Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jimmy Orr, Tornadoes, and Rahm Emanuel's Ballet

There is a new-to-me political blogger for the Christian Science Monitor named Jimmy Orr. He works under what appears to be the label of the conservative half of a blogging duo. And he is. Conservative, that is. He also is quite insightful. Take a gander at his very funny column this a.m. about RNC Chair Michael Steele, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel entitled "The Limbaugh-Steele Feud: Rahm's Beautiful Ballet."

There are two reasons this item caught my attention. First, it is because it outlines in written word some vague thoughts that I have been having over the past few days. When my peripheral hearing happened to catch the Sunday headline that newly-elected RNC Chair Michael Steele had called Rush Limbaugh's show "ugly," and had insisted that Limbaugh was not the leader of the Republican Party - and then when I heard that Rahm Emanuel predicted that Steele would apologize to Limbaugh because that's what Republicans do these days (after insulting him - Limbaugh), I thought hmmm. So then when Steele apologized to Limbaugh yesterday for his comments, the synapses in the deep recesses of my mind recognized that Emanuel had been right. Jimmy Orr's column, however, is what puts those thoughts into solid formation in an unforgettable way. I love the first reader comment: "Encore, encore!"

The second reason this caught my attention: I think I know Jimmy Orr. If I do, it is from a long time ago, back when I was living in Cheyenne, Wyoming and he was DJ for a local Cheyenne radio station and I was not yet a news reporter for the Wyoming Eagle. So we are talking - what - 24 years ago now? It has to be him. How many Jimmy Orrs are there? And info on the Internet says that he is from Wyoming. So I do think I know this guy. Which is how I know for sure that Jimmy Orr is a conservative - because he was sooooo conservative back then - in a silly way, so silly that I would ask him, really? You're joshing, right? At first I thought his one-liner conservative views were just a form of flirtation - no one that young could just naturally be that obstinate and ridiculous in political opinions, could they? But then it ended up, he actually meant what he said. And it turned out, there wasn't a romantic connection between us, just a volatile one, as we would argue back and forth about the state of the world and how best to make it healthy.

I don't even remember how I first met Jimmy, other than that I was friends with one of the other DJs at that radio station and probably was just hanging out there when Jimmy started his job. (He actually got the job that I was offered but decided not to take.) It is the same radio station that I visited during the summer of 2007, when I came to Cheyenne to talk about my baseball novel and shocked the young 20-something now-DJ by saying, in a "Where's Waldo" sort of way, hey - I used to hang out at this radio station 20-something years ago....

So here's one thing that I remember about Jimmy. I happened to come by the radio station one August afternoon, when either Jimmy or my other DJ friend - but I think it was Jimmy - was putting some songs on a cassette tape for me. (This was way before the Internet, people, or CDs or anything sophisticated.) The tape was for a peace rally I was heading up in a few days, to commemmorate the 40th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (I probably didn't even tell Jimmy why I needed the tape!) The sky had gotten extremely dark by the time I arrived at the station. There was a tornado sighting. The radio station had been playing the storm warnings on the its airwaves. And Jimmy wanted to go chase the storm. He was so jazzed by this idea that I couldn't help myself - suddenly I wanted to go chase the storm too.

We got in my 1976 Mustang hatchback - white with red underneath and red bucket seats - I loved that car. Jimmy drove, and nearly tore up the transmission as we drove down one of the main streets, directly into the dark sky. I think we saw the tornado. I got scared. What are we doing, I think I said. That is as close as we got. We turned back around. Jimmy had to take care of things at the station. The storm got so, so bad. I couldn't even go home. We stayed at the station, waiting out the storm....

Turned out, it was one of the worst storms ever for Cheyenne. After the tornado there was hail and then torrential rain. 12 people died, some because they had been in a movie theater during the storm and the theater folks didn't stop them from driving home or even bother to tell them what had gone on for the hours that they had been watching a movie, and so they got stranded in their cars in a low point of the road designed to protect the plains from flooding. One elderly woman also died, I remember. She had heeded the tornado warning and had gone to her basement but then could not make her way back up the basement room steps after the tornado had passed. The hail broke the glass of her basement window, and the torrential rain filled her basement full of water. Maybe she died from a heart attack. That's how I remember it now. That is a much better memory than some of the alternatives here.

This is a little news blurb that I found, confirming my memories of the storm:

The Cheyenne Wyoming Flood of August 1-2, 1985

By late afternoon on August 1, 1985, a stationary thunderstorm developed over Cheyenne, Wyoming, producing record amounts of rainfall. In approximately a 3-hour time span, six plus inches of rainfall occurred. The storm produced at least one tornado, heavy rains, and hail. In some parts of town, hail piled up to depths of 4-6 feet. The severe flooding resulted in 12 deaths, 70 people were injured, and total damages exceeded $61 million.

I remember seeing the locomotive engine at the park, after the storm. It was buried halfway in water (even more than this photo shows, I think). I remember a photo of that image making its way to the newspaper's front page....

My peace group ("Wyoming Against the MX Missile") and I still had the Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemmoration that Sunday, August 4. We even got some news coverage. The city was still torn up. I think it was by September that I was working as the education news reporter for the Wyoming Eagle (having been their proofreader in the spring). I don't remember seeing much of Jimmy after that, though I didn't start law school for another year.

So here I am, decades later, a lawyer and a writer. Jimmy's a political commentator. I gave myself a chance last year to be part of the perfect storm that catapulted Barack Obama (my candidate) into the presidency. Jimmy, too, has worked his own way through the morass to have front row seats to this intense time in American history.

What in the world did we create, when we decided to go stormchasing that day? Or was it already in the works? I don't think I'll ever know for sure. In the meantime, I'm going to make a point of following Jimmy Orr's column. It's worth the read.

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