It was 1982. My daughter and I were camping at Indian Mary Park outside Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Eithne was 9. She met another little girl there whose family was homeless. They’d camp as long as allowed and then move on to the next campground. It was a gorgeous day beside the Rogue River, but in the early evening, the inky black clouds of a fast-brewing storm loomed up on the horizon. Our little blue tent wasn’t waterproof, and I realized we’d better pack up. Frantic camp breaking ensued, and raindrops were splashing on the windshield by the time we got everything into the car.
I drove miles to the I-5 onramp and headed north. The heavy rain made it hard to see the freeway, especially after it got dark. I put on Dire Straits around the time lightning bolts lit up the sky. The incredible guitar and piano solo at the end of “Tunnel of Love” washed over me while thunder crashed and lightning bolts split the sky apart. I remember it every time I hear that song. Words like “epiphany” and “iconic” don’t even come close.
It got harder and harder to see the road. My little Datsun B-210’s windshield wipers were useless with rain slamming down and water splashing up from the flooded pavement. I took the first exit for Salem. I had no idea where I was going; I drove up and down streets in the pouring rain until I found a motel with a “vacancy” sign. It was after midnight.
The motel’s owner/clerk said he was from Nebraska, where they have lots of big storms, but this was the first time in over 20 years that he’d seen a storm like this in Oregon.
In our motel room, I was exhausted but still keyed up. I switched on the TV, and MTV came on. MTV was new. We didn’t have it yet where I lived, and I had never seen music videos before. When I was in university, I’d get movies in my head with songs like Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” MTV was just like the movies in my mind, and the first time I saw it was at that motel in Salem, Oregon, in the middle of the night. Falco blasted onto the screen with “Der Kommissar,” shades on, hair slicked back, running/dancing in front of a cop car. I was enthralled. I had never seen anything like it, and I watched most of the night.
Over 30 years have passed, and I haven’t seen another lightning storm like the one that summer night on the road.