What’s the most extreme weather you’ve been in? A memorable storm? Heat wave? Or something else?
I grew up in Oklahoma, where, um, the wind—and a lot more—comes sweepin’ down the plain. As a consequence, even the most severe thunderstorm leaves me pretty much unfazed. Thunder and lightning just doesn’t do anything for me. And heat waves? Please. There’s a heat wave every summer in Oklahoma. That’s normal.
In May 1995, though, when I was living in New Orleans, I got caught up in what was then the city’s worst flooding since Hurricane Betsy in 1965. It rained at my apartment for more than 24 straight hours, and we received well more than 20 inches of rain. Unfortunately, my car was in the apartment building’s parking lot, and the only exit to the lot flooded right away. For the rest of the day, we tenants watched as the water rose and rose and rose, swallowing up our cars one by one. The pumping stations—designed to protect the low-lying city from heavy rains—were just overwhelmed.
If that’s not bad enough, my apartment building also lost power that day. Like many of the tenants, I was a student, and we were in the midst of final exams. The apartment building had back-up generators to power the common areas, so—deep into the night—we all sat in the hallways, trying to focus on American legal history or calculus or whatever and trying to forget about all the leaks and our drowning cars. I’ll never forget that. I’ll also never forget the smell of the neighborhood in the days and weeks that followed. Everything, including Simone, my Mercury Lynx, smelled like the bottom of a minnow bucket.
How did it all turn out? The next day, it was sunny, and my final exam was postponed. (Immodest aside: I ultimately made an A.) Even with the care of the best mechanics, including my father, Simone was never the same. The engine sputtered, the wheels locked up, and—months later, even—a warm day would bring back the smell of the minnow bucket.
Now, in these post-Katrina days, I feel a little bit sheepish about relating this story. Obviously, it could’ve been a lot, lot worse. Last spring, I gave some serious consideration to moving back to New Orleans. If I’d done so, I know my day-to-day life would still be completely different. As it is, though, when the rain won’t seem to stop, I get a little short of breath, and I start wondering where I parked my car.