It’s been raining all day. Like, end of days style weather. This is unusual for Los Angeles. We are used to a light misting of rain maybe six days out of the year, and never together. They usually are spread out between major awards shows and special themed 5K races. I’m from Nebraska. I get weather. I’ve just gotten a lot less used to it in the nearly two decades I’ve lived in Southern California. It doesn’t help that I’m battling two separate leaks in my ceiling.
All that aside, I love the rain. I love the smell of it, that wet cement and dirty tree smell blowing through the air with the aggressive winds. I love the pitter patter it makes on the windows. And I love the sweater, hoodie, coat combo that I get to rock anew every day it seems.
But I’m not used to it. When I first moved here I would run outside at the first sign of rain and soak in it like a shower, sploshing back to my desk with my wet clothes clinging to my body, leaving a trail of drips in my wake. Now, I’m fine to view the rain from the window, blanket wrapped around my legs, gripping a hot tea mug with both hands. I’ve become rather sensitized to it, I must say.
We still haven’t gotten a decent storm out here. That’s probably for the best as my house clearly can’t take it. But as I open the back door and the wind knocks a chair off my deck, I’m jolted back to those Omaha winters. Two particular storms come to mind, and while they both involve snow, the same ominous breeze seems present in my backyard in Culver City today.
The first storm goes back to my college days. I was in a fraternity and participating in what we referred to as FAC’s, or Friday Afternoon Club. This is where we would leave school early on a Friday afternoon and go drink at someone’s apartment. I remember the apartment quite vividly, it was dirty and sticky in every configuration, though I can’t actually remember who lived there on this particular occasion. It had been inhabited at one my time by brother and his best friend Matt. Another time it was my good friends Chris and Nick. I think this day fell between those two tenures. Years later, I would live in the apartment above it.
I was hanging out with my friend John, in particular. He was my big brother in the fraternity and we were fairly inseparable that semester. As I think back on it, this was definitely my freshman year. John and I had been hanging out with a bunch of other friends, watching Animaniacs, playing stupid games, telling stupid stories. Another friend – Chris, had called and needed a ride home. It had started to snow and his car wouldn’t start. John was sober so offered to get him, but for some reason we took another friend, Marc’s truck. I went along for moral support, I guess.
It wasn’t really a storm at this point. It was merely mid-November and the snow was falling. We picked Chris up and headed back to the FAC.
As I sat in the back of the old bronco, I experienced something that has only hit me a few times in my life and never so forcefully as it did that day. It was this wave of a feeling, a flash of something, I both felt it and saw it and it was over in an instant but whatever it was, it made me blurt out, rather dramatically – “We’re going to get in a car wreck.”
“What are you talking about?” John asked, rightfully suspect.
“I don’t know. I just…had this feeling. We’re gonna get in a wreck.”
As I tried to describe the feeling I had, the light in front of us turned yellow. The truck was at that precarious spot where stopping or pushing through were equally good options, but with the snow, caution prevailed. John pushed on the brakes.
Sometimes, when it just starts to snow and the streets are covered more in slush, it can be slipperier than expected. This was such a case and our car slid right through the light. John turned the steering wheel, pumped the brakes and I reached for the seatbelt that I was moronically not wearing. Our car, quickly and slowly all at once, skidded up on the curb and just narrowly missed the streetlight and the stop sign on the other side. Chris and John laughed.
“Holy shit,” John said. “You were right, we did almost get in a wreck.”
I was still uneasy. John reversed back out and we continued on back to the apartment. The snow kept coming down, so the FAC was quickly disbanded and we all went on our merry. We debated on getting dinner but everyone opted to hit their respective homes before the snow got worse. I left in my car. John left in his. And Marc in his.
I had only made it about four blocks down Leavenworth before another car had pulled out in front of me and then, pretty much, stopped. I tried to slam on the brakes, but with the snow and ice, I smashed right into the guy in front of me. I wasn’t wearing my seat belt again (though I would from that day on) and smacked into my windshield leaving a crack on both the glass and my face. I was dizzy.
I got out of the car, talked to the guy I hit. He went to find a phone to call the police. (This was the pre-cell phone age, I may not be young). As we waited, I went into the first building I could find for some warmth and busted up an AA meeting (it would actually be the first of many random encounters being around the organization accidentally or as a pretend member, despite not being an alcoholic, but that’s a story for another time). I used the phone at the AA meeting to call someone to come get me as my car was pretty trashed. I didn’t to call my parents because they lived out west and I didn’t want to be stuck with Anons any longer than necessary (for either of us). I called John, his mom said he hadn’t made it home yet. Same story at Marc’s. Luckily, my friend Brook had walked in to the meeting. He had been driving by and saw my trashed car. He could drop me off at home.
After a frustrating meeting with the police, I was free to go. My car was towed away (RIP Nissan), and I hopped in Brook’s car as we debated whether a hospital visit was in order (it would not be my first concussion, nor my last), but that night opted to just go home.
I went home to my parents’ house and told them about the accident (I left out the part about the psychic flash). I went down to my room in the basement and saw that I had several messages. One was from Marc – it was crazy, he got in a wreck on the way home and totaled his car (RIP Bronco), the car we had been in when we first skidded through that light after I had that flash. Another message was from John. He had just gotten home. He had gotten hit by a truck and his car was totaled (RIP Sirocco), can you believe it?
Yeah, I can.
Look, I don’t know what the hell happened. Sure, it can all be a coincidence, but I’ll never forget that feeling of knowing that I had, and how after I blurted out something about a car wreck, there were three connections to that comment that all had lost cars within a few hours. Shit happens, I get it. But still, it was a little fucked. I’ve learned to be careful about what I shout out when I feel something weird. Thankfully, it didn’t turn into a common occurrence and my precognitive feelings have been somewhat isolated to my dreaming state rather than my awoken one.
The other storm I thought of is, I think, still on record as the worst in Omaha history. It was October 1997. The leaves hadn’t fully fallen off the trees so when nearly 10” of snow dropped, trees all over the city were uprooted, unable to hold the weight. One such tree was at the end of my block. Another was in my yard, or more accurately at that point, through my car. My aforementioned Nissan was the first car I totaled. The GEO in the driveway that night was the last. There were three in between.
At that point I was living with Chris, briefly mentioned above, and two girls – Jill and Audrey. All of whom I’m still close with now. Audrey’s then boyfriend (now ex-husband) happened to be staying there that night, and when Chris came home in the middle of the night to share what had been going on outside, we all gazed out the kitchen to a front yard that looked like the final scene of Sleeping Beauty, tree limbs everywhere. My car buried somewhere below. We suited up and ventured outside, the view the same down the block. Snow was still falling. It felt like living in a twisted snow globe. Gentle snowflakes falling as the storm’s carnage was strewn as far as the eye could see.
The following day, it took us several hours with multiple chainsaws to dig our way out of the mess. We were without power (and would be for days) and were all dispersed across the city. I remember that storm for a number of things, how the skyline in Omaha changed (at least from the formerly tree-lined views the streets of West Omaha used to offer), how this was one of those touchstone points that helped solidify the lifelong bond I have with my roommates at that time, and I can’t be sure, but I think that might’ve been when I finally began to realize that my days of being an Omahan were numbered. I would leave a little over a year later.
Sense memory is closely tied to smell. This may be why the wafting aromas of the California rain are triggering snowy memories of back home. Such a tangential connection, I know, but I’ll take it.