It’s a Twistah, It’s A Twistah! More Notes From The Heartland

June 3, 2010, 2:24 am

So far I have been in Ohio for a day and a half, and I’m impressed. The little college town that was my first stop was a time-travel experience. People leave their doors open when they are away from the house for an errand or a stroll around the neighborhood. Children walk home from the school bus. Slightly older children ride their bikes around town, walk to the main shopping area, go from house to house, finding their friends and hanging out in a generally unsupervised and benign way.

People seemed happy and relaxed.
Between Cleveland and Little College Town is farmland; when I left LCT today to drive to Columbus (about a hundred miles due south), I passed more gorgeous farms, many of which are run by Amish people. The road rolled gently up and down hills, and was lined on both sides with nicely painted white fencing and the occasional family dairy operation. I drove by several horse and buggy outfits: in one, a woman in a long cotton dress and a bonnet was selling fresh strawberries. Well-kept barns, fields full of beef cattle (some of which were newly born), horses, pigs and the occasional llama or goat were nicely laid out around well-painted nineteenth century wood, and sometimes brick, houses trimmed with gingerbread. Periodically I would pass through a little town: one clapboard municipal building had a sign identifying it as the Town Hall and Garage. Signs advertised an Elks golf outing, or a Saturday pancake breakfast benefiting the volunteer fire company.
It’s all very different from Shoreline, I must say. Leave your front door open there to go meet your kid at the bus stop and all your furniture will be gone when you return. But one thing we don’t worry about much in Shoreline is tornadoes — although there have been a few in recent memory: in 1989 three twisters converged on the Cathedral Pines in Bantam and turned them into mulch. So tonight as I was driving south through central Ohio, imagine my dismay when the country music station was interrupted by a terrible screech, followed by a tornado warning.
What to do, what to do?
I’ve been in a similar situation before, where I was a stranger in an unfamiliar weather zone and had no idea whether to take a disaster warning seriously. Once when we were in Kauai a tsunami alert interrupted our TV show: I spent the next six hours sitting out on the lanai waiting for the sea to draw back to Indonesia and then come rushing back to crash down on our heads. Didn’t happen then either. But the truth is, although I have always wanted to see a live tornado, as the vicious thunderstorms began to sweep across the highway at alarming speeds, the car was battered by sheets of water and lightning crashed down around us, I was conflicted. My deep concern about whether I should just pull off the highway (something I would have done in the Nutmeg State) was in conflict with my concern that I would just be a sitting duck when a twister tore straight up the highway at me. I admit, I was also a little miffed that the iPhone has no video function, since a video of a twister ripping up the highway towards me would have been a cooler conference souvenir than the tote bag we usually get. The traffic crawled along and I scanned the sky from side to side, as the National Weather Service periodically urged me to take cover and avoid flying debris.
But where would I take cover? Should I stay in my car? Abandon the car and dive in a ditch? (This is the correct answer, as I later discovered.)
Fortunately I never had to figure that out. Although I did see what I learned are called “cloud drops” — dark cloud formations that appear to be dipping to earth and sometimes turn into tornadoes, there were no actual tornadoes. Lightning hit a house in Pataskala, and power is out all over central Ohio, but I did not have to pull over to the shoulder, abandon the car, rush over to kick the nearest storm cellar and scream “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!” This is the only thing I know how to do in the event of a tornado, and I wondered whether the good people who live in Ohio all the time have better ideas. This is FEMA’s idea of what you should do.
Anyway, despite the fact that I did not see a live tornado (at a safe distance), I have had more fun in my first 36 hours in Ohio than should be allowed. Tomorrow: Day One of the 2010 Policy History Conference. My picks for Thursday? Probably the Book Forum on Alan Petigny’s The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965 (Cambridge, 2008); and either the Book Forum on Julian Zelizer’s Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security From World War II To The War on Terror (Basic Books, 2009) or “State Abortion Politics And Policy.”
See you there. And watch out for flying debris.
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