A blond preteen’s teeth literally chattered, her hair saturated with rainwater.
“I’m freezing my balls off,” she said.
Her tanned younger brother, inner tube around his waist, lost patience and declared sulkily, “I’m going to the car.”
“See that?” a burly ginger man continued, pointing to a wall of solid gray to the northwest. “That’s what it looked like 20 minutes before what rolled through.”
I thought, I was on the road 20 minutes before, and that looks like child’s play compared to what we just saw.
Slide the City had advertised that its May 21 Greensboro event would continue regardless of weather.
“Remember,” the Facebook event stated, “the more water the more fun! We slide rain or shine!”
Some background: Slide the City hauls a 1,000-foot slip-and-slide to cities across the country and lets people glide down it on inner tubes. The video on the enterprise’s website features beeping EDM, food trucks, babes goofing in bikinis and numerous GoPro videos showing ecstatic grins as the camera operator shoots down the green-and-blue slide, all under brilliantly sunny skies. It seems kickass.
I’d long prepared for this day, but as it drew closer and closer, TCB Editor-in-Chief Brian Clarey — prognosticator of prognosticators — grew increasingly skeptical.
“They’re charging 45 bucks for three slides?” he’d scoff. “That’s more than a day pass at Wet ’N Wild.”
He remembers Slide the City attempted to bring the apparent world-record length slip-and-slide to town twice before, and both times, low ticket sales had led to cancellations.
I knew the forecast called for rain, but after a gloomy morning, the sun broke through in the early afternoon. I decided to make for northbound Freeman Mill Road at about 3:30 p.m., leaving a few hours for me to slide to my journalistic heart’s content.
But thunder clapped the moment after I shut my car door — an aggressive, boisterous peal. I’d heard what the thunder said, and it wasn’t, “Shantih shantih shantih.” It was more like Thor himself issuing a warning.
Worried by the dark cumulonimbus rapidly approaching my location, I half-jogged past food trucks and merch vendors to the check-in table near the tail of the slide, a few dozen yards south of McGee Street. I talked to four different volunteers, all more senior than the other, before I got a media pass.
Just then, the rain arrived.
A light drizzle. Some bigger drops. Then you could hear it coming: a sheet of water bearing down.
The monsoon roared in with alarming urgency, hastened by strong northwest winds. The sliders who’d had their fill scattered like roaches, dashing for their cars, for their homes, for any available shelter.
For awhile I stood drenched in the downpour thinking, Just my damn luck, before darting for a space under a vendor’s tent as the rain became still worse. Maybe 20 souls huddled under the tiny black tent, which would’ve flown away with powerful gusts if it hadn’t been held down by those along the edges. The downhill slope of Freeman Mill Road became a river, saucer-sized splashes of rain splatting against the current like salmon running upstream for the spawn.
“Why don’t they let us slide down that?” someone yelled over the precipitation pounding the tent like timpani, pointing at the rapids along the curb.
A cameraman from WFMY News2, striped button-down shirt and goldenrod tie soaked, interviewed children.
“Does the rain make it better or worse?” he asked.
“Worse,” said one kid.
“Can you say it in your own words?”
He turned to one, a girl in pink of about nine named Olivia, and asked, “Was it worth it?”
“No,” Olivia replied, sheepish.
Eventually, the storm trudged on to pillage other regions. We left the safety of the tents. The question came from many lips: “Can we slide again?”
I asked the blond woman who’d finally authorized my pass if Slide the City would recommence.
“If it lightningings again, we’re shutting it down,” she said. “We don’t know. Just hang tight.”
Rumors flitted about. They’ll re-inflate the slip-and-slide in about six minutes, 10 minutes. Then the consensus that became a catchphrase: 30 minutes after the last lightning.
The burly man had all the answers.
“Right now, the generator cables are under two, three feet of water,” he told a family of four. “Electricity and water don’t mix.”
Surely, the rain came again. No thunder and lightning, but the vendors had left; all volunteers, corporate reps and hopeful stragglers huddled under the larger check-in tent.
Eventually, the woman I’d spoken with began saying to the white-shirted volunteers, “All right, pack up the shirts. We’re done.”
Two Greensboro women, Novia and Anslei, approached her.
“What are we supposed to do next?” Novia asked.
“Go on the Slide the City website,” the blond woman said. “Email them at [email protected]”
“What if you didn’t get ticket insurance?” Anslei asked.
“Corporate’s aware of the situation,” the blond replied. “Just explain what happened, and you’ll either receive a rain check for the Raleigh event in three weeks or get your money back.”
Novia gave me a ride to my car as the rain continued.
Yet by the time I returned home around six, golden sunlight shone through the clouds.