The Strength and Unity of Alabamians–Tornado Recovery

Apr 29, 2011 by

In Alabama you’re either “one of them,” (A fan of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa) or an Auburn fan.  There is no in between.  But after Wednesday’s tornadoes, even that doesn’t matter.  Sure, fokes (that’s how the Montgomery Advertiser spells it and has for decades) are still sporting their loyalist garb, but as a whole, they are one now, and at this time of incredible devastation, people are banding together, whether they know one another or not, and they’re coping, trying to clear their roads and yards of tree limbs, debris, and anything else, and it’s an incredible thing to be a part of.  It’s truly one of the best things about Alabama.

Yesterday morning I was able to leave Huntsville with enough gas to get me to my mom’s in Montgomery.  Part of me wishes I’d stayed up there.  Helping pump gas at The Triangle Grocery in New Market were two guys.  One was a friend of the owner who had been at the station for a couple of hours helping pump gas to those of us desperate to have it.  He wasn’t getting paid.  Had no power himself.  But there he was.  The other was a school teacher who was just learning he and his wife, a fellow teacher, didn’t have to worry about school until at least Tuesday. 

When we, (Tom and Karen Taylor)  drove for cover Wednesday afternoon about 4 p.m. many of the roads had been blocked earlier in the day by fallen trees.  It wasn’t relief coming from Washington, DC, the White House, the Alabama Department of Transportation or Huntsville County Crews that had done it.  It was Alabamians with chainsaws.

On the way north while I was going south, I saw leagues of electric utility trucks with various stickers on their doors all heading into the thick of it.  Lines of unmarked, dark black Alabama State Trooper cars with blue lights flashing and running 10-17 in the left lane (That means they were running code to North Alabama; aka, they were hauling ass) were headed into the heart of it.  (As a side note, this also suggests they were higher ups heading into the fray, because lower ranked troopers don’t have brand new black cars….)

And then there was a time or two when I saw just plain old dump trucks and pickups rolling north, too.  They had bulldozers on the trailers they were pulling.

At the Publix yesterday morning in New Market/Meridianville the doors were open.  The electricity was off, but they’d found a way to run off emergency power and even could do electronic debit/credit card purchases.  But they were open at a time when they were needed most.  And the employees there said they were going to be there until the store closed or they had run out of food to sell.

Alabama is going to recover from this incredible, Biblic-proportioned devastation.  Some have said areas of Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Phil Campbell, Cordova, and Pleasant Grove in Birmingham look like they’d been hit by atomic bombs.  And while there will be help from the federal government and the state, a lot of healing and rebuilding had already begun before those very much needed and appreciated assets could be deployed.

That’s the way things happen in Alabama.  Even if you’re helping a fellow Auburn fan, or one of them Bama fans.

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I Felt Like “This is It!”–Huntsville, AL tornadoes April 27, 2011

Apr 29, 2011 by

UPDATE 9:33 a.m. 4/29: Karen just sent me a text saying power is likely out now for 5-7 days

There were moments Wednesday, April 27, 2011 in the Huntsville, Alabama area when I seriously thought I would never be writing this.  Again.

For once again in my life, at about 7:30 or 8 p.m., I was once again in a car, (This time a Jeep,) with former State Trooper and Gov. Fob Jame’s security head, Tom Taylor, in the midst of a raging storm.  There was constant lightning.  (A sure sign you’re in or near a tornado.) There was hail.  (Another sure sign.) The rain was nearly a white out.  (A rain-wrapped tornado that you don’t ever see until you’re in Heaven.) The roads were flooded over.  And the winds were blowing from all directions (A whirl, another sure sign that you’re in deep do do.)  And at that point, I just knew we were about to be found a few days later wrapped around a tree, in a river bed, or several counties away.

Tom Taylor

Tom and his wife, Karen, and I go back to 1995.  We all worked for Gov. James.  And the thing about Fob was that when bad weather came, he felt the best place to be a first responder or event coordinator was to be right slap in the middle of it.  So there were times from 1995 to 1999 that we found ourselves in South Alabama waiting for hurricanes to come ashore.

In April of 1998, we were up in Birmingham the morning after the massive F-5 tornado came thru and obliterated homes, businesses, schools, and killed many.

April 27, 2011

So Wednesday started as a few other days had recently begun in Huntsville.  There were early am thunder claps.  A little rumble  and it was gone, like a front had passed thru and the sun soon would return.  I got up and made it into Huntsville, from New Market, about 10 miles north of Huntsville on US 231/431.

About 10 a.m. I received a phone call that on radar, a tornado was heading straight for the Taylor’s.  My colleague John and I decided we’d try to go see the thing since it was so close to the office at that point, and further to the north.  We didn’t catch it, and as we began to return to the office, the sun came out.  The air was magnetic and I told John if the temps got up to about 74 or more it was going to be Katie bar the door.

2:30 p.m.

By 2:30 p.m that daylight heating had done its thing.  That first storm had downed several trees and branches on the Taylor’s porch and yard, and now another one was headed toward New Market.  I got up that way in time for the next round of heavy rains, but I don’t recall there having been a tornado warning on TV.  But it was clear, all hell was about to begin.  The impending tornadic storms heading toward Huntsville

About 4 p.m., it was clear to Tom, Karen, and son, John,  daughters-in-law, grand kids and me, that we needed to move somewhere else.  A massive super cell was headed straight for us, and the radars were filled with storms with hook echos, which signify a tornado.

Moving To Tom’s Brother’s Basement

At this point we began a mass migration to Tom’s brother’s house, which has a basement with reinforced concrete.  It was the safest place we could go.  And we barely got there before the massive storm arrived.

For the next three or four hours, it was one massive, wind-whirling storm after another.  We could hear trees popping in the woods.  We had quarter sized hail.  We had constant lightning.  And then there were times when the clouds high above were moving at high rates of speed, and there wasn’t a leaf on the ground moving.

Bob had a generator hooked up and running at his house.  By the time we left Tom’s the power was out.  At this writing, it still is.  (It’s Friday.)

About 8 p.m.

When it finally felt about 8 p.m. that we could go out of the woods because we were out of the woods, Tom, Karen and I went back over to their house to check on things.  And then it became apparent that when we got back, we’d made a mistake and needed to get back to Bob’s.

On the ride to Tom’s we’d already passed roads that were covered over with raging water.  Heading back, it was worse and we decided to take another route.  A longer one.

Roads were still topped over with water.  Tom said of one, “This is about as high as it needs to be before it’s too dangerous to be doing this.”

As we drove back, we weaved our way through the flooded roads, downed trees, and endured the raging storm.


It was on this ride over that I truly became the most afraid I’ve ever been in my life.  Hurricanes I’ve driven through.  But this was far more chaotic and far more intense. My right hand clung to the dashboard handle of the Jeep.  And Tom pressed on as quickly as was safe.  Hail hit the top plastic top of the Jeep echoing through the vehicle. The rains beat upon the windows as though it were an angry guard dog trying to bite us from the other side of the fence.  And red river waters flowed across the road.

It’s at these times when one reflects on their life.  I longed so much to see once again the faces of my kids and my other loved ones.  And because the phones were basically dead, there was no way to call anyone to say fair well.

Turns out that wasn’t necessary.  But I’ve never felt that close to death’s door.

Thursday a.m.

I awoke back at Tom and Karen’s Thursday a.m.   We got back about 9:30 or so when the all clear finally had come.    As Karen said when I got downstairs and they had gotten up, “It was so nice to wake up this morning and still hear birds chirping.” And that was so true, so accurate and so poignant.

There are more details to come.  But I need to take a break.  This is still all so traumatic.



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Three Roads Home For Easter–Which one to take?

Apr 22, 2011 by

This Easter weekend I want to be home.  Problem is, which one?  After 46 years of life and a good many of them with a dad in the air force, (I’ve moved 35 times in 46 years) even the definition of “home” to me is skewed.  These days with family all over the map, it’s really an emotional undertaking to decide where I should go.  I know I’m not the only one with this issue. But I’m truly aching to be in three places with different levels of family.  And that’s agonizing.

Home is where the heart is.

My mom always used to say that when we were growing up.  So tonight, I write that home is in three places. If you count the Taylor’s house in Huntsville, AL, where I’ve been the past few weeks, there’s a fourth.

I wanted to drive back to Dallas this weekend to be with my kids.   But there was said to be a meeting planned for tomorrow; one that has been moved to next Saturday.  That killed the option of driving home 10 hours to Dallas.  The longer I’ve been away the fewer text messages and phone calls I’m getting from my girls.  Of course, I’m literally working all day long and into the nights, too, so it’s a challenge to have a long conversation anyways.

Dad and I talked last night and Grandma Claxton has had a rough week at 86.  I got a good conversation in with her tonight, so I feel better about how she’s doing.  But there aren’t many more Easters left with her in them.  She talked about an outfit she’s worn on Easter Sundays the past few years.  She said she told Dad it wouldn’t look good on her unless she was wearing high heals and she’s had problems walking of late.

And then there is the road south to Montgomery.  I’ve not been in Montgomery for Easter Sunday in a decade.  Literally.  And it was always my house that everyone gathered at because I so enjoyed cooking for everyone.  All I would tell anyone to bring was “A smile.”

It’s three hours to Montgomery,  about 8 hours to Northern Indiana, and it’s about 11 hours to Dallas.

So at this writing, I’m opting for Montgomery, and keeping an eye to the west and the other in the rear view mirror to the north.  The meal is at mom’s.  Y’all come.

And damn, the Taylors are having steaks.

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Here, let my 11 yo DD show you how to hold a camera

Mar 31, 2011 by

Haley Claxton is 11.

She has a great photo eye.  And she’s great with a camera.

To boot, she just looks like the quintessential professional photographer.

Take a look at her below.  She has her left arm tucked into her body to properly hold the camera steady and has her hand cradling the lens barrel so she can focus with accuracy.  And she has her right hand holding the camera so that her index finger can properly push the trigger button without shaking the camera.

This is how to hold a camera.  Not with your elbows out to your sides.  For Godsake, not with both of your elbows out to your side.

Did I mention she’s only 11?


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My week in Huntsville

Mar 20, 2011 by

What a week it has been!

I have been working with a client here in Huntsville that will be going public in the next six weeks. I don’t want to get into yet exactly what they do, but it has been exciting to become part of the process.

In addition, I have been able to connect with old friends from times long gone by and catch up.

And I have been inspired by the brilliance of those who I have been working with and those who I have been meeting with because of this project.

Sadly, I have missed out on time with my daughters this Spring Break week, but hopefully, what is being done now will bring about a future with them we cannot even imagine at this writing. I mean, I can imagine, I am just trying not to. Hatching chickens or something like that.

More information is coming. You will be amazed at the scope of this project. It truly is going to have a positive impact on the lives of many, and most likely even you. That’s a pretty huge proclamation, I know, but at this writing, I believe it with every ounce of my soul.

Reagan, I am going to do everything I can to be back for your concert Tuesday night. If I miss it, some how, please know it was not what I wanted to happen. But for now let’s stay as positive as possible.

I love and miss you, girls. It so feels that better days are just around the corner. And when we turn it, hold your breath. It is going to be an incredible ride.

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Day 1 in Huntsville, AL: Do you say hi to others with a nice finger flick?

Mar 12, 2011 by

Rockets in an outdoor museum in Huntsville, Al...

Image via Wikipedia

Whew.  What a day it’s been.

I’m dead tired but have so many ideas and missions running thru my head.

One thing I realized tonight while driving out to my friends’ house.  I was driving down a two-lane road and the driver in a car coming toward me flicked his fingers up to say, “Hi.”  He didn’t know me, he was just saying, “Hi.”

I still do this in Dallas with police and obvious law enforcement types.  It’s something I picked up from living here in Alabama, but also just because of all those years working around police and state troopers.  You saw one, you give them a friendly flick of the fingers that means, “Hi,” and, “I see you.”

You don’t get that back in Dallas.  In fact, driving out here on the Interstate, I felt like either I was so focused on the issues at hand or I’ve gotten so jaded from living in a big city, that I’ve stopped looking over to the side when I passed cars.  Yesterday, I just drove on passed.

So, it’s been nice to be back.  I was driving through downtown Huntsville to get to my friends and was astonished that Highway 231 looks just as unfinished as it did back in 1998 when I was here the last time on the campaign trail.  I don’t get it.

Tomorrow’s another big day.

I need to stop and find a church in the a.m. and thank God for all he’s done for me.

Trying to wrap up two big video projects for two separate clients and the prospects are good for another new one.  God has opened so many doors for me the past few weeks.  It’s amazing when that starts to happen.  And it’s clear as a bell when it doesn’t.


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