Chapter 42
Fear of Overpass
The Tales of Texas

1a - The Mysterious Ski Rack
1b - Wheres the Other Half of That Moose
1c - The Waiter Who Didnt Yall
1d - Scorpions, Scorpio
2a - Diet Soda
2b - Riding into the Sunrise
3 - Modest Magazines
4 - Down to Houston
5a - What Does That Sign Say
5b - Just Follow Your Nose
5c - They Call It the Sunbelt
5d - The State Tree
6 - The New House
7a - Billboards
7b - Billboards Again
8 - Stereo Upgrade
9 - Wineries
10 - Unintentionally Left Blank
11 - CBW in TX
12 - Ice House Radio
13 - Goats and Cotton
14 - Dig We Must
15 - Dan Moody
16 - Dry Heat
17 - Dead Animals
18a - Bookstore Culture
18b - On the Open Road
19 - Weather
20 - Sightings in Bertram and Buchanan
21 - Too Many Birds
22 - Road Hazards
23 - Sightings to and from Houston
24 - The Great Wall of Train
25 - In the Heat of the Day
26 - Bite Me
27 - Bid on This Skeleton
28 - Willie
29 - Rural Countryside
30 - SUV SUX!
31 - Kinky on the Texas Monthly Hour
32 - Strange Yellow Sky
33 - Football is a Serious Enterprise in Texas
34 - Remember the Alamoo!
35 - What's That on the Radio
36 - Trip to Houston through the small towns
37 - Shoe Story, an Austin Anecdote
38 - Unintended Fireworks
39 - Flash Flood Warning
40 - Sin City
41 - Live music in Austin, but in theaters not in clubs
42 - Fear of Overpass
43 - The Big Sneezy
44 - New Texas
45 - Front Ended by the French Fry Mobile
46 - Dirt Farm
47a - Heard at the Texas Book Festival 2008
48a - Texas Book Festival 2009
49 - Central Time Sucks
50 - Temple Texas
51 - Christmas in Austin
52 - Pennants in the Wind
53 - The Road Less Traveled
54 - Texas-size Thunderstorm
55 - Cool Van
56 - Your New House Is That-A-Way
57 - C.S.I. Austin
58 - New MTV Game Show
59 - Equine Technology
60 - Look at That Prairie
61 - Get Your Water Here
62 - Corporate Anniversaries
63 - College Sprawl
64 - Hire These Guys
65 - Preparing for Winter
66 - Careful What You Overhear
67 - Bonnie Raitt
68 - Perfume
69 - Questionable Skills
70 - All-American Day
71 - Read Me
72 - Weird Fog
73 - Overpackaged Food
74 - What Town Was That
75 - Texas Book Festival 2010
76 - Bulletproof Roof
77 - The Oldest Photo
78 - Cheesesteaks Part 1
79 - Cheesesteaks Part 2

Fear of Overpass

2005/06/15

Driving to Houston yesterday, I was still sixty miles out from the city, when I first saw it. Is that lightning I saw out of the corner of my eye or just the strobe lights on that antenna tower? The sky is awfully dark over there and, well, it's evening and hot and humid, just the perfect growth medium for a summer thunderstorm. There it is again, that time definitely lightning.

A few more miles and I can make out a distinct thunderstorm on the left, to the north. I start seeing distinct lightning in the distance east of Brenham, near Chappell Hill. We really get into it at the aptly named Prairie View, by Waller, where the hill country of Austin melts into the coastal plain, flat as a pool table from here to the Gulf of Mexico.

Suddenly this is seriously dangerous looking lightning. There are strikes every two seconds on the average, only a mile or less to the north. Huge, thick, repeated strokes, too, not just singles. I lower the window a little to listen to the thunder so I can judge the distance. Very low sky, dark puffy clouds. I can still see sunlight through the thin spots, though. It's after eight o'clock now, but it's daylight time and almost the solstice, so the sunset is very late. Above the cloud layer, the sky should still be bright.

I outrun the storm going seventy, until it starts to rain then down to 55-60, still a lot faster than it is. I get to see it from back to front, coming up behind it and then ending up ahead of it. I call my brother from Kickapoo Road, no kidding, warning him that he is going to get the snot beat out of him in about ten minutes. He says the storm is already visible and coming his way. Should I be on that cell phone in this storm? Nah, no problem, the phone isn't the problem. The problem is the car that is the highest spot on the landscape, the lightning rod, especially when going over one of those humps in the road.

On this road, an overpass is probably forty feet above the surroundings, which makes it the highest point in this terrain, except for the rare spot where there happens to be a very large tree or a light pole nearby. And the roof of the car driving on the overpass is just a couple feet higher, all the better target. Lightning is striking right there only a few hundred yards away, flash flash! Geez, do I want to drive over that overpass in front of me that makes me taller than the trees and the utility poles in this area? Crack crack! Feels much better down here looking up at that exposed hump. At least at sixty I'll be on top of it exposed at risk for only a couple seconds.

I never do see lightning strike the roadway, nor me, obviously. Once I get off the highway into the safety of the underpasses, the puddles are deep. I can't tell how deep, so I carefully watch the car in front of me, follow his track if he doesn't get stuck.

Down toward Houston I notice that all the lights on the service road blink red. And most of the neighborhoods are dark. This area must have lost power at least for a short time. Something killed the control systems for the traffic lights and they've all gone into their safe mode, which is stop signs for everyone. The next day the report on CNN says that 100,000 people lost power from Houston to the Louisiana border in a massive outage caused by the storms that evening. I'm not surprised.