Some very local geography follows. First, my subdivision features curling streets and cul-de-sacs. I guess the developer Campanelli, who cut up the farmland around here about 40 years ago, wanted something new and different. No Levittown grids, no sir. Anyway, it would take more time than I want to spend to learn all the twisty paths more than about a half a mile from my home, so I haven’t bothered. During normal driving conditions, it’s possible to get lost for two or three minutes among the twists, but pretty soon you come to a major street that’s part of the larger suburban grid, more or less.
Second, while the Midwest is known for its flatness, it isn’t absolutely flat. Not hills so much as mild topo undulations that you don’t think about most of the time.
After about two hours’ worth of heavy rain and strong wind Friday, the storm headed east, and I went to pick up Lilly at her friend’s house about a mile away. Normally, this means: back up, down to the corner, make a left on to a somewhat busy street, drive to another side street and turn left, then go a short distance to yet another left turn, then proceed to the girl’s house. Nothing to it.
As I left on Friday, the sun started to come out. The storm was really over. I noticed, however, that the somewhat busy street was busier than usual, with a lot of cars heading north (the direction I wanted to go), coming from a major street. Hm.
Around a corner about a half-mile north of home, the street was completely underwater—over the curbs and onto the lawns, though not into anyone’s house that I could see. Now where was that Hummer when I needed it? I knew there was no going through it with a minivan.
My experience growing up and learning how to drive in San Antonio kicked in. South Texas topography undulates a lot more than northern Illinois, and there are places where roads cross down into dry little channels -- “low-water crossings.” After heavy rains, the channels become mean little rivers. Signs warn motorists not to cross when there’s water on the roads, and in some places gates can be closed to bar access to the low-water crossings. No matter. Every spring when the heavy rains came, some fool would try his luck at the low-water crossing and lose. Sometimes just a car would be swept away, sometimes that and the driver and passengers too.
I never braved a flooded low-water crossing, but in the spring of 1979, when I was 17, I drove to school one morning in my mother’s Chevy Vega. It was raining fairly hard, and I could see that the road I would usually take was full of water, so I took a side road to another major road, which went behind the junior high and then lead to the high school. That road didn’t look quite as full, so I followed it until I noticed a couple of cars ahead of me, not moving.
For a moment I wondered, what are they doing? Then it hit me. They’d been stalled by the water. I stopped and slapped the transmission into reverse. I turned my head as much as I could to look out of the rear window and backed up as quickly; no one was behind me. I made to another side street and then to a less flooded main street that lead to school. I can’t say for sure, but I’ve always thought it was a near thing, not flooding the car that day.
On Friday, when I saw the flooded main street, I turned onto a side street before reaching the water. Then it was like being in a maze. The streets twisted, with some spots as water hazards, too flooded to pass, meaning that I had to turn around in a driveway and find another way. A lot of other cars were lurking around, doing the same. It took maybe 15 minutes to weave my way through to Lilly’s friend’s house. Normally the trip takes five.
Returning, I decided to stick to another major street most of the way, and that worked, until I got on the side street that leads to my street: flooded. So I had to weave around back the way I came. “Wow, look at that!” Lilly was impressed by the flooded streets. Maybe she’ll remember something of this as I do the heavy rains of May 1970, which made a mess of our garage.