The Night Lightning Struck Building Ten

Gather around, childrens.  It’s time for story time with Braden.

If you don’t already know, storms get really bad in the Midwest, where I lived from the beginning to summer 2006.  The rain can come down so hard that you sometimes can’t see twenty feet in front of you, and lord forbid you be driving a car when that happens.  And when those storms do happen, gather near the windows or under an awning, because they’re AWESOME.

The night of Saturday, April 24, 2004, I was working at everyone’s favorite, over-hyped diner, enjoying the rain pouring and the thunder clapping outside as I made people their milkshakes.  The end of my shift came at around 10 p.m. or so.  I got in my car and drove the 1/16th of a mile home to find a bunch of fire trucks and such blocking my entrance into the parking lot.  Naturally, I didn’t think it was my apartment that was the trouble, so I got excited about what I might see as I drove around the other way into the lot, dodging the on-lookers.  I parked near Melissa Barr’s apartment in building 6 and began to notice that all the attention was focused on building 10.  My building.  I started to get a little panicked.

The rain still poured down as I tried to find some way around all the commotion to talk to a fireman somehow.  All of them seemed to have more important things to do, though, so I waited in front of the building.  As I waited, my roommate Adam came home, and it took him a second to realize that the commotion was for our building, too.  Our third roommate, whom I will refer to as “Sir Chews-a-lot, maker and sharer of old soda bottles filled up nearly a fourth of the way with chaw, user–but not cleaner–of dishes, and sower of facial hair carpets upon the bathroom sink and counter,” was kind of estranged by then and was home maybe once a week, so he was harder to get a hold of and we didn’t hear from him until the next day.  Maybe I’ll call him “Mr. Chewy” for short; that makes it almost a Star Wars reference.

Adam and I finally spoke to a fireman and were given the story.  Our apartment (which I have used my always-mad Paint skills to draw out for you below) was struck by lightning and had caught on fire.

More specifically, it was our neighbor’s bedroom that was hit and subsequently burned (A).  We told him we lived below him, in apartment #1, and he reassured us that any damage would be mostly from smoke and maybe somewhat from water.  I found out later this is what happened.  Our neighbor, Kyle, lived in apartment #5 and he was getting ready to go out for the night.  Our other neighbor, Donnell, who was awesome, lived in #3 and had a date over watching a movie and said that he heard Kyle’s radio blasting.  He said the radio turned off, he heard Kyle head down the stairs, and then less than twenty minutes later, there was a large “boom” and the whole building shook like a bomb went off.  Donnell says he looked outside and checked Kyle’s door, and everything seemed fine, so he went back to his place.  It was another 10-15 minutes before he and his date smelled smoke.

Note Kyle's new sunroof

Turns out (and I did not know this before), having  your radio on during a thunderstorm is a bad idea.  At least, with a loud volume.  I don’t know all the science behind it, but it has to do with the radio signals heading to the antenna mixed with the increased power used for the volume and blah blah blah basically that attracted the lightning to Kyle’s bedroom, which is where his stereo was.

So it struck, busted a huge hole in the roof, and burned his bedroom to a crisp.  This meant the fire department doused it with sweet, sweet water and all of that leaked into the floor.  This is where it’s important to bring up that the foundation of our apartment building was not level, but in fact sloped to the east–illustrated in this photo of some jello I made in my first month living there:

Math Friends: I want to know the exact angle by tomorrow. Put your answer in the comments.

Why is that important?  Well, that means as the water made its way from Kyle’s floor to our ceiling, it all shifted to the east wall; so nearly all of the damage was on the east side of Adam’s room (B).  There was very minor water damage on Mr. Chewy’s east wall (C), and only the smell of musty, stale smoke in my bedroom (D).  Adam and I observed our home and made our way to his parents’ house to spend the night on his brother’s floor.

The next day I had to skip church, and the 8th Vine Anniversary Party, so we could move.  See, lucky for us, in the summer of 2003, an electrical fire broke out in building one, and they had just finished rebuilding the less-damaged side weeks before we got a visit from Dr. Lightning.  Since our complex was a circle of smaller buildings (hence its name, Country Club Circle), we just had to move all our stuff about 100 feet across the parking lot entrance and up some stairs to our new place.  Donnell was being moved to a MASSIVE 2-bedroom apartment in building four, and Kyle crashed with a friend, I think.  The people in apartments 2, 4, and 6 . . . I don’t know what they did.  I know the guys in #2 were from New York and they graduated a couple of weeks later, like me.

I wish there was more interesting things about the fire to share, but that’s really it.  The best part of the story, I think, is talking about Mr. Chewy’s reaction the next day.  He had no humor in it like we did.  Worry is justifiable, but being joyless–come on.  And remember when I mentioned how much damage was in his room?  All that was on the east wall in his room was a bookshelf (and I’m guessing the equivalent of one gallon of water came down over the entire wall), but he made an insurance claim to 1) do his laundry, 2) get a new mattress (because it smelled like smoke, even though Adam’s mattress was just fine after 2 days), and 3) to cover the cost of a very expensive watch he swears one of the complex maintenance crew stole.  I’ve never really bought that.  But I’ll give more stories on Mr. Chewy, the worst roommate in history, some other time.  Maybe.

The rest of the summer was an adventure before we moved to 409 South Washington that August.  We watched the pool inexplicably turn green and mossy.  We had some head-butting with Mr. Chewy over security deposit money.  We got a new (awesome) roommate, John.  We drank lots and lots and lots of Ski.  Not long after we moved to Washington Street, the meth lab in the apartment above the complex’s main office blew up and not only did the managers of the property get put under investigation for illegal drug trafficking, but for insurance fraud, too.  Good times.

Summer 2004? Adam approves.


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