texanist tornado

What should I do if I encounter a tornado while driving?

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: This spring I was driving from New Orleans to Austin, and a little west of Winnie it became obvious that some really bad weather lay ahead. By the time I was on Interstate 10, driving cautiously through a downpour near downtown Houston, I realized that I had no idea what I should do if I saw a tornado, which didn’t seem too far-fetched, considering the weather alerts blowing up on my phone and the cloud formations. What should the prudent driver do, especially if exit ramps are far apart, making it difficult to legally (and safely) skedaddle in the opposite direction?
Janis Daemmrich, Austin

A: Texas and the weather have an excellent relationship for the most part, as nearly any Texan will be happy to discuss with you in great detail. But as those same Texans will also be happy to discuss with you, the possibility of things turning suddenly rocky is an ever-present reality. One need only recall the events of this spring and summer for proof. There is a saying that goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes.” It’s an old and overused adage, and it’s not always a reliable predictor of good weather, as sometimes five minutes pass and whoosh!—tornadic activity has ensued. This is exactly why it’s not a bad idea to be familiar with the ins and outs, ups and downs, and round and rounds of safely riding out a bout of inclement weather here at the southern end of Tornado Alley. The Texanist will have you know that instead of disregarding weather warnings and blindly plowing headlong into the darkening yonder, travelers are urged to take heed of such alerts and seek sanctuary in the nearest sturdy structure. Although you managed to arrive at your destination intact, you will be especially relieved to know that a car (yes, even a truck) is about the least safe place to be in the event of a tornado. But when a person is caught out on the road, unable to skedaddle in the opposite direction or find a suitable haven, it is recommended that you not do your ducking and covering on the floorboard of your car (or truck). Rather, you are advised to abandon the vehicle, hunker down in the nearest ditch or ravine, and hope for the best. The Texanist will not quibble with the safety advice of the experts, but he would add that it also couldn’t hurt, at such a harrowing point, to let loose with a long string of expletives or a heartfelt prayer to the higher power of your choice.

Q: My mom’s new boyfriend has a flattop that makes him look like an old high school football coach. He’s actually a nice guy who has an office job with a large state agency. My sister and I feel like his haircut is outdated and sort of makes him seem like a doofus. We don’t see how our mom can be happy with that haircut. Is there anything we can do to get her new man to change his hairstyle without running him off?
Name Withheld

A: Once the chosen haircut of football coaches, farmers, ranchers, cops, gas station attendants, milkmen, dentists, barbers, and employees of large state agencies, the flattop is a hairstyle that does seem to be on the wane. And what a shame that is. It’s a great cut. Except for having to maintain the tidy length and keeping the top nice and flat, it’s a perfect utilitarian coif for the low maintenance–minded man. Had you come to the Texanist complaining of a Bieber, a bowl cut, Caesar bangs, a Trump swirl comb-over, a Friar Tuck, a mullet, a mohawk, a faux-hawk, a man perm, a mop top, a hi-top fade, a rattail, or a psychobilly wedge, he might be a little more concerned. But the flattop is such an altogether inoffensive do that the Texanist can see it making a comeback at some point in the near future. Instead of asking your mom’s man to change his hairstyle to suit your own tastes, the Texanist, were he you and your sister, would take a look in the mirror and ask himself a couple of hard questions: What kind of haircut is this, exactly? And does my mom’s boyfriend approve of it?

Q: Divide the 32 NFL teams by north-south geographic location, and the 16 northern teams have won nine of the last ten Super Bowls! In the last twenty Super Bowls, only 4 winning teams were from the South: Dallas, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and New Orleans. And my niece notes the following: in the 2012 presidential election, 15 of the 16 northern teams were located in “blue” states, while only 1 (Indianapolis) was located in a “red” state. Further, based on the 2012 presidential election, 9 of the 16 southern teams were located in red states. Overall, 22 of the 32 NFL teams (68.75 percent) are located in blue states. So is pro football a more northern, liberal, Democratic sport? 
Eddie Reeves, Houston

A: This is a fascinating (and dizzying) bit of sociopolitical football analysis. As of press time, the fact-checkers were still reviewing charts, crunching numbers, and working the phones, but it appears that you and your niece’s exhaustive examination holds up. What does it mean? The big takeaway is clear: the Cowboys need a franchise quarterback not named Romo or Texas needs to turn blue.

P.S. As the Texanist’s readers are a savvy bunch, he’d like to go ahead and preemptively confirm for them—as they will surely be asking—that you are indeed the Eddie Reeves responsible for penning the 1971 Sonny and Cher hit “All I Ever Need Is You,” among your many other musical accolades. The Texanist hopes that you (and your niece) are well. Go, Cowboys!

Q: My grandma in Marble Falls baked a Texas sheet cake every time we visited. It was one big layer of moist chocolate with glistening chocolate frosting topped with freshly shelled pecans. I once said that it would be good with coconut and got looks like I’d cussed in Sunday school. My mom has baked hundreds of these over the years, and they are always a treat. I would never attempt one, just because I know I could never duplicate it, which would make me sad. Do you know the origin of the delicious Texas sheet cake? Does any place in Houston sell this heavenly dessert? 
Steve Woollett, Houston

A: When it comes to sheet cakes, the Texanist is a shameless homer like you. The simple, sweet, chocolaty goodness that is the Texas version outshines all the other states’ sheet cakes by a country mile. Have you ever had the displeasure of choking down a slice of Michigan sheet cake? Neither has the Texanist, but the mere thought of it is making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Known by such alternative monikers as Texas brownie cake, Texas ranch cake, Texas sheath cake (the Texanist owes his dear old mother-in-law an apology for the years of loudly mocking what he always thought was her mispronunciation of “sheet”), and, simply, Texas cake, this confection has been a favorite for cake-worthy occasions in the Lone Star State (and elsewhere) for a long time. Cake authorities have yet to pinpoint its exact origin, but they have determined that it was not a personal recipe of Lady Bird Johnson’s, as many believe it to be, and that the name is probably owed to either the cake’s large size or its oily richness. Houston is a big city with plenty of reputable cake shops, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one that can handle a delicious Texas sheet cake, but the Texanist would urge you to try one yourself. And go ahead and add that coconut. The Texanist won’t tell—if you save him a slice, that is.

THE TEXANIST’S LITTLE-KNOWN FACT OF THE MONTH: Texas grows a lot of watermelons—more watermelons than 47 other states. In fact, watermelons are Texas’s number one horticultural crop. This time of year, during what are typically our dog days, these sweet and delicious little rotundities offer an excellent edible respite from the summer heat. Let us take a moment to appreciate their ready availability.