This wasn't a typical night for a dance fiddler!
I was staying with some friends in Virginia and they invited me to play fiddle at a dance
that they were doing at the Glen Echo ballroom. We had several people, instruments, and
equipment to transport to Maryland, so I offered to donate the use of my camper truck. At
the last moment we decided that we could all fit into a sedan, and my truck wasn't
needed. If not for that decision, I would have lost my truck for good!
The dance started out as a lot of fun. I was playing my Tucker Barrett 5 string electric
fiddle, and the band was playing their regular pieces, so I had an easy time of just adding
to the overall sound. As the dance hall filled, (this is a very large hall) I was enjoying the
opportunity to play for such an enthusiastic crowd. Meanwhile, the falling rain outside
increased in intensity, and before long, water begin dripping through cracks in the ceiling
to such an extent that some trash barrels were located to place on the dance floor under
Somewhere during the middle of the evening, while the dancers swirled on the floor, I
noticed a solitary figure entering the ballroom from the back of the hall. I was playing
fiddle on stage, and as the rest of the band concentrated on their music I watched this
fellow march toward the stage. As he got closer I could see that he was sopping wet and
dripping all of the way. When he got to the stage he approached me as if wanting to talk.
The rest of the band kept on playing and I lowered my fiddle.
In an insistent voice he exclaimed, "cars are floating away in the parking lot!" "Excuse me,"
I replied, "what's happening?" He repeated that cars were being washed away in the parking
lot and we'd better stop the dance and tell everyone. I thought about this for a moment.
We were in the middle of a dance, and I hesitated to take responsibility to bring everything
to a halt, just because a stranger approached me with an unusual story. He did convince
me, however, that I should find out a little more, so I put down my fiddle and followed him
outside of the building. The rain was pouring, it was very dark, and I jogged down the road
towards the parking lot.
When I got to a walkway that crossed a low area to the parking lot, I discovered a raging
torrent of water, several feet deep, and clearly unpassable. On the other side, where the
parking lot was, I could hear people shouting, and could see lights from emergency vehicles
flashing. I immediately thought of our parked car on the other side of the water. Other
people were also starting to gather at the edge of the torrent, and I made a decision to
act. I ran back to the ballroom and entered the door. I was already soaked. The scene
inside seemed unreal, now that I had been out in the storm. The dancers continued to
balance and swing to wonderful music, unaware of the drama outside.
I went immediately to the stage and whispered in the caller's ear that there was some sort
of 'flood" outside, and I was worried about the condition of our car, and that we should
make an announcement to the crowd. I asked for the keys to the car and was told that the
piano player had them. I went to the piano, asked for the keys, and the piano player told
me which pants pocket to get them out of! While she continued playing I removed the
keys and then hurried to the exit as the band played on!
When I got outside I broke into a run and headed out the main gate to a road that led to
another entrance to the parking lot. It was dark and wet and I ran quickly, yet carefully so
that I didn't trip and fall over windblown debris. The sight that greeted me when I got to
the parking lot was unbelievable. There were a number of police cars with flashing lights,
people running about wildly, and where the lower end of the parking lot used to be, was a
river! Police were putting up barricades to keep hysterical motorists from approching their
vehicles, as the water was rapidly rising.
There was a women trapped in her car as the quickly rising water choked her engine. She
rolled down her window and was climbing out on the roof of her car as a police man was
shouting instructions with a bull horn. I watched a white pickup truck being pushed
downstream until it hit a Mercedes and rode right up over the top of the Mercedes. In all of
the confusion I searched for our car, and finally spotted it, with the water already lapping
at the wheels at the hubcap level. I had to cross the barricades to reach it, and I gambled
that I could get to it before the water swept it away! I was worried that the police would
see me and prevent me from approaching closer, but there was so much going on, that I
decided to go for it.
I ran to the car, fumbling with unfamiliar keys and sloshing through the rising water. I
managed to get the door open, jumped in, and put the key in the ignition. I heard men
shouting warnings in my direction as I also heard the welcome sound of the engine starting,
as the water rose up to the floorboards. I put the car into reverse and the wheels spun a
bit, before the vehicle began backing uphill, out of the rushing water, to higher and safer
ground! I had made it! Meanwhile, other vehicles of less fortunate people were literally
disappearing one by one as they were washed down stream into the darkness. With the car
safe, my next thought was to the music.
I ran back the quarter mile to the ballroom and when entering, was surprised to see that
the dance was still continuing, as if nothing had happened! Other people were filtering
back in however, and as the the word spread, folks would leave to check on their cars.
Despite the disaster the dance did continue. I removed outside layers of clothing, shoes
and socks, plugged in my fiddle, and began playing again while my wet clothing hung over
chairs to dry out. We later learned that a large storm drain had clogged, diverting water to
an old creek bed which had formerly been in the lower area of the parking lot. A number of
cars were washed away, down the creek bed, and finally into the Potomac River, where
they were never recovered! No one was injured however, and everyone who lost a vehicle
managed to get a ride home that night.
It turns out that the lower part of the parking lot was also the closest place to the
ballroom and exactly where I would have parked my truck after unloading equipment! My
truck would have been gone forever, and I'd be stranded in Maryland. I was thankful that
everything worked out OK, and the music and dance went on.
Written by Ryan Thomson