Judging from her attitude, the woman sitting in front of me apparently thought it was only a matter of time before I was looking for a new major or a new school. Meteorology is a complicated and difficult science. For starters, understanding the earth's atmosphere and weather—what we can understand, I should say—requires learning a lot of math and physics, especially fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. Back when I was a high school senior and an OU applicant, I was interviewed as part of Oklahoma's School of Meteorology's admissions process. I was told that Oklahoma had one of the most prestigious meteorology programs in the country. I was also told that I would likely be humbled. Approximately three of every four people in the program leave or fail before graduating.
She was like some other students in the lecture hall that day: good-looking and polished. Sitting right behind her, I could see that her thick hair was perfectly styled, as if she'd prepared herself to appear in front of a camera. And maybe that's exactly what she'd done. In 1998, college meteorology programs across the country were enjoying a wave of popularity. A lot of credit went to Helen Hunt and the movie Twister, which had been a major blockbuster only two years earlier. The movie romanticized weather in general and storm chasing in particular. Hunt, who of course is also blond and good-looking, turned the act of pursuing and witnessing severe weather—specifically tornadoes—into a combination of science, romance, and thrill ride. The movie was a megahit, and meteorology was suddenly sexy. A lot of kids came out of high school think-ing that they'd make a career of it. There were a couple hundred students in my Meteorology 1111 class, and I'd have bet that some of them—maybe even the woman sitting in front of me—were there with the hopes of becoming "weather celebrities." That is, they wanted to become high-profile weathermen and weatherwomen with big-bucks jobs on national TV networks.
Rick and I didn't carry ourselves like celebrities at all. We couldn't, really. Rick was tall, gangly, and something of an introvert, courtesy of a quiet, religious upbringing back east in Delaware. I was your aver-age scrawny, young-looking freshman—I didn't have much of a beard to go with my blue eyes and mop of brown hair, and I still had a boy's huge metabolism as well as a complete indifference to fashion. On that Tuesday I wore what I wore practically every day that fall—khaki shorts, a white T-shirt that I'd stained baby blue in the wash, and my black and white in-line skates.
As a kid growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I may have been too small and geeky to play high school team sports, but I had skated in more than my share of neighborhood street hockey games. Now the wheels were coming in handy as a means for getting around campus quickly. I didn't care if they were dorky. The skates were what got me to class on time.
Well, almost on time. Because I was frequently preoccupied with whatever I was doing—like reading a book or listening to music—I was habitually tardy for just about everything at OU, including Meteorology 1111. Which is why, after a while, I stopped taking off my skates when I entered the lecture hall for class. I'd show up in a sweat after hustling, speed-skater style, from my dorm. Then I'd clomp into the hall, sit down next to Rick, continue to sweat (I swear, I was born to sweat), and take out my notebook right after the professor started talking.