Want to experience separation from reality? Walk into Barnes and Noble as a thunderstorm approaches.
We've seen the storm coming for an hour. We've felt it coming all day. Weather like today's heat and humidity doesn't just hang; it hangs, then bangs.
I had hoped to go for a bike ride around Sioux Falls this evening. But when I stepped out of the Dem convention and found the solid grey wall of a thundercloud looming over Sioux Falls, I decided there were better places to be than the open road.
I ran a couple errands, hung a concert poster, got a cheap juice and jam and cheese, then stopped at the mall for a burger. Then I went back outside, to see what was coming.
Shoppers and clerks and mall security guys were stepping outside—sure, it fits: the security guys are paid to monitor threats, the storm's a threat, so sure, let 'em go outside to check the weather.
...is it gonna rain?...
...look at that one, little spin there...
...man, temperature dropped, like forty degrees...
Forty degrees is an exaggeration, but the churn of the clouds and the lightning isn't. it is noticeably cooler, and after a day of still, heavy air clinging to our clothes and hair and skin, this mild movement, the beginnings of mist, is a great relief.
When I was little, Mom said green clouds mean trouble. I looked west and north. The clouds were green.
The people around me—not shoppers, not consumers, not worker drones, but people again, made natural and primal in the face of a storm—have forgotten what brought them out to shop as nearly as I have forgotten the handshakes and nominations and debates about the need for verbs in sentences that brought me to the city. We wonder at the clouds, the wind, the swirling tiny fireflies of dust-mote droplets in the headlights. Only 6:30 p.m., and the street lights have snapped on. The storm is coming, and we are tiny before it, tiny as our cars and streets and the entire city, dwarfed by the towering, lumbering clouds.
I walk through that mist, cross lot and lanes to Barnes and Noble. There, too, on the north side of 41st Street, people stand outside, not completely afraid (or they wouldn't be here), but all with a palpable sense that they shouldn't stand and watch the coming storm for much longer. We can smell the lightning.
And then I walk inside, the double doors an airlock to altered space. Just four steps in, with a clear view out and first fresh whiffs of the tousle and damp we bring inside, the nice girl at the front table shows nothing but cheery determination to equip all mankind (or Sioux Falls-kind) with Nooks. The music plays on the speakers, a straggling clientele thinned by supper and storm buys fancy coffee. The books and sale placards remain orderly, the music hip and purchase-inducing. Nothing like the artificial world of commerce to make the real world disappear.
I sit to blog, and that outdoor anxiety disappears. Amidst all these books and commerce, there is no knowing of what is coming, only...
Crack! Crack! Boom!
...the sudden realization that it is here, a storm bigger than anything we do...
...a crack of thunder over the pounding torrent sharp enough that people inside jump. Lights inside flicker, swift enough we aren't quite sure—did the power just blink? Is the storm that big? Power out at home, alone or with your family, is one thing. Power out in the city, in a store, surrounded by strangers... oh, the primal instincts of self-preservation that arise. I hear someone mention flashlights.
But the lights stay on. Behind me, three young people respond to the thunder as best humans can: with laughter. Around me are Star Wars Lego ships (my old X-Wing! oh, to be young and build it myself!), a Spanish Bingo set, and a girl in a black and white dress with a yellow flower in her hair.
I leave the coffee shop, head for the front of the store. People come in now less jaunty, drenched in summer clothes, now shivering in air-conditioning set for the hotter weather of an hour ago. I sit by the front window (lightning, thunder, wind, and I sit by five-foot sheets of glass—how does our species survive?) Trees and steel lamposts and the wide Wendy's sign alike shake. Sheets of rain—we can hardly see across the now great wet river of 41st Street.
...is it still raining? asks a man sitting with his back to the window, talking on his phone. A man at the door says this'll stop in 20 minutes. It's breaking up in the west, an old girlfriend's dad would always say in the midst of the most thunderous drenching. But yes, those little trees are shaking less. And how much more water can there be in one sky?
C-click, c-click, c-click, c-click... the girl in the black and white dress steps as softly as she can on tile in her summer shoes to the window to survey the storm. Her yellow flower, big as her face, is the brightest reflection in the window. Bright as the sunshine—yes, just that shade—that will break in twenty minutes and see us all home.
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