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I'd Rather Die in a Pizza Hut

By Jamieson Haverkampf 

Outside my Arizona window, the cool dark night vibrated with a yodeling coyote's howl. Moonlight encouraged my sleeplessness as I rubbed my eyes ridding them of my sandman's nocturnal gift. I suddenly was quite awake. Grabbing a fleece jacket, I snuck out of the twin-bed room my sister and I shared. Hardwood floors creaked under my tiptoeing feet. The back door squeaked open at 5 am as I quietly crept out onto the cool dark porch of my aunt's Scottsdale adobe hideaway. Random scratchy twigs pressed into my flannel pajamas as I sat down in a rickety old wooden chair. In front of me, cactus trees strong silhouettes stood out on the horizon as the sun began to rise. Possible scorpions and eerie predator-infested mountains surrounded me but I didn't feel the danger- only the adrenaline of new-found possibility and an unplanned road. 

Only a week ago, my sister and I had packed up our essential life necessities in a 10 x20 foot Ryder truck, hooked up a car in tow set off from Atlanta, Georgia, headed to San Francisco, California. It was a big risk. We had no jobs or place to live. Grits and good old boys just hadn't been working for me in Atlanta and my sister yearned to find an open mind for her plus-sized clothing line. New York City's stiletto teetering size 4 and 6's did not embrace her larger ideas so California seemed a good fit. I'd had enough.

The so called stable life I'd begun to build in Atlanta became more of a bore than a comfort. I knew life could be better. My sister and I never lived in the same city since we were in high school - much less lived as roommates without Mom and Dad playing referee. Would this work? We had no idea. But we were both in the same boat. Staying at friends' houses along the way was our only gameplan. What lay ahead we did not know. So in the year I was to turn 30, with multiple graphic design and illustration portfolios, a voice-over demo tape, my sister and a heart full of hope, I pushed off the southern lifeless shores of Atlanta with hopes of a better life. Somehow I knew I'd figure out a way to land on my feet. I had no idea that my life could have been cut short in a Pizza Hut in West Texas.

Now, if you have gone through West Texas, I feel for you. West Texas was about as exciting as watching a cactus soak up water. In the dark of the night, we were 100 miles away from our nightly motel stop in the middle of nowhere. If our motel was anything like I had recently seen before the sun set, we would be spending the night in a hammock hanging between a taco stand and a large tumbleweed.

Steady serene country music filled our magazine-and-McDonald's-wrapper-covered truck while dark looming clouds hovered over us with a odd humbling mystery. Out the window, wide open spaces without a tree in sight were ever so slightly lit by 75 watt bulbs in living rooms we would never know. Interrupting the crackly careening of Reba McEntire, a news bulletin grabbed our concerned ears. Beep. Beep. Beep. Warning. Tornados have been seen touching down in Colorado Springs. If you are anywhere in the vicinity, get in a basement immediately.

That was our route. Highway 41. I thought tornados only happened in Kansas or Oklahoma City. How the hell are two Atlanta girls supposed to know we were driving right through Tornado Alley. Who knew? The rain started pelting our heavy duty windshield and with 30 tons of furniture and boxes behind us, we decided to pull off at the next exit and wait out the storm. The rain was coming down now in hard sheets and my palms were wet gripping the jumpy steering wheel. Strong winds wiggled our massive truck left and right as if it was weightless. We felt the truck lean far to the right when we turned into a warmly lit Coca-Cola red Pizza Hut in the middle of this one horse town. I grabbed my wallet and we made a run for it. Like wet dogs after a romp in the ocean, we shook our jackets off inside the restaurant. 

I asked the 17 year old Britney-Spears-look alike waitress what was going on with the weather. She had no idea. We took a booth with a dead on view of the TV in far right corner. Sanford and Son was on and no one seemed to think that possibly the Weather Channel right now might be a little more suitable programming to be watching. We turned the dial. Yeah, dial. No remote in this town. The nearest Circuit City had to be at least a scenic-deprived day's drive. 

Red bursts were flashing all over the screen. Totally helpless, we stared at each other not knowing what to do. No one else seemed very concerned. A middle-aged father wearing a truckstop baseball cap was chuckling with his son relishing moments of mozzarella and jalapenos. A young couple more interested in necking and touching each others ultra tight clothing than surviving the next hour of their life were groping behind us. No one seemed to worry. Outside the rain had turned into noise deafening hail. The lights flickered inside as we tried to eat our pepperoni and green pepper last supper. 

As we watched the Weather Channel, they said tornadoes were touching down all over the highway we pulled off. Reports of semis abandoned streamed across the bottom of the screen. Not one to screw around, my sister pulled me into the Pizza Hut bathroom. Surrounded by plain vanilla concrete blocks, a toilet and a sink, I could be sitting directly in the path of the largest tornado to hit Colorado Springs, Texas. I would die covered in string cheese and black olives. Nature didn't care who I was or what I did. I had absolutely no control over what would happen next. For the first  time in my life, I realized my life is out of my control. I took a deep breath, said a small prayer and leaned against the bathroom door. 

An hour later, the rain grew quiet. We decided the danger might be over briefly and we should make a run for it while it was calm. Through a misty rain, we jumped back into our truck, and hauled it over to the Days Inn on the other side of the interstate. Spending the night in the Pizza Hut bathroom was not my idea of a great perk of our frequent mileage program. The Days Inn didn't seem much better. It looked like a semi-demolished Beirut bombed target, but we had no choice. The Dolly Parton look alike behind the counter, Dierdre, greeted us with a knowing smile. 

"Ya'll ain't ever seen nothin' like this, have ya?" We shook our heads no
with a forced smile.

"Well, it'll blow over. It always does 'round here. You girls are driving through Tornado Alley, you know that?" We shared an acknowledging smile and gave her our credit card, "hit the hay and by morning it'll be long gone. I swear."

We took our room 14 key and hurried through the rain again as it started blowing stronger. That night I lay curled up in a less than desirable "pond scum" colored room wrapped in a brownish floral comforter clutching the remarkably available TV remote in my hand. Red lights were flashing all over the TV. We were in the virtual eye of the tornado sightings. How the hell could my sister sleep? I felt like we were going to be Dorothy and Toto hoisted up by wild winds to never return to earth again - and me without my ruby slippers. Crazily I feel asleep probably around 3am and joyously woke the next morning still lying gripping the remote on the well-broken in mattress. I breathed a sigh of relief and grabbed my sister out of bed. I wanted to "boot scoot boogie" out of West Texas as soon as we could. 

West Texas, as scary as it was at the time, made me realize that unplanned adventure is essential for a stimulating life. Life without it is dull and lifeless. Sure, it was scary but invigorating at the same time. My sister and I couldn't have experienced a stronger bond than sitting in the Pizza Hut bathroom awaiting our possible doom. That night, we hadn't designed a new web site, had a huge job offer or landed the biggest client. Just having the time to be human for awhile was a very rewarding experience.  It's not often that someone gets the opportunity for a week of coyotes, Pizza Hut and navigating a 30 pound truck for 3000 miles. But if you do, take it. On a lesser scale, take the time and put risk and adventure back into your daily life. If you take the time to take a risk, I guarantee it comes positively back to you ten fold. As for West Texas, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.   

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You can reach Jamieson Haverkampf  at:  Jamieson Haverkampf

 

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