Since we get state-wide tornado warnings on a weekly basis, you can never know when to be genuinely alarmed or when it’s time for a trip to OrangeLeaf. My plan to sit there all night blogging, tub of frozen yogurt and fruity pebbles in hand, watching pirated movies, and tweeting was foiled by the weather channel. The Froyo would melt immediately in the warm basement of The Cline.
Film Row Final Friday got called off. After holding out longer H&8th finally caved in too. The last H&8th got rained on, hard, and then ended abruptly. I remember being high and dry on my 3rd floor balcony watching people sprint in their skinny jeans on Harvey in the pouring rain. This Friday was going to be worse, supposedly. In Midtown, there was a nervous excitement in the air as dark ominous clouds began rolling in from the west. Halfway done with my Froyo already, I turned the local weather on and saw the big red blob headed towards Downtown. Suddenly, a loud knock on my front door. I spilled the Froyo as I tripped over the power cable to my laptop, which was resting on my legs folded in Indian style. My neighbor said, “You’ve got to check out these clouds. Oh hey, what’s the code to the front door. We might need to get into the basement…”
By this time all the neighbors were out of their apartments in the parking lot looking out at the sky. We started running contingencies – Where’s the nearest shelter? Where should I park my car to avoid hail? Is it too late to go to Byron’s? Yes – Byron’s Liquor Warehouse was a top 10 concern.
It was around that time I got a text from multiple friends of mine at The Gaurdian. They didn’t have a basement. I texted back that they could use ours. It occurred to me that they didn’t have the code to the front door’s electrical number pad. That got me thinking about access. What if the power went out in advance of the tornado? Would the electrical number pad work at all? A sinister scenario ran through my mind. I imagined a group of very scared Midtowners huddled around the front door of The Cline frantically trying to get the code to unlock the door as a mighty tornado descended upon them. “We’d have to kick it in. What an awesome excuse to kick a door down.”, I thought to myself.
A better idea came next. We could just tape the door open, like this:
Scrambling through drawers around my apartment, I managed to uncover some old packing tape. There wasn’t much time. I overheard that tornados were touching down West of downtown and heading due East. Moving faster now, I scrambled around through junk-drawers and cabinets looking for that wind-up weather radio that we’ve never used. I gave up on the weather radio and grabbed two bottles of wine on my way out instead.
Me and several neighbors gathered together and sprinted around building to get into the basement, which had access only from the front entrance. I was surprised that there were already 15 people in the hallway of the basement. An entire family was there. Maybe even two families. There were about 5 children, 4 dogs, and plenty of other folks lined down the long basement hallway. It looked cramped. More were coming.
We stepped over people sitting on the stairs and squeezed through the hallway, making our way towards the back where I knew there would be more space.
When I walked into the main storage area in the basement I realized why nobody was in there. Windows lining the entire length of the basement were just begging to get blown out. It was also pointed out that our basement was not completely buried as you would suppose. The basement extends about 3 feet above ground, which in an F5 event may get sheared off with the rest of the building. We retreated back into the hallway and shut the door to the main storage area. Two dogs suddenly broke out into a vicious fight. After separating the animals, it was clear that tensions were starting to get high.
We opened the gate to a smaller storage area and where old paint and supplies for The Cline renovations were left sitting. After moving things around, we made room for 10 people to sit comfortably. The extra space went a long way in making everyone happier.
By now there were nearly 30 people in the basement. Androids and iPhones, laptops and iPads. Everyone seemed to have their electronic news source in hand. We still had power and that meant Wifi. The hallway and storage closet were full of news updates from all over Oklahoma City Metro. We knew it was getting bad and that tornados were coming towards us. Despite all the news connectivity there still was a great unknown about whether we were going to get hit or not. This storm system wasn’t like the mother-load F5 that hit Moore. With all the sporadic sightings and updates, we guessed that this system was made of lots of smaller, more unpredictable twisters. Not comforting.
Looking around we started making some estimations on what the basement would be like if the building took a direct hit. The wires hanging all around us looked ready to electrocute someone, especially when the basement filled up with water from the bursting overhead pipes. One guy pointed out that a the large PVC pipe may likely be for sewage. Another gruesome visage to imagine: Drowning in toilet water.
We were all sitting down now, clearly not going anywhere for a while. I learned that one of the families in the hallway drove from their home in the SOSA neighborhood to seek shelter with us. In conversation we discovered many mutual friends. There were folks from multiple apartments in The Gaurdian that I hadn’t met before either. As we all discussed Midtown I realized that most of my neighbors have only been living here for a short time, just like me. Midtown is a very young district if you were to take the average tenancy lifespan. It’s not that we have a high turnover rate, it’s just that Midtown is so very new. I’ve been here longer than most at only 2 years.
It was interesting to be in contact with other Midtowners through my twitter account. There were many other buildings just like The Cline harboring people underground. McNellie’s, Frontline Church, Claremont, and Francis. We were all chatting back and forth like kids in the neighborhood on walkie-talkies at night. Ever seen the movie Big?
In the end, I learned a lot about my basement and about my neighbors. Observing people under duress tells you a lot about the fabric of their person. Stress is a test of the mind. Everyone there easily passed. After leaving the basement, we went back to our apartments and together finished off several bottles of wine. Since food delivery was out of the question during the floods that followed the tornados, one neighbor was kind enough to cook Tombstone pizza for everyone.