Thursday, May 26, 2011

05/25/11 - Capsizing Cat and Dirty Lenses

Wednesday was our first real down day, by choice at least.  After chasing storms across most of northern Oklahoma the evening before, we secured a hotel room in downtown Tulsa - a high rise Holiday Inn Express (third floor, back room, view of AC unit).  Not only were we able to park our trusty and overworked steed in the underground garage, but John and I were finally able to enjoy a civilized meal in the hotel's "Boulder Grill".  While watching storm radar on the bar wide screen we enjoyed a couple pints of the local IPA, and hamburgers which provided insight to the naming of the place - grilled boulders. We plan to avoid the Hard Rock Cafe east of town.

John's Mug at the Blue Dome Diner in Tulsa
The next morning, after a nice jaunt along the riverside trail, we sought out a local place for breakfast.  There is only so much frosty flake cereal and mini donuts one can take.   We were fortunate enough to stumble upon a place in the eclectic Blue Dome District on 2nd Street, cleverly named the Blue Dome Diner.  The sign on the outside read "EAT", so we did.  We both enjoyed some of the best eggs and home fries ever.  Even the sour dough toast was made from the on-site or local bakery, with real butter.   While the coffee was just average, it was the mugs which grabbed the honors.  Like the diner each mug was quite unique and eclectic.   John's took the cake however - labeled "Fat Cat Capsizing" - and it did!  Free WiFi held us captive for well over 90 minutes.  It was between meals, so the staff did not mind.  Homemade chocolate chip cookies beckoned us as we departed.   If in town again, we will be back.

The lack of chasing that day gave us time to backtrack to Enid, to recover my wayward camera. With over 24 hours elapsed since leaving my Nikon on its own, there is no telling what trouble it was getting into.  After being whisked away from the bedside romance with the clock radio I was sure it had been stored it in "The Land of Low-Tech Toys" that nobody wanted.   It was probably mingling with other out-of-date devices such as 1.3 GB laptops, flip phones and maybe even a recently discarded I-pad 1 tablet.

When I finally took possession of the D-40, I was surprised to find it fitted with the telephoto lens.

The lens mystery was quickly explained after reviewing the latest images on the memory card.  Since we had little time to shoot many storms, the card was essentially empty.  Was.   The shock of finding many additional images shot since our separation over a day ago, gave me great insight into the life of a middle-aged camera, going through a mid-F-stop crisis. A life of snapping pictures of girls soccer matches, birthday parties and the occasional school play was not enough excitement for him at this stage in life.

Do you like it hot, baby?

The first shot revealed that is was not the clock radio which wooed my camera away, but the seductive mini coffee maker.  The alluring curve of her handle and come-hither "on" light was too much for D-40 to resist.  The telephoto lens was his attempt to impress the perky appliance, and he presumably lied about his megapixel rating; likely telling her he was at least an 8 or even 10.  The Melita mistress was no cup of day-old Folgers either, with a more-than-adequate 4-cup size endowment.  It appeared their encounter was brief, as I found no coffee stains on his lens.  He was likely discovered by the maid and transferred to the above-mentioned misfit technology room (aka Lost and Found).  I hope he kept his lens cap on!

Additional time-stamped images revealed his late-night mingling with some Koda-Chrome cougars, a radar detector and a Walgreen's disposal camera.  How low can he go?  This all must have proved quite stimulating, as he was returned with his flash-unit extended and battery nearly drained.

All was not lost however;  there were no images for several hours during the rest of the evening, and through the next morning.  He must have had second thoughts about life in the 1-hour-developing lane;  his last image, taken the afternoon we arrived, was of a small girls birthday party in the hotel lobby.  Life without D-40?  I shutter at the thought.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

05/24/11 - My Left Wiper

Photography to most people would seem like a simple endeavor.  1.  Aim camera at subject  2. Shoot  3. Repeat as necessary.   I, however, like to inject some difficulty factors into this skill set.  For starters I try to accomplish my photographic documentation of such exciting events as tornadogenesis WITHOUT the use of a camera.  You see, my camera has left me.  I think it ran off with the clock radio at the Enid Comfort Inn.  I was not aware of such unfaithful events until the moment John and I pulled up to our second "no sh*t" tornado of the trip.  This time we'd get pictures, complete dirt being pulled up into the funnel and the like.

As we slammed the SUV into park just east of Fairview Oklahoma, not one, but two tornadoes were dancing on the horizon.  With our windshield-mount video on record, and John's Nikon in full operation, I desperately searched for my trusty D-40 in the back seat.  No aqui!  The trunk?  Nada?  Noooo!  Where has my digital single-lens reflex gone, without me?  What would I do without her?  I had to resort to the ultimate low-tech geeky backup Blackberry camera.  Oh, the humanity!  I snapped away, suffering the epitome of 2 megapixel disgrace.  To make things worse, John took a picture of me, taking pictures with!

My Left Wiper, and Some Tornado From FairView

To avoid the unescapable rath and humiliation from the storm chaser world (trust me, that is as low as it gets), I decided to instead shoot candid shots of the windshield wiper.  The tornado just happened to be in the background by chance.   While the thrill of witnessing a tornado in person is quite gratifying, the loss of something so special as an 8-year old, old school camera was more than I could take. 

Under the stress which accompanies the filming of such dramatic weather events, I was calm.  I took the appropriate action, at the appropriate time. I located our hotel receipt in the glove box, found the phone number, and called the front desk of the Comfort Inn, Enid.  After three rings, Brad answered.  I kept calm and articulated my desire to locate said camera in room 130.  Brad, ever the professional desk clerk, put the phone down and radioed the room attendent.  After muffled background chatter, Brad was happy to announce that my camera was indeed still bedside in room 130.  Glory be!

I told the desk guy that we would try to get back to Enid this afternoon.  Perhaps this tornado outbreak would dissipate and I could be reunited with my trusty SLR.  As it turned out that is essentially what happened.  As of yada-yada UTC (late night) it turns out that what we thought was THE tornado of the day was the most minor of the tornadoes reported in Oklahoma.  Our bagged F-minor twister was nice, but the best looking storms ended up south of I40.   Sad but true.  John and I raced ahead of the storms into Tulsa before calling it a day. We did see, maybe, another more major tornado....but it was hidden in the grits north of no pictures.   Back at the Holiday Inn Express....Downtown!   Did I mention I like these places?

5-24-11 Catching Tornadoes and Zs in Oklahoma

John and I are finally back to chasing in our old stomping grounds - Oklahoma.  This is where we cut our teeth chasing.  Most of the stomping was done by Mother Nature on our inexperienced assessments of where to be in relation to tornadoes and worthy weather-type events.   Those were the mid 1980s, back when REAL storm chasers ruled the plains, and annoyed the weather services at various airports.  Those were the days when our pre-school skills of coloring outside the lines came in quite useful. Those were the days when John and I figured we just had to park our butts in Norman and wait for the storms to parade by.  Our film cameras were loaded for bear (but shooting at chipmunks).  We were the puppies and storms were the rubber balls.  We would chase any cloud larger than a Winnebago, with wide-eyed expectation.  We often went home with a boat load of unused Fuji film mailers.and heightened skills at putt-putt golf.

We are back; older, wiser and paying four times more for gas and lodging.  Granted we do stay at much nicer establishments these days.  Holiday Inn Express is our choice of camping.  No more Super 8s or Day's Inn for us.  Motel Six?  We laugh at you!

Rear Window - Not just a horror movie anymore (our view)
I am not the suspicious type or one who dwells much on conspiracies, but I am certain the hotels in Oklahoma have pictures of us behind the counter, on the "Do Not Sleep" list.   We have stayed in four hotels around the state, and in three of them we were relegated to the VERY back room.  Sort of like the crazy uncle who is kept out of sight, away from the normal customers.  At the Perry, OK Holiday Inn Express we were given a second story room (in the way back) When we pulled back the curtains,expecting a nice view of the countryside, we were greated with a myriad of of heater vents - aluminum roof mushrooms.  See the picture...

 Back rooms may seem like just any other room on the surface, but they are inherently flawed.  The WiFi, when it actually makes it that far, is usually hours old.  The walk to the breakfast bar usually requires a base camp halfway down the hall, with sherpas to assist with the transport of our multiple bowls of  frosty flakes and watered-down cranberry juice.  The hot water is barely tepid after it's day-long journey.  Also, guess where the ice machine is typically located.

While I personally favor the accommodations of the Holiday Inn Express, I am wondering what exactly the "Express" part of the name is supposed to imply.  Is it that we are to rush our Holiday?  "Holiday Inn" is so...relaxing, calming...and then that "Express" word shows up and gets us all jumpy and anxious.  Go go go!  Must meet some deadline!  No time to lose!   One is also led to wonder, what happened to Express's older brother, plain ole "Holiday Inn"?  Did he retire, or was he just left to fade away with his shag carpet, wood paneling and dowdy burnt orange drapes?  If motels could speak, I would imagine ole Holiday would roll his bespeckled eyes at young-punk Express, and in a grampa-like voice say "Who needs those new-fangled mini-offices, fitness rooms and breakfast bars.  Most of y'all don't even have a proper pool!"

I have also noticed that of those three new amenities offered by Express, the fitness room and office room are rarely, if ever, occupied.  That's because the breakfast bar closes at 10 AM!  Hotel guest flock to this room like,  like there was free food or something.  When visiting said room, I find it necessary to wear my batting helmet and elbow pads when trying to approach the self-serve waffle maker. The fresh fruit, it appears, is just for show.

I think the death of the mini office room is due mostly to the ability of travelers to pack their own office inside their laptops, tablets or I-thingys.  Fax machines are right up there with turn tables nowadays.  Conferences are now held online or with conference calls.  No need to sit in the same room and wear grown-up clothes any more.   My efforts to reestablish the status of the fax machine, by calling for a E-fax meeting at work one day, did not turn out well.   I was however, amused.  I miss that squealy faxy sound.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

05/21/11 - No Rapture For You! No Tornado Either.

Since our Kansas map is ruined we choose to chase in Oklahoma tomorrow. 

Our Kansas map is tattered in the upper right corner, right where Topeka would be.  It was as though the storms that had gathered there this evening had ripped it to pieces.  John and I should have driven to the location of the missing map that afternoon.  But no.  The storms we watched form and move off to the northeast did not look worthy.  Fuzzy.  Impotent.   We sat in our vehicle, parked in the corner of the Flying J Truck Stop in Emporia.   Tomorrows action was a long drive southwest; we had to decide.  Drive towards Topeka and follow the storms, or head back towards Wichita to ready for Sunday.

There was a third choice - staying at the Flying J - which was also an option.  It did have Oreo Bits at 2 for 3 dollars, sausage wraps and a clean restroom.  There was also the mystery of just why that J was flying.  Where was it going and why?  Curious.  But no time for such dalliances; we were off to Oklahoma.

Before we could confirm our reservation at the Holiday Inn Express, the GR-level radar taunted us with a red square,  centered right where the storms we blew off, near Topeka.  Tornado warning.  DOH!  By that time we were 20 miles down the road from Emporia. Being a toll road, there was no turning back for another 15 miles.  The radar continued to mock us.

I guess it could be worse.  Today, I understand, was the day of "The Rapture".  May 21, 2011, the day the world comes to an end, or something.   We appeared to have dodged that bullet, at least up through 2300 UTC anyhoo.  Technically it was May 22 in some places, so I was pretty sure we were going to make it.  While neither of us is particularly religious, or even a slight fan of Mel Gibson, we were, nonetheless, happy to see the day coming to an end.  We were saved, or not saved, or whatever it was that left us here on Earth.

Being no expert on this Rapture stuff, I am not sure it meant the end of us all, or was it the time when God snags all the "true believers" and puts them in heaven, leaving the rest us infidels here on terra firma.  If that were the case, we WOULD still be here, just short a few millions of those believer types.  Since I don't know too many "true" believers, my life would pretty much remain unchanged.  I guess the church parking lots, and for that matter most churches, would be pretty empty.  Those of us not on God's "A" List would have to come up with other uses for these houses of God.  Perhaps paint the roofs blue and convert them to I-Hops.   It's not quite heaven, but at least us B-listers can enjoy some quality flap jacks.  Fair enough.

Off to southwest Oklahoma tomorrow.  Our OK map is in near perfect shape.  Looking good.  Well, except for the wet spot where my Diet Mt Dew spilled.  Flash flood maybe.  Nah.

Friday, May 20, 2011

05/20/11 - 2011 Day 1 - Whining and Dining Around Kansas

(New and Improved, with 30% Less West-Coast Smugness!)

The 2011 Chase began, unlike the previous year in which John and I lollygagged around comfy Boulder for days before plunging into the true tornado alley, with a mad dash from DIA directly into the fray of actual chasing. We pushed our pseudo-eco SUV to the limit eastward on HW 70, watching the last Starbucks and any sign of elevation change quickly fade into the rearview.

Let it be clear, I do not chase soley for the thrill of finding tornadoes, or the inspiring comraderie of fellow chasers, but.... for the food. Yes, the food. Living ones life in the snobby gastronomic enclave known as the Bay Area, land of quiche and non-fat everything, one rarely gets to experience what the rest of real America gets to partake in each day.  I go forth, unafraid.

Day one began with John and I dashing through the OAK airport. Despite having obtained our primo "A" boarding pass on SWA, we arrived just in time to see the "clueless at internet skills" C-listers filing onto the gantry. Undaunted, we pushed past Mr and Mrs C-56 and 57 hoping to salvage at least a scrap of what was left of the overhead bins. While our carry-ons did secure a decent berth, we were relegated both literally and figuratively to the back of the bus. Unfettered access to the lui.

With our Peets tall French Roast and warm pecan sticky buns still residing happily behind the counter at Terminal 2, we made do with Conoco blend light, and a stale yet "complimentary" health bar. For the record, my bar did provide kudos on my new Nike cap.

Tornadoes were a brewin, and we had little time for such nonsense as nutrition. Around 4PM we interrupted our race to the red and purple echos to treat ourselves to a 12-inch Subway veggie sandwich, with bacon! John mentioned that his didn't exactly measure 12 inches, but that was TMI in my book.

After dancing the evening away in central Kansas with storms who had shot their wad hours before our arrival, John and I limped "home" after 10 PM, into the best Salina had to offer (okay, the Marriot was booked). The Ramada Inn! Once the place of kings. The place which looked down its nose at Holiday Inn and HJs, Ramada has seen better days. The place reeked of the 70s. It was huge and eerily half vacant, like a very nice dungeon, but with less-worn carpet. Think Abu Ghraib with a coffee bar.

But alas, an all-night English Pub was inside this cavernous lobby. Open till midnight! Cool! English Salina. What could go wrong? As we sidled up to one of the many empty tables next to the 8-foot projection screen TV, we were met, eventually, by someone resembling a waitress. "What can I get y'all?"  We both agreed menus would be nice start. She gave us a confused look, not unlike that of the common house plant "We stop servin dinner a while ago, but ya can still get some of our famous appertizers. Perhaps we had misread the hotel sign, and had unknowingly stumbled into the RamadaN Inn.

After hearing her rattle off such delicacies as buffalo wings, cheese sticks and something which sounded suspiciously like it started with the word raccoon, we decided to locate ourselves a proper restaurant. The wait staff proved quite unhelpful in this endeavor. After cruising most of Crawford Street we had to settle on the only place open at these ungodly hours - Taco Bell. After not eating much for nearly 8 hours we both found the "Fiesta" taco salad quite a treat. "Yo quiero Taco Bell".