Tuesday, June 06, 2006

If This Had Been An Actual Emergency

Didn't you wonder, growing up, why the "Emergency Broadcasting System" would cut in on Sally Jessy Raphael, or while you were rocking out to a Tiffany song on your FM stereo? I mean, if you did that sort of thing? The obnoxious squelching always made me think someone at the station was sending out morse code for a hostage situation. But in every case, a man's voice would break in, reassuringly, "This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. If this had been an actual emergency, it would have been followed by instuctions....blah blah blah..." By then I was on to my next ADD kid adventure.

But today, on my second day in Iowa City, I was not equipped for an actual emergency. It all started last night around 3:30am. It started raining hard, and thundering so much it was like a strobe light and discotecque in my bedroom. The popcorn-snapping lightening began to whip around my attic house, and I started to get, well, scared.

My emergency plan: REMI. I called my sister at 1:30am her time. She always answers when I call. I've count on her like a hotline. "Yes?" she answered. We don't bother with the pleasantries of hello. We know to cut to the chase after midnight. "What's the matter?"

"Are you up?" I said.

"Oh yeah," she said. "I was just laying in bed, with my eyes closed, waiting for your call." Did I mention she's a funny one?

The lightening snapped all around. I kept saying, "That! Did you hear that?" She didn't. I had a hard time believing that people in Florida could hear a pin drop in Alaska but my sister couldn't hear ARMAGGEDON outside my window.

Then, after keeping her on the line for about fifteen minutes, she could hear the storm and I got my redemption. "Oh my God! Are people on the streets? What is going on?" But no one was on the street. No lights were on. Everyone was tucked in their homes, and it appeared I was the only one having a freak out. "Maybe you should get in your car and go to the hospital. Everyone's probably at the hospital," my Hospital Administrator sister said. I was not about to become a part of an Iowa City ER episode.

At around 5am we got off the phone and I crashed out, convinced that 6-6-6 had arrived and it was best to sleep through as much of it as possible.

Today, I drove to the grocery store and it was closed "due to unpredictable weather." The cafe was closed down, and everywhere was grey and dark, streets emptied out. I turned off my iPod and turned on the AM radio. "This is like War of the Worlds, Man! I can see the tornado from my house heading east!" said a guy who sounded like he just set down his bong and taken a break from listening to his classic rock cassette tapes to call in. "Now sir, please," the radio host said, "No need to scare the children."

Exactly. Those children don't need any more scaring.

I watched people exit out of businesses and houses, looking up at the sky, pointing. People were on cell phones and loading into cars. Half the sky was greyish black, the other half forming into quick cylinder clouds. "If you are outside, you need to get your Storm Plan in action," the radio host said. "I repeat, the tornado is headed east, 7 miles from Iowa City. Begin your Storm Plan!" Now, I'm a girl who gets my teeth cleaned every six months. I pay my parking tickets on time. I buy warranties to products that already have lifetime guarantees. Who said anything about getting a Storm Plan? Officially paniced and at the mercy of Mother Nature, I called my Father.

Surely my Dad, a Weather Channel Junkie, would know about the tornado. He could tell me the size and location, and its impact. My father watches the Weather Channel like teenagers watch TRL. I rushed to my house, grabbed the cat, and headed into the basement. I listened to the radio, which talked about counties that didn't correspond with cities, confusing me even further.

My Dad stayed on the phone with me for a little while. Just enough for me to keep my mind off the fact that the world was about to end, and I was going to be found in a concrete basement with someone else's dirty laundry. He was on the phone with me for about fifteen minutes. He later told Remi he talked to me for an hour. "Well, fifteen minutes IS an hour in Dad Time," I told her.

A little while later, the radio host cheerfully announced that all was clear and normal programming, Dr. Phil and One Life to Live, would resume. He apologized for everyone who missed their soap opera. I was kind of in shock. That was it. The rain stopped. The sun came out. 6-6-6 had it's moment. If having a dress rehearsal for the end of the world has an up side, you could say, that I now officially have a Storm Plan.

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