“Torrential” adequately describes our summer rains here in west-central Pennsylvania.
But “torrential” seems inadequate to describe what blows into the Panhandle of Northern Florida off the Gulf of Mexico.
I got caught in one of those things the National Weather Service labels as “squalls” just as I started across the four-mile-long bridge from St. George Island, a barrier island rising at most 20 feet above sea level. I was headed back toward the mainland.
The mainland vanished.
So did everything except the side rails of the bridge and the red glow from the taillights of one vehicle ahead of me. There had been a line of cars and pickup trucks; I had seen them. But for 10 minutes or so, as I drove over Apalachicola Bay, those vehicles might as well have been in Pennsylvania.
Then ... poof, again.
The rain lessened. I turned the speed knob of my windshield wipers back to “normal,” but within two more minutes, turned the wipers off entirely. The squall disappeared, leaving the still hydroplane-prone bridge surface glistening in bright afternoon sunshine.
I had a one-word reaction: “Shotgun.”
The storm’s blast of water seemed to have been flung with the force I expect when I fire my 12-gauge shotgun’s load of 00 buckshot.
The buckshot splatters everything in its path, for keeps. The Florida squall splattered everything in its path, at least temporarily. Marsh grasses flattened. Shoreline trees blurred, and then vanished in a swirl of liquid. I felt as though I had been looking through the metaphorical barrel of a meteorological smoothbore.
“Whew!” I murmured, only then noticing that I had been clenching the steering wheel with a white-knuckles death grip.
Was I fearful? There had not been enough time for a full-fledged panic attack to take root. But I sure was stunned, impressed ... awed.
And this was not my first wetted-down rodeo.
I had driven through what was left of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and the tornado-spawned, tree snapping storms that ripped western Pennsylvania in 1985. I have felt my car shudder and skid while attempting to cross the Morrison Bridge carrying Route 59 across the Kinzua Creek arm of the Allegheny Reservoir between Warren and Bradford.
Happily for my acrophobic equilibrium, I do not recall having had to deal with thunderstorms while crossing high bridges during travels through other sections of the country. That fear of heights has given me a self-induced sense of tunnel vision. I keep my hands at the 10-and-2 driving position. Yes, I know; since the advent of air bags, 8-and-4 or 9-and-3 are recommended to lessen the bag-blowing side effect of broken arms. But I use 10-and-2 because I do not allow my peripheral vision to stray left of the “10” knuckles, or to the right of the “2” knuckles.
I do not “see” the height. I know it is there, but my focus is on my lane only. Somehow, I get across most bridges, though I do recall loud wailing as I drove across the bridge that carries Interstate 84 and New York Route 52 across the Hudson River. I am told that I was the one doing the wailing. That is possible.
If I ever hit the equivalent of a Florida Panhandle while crossing any really high bridge ... but, no. I am older and wiser. I shall pull to the side, and turn the driving over to someone more competent – or simply sit inside the motionless vehicle, whimpering, until the storm has passed.
Once upon a time, I would have followed the “Be a Man!” dictum and not admitted to wailing or whimpering.
Today, though, what the heck? I even admitted last week that I actually voted for Richard Nixon, not once but twice. Nixon won narrowly in 1968, but in 1972, he trounced George McGovern by 17,933,488 votes.
Yet just try to find anyone today who is age 64 or older and admits to having voted for the resigned-in-disgrace “Tricky Dick.”
Few admit it.
In 1972, I did not only vote for Nixon. I wrote about it in the Warren Times-Mirror and Observer. So I cannot now deny it. It is preserved in print, and in microfilm.
What can I say? I was a dolt back then. Might as well own up.
I have plenty of practice in admitting flaws of political dunderheadedness or acrophobic wailings.
Nonetheless, Florida’s weather caught me. When I started across that four-mile bridge, it seemed to be cloudy, nothing more. When, dazed, I pulled onto the berm on solid land to catch my breath, the weather again seemed to be just cloudy.
In between ... heck, I did not even see the cats and dogs that must have rained down, though I would not have been surprised to hear, “Meow!” and “Ruff!”
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org