Last night, I went into a Barnes & Noble. While that may not be an earth shattering feat, it was a little different for me.
The last time I went inside of a Barnes & Noble was late in the afternoon on April 27, 2011.
If for some reason that date doesn’t seem familiar, that was the day that storms ripped through central Alabama, including Tuscaloosa where I was in school at the University of Alabama at the time. Over 50 people were killed in Tuscaloosa, and in the overall storm outbreak across that part of the country, over 300 people lost their lives.
I was in my final semester at the Capstone. I was cramming in a few final classes that I had avoided my entire college career, along with a couple of senior level journalism classes. Among those classes was a journalism ethics class taught by former editor of the Birmingham News, Tom Scarritt, and a sports journalism class taught by Sports Illustrated writer Lars Anderson.
Lars released his long awaited book yesterday, The Storm and the Tide, which chronicles the events surrounding that day, and the recovery from it. It was finally enough reason to go back into a bookstore.
On April 27, I had just left my morning science class – one of the classes I was cramming in at the last second because I didn’t want to deal with it early on. It was bright, sunny, and hot – like it always is in Tuscaloosa. I came home to an email from one of my classmates with pictures from Talladega where Lars had taken us a couple of weeks before. We got to talk to drivers such as Ty Dillion, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Tony Stewart (pictured below). It was just one of many things that made that class easily the best one I took while at Alabama.
I decided to go do a little shopping, and went to the Barnes & Noble in Midtown Village on McFarland Blvd to get a couple of things. I only had that one class that day, but decided to go early because I knew it was supposed to eventually rain that day.
I purchased a few books:
A dictionary. Sometimes spell check doesn’t work, and because every journalist could use a nice dictionary by their side, and I didn’t actually have one.
A GRE prep book. I didn’t necessarily want to go to grad school. I was happy where I was at and felt I had the skills I needed to go out into the “real world,” but I signed up for the GRE anyway just to have it under my belt.
The Geektionary. This was more of a funny buy because a friend and I had just been making fun of another friend for not knowing what a Grue was. (Yes, I’m THAT big of a nerd)
None of these books have any particular meaning to me individually. I ended up canceling my GRE because it was scheduled for the week after the storm, and my attention was obviously elsewhere. The others were just books to add to my library – once I have a library.
But as I headed home, the skies started to get dark. I got back to my apartment which was right next to Bryant-Denny Stadium and when I got out, I turned around and saw the biggest tornado I had ever seen. Like the stupid college student I was at the time, I whipped out my phone and started filming. (Warning, it’s kind of loud)
Eventually it started raining so I stopped and went inside. The next hour or so was a blur, but eventually it was night time. I wasn’t sure about the severity of the storm at this point. The power was out, and I was receiving countless text messages from family in Birmingham, and friends in Auburn asking if I was ok. Luckily my apartment complex, a few more around us, and the stadium were just on the edge of the tornado.
At this point it was pitch black, and it was silent.
My phone was about to die from ringing off the hook. The signal was weak due to everything going on, so that was draining my battery too. I went out to my car when I knew everything was over to charge my phone.
I wanted to walk a couple of blocks down where I could see a little bit of what was going on. I was still not sure just how bad it was. I couldn’t really see anything or get anywhere because there were a ton of people trying to leave, and a bunch more trying to get into town to help.
I snuck out the back way through downtown Tuscaloosa super early the next morning. I came home to Homewood to my parents house and we went to load up my dad’s trailer to with a ton of supplies, and then went back down there that afternoon. One of our good friends, Bradley Hodges, works for First Wesleyan just over the river in Northport, so we went there to help.
Then, finally in the bright daylight, I could see all of the true damage. I was able to see the destruction caused by the storm with my own two eyes.
Classes were canceled, and that was that as far as school was concerned. There were far more pressing matters. I walked across the stage with everyone else in August that summer, and got my degree in communications.
When I got ready to move back home and find a job, I was clearing out my car of all of the stuff I had packed up. At the bottom of all of the other junk in my backseat, I found a bag from Barnes & Noble. The storm happened so all of the sudden, that I had never taken the books out of my car. My parents started calling them “the tornado books.”
To this day, I haven’t brought myself to take them out of the bag. They continue to stay in my car, untouched in the backseat. It’s the constant reminder of what happened on that day.
I had a houndstooth-designed rubber bracelet I wore that the money used to buy it went to a rebuilding fund of some kind. I’ve bought countless other things to support the rebuilding effort. I went and worked after the storm myself to help rebuild.
But nothing is more of a reminder than those books. I don’t know why. It’s just a few of random books I bought while I was out one day. But it was that day.
Then yesterday, August 19, 2014, I went back in to Barnes & Noble to buy The Storm and the Tide – the only book I’ve been looking forward to since then.
I’ve even written my own book called The Tornado Books, which I will never even try to get published. I wrote it for me. I’ve talked about that day on the radio countless times on the anniversary, during other storms that we were covering, and more. I’ve done so many things revolving around that day, but now it has come full circle. The professor who taught me so much that semester, and the fact that it has been books that were the constant reminder for me. Now, a book has been written by one of the great sports writers of this generation to tell the story better than anyone.
No one else has been able to capture that day, and resiliency of the city of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama. Not until now. It’s a reminder of the people we lost on that day. It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t take things for granted.
The storm came. The Tide came even stronger.