Life is a lot like Oklahoma:
Most of the universe is a void. This single fact is very telling. See, most of life is a void, as well.
It’s only appropriate “reality” TV is entirely scripted and unreal. People on those shows have the same boring lives as the rest of us, only with better clothes. Life is largely a void for them, as well. You don’t see those Housewives of Beverly Hills on hold with Visa for 20 minutes waiting to dispute a charge or looking for stamps in the kitchen drawer or making three trips to 7-Eleven because they keep forgetting ice. But you know they do. Their lives are boring — just like everyone’s. To make good TV, the show producers need to goose it. If you are watching one of those shows and you miss the “goose” part, you just see people sitting in cars or living rooms talking. It’s not very interesting.
Just like Oklahoma.
Tornadoes are God’s way of goosing the dreary reality show that is Oklahoma. Were it not for the occasional tornado, Oklahoma wouldn’t get sponsorship, and would probably be cancelled by someone in New York.
I was about seven years old. My parents would go to work as their lounge duo , leaving me to watch my three-year-old sister in the motorhome my dad called “the babysitter.” He called it that because it supposedly kept us safe, despite being an aluminum can with a engine in it (It would later dramatically burst into flames in Vegas, nearly killing us all). It was more or less defenseless against tornadoes. But you know — when you’re in family of impoverished lounge musicians, you do what’s necessary. Anyway, they were just a few steps across the parking lot in the lounge at the hotel.
The lounge with substantial, slump-block walls.
I remember one night the air got very still. We had the windows open in the motorhome. It was sometime in the early summer. It was muggy. We couldn’t run the air conditioning, usually. The air required the generator to be running, and made the whole aluminum structure vibrate. The A/C didn’t even cool the air much.
An emergency broadcasting tone came over the radio, interrupting Anne Murray or Frankie Valli or something. A twangy voice came on. Tornado warning for all of Oklahoma City. Citizens advised to take cover in a secure area.
Well. That was certainly interesting. If only the motorhome sat over a . . . ohh . . . dunno. . . basement or something. Tsk tsk.
I sat in the eerie stillness, trying to calm my sister, realizing at any time a funnel cloud could rip across the vacant field near I-44 on which the hotel sat, lift the motorhome, and carry it somewhere far away. I was tempted to think of it as a consummation devoutly to be wished. Maybe the tornado would take us away to someplace new. Maybe a new life awaited us in Wichita or Omaha among people who were gainfully employed at a pharmacy or something. It could be a new beginning.
In any case, a tornado would be more interesting than anything else in Oklahoma up to that point. That is, besides me getting my bare ass whipped with a wooden paddle by an angry teacher who didn’t appreciate witty repartee from a seven-year-old.
As it turned out, the tornadoes passed some distance far beyond the hotel. A gentle wind finally broke the stillness, and a light rain fell. The radio sounded the all-clear. Some twisters had touched down near the airport. A few Cessnas tipped over. Meh. It was a bit of a let-down, really. I was hoping for a better story to tell my parents when they emerged from that lounge a few hours later, my dad’s pocket barely bulging with about eight dollars in tips.
Or, alternately, to have not been there at all.
My mom and dad were playing two gigs in those days: One in Oklahoma City, and the other in Norman, a few miles outside of town. We went to their gig in Norman later that week. While we were there, the tornadoes came back to Oklahoma City. When we returned, the hotel was missing its sign.
Something interesting had happened in Oklahoma, and I had missed it.
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I-44 was at one time known as Route 66. And that’s where my novel takes place. Check it out at Eye of the Diamond-T.