Monday, June 21, 2010

Retreat From the Warehouse Store

Much excitement at a northwest suburban Chicago warehouse store on Friday afternoon at about 3. On the way to the store, the radio told us about a fast-moving thunderstorm headed toward our part of the world. Sure enough, dark clouds roiled off to the northwest, where most of our weather comes from. But they seemed fairly far away. Maybe some rain would cool things down, since it had been a clear, sticky, fairly hot day up until then.

I bought ice cream for Ann (Lilly was at a friend's house) at the break-even, keep-the-customer-here food court while her mother collected items in the large shopping cart. She ate the ice cream, I helped. Her mother joined us just as Ann finished, leaving the shopping cart on the other side of the checkout lines, because there was an item she wanted my comment on before she put it in the basket. "First, wait here," I said. "I need to look at the weather."

A warehouse store effectively isolates you from all kinds of weather. Except, I thought, tornadoes. A tornado might invite itself in and re-arrange the thousands of items every which way, many on top of hapless customers. But how much warning would you have? Would store management have any clue and sound some kind of alarm?

Tornadoes were on my mind because I overheard people in the storm talking about a tornado warning. Had they heard right? I went out the exit and eyed the vast expanse of ink-dark clouds now bearing down on us. They looked evil all right. I could imagine those clouds spawning destructive winds.

I returned by way of the entrance, where you have to show your membership card. A curly-headed college kid at his summer job was inspecting cards at the entrance. "Is there some kind of evacuation plan for this store?" I asked him. "You know, in case of a tornado?"

From the look on his face, I might has well have asked him, "What do we do if zombies attack?"

"Sure. We have a plan," he said.

"Do you have a basement to go to?"

"We don't have a basement. We'd go stand under the plastic pool floats over there."

"Whatever you say," I said, walking away, meaning, Whatever you say, wiseass. I don't want to be near you in a disaster.

When I got back to the food court, I said, "A bad storm is coming. Let's go home." By which I meant, let's check out and go home. A few seconds later, the lights in the warehouse store flickered, and then part of them went out. A few seconds after that, almost all of the lights went out, though some emergency illumination kicked in.

"Let's go home," I said. This time I meant, now, right away. Forget the merchandise. Yuriko readily agreed, so we went outside into a strong wind. The rain wasn't heavy, but it was going to be soon. In the 30 seconds or so it took us to get to the car, the rain did become heavy.

I decided it was better to be mobile than idle in a large parking lot, so we drove to a not-too-crowded side street nearby instead of one of the arterial roads. It was slow going, so thick was the water flapping on the windshield. Huge puddles gathered at the edge of the road and trees beside the road were dancing in the wind. Lightning flashed at a good pace, but not as vigorously as I've seen before.

Eventually, we had to turn on Roselle Road, a major street, passing by a small tree near the intersection of that road and Remington Road that had been split by the wind. The rain lessened, but traffic gridlocked. A fire truck and some cops roared by in full emergency mode. I figured that some cars had hit each other, but no: in the parking lot of a strip center near the vast intersection of Roselle Road and Hubbard Road was an SUV, among other vehicles. A lamppost was sprawled on top of it. It looked like the lamppost wasn't merely blown over, but detached from its mooring and then blown over.

So we were visited by bursts of fierce wind. A lot like the wicked storm of August 23, 2007, but in the end, not as intense (though some windows popped out of the Sears Tower). No tornadoes were spotted. A TV weatherman later explained that we'd had a wind storm, but not the kind that usually births tornadoes, so the loose talk of tornadoes I heard at the warehouse store was just that. Still, we didn't regret our skedaddle from there.

The storm cooled things down, but that wasn't the end of violent weather for the day. Late in the evening, another storm blew through, not nearly as windy, but featuring plenty of thunder and lightning. At about 10, as I relaxed with a book, the power went off. We pretty much decided that meant bedtime. At about 2 a.m. Saturday, the TV came on to announce that electricity was moving through the house again.

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