Leaving Graceland, it took us less than 15 minutes to get to Arkansas. Well, we didn’t know much about the state except for President Clinton’s home in Little Rock (ignorant Norwegians, lol!). We were well overdue for lunch when we finally took one of the Little Rock exits on I-40 W, but there was nothing but fast food places in sight. Refusing to eat at McDonalds we searched for something “healthier”. By the way, I haven’t had McDonalds since I watched “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock in 2004. The movie made me physically ill and I definitely think I would get sick eating their food. In retrospect, we probably would’ve been better off with McDonalds than stopping at Popeyes for some fried chicken. My chicken strips were raw and I lost my appetite! At least it was good to get some baked beans and coleslaw.
We filled the tank in Forth Smith, AK and reached the border to Oklahoma, the Cherokee State, at 5:48pm. We were determined to get to Oklahoma City and have a night on the town. Yes, it had been a while! At 8:10pm, approximately one hour east of Oklahoma City, we stopped at a diner to use the restroom. While waiting in line, we noticed the weather report on the huge TV in the dining room. Although I didn’t hear the weatherman very well, it wasn’t difficult to recognize the storm picture; a disturbing fire-red huge area on the map, stretching from the south of Oklahoma City. We asked the locals in the diner and they said it was a “small” double tornado – hail storm approximately two hours south of Oklahoma City. They reassured us we had plenty of time to get there before the storm.
We were confident when heading west on I-40 W since we had “plenty of time” to reach Oklahoma City before the storm. Apparently, the wind had changed direction and picked up speed, something we didn’t find out until later. In about half hour from leaving the diner, we headed right into a lightening storm with hail the size of golf balls! It started off “mild” with lightening creating a more beautiful sky than the firework on 4th of July. Just watch the video clip. Suddenly, the sky literally turned black and every time the lightening struck, we could see the tornado formation in the horizon. It didn’t look like the monster tornadoes we sometimes see on TV from tornado chasers, but they were big enough for my taste. It began raining, initially “normal” rain, but after a short time, the high-speed windshield wipers couldn’t clear the rain. Visibility was close to zero and we tried to tag on to bigger cars or trucks.
Suddenly, there was a loud “pop” on the windshield and we all screamed in fear that the window broke. I thought it was a big bird that hit the car, but we soon realized it was hail! They were the size of golf balls (no kidding, that’s how they described it on the news later on) and we ended up with significant dents in the car, requiring an accident report by AVIS. The anxiety level was significant higher as we were searching for the closest exit. We could barely see the white painted line on the side of the road, but managed to get off the exit with a big trailer-truck pulling up on the side of our car, trying to guide us. We were yelling to each other that we had to look for a bridge (overpass) where we could take shelter. Believe it or not, but we had this information from Hollywood movies! Miraculously, we managed to take shelter under the interstate along with 10-12 other cars. The rain had created a river on the side of the road and down the hills, but at least the hail stopped. After about 30-35 minutes, it seemed safe to continue towards Oklahoma City, but we decided to take the first and best motel/hotel since it was late in the evening. As we made it back on the interstate, a convertible Mustang passed us and we couldn’t believe what we saw! The material roof had big holes in it from the hailstorm. It was a sigh of relief in the car as we imagined how our trip would have been in a Mustang.
It was 9:10pm when we pulled into Best Western Plus Midwest City Inn & Suites. We booked a similar mini-suite and as soon as we got to the room, we finished off the wine we had left. At that moment, I was truly grateful for the high tech world we live in. I called my family in New York (they knew about the storm) and posted our status on Facebook. Wet, tired, but also hungry, we ventured out again and ended up at a local Applebee Restaurant where the cutest, very young waiter catered to us. We settled our nerves with Long Island Ice Teas and Blue Moon beer followed by yummy Chicken Fajita Roll Up with fries. We were finally able to put some humor into the events that took place just hours ago. However, the funniest part of the saga was the comment I made as we left Manhattan two days earlier: “I am so glad we’re not driving through the worst tornado affected states during tornado season!” We also talked about how different our day would’ve turned out if we drove via Tuscan. We would’ve avoided the storm, but also missed out on an experience we might never have again.