“If you cannot find shelter, lay face down in a ditch and cover your head with your hands…”

I was listening to 88.1, the South Bend/Michiana NPR station, when this warning came blaring through a story about former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s triumphant return being attacked by bombing. It was a tornado warning.

Let me emphasize: it was a TORNADO WARNING. Tornadoes are gigantic wind funnels that hurl cows and cars and Jons miles away from their respective starting points. They are terrific mechanisms to demonstrate our keen lack of understanding when it comes to nature and all the terrible, wonderful, ghastly things it can do to softly fleshed vertebrates. I am a softly fleshed vertebrate.

Yesterday, Thursday, started off beautifully. It was actually hot for a little bit. I meandered around. Checked out some books at Barnes and Noble, did some used book shopping, recovered from the previous night, etc. All the while I kept thinking, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Then it got a bit windy, which was nice. The clouds – huge cumulus things that looked exactly the way clouds ought to look – started rolling in, and I thought, again, “If this isn’t nice, what is? Georgia O’Keefe would be loving this.”

As I left the bookstores, the tornado warning came through. By then I was already in Zen driving mode, and anything that is said to me in Zen driving mode might as well be a koan: philosophical, not meant to be dwelled upon, a stepping off point for the great nether that is Two and Ten O’Clock S.O.P., or at least Two O’Clock. Even through this state, the fantastic surreality of “If you cannot find shelter, lay face down in a ditch and cover your head with your hands…” managed to break through enough where I could write it down afterwards, when the winds were at 55 m.p.h. and I was wondering what I’d do if my car was flung into the Indiana night. (Answer: my thumb, and a sign.) At this point though, I’m dumb as shit.

When I got out of my car to head to Notre Dame’s library for a little series of tubes tubin’, my door was flung open. “Gee, that’s odd,” I thought. “Not only am I thinking in Jerry Mathers’ voice, but there seems to be a tremendous amount of wind. And the sky has gotten very, very dark. I wonder what I should eat tonight?”

After the library I decided to take a run, like I’d done the previous two nights, to the Grotto and past the Dome and the Basilica. It’s calming stuff, and one of the reasons I didn’t go to USF at Rutgers: time enough to soak in Notre Dame, and really question why it is I hate this place and these people so fervently, and so blindly, and so happily.

Anyway: running. I get back to the car depressed about my physical state of being. It starts raining. “Odd,” I thought. “The weather was gorgeous not two hours ago. And now there seems to be a Satanic mass of roiling blackness the shape and color and consistency and entropic dissonance of a cloud of ink dropped into a bowl of water, all of which is suspended on the lip of a black hole the size of the Crab Nebula, and it seems to be headed towards me, and there’s lightning, and HOLY SHIT TORNADO WARNING.”

This would repeat itself every thirty minutes for the next six hours or so. I’d be eating spaghetti at Rocco’s and then look at customers coming inside soaking wet and think, “HOLY SHIT TORNADO WARNING,”; or I’d be playing a game of cornhole at Corby’s and wonder why we were playing under an awning when all of a sudden, “HOLY SHIT TORNADO WARNING,”; or I’d be drinking a pint of bitter at Fiddler’s Hearth talking about tornado warnings with a local, who said the proximity to the lake would keep a tornado from manifesting near Notre Dame and that it’s not that big of a deal, sorta like an earthquake warning, when, of course: “HOLY SHIT, HE SAID IT WAS LIKE AN EARTHQUAKE WARNING. WE DON’T GET THOSE, BUT IF WE DID I’D BE OUTTA THERE.”

No one seemed overly concerned that every channel had a miniature map of Indiana with St. Joseph county an ugly, glaring red meant to indicate blood, viscera, etc. being catapulted who knows where by a living manifestation of God’s ill will. I mean, shit: TORNADO WARNING. I could hear the wind, I could see the lightning, I could see a gigantic black cloud where there was clear sky, and, in my mind, my car was a minute away from being sucked up one end of an enormous, natural Hoover. They all took it in stride, which is perhaps something in their favor. I, on the other hand, was freaked out like a bat shit crazy Californian stuck in Indiana during a TORNADO WARNING. But it was nice to know it was just another day in South Bend, where the wrath of God is as tangible as anywhere else in the form of tornadoes and 1-6 starts. One guy told me the last warning was in July, and then he starts talking about how he can’t remember the last time Notre Dame was 1-6. 1-6 is apparently much worse than a tornado.

So I spent that night huddled in my car listening to the winds. I parked, on purpose, between two other cars in Notre Dame Stadium’s parking lot. I figured the tornado would have to get the cars on either side of me first, which goes to show you what an idiot Californian thinks when confronted with a TORNADO WARNING. The next morning everything seemed fine until I start hearing about people being delayed in their flights, or even worse. My own family was stuck in Minneapolis overnight.

It was with no surprise that I read this article not an hour ago, then. This is a text Desmond Reed sent me: “yea man it was the craziest flight ive ever been on… we dropped so fast that everyone hit their head on the roof of the plane.”

It all makes sense. “If you canoot find shelter, lay face down in a ditch and cover your head with your hands” is the kind of advice I needed post-Stanford. USC football seems to be flying into an event horizon marked by a total eclipse of the sun and a funnel of wind half a mile high (not to mention things like Autzen, Strawberry Canyon, Tempe, etc.). Everyone else is focused on whether Boston College or Arizona State deserve to be number two, or maybe LSU? Meanwhile the Trojans flew through what could have been an utter and unspeakable disaster to play the Fighting Irish on the 30th anniversary of the 1977 Green Jersey Game. Perhaps these South Benders aren’t as crazy as I thought. Not only is 1-6 apparently much worse than a tornado, a tornado is just a natural harbinger of a game no one else but me, USC fans and Notre Dame fans care much for. So now I’m sitting here thinking, why is everyone talking about Mizzou/Texas Tech or Florida/Kentucky?, because all I’m thinking is “HOLY SHIT USC NOTRE DAME.”

4 Comments

Filed under Notre Dame, One CFB Road Trip to rule them all, USC

4 responses to ““If you cannot find shelter, lay face down in a ditch and cover your head with your hands…”

  1. So Which would be a worse experience…Getting sucked 500 feet in the air by a tornado while inside your car, and then plummeting to the ground in said car, onto a hard concrete street below, sending massive shrapnel flying all over the cabin, as your back bumper pierces the passenger seat not six inches from your head…or losing to a 1-6 Notre Dame? I say it’s a push, but my football team hasn’t been relevant for a decade.

  2. beast in 'bama

    I sincerely hope that all this far-flung adventure and danger is going to produce a book someday. This is my favorite chapter of the odyssey to date.

    “HOLY SHIT, HE SAID IT WAS LIKE AN EARTHQUAKE WARNING. WE DON’T GET THOSE, BUT IF WE DID I’D BE OUTTA THERE.” That’s just too good not to be printed and bound repeatedly.

    At least we Midwesterners, Easterners and Southerners don’t have to deal with raging wildfires. All hopes that you and yours are OK in SoCal.

  3. I have faith that our smog layer will protect the San Gabriel Valley. Thanks, though.

    And, yes, a book is planned. Planned? Planned. The same way the greater Los Angeles area was planned. Take that how you will.

    Mike – I’d say those two outcomes are basically the same thing anyway. If either happened I’d be too catatonic from fear/disgust to register the difference.

  4. Sorry Jules and I missed you in SB…

    We had lunch in Nappanee on Thursday. Two hours later 3 tornadoes flattened half the town as I raced down Hwy 6 towards Chicago…

    Scared the crap out of me…but kicking Large Charles ass was worth it…

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