We're rested and walked (more than a mile this morning with the dogs in Elk City, OK), so we don't really need to stop at this Texas rest stop.
But how can we not? The sign outside says it's a tornado shelter. And we've never been to a tornado shelter, so we stop (way in the middle of nowhere, about 150 miles east of Amarillo on Route 66). We snoop around looking for this protected place, one we imagine to be an underground bunker, perhaps as grand as the one hidden away for Congress at the former five-star Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia.
No. I think not. Too expensive.
So maybe we'll find something as rustic as the WWII pillbox bunkers seen along England's coast.
No. I think not. Tornado shelters must be underground because tornadoes tear up stuff above ground.
Then I remember Dorothy, clutching Toto as she kicks helplessly on the doors to her tornado shelter. So I turn my eyes groundward (ahh, a new word), looking for a door, an entrance, a
ladder even. I see an artful brick enclosure; no, it hides a series of solar panels. I see a series of poles holding a teepee-like roof. No, it's a picnic place.
I see a woman in a uniform. Her name is Jaque (pronounced Jackie). "Where are the tornado shelters?" I ask.
Inside, she says, pointing to the visitor's center, a grand concrete structure with The Lone Star of Texas cut through on three sides (picture above). The earth mounds up all around, making
it look like it's exploding from the ground. Kinda like a bomb shelter. Aha!
But inside, I already know, is a little museum, a tourist information desk and the bathrooms. No tornado shelter.
I go in anyway because maybe I'll find a secret elevator or ladder that escorts people out of harm's way.
What I find startles me.
The tornado shelters are the bathrooms.
Not BEHIND or BELOW or JUST PAST the bathrooms. They ARE the bathrooms.
Seriously. Here's a picture.
The same rooms that house the toilets, sinks and stalls serve as tornado shelters. But they are just bathrooms. Little tiles cover the walls and floors where now and then drains serve to aid in cleaning. There are no cots or couches or chairs. No life-sustaining provisions. Just toilets, stalls and sinks.
But they are lifesaving, nonetheless, Jaque says. Just two years ago, about 75 people hid out in these bathrooms while a storm cut through the countryside less than a hundred yards away. The winds tore through the roadway, too.
Another time, Jaque herded a few dozen people inside to wait out a storm.
She giggles as I take a picture of the bathrooms.
"It just seems odd to me," I say.
She grins. "You're not the first."