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A Half Hour in Equatorial Baltimore: 8/17/16
For the past two weeks, living in Baltimore has been like living in some tropical depression, with thunder storms every evening. Thrice a week my walk/bus transit/walk has been made mostly dry thanks to a large umbrella. In my pack I carry books to read on the bus and during my breaks and spare clothes for going in and out of the freezer. I have gotten soaked on a summer night before and arrived at work to spend a shift in mid and low temp work areas in wet clothes and it is nothing I wish to repeat.
Last night I left the house at 10 as the rain came down.
A block into my walk down off the ridge and up over the next the wind shifted to my back out of the southwest and lightning lit the sky.
With a deep, all-consuming rumble, the sky lit up all around and the rain doubled in volume, perhaps tripled.
Keeping my steps short to prevent the boots from filling up with water, I hustled down off the ridge under the heavy rain. At this point I was still mostly trying to avoid a drenching.
Then, as I hustled across Glenoak at the base of the hill, where a narcotics cop once challenged me in a bizarre fit of antagonism that I think had more to do with chimp DNA than his profession, lightning started striking down in the near distance, the thunder crackling rather than rumbling.
Two houses from Northern Parkway I suddenly felt as if a great hand pressed down on me, when with a crackling hiss and a rumble that reverberated up through my boots, I became paralyzed with a great physical fear.
Pathetically wanting to run and hide at the same time, my body tried to accommodate both impulses at once as I crouched and ran in place like I once did in the tire drill on the football field in Junior High School.
I felt like a mouse inside of a heavy metal drum kit. I’m still feeling uneasy in the chest over this blast of thunder some 20 hours later. As I crouch-walked under the umbrella and the sky continued to crackle and rumble, I recalled a winter night in 2012 [I think] when I was at work, fighting through a bout of pneumonia that was so bad that I was hoping not to wake up on some nights.
I had arrived at work to pull the dairy order from the cooler. I recalled being amazed at being so sensitive to the vibrations from the engine room, which, on this night when my hair hurt, I could feel like a great machine vibrating the concrete foundation of the old strip-mall building, jarring my heart. What had bothered me the most about that night was the fate of a field mouse—not a door mouse of the kind that ever assault supermarkets, but a small round fellow with long tail and jack rabbit hind legs—which was visibly shaking as it huddled off to the side of the hallway which I dragged the pallets down.
I could not bring myself to dispose of this mouse, but gently scooted it behind the steel pallet guard with a cardboard flap from a box. I had felt like that mouse then and again on this night thundering night. My mind wondered between whether getting sucked up into the Brazilian floor tech’s scrubbing machine was preferable, from the mouse’s perspective, to being crushed by my tow motor and whether or not the aluminum umbrella was going to draw lightning.
With five to ten minutes to await the bus I vacillated between standing in the clear, standing by the light pole, or standing under the cedar tree. Lightening seemed to be hitting Towson as I looked west across Northern Parkway, which was a gutter of rushing water.
The light poles blinked out with a third crack of thunder, which sounded like a clap and felt like a slap, the crackle sizzling rather than drumming. I was glad to be under the weeping braches of the cedar where they hung low over the sidewalk.
Then a crack of thunder that still hurts my right ear punched through the air and the street lights went out as what sounded like wood splitting or a tree being torn open, assaulted my ears.
I retreated to the open, once again wondering at my umbrella’s Zeus-channeling properties.
A man’s voice came from the corner house to my left.
I looked up to see a fellow about my age on the covered porch waving me up to him. Unable to hear with the next rumble of thunder, I heeded his gesture of advice and joined him on the porch. Dogs growled within his house as he held the door open and stood part way on the porch and shewed them back.
“Are you crazy man? Anytime it’s this bad, use the porch.”
I thanked him and discovered his name was Mike as we shook hands. “I would invite you in, but I’m dog sitting and don’t trust the little bastards. You know, when I was in the Navy, we didn’t send up flights in this shit. This is bad. Stay as long as you like until your bus comes.”
With that Mike retreated within, turned off the house lights. I awaited the bus, a bus driven by an angry-faced man who glared at me signaling him from the curb with my closed umbrella rather than pull over, but reluctantly stopped when I stepped out in front of his vehicle. I boarded, thanked him and paid the fare as he averted his eyes from the soaked white trash that had just crawled up into his rumbling machine. He sternly guided it back out into the pouring rain with an easy grace, the palm of his big hand spinning the wheel that controlled the rolling aluminum box that was my refuge from something that cared even less about me than its hateful driver.
What must it have been like to be a man, when thunder and lightning cracked the sky, before houses, before porches, before land-cruising cabins like that city bus and all of the many things our kind have built to shield us?
Books by James LaFond
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BAug 18, 2016

Heh, I can tell you a little bit about what it must have been like.

I once hiked down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison by myself one hot August day to spend the night. About 1000 vertical feet in a mile long trail that scoots back and forth along a near-vertical stone wall. Incredible views, a dark canyon with rock walls of all different colors depending on how the sun is hitting them. A fast river running across the bottom, and about a ten foot strip of more or less flat land between the river and the rock wall.

I set up a camping hammock between two trees, cooked some dinner and racked out. Around three hours later, a rainstorm came out of nowhere, blowing sideways, and soaked me and the hammock. The temperature dropped into the thirties. Staying in the hammock with the wind sucking the heat out of my wet ass was out of the question. It was pitch black. I had not prepared firewood/tinder, and starting a fire in that stuff was a dicey proposition. Hiking back up the rock would have been insane-there had been near-vertical sections, scree, whatever you want.

I somehow found a crevasse in the rock where a boulder had wedged itself, about 6 feet deep and 18 inches high, and crawled in there with my soaked space blanket, to spend a miserable night. Learned a couple of good lessons.

Being a man back before civilization probably meant constant unconscious/conscious calculation of the odds of many things, and the weather was a big one. "What do I do if the temperature drops by 60 degrees and it starts sleeting sideways? Where should I move to?" Similar to the calculations you make about the locations of improvised weapons, ambush points, channelization etc. when walking through Baltimore, eh?
responds: Aug 18, 2016

That hammock sounded so bucolic...

I was truly shocked at how frightened I could be. One problem with specific disciplines, like not being afraid of a punch or a Dindu, is that it conditions you to forget how terrified you can be.
Sam J.Aug 21, 2016

I've felt this same feeling before. Huge thunder that takes your breath away. One time I listened to a tornado about two miles away. I was on the porch but I couldn't see the rain was so bad. Lots of screeching of metal where cars were being thrown around. At the same time my brother was almost right in it. He was at the grocery store and manager screamed for everyone to get in the back a tornado was coming. He hid under the big butcher block they cut meat on. A SUV was thrown in the roof right by the magazine rack where he was standing before the alert. Luckily it went by in the front parking lot and didn't directly hit the store.
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