The Hailstorm

Stick around for the comedy, but if you want to skip right to today’s lesson, it’s this: “Don’t get caught in the open during a hailstorm that has gone past ‘golf ball’ and has edged up to ‘kiwifruit.'”

Look tasty, don't they? Now imagine them made of ice, hurtling at your head at 32 feet per second, squared.

So, let’s get acquainted with pain:

F = ma

There it is. Pain. Just look at it. Sitting there, all sciencey and shit. Mocking you.

Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s Newton’s second law of motion. In other words, “big things hurt, and little things moving really fast hurt, too.”

But let’s get to the hail.

Weather was a bit of a mystery to me when I was a kid. I grew up in Orange County, Southern California, which has two seasons — perfect and not-quite-as-perfect. The joke is that in California, you only need to see the weatherman twice a year.

April: Hi folks. It's going to be 72 degrees and sunny every day. See you in October. October: Hello again. It'll rain a few times from here until spring, but for the most part ... 72 degrees and sunny. Merry Christmas.

It wasn’t until 1995, when I was 27 years old, that I lived in a place where snow on the ground wasn’t anything other than a bizarre, freak occurrence that disappeared in a matter of seconds. I vividly recall waking up one morning in Kirkland, Washington, and thinking, “Weird. I don’t remember driving to the mountains last night…?”

How does this work? Is someone going to just bring me a danish? How will they get here? By dogsled? I'm puzzled.

This is a long way of saying that, when I was in the second grade on the day of the hailstorm, the idea that weather could kill you wasn’t something on my 7-year-old radar screen.

The school bell rang, and everyone piled out. It had rained earlier in the day, and my grandmother had made arrangements with a classmate’s mother — she would offer to drive me home if the weather was bad. I met her in the parking lot, and she offered me a ride, but it was barely spitting rain at that point, so I declined. “I like walking in the rain,” I said. And she let me go.

This is another example of 70s sensibilities. Every kid was a free-range kid. Can you imagine a mother today, tasked with giving a 7-year-old a ride home, allowing said 7-year-old to decline the offer?

“Hop in.”
“No, thanks. I’m good.”
“You’re seven. Shut up and get in the car.”
“Seriously, I’m good. It’s what — a mile? — to my house? In the rain. I’m good.”
“Get in the car.”
“Chill out. I got this.”
“Again, you’re seven.”
“Annnnd? Your point being…?”
“That you’re seven. That’s my point.”

But no. She offered, I declined, and I skipped off.

Straight into Mordor. And despite what Boromir says, you apparently just walk right in, too.

Ten minutes later, the “spitting rain” turned into “Genesis chapters 6 through 9.” And the cold day turned ominously colder. I really had no idea what was coming.

I crossed the one major street between my neighborhood and the school’s and turned down the alley, and …


“Wait a minute,” said my wife.
“What?” I said.
“An alley?”
“Yeah, an alley. It lead from my neighborhood to the big street I had to cross.”

Like this. The alley is that little thingy with the cinderblock walls on either side. Thanks, Google Maps.

“How big was this street?”
“You know, big. Major artery. Six lanes.”

Not pictured: Frank on the bus. The bus was for wussies.

“And you walked to school every day? Down an alley.”
“Yep. One time, there was this rabid German Shephard in the alley. Growling, foaming at the mouth and everything, and I had nowhere to run…”
“And how old were you?”
“Well, I started walking to school in the first grade, so…”
“Six years old?”
“Well, five. I was a year ahead. Plus, the street had this wicked drainage canal beside it, and when it rained, it filled up with whitewater, and every year, some kid would be swept away and…”
“How are you not dead?”
“Hey! That’s a great name for the blog!”

End Sidebar

The hail started falling. At first, it was cute. “Hey look! It’s like snow, only hard. And in little icy balls. Tra la la, la la…”

I don’t remember actually saying “tra la la la, la la,” but I was a rather innocent little lamb. It’s entirely possible.

Five minutes later, I was in the iciest plane of hell. The world had turned white. The sound of the crashing hail was deafening. It was like I was at a Norwegian death metal concert and Ymir the Frost Giant was hucking kiwi-fruit sized hunks of ice at me.


Besides taking a gatling gun’s worth of body shots, hail was hitting me square in the head. More than once, I took a shot to the noggin, and looked up in time to see that specific ball of hail rebounding off my cranium.

“Gee, Frank. Did you try to take cover? Like, under a tree or something?”

No! I already told you that I missed the weather-can-kill-you class! I honestly didn’t know what to do. I had (ha ha) frozen up. It was total deer-in-the-headlights moments, only instead of a deer it was me, and instead of headlights it was HAIL THE SIZE OF KIWI FRUIT.


A man emerged from his house and ran out to his car, presumably to move it out of the hailstorm. I ran up and pounded on the driver’s window, pleading to be let into the car where I would be safe. Dude just looked at me like I was an alien.

Who, me? Rescue the elementary school kid that's bleeding from the nose and ears? Son, this is the 70s. You're gonna hafta toughen the fuck up. Screw it, I'm just going to pretend I don't see you. I'm Ray Liotta.

I stumbled down the street a little farther. I passed a house that displayed a sticker from the Safe House program.

Remember that? You could sign up and display a sticker in your window, and in theory, a child in trouble would know to knock on your door and get some assistance.

I knocked. No one was home.

So much for that idea. I kept stumbling down the street. Three more houses and a few more hail shots to the ribs later, a sane, adult woman finally spotted me and called me onto her porch.

“Look at your face!” she said.

“I’m OK,” I said.

“Why didn’t you use that dictionary to protect yourself?”

I looked down. Yeah, forgot all about that. I had been carrying 200-page student dictionary the entire walk home. A great, big, fat book I could have used to at least shield my bleeding-from-three-orifices head.

FAI ... oh, wait. That's one's on me.

It finally stopped hailing, the ice turning back into rain. The nice lady asked if I lived nearby, and when I said yes, she went back inside her house without another word.

Again, let’s look back at the 70s-style level of caring. A battered child is on your front porch. Your reaction?

What do I look like? Ray Liotta? Beat it, kid.

I went home. My grandmother was angry at me for refusing the ride from my friend’s mother. In hindsight, she definitely had a point.

She gave me cookies, and I’m not sure she told anyone about the bleeding-from-the-ears part.

And I still don't trust them.