The Dude and I are parked facing opposite directions with our drivers' side windows together. We are on the phone with each other. "Are you cool if we just wait for this to pass?" he asks. It's been raining off and on for awhile. Big sudden violent bursts, then pauses. "Yeah, yeah, no big," I say. But I notice something: Sitting here six feet apart, separated by two car windows, I'm seeing his mouth move before the words come through my phone. It's like watching a dubbed movie. I point it out to him and we cackle -- which also looks funny -- and trade classic Kung Fu lines. The joke runs its course. The Dude is back on his phone, he's always on the phone, and I text videos of rain on my windshield to Chrissie. The 6-second scene looks like I'm in a car wash.
It never stops raining and eventually we just run as fast as we can inside.
On my way home I take out at least six puddles with a car commercial intensity. This is fun, especially when it's deep and there is a hydroplane and you feel like you're flying. By the time I get home I forget I even did this until I start seeing photos of other cars that have also driven through puddles. Except those weren't puddles! They were water-filled sink holes and now the car is inside a gaping hell mouth and everyone has to swim out the one open window that isn't submerged.
Right before Chuck leaves for work I remember this thing worth mentioning is happening outside. And then I panic. The amount of time between lightning and thunder cannot be measured on a modern timekeeping device. I've seen "Poltergeist," I know what this means. It means they're here. The TV people. Chucks sits there for a few minutes. "I'm going to check the basement," he says finally.
It's not as bad as the Facebook friend who's status indicates he just watched his laundry basket float past him. This is more squeegee and shop vac than bailing bucket. The water is coming down the walls, but it's not like streaming. In fact, it's imperceptible. It just collects in front of the washing machine. Chuck swipes it toward a drain, we re-arrange the litter box situation. When he goes to work I follow his progress on Friend Finder as though Friend Finder will allow me to jar him short of a sinkhole using my phone as a joystick. He arrives safely.
THE OLD BACK AND FORTH
After midnight the fun really starts. It just won't stop raining even though it's clear we've had enough, everyone everywhere. This inability to do anything but wait until it peters out -- and then assess the damage -- is both frustrating and liberating. I develop a tick: Watch the newspaper's live weather blog, which is updated almost nonstop with news gleaned from scanner chatter and chimes from locals reporting houses sliding down the hill, cars crashing into sinkholes; Switch to Facebook, which is equally immediate with it's images of rushing rapids and exploding manhole covers; Monitor basement flooding as it eventually saturates the carpeting. Stepping on this barefoot is the grossest. Repeat well beyond "up late" and into "up early."
A seal escapes from the zoo and is on Grand Avenue.
A neighborhood is being evacuated so they can open a dam.
Photo of my first apartment building with water up to porch-height.
Now a polar bear has escaped from the zoo.
Tuska's father sums this up best with a comment on her Facebook page:
"Never thought I'd have to worry about a fucking polar bear," he says.
I fall asleep around 5 a.m., but only because every electronic world-watching device in my house has lost its battery charge.
I wake at 8 a.m. and it feels sunny, though it's still raining lightly. But it's not fierce anymore. Streets are missing large chunks. The highway is closed. The seal and the polar bear were saved, but a bunch of the barnyard animals died in a way I have to stop myself from imagining. There's also the loosey-goosey vibe of people who have been given the day off by police and the mayor -- but that day might be spent digging through ruined life accumulations. All day photos pop up on Facebook. A woman in a kayak at an ATM. A single car buried in water at Target. A restaurant up the hill jokes that they're now offering a lake view. The water is up over the windows.
It takes me 45 minutes to drive the 8 miles downtown. I listen to public radio, which is talking about this flood. It's like seeing your face on TV and thinking "She looks so familiar."
I make it the whole day without seeing evidence that any of this happened. It's made national news, but I haven't even caught a glimpse of a sinkhole, no one has kayaked past me and I can't even find any standing water aside from the same old same old big lake. I drive through downtown, peeking up the avenues for concrete buckles, but most are hidden behind barriers. The road is covered in debris, chunks of road, rocks and dirt.
I stop at Chester Creek and it's packed. More than 20 bodies in a row watching the river rage and taking photos. They leave, more show up. I check out the other side of the street for another angle. I stop by Cascade Park. Overnight water rushed down a staircase and recreated a stream. It's dry now, but the staircase looks like it was punched with a giant fist. Here, too, there are people milling. All part of the disaster tour. Next to the Whole Foods Co-Op, part of the parking lot just broke off. A railing dangles in mid-air. The tilt of bricks look like historic ruins.
Everyone has at least a wet basement. In some cases it's way worse. Houses rode down hillsides. Entire rooms bent off structures. Everywhere you go, every big hole and weird jut, attracts a crowd. We're all acting like tourists in our own town and parts our own town are like an archeological something. Other places just look normal.
I checked in with my parents on Wednesday morning. Told them about the seal and the polar bear and what wet carpet smells like. This morning my mom calls at 9 a.m. to ask if we're okay. "Yeah. Yeah," I say. "It was over by the time I called you yesterday." There is this assumption that what you are seeing on the 10 o'clock news in Rochester is happening in real time, I realize. It had already been sunny for half a day before the flood footage aired. Chuck had already ripped up half of the carpeting in the basement.