get a medal for that kind of thoughtfulness.

So I changed into some sweat pants (no reason not to be comfortable here), a hooded sweatshirt, and something with underwire. Then I went to the window, just to look, and immediately wished I hadn’t. Looking did nothing to soothe me. I’m not sure what I thought I would see. Again, my frame of reference here are movies, and while I was pretty certain that Miss Gulch, a.k.a., the Wicked Witch of the West, wasn’t going to be flying past my window on a broom, I was also unprepared for a light show to rival a U2 tour. Lightening streaking across a sky darker than any I’d ever seen, and rain pelting the ground like it was trying to leave holes. I expected hail to start any minute.

And, if I was being totally honest, frogs.

Stayed tuned next week for Part II!