The weather service had been calling for severe thunderstorms the other day, but as the sky was clear when I set out, and my errand not long, I didn’t go back for rain gear, which in retrospect was a mistake.
The walk home from the store was about 3/4 of a mile and as I hit the bridge on Broadway I saw that I was walking into a dark vault. The sky ahead was dark grey as far as I could see downtown. The entire sky, in every direction ahead of me, looked threatening as a tumor. There were virtually no places to seek shelter between where I was and my apartment, about fifteen minutes away by foot. When I got across the bridge, the first large drops fell. Within a block it began coming down with intent to drench. I made a dash and took refuge in the store attached to the car wash, the only place within several blocks to duck into. I found shelter a moment before the deluge began.
The rain came down like it was looking to flood the earth. Within minutes there was a deep lake in the street in front of the car wash. Cars passing through it sent plumes of water up over the sidewalk. I moved further into the store eventually taking a stool in the back, and I watched the rain, figuring it probably couldn’t rain that hard for much longer. It did, though.
Eventually another guy who’d taken refuge there took the stool next to mine. A moment later we exchanged pleasantries about the weather. He was a sympathetic looking man, slight and brown, looking something like Gandhi, but from the Dominican Republic, he said, his English almost completely unaccented. I’d have guessed his background was Indian, actually.
I told him this kind of summer shower usually doesn’t last very long. I recounted how I’d once been soaked in a very quick summer downpour in NYC making a sprint to beat the rain. I’d been on a bike and when I reached 8th Avenue and 47th Street the skies opened up. Instead of finding cover, I rode like mad and arrived at 47th and 9th Avenue, one block away, drenched, socks and shoes and everything in my pockets soaked, dripping wet. When I entered the place I was going, water running off me, people looked at me in disbelief. I looked behind me to discover the sun was shining brightly, the street hardly even looked wet. I’d learned from that summer shower to duck under something and wait out these flash rains.
But this one continued full-bore for over an hour, and my neighbor and I passed the time in a most pleasant and far-ranging chat while the thunder thundered and the buckets of dirty water fell. At one point an irate customer barged into the store where we were sitting and began screaming at the girl behind the counter. “IT’S NOT FAIR!!!” he screamed several times, snarling and glaring angrily between screams. He was at a loss to make the unfairness of it clear. He turned to scream at one of the African car wash attendants “IT’S NOT FAIR!!!”. As he stormed out to where he car was he shouted it to everyone a couple of times.
Evidently some terribly aggravating thing was being done to him, it was unjust, they’d lied to him and then screwed him and it wasn’t fair. That much seemed clear. But the ferocity of his screaming really was kind of amazing. It was also, I realized, the self-lacerating bellow of helplessness– they are screwing me and there’s nothing I can fucking DO ABOUT IT!
My neighbor and I paused, exchanged philosophical looks, and I said they’d probably promised to do something like change his oil, but had run out of oil filters, and they’d kept him waiting over an hour to give him the disappointing news. He agreed it must have been something like that. As the enraged man passed us on the way to his car, still screaming, I said quietly I hoped he wasn’t going to get a gun. It was the kind of blind rage that, silly as the immediate cause for it might have seemed, if he’d been holding a gun he probably would have used it to try to discharge some rage.
My neighbor opened his eyes a little wider, and said he doubted the guy was going for a gun. I agreed that he was probably right. As it turns out, he was correct and nobody was hurt, except for the man who had been screaming. We chatted for another twenty minutes or so, as the storm continued to rage all around, until one of the workers told us apologetically that it was time to go, they were closing the store. We thanked them for their hospitality, shook hands, introduced ourselves by name for the first time, and headed off in opposite directions to get soaked.
It rained hard for my entire walk home. Luckily I’d thought to take a plastic bag to wrap my electronics in, because I and my groceries got drenched. My phone, wallet and iPod did not get wet. It poured and thundered for a couple of hours, and it was a cold rain. Actually felt a little good to be wet and shivering on a brutally humid day that had recently been about 85 degrees. Once I showered and wrung out my clothes I felt refreshed.
I don’t think anything felt very good that day to the man who’d been treated so unfairly by those otherwise decent folks at the car wash.