The Ice Storm 


I watched the sky grow dark over the Watts Towers Wednesday afternoon and then saw a flash of light. Thunder cracked immediately overhead with an unusually sharp and crisp sound. I’d smelled rain in the air all day, and now I could hear large drops begin to hit what is left of the roof of my loft.

I was hungry. And since I don’t own a car, I decided that I had better get going to the Martin Luther King shopping center up

on Charcoal Alley. I grabbed my big black-and-white umbrella, went downstairs and started my trek north up Graham toward 103rd. The rain got heavier as I approached the Rainbow Bridge at Santa Ana Street. As soon as I saw the flooding in front of Saint John’s Methodist church on the corner, I knew I had made a mistake. I was the only person outside on foot.

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But it was too late to turn back. It always floods at the bridge base on the Graham Street side of the tracks. I told the surveyors when they did the original layout that I’d eyeballed a low spot at the base of the bridge, and that there might be a problem when it rained. But oh no, they wouldn’t listen. I recalled the conversation, as I danced out of the ankle-deep water.

It started to hail as I walked west past the Blue Line tracks to Grandee Street. I quickened my pace. Crooked fingers of lightning lit the sky, followed by the loudest thunder I’d ever heard in my life as I approached the east entrance of the shopping center by the Food 4 Less.

All the time, the rain and hail were coming down with a force only Noah could have known about, and I was outside with nothing that remotely resembled an ark. Plus, it was starting to get cold. So I stopped at the M&M Coffee Shop next to the Radio Shack to get some green tea. I know the people who own the place, and it’s warm in there.

A guy in a black baseball cap, wearing a cardigan and carrying a folded newspaper, passed me on my way in, then stood there with the door open, looking outside. The hail had covered the ground at this point.

“Close the door, fool. It’s cold,” some guy seated inside said to the curious fellow wanting to see the hail.

“Green tea?” Mattie asked me.

She knew what I wanted. It’s the only thing I ever order when I go in there. She slid a couple of lemon packages over to me with the tea.

Outside, alarms on parked cars started going off, as the hail grew heavier. There was steady lightning and thunder — one flash and an instant clap — and I started to think that I’d fallen into a Frankenstein movie. People driving up in the parking lot started losing control of their cars and blowing their horns. At this point there was more than an inch of hail on the ground.

Mattie leaned her elbows on the counter. She was chewing on a plastic coffee stirrer. Her green eyes softened as she looked out into the deluge. “I hope it stops snowing,” she said to me. “I gotta drive all the way to Panorama City.”

“Huh?” I asked, looking astonished.

“What?” she asked.

“Mattie, that’s not snow,” I said.

She asked me what it was. I told her

to hold on, then I went outside and picked a ball up of hail and brought it back for her to examine. It was the size of a marble.

“This is ice,” she marveled.

“Yeah, it is,” I said. “And I would not advise you to drive in it without chains.”

She asked me what she was going to do. I started to tell her that I didn’t know when

a bolt of lightning struck something and the lights went out.

I thanked Mattie for the tea and told

her to be safe, then left. I had to get to the market and the Burger King before the storm got any worse.

By the time I reached Charles Dixon’s Martin Luther King statue — a bird, the “King Fisher,” leaving a hand — I noticed three stalled cars, two tow trucks, three fender benders and some guy yelling “What the hell is this?” More lighting and thunder ordered from Moses.

“This is God shooting his gun,” one sister yelled. “And when God got his gun, all the lights go out.”

That’s when I broke into an all-out run for the market. I damn near slipped and fell on my ass. When I got to the door, the big bald-headed manager was standing there. The same one who doesn’t like me because I criticize him for never working the checkstands when the market is crowded. He was already shaking his head.

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