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Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Opinion InMarket: Listen to my cat or tornado memories

InMarket: Listen to my cat or tornado memories

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

In the end, we all should have listened to my cat.

It was March 28, 2000, and about 5 p.m. I shut down my work and prepared for a weekly ritual, a racquetball game in Hurst. I was freelancing then, so I was working at home. As per usual, when I got up, my cat, a short-haired sleek black cat with piercing green eyes named Ned, herded me to the back door. Typically, Ned would stay outside while I was gone, coming back in when I returned around 9 p.m. Typically.

So I got ready to leave, packing a gym bag of essentials. As I prepared to leave I noticed it was dark, but it was spring in Texas – what was another rainstorm? But before I could leave I heard a fierce scratching at the back of the house. A cat fight?

I opened the back door and Ned rushed back in. He then headed back to the bedroom in the center of the small house in south Fort Worth, jumped up on the bed and curled up in an almost defensive position. Since Ned was a lover of the outdoors and generally fearless, I checked him for any evidence of a cat fight. Nope.

Just being a lazy cat, I figured as I headed for Hurst. I should have listened to my cat.

On the radio, the weather warnings were ominous, but this is Texas, right? If we battened down the hatches every time severe weather reared its head we wouldn’t be Texans. I had witnessed too many tornados that nearly touched down to count. I just assumed it was one more to add to the list.

By the time I reached the Beach Street exit, though, it was clear this was no ordinary gullywasher. The rain was torrential, the clouds as dark and menacing as a black – or greenish-black – panther. I steered carefully off the barely visible freeway, taking refuge in a car wash. That’s where I stayed, living like many of us, through one of the most deadly and damaging tornados to twist through North Texas. I tuned my radio to KRLD and listened as they attempted to make sense of chaos.

The storm I was witnessing was corkscrewing down West Seventh Street through downtown, reshaping the city’s landscape and causing about $450 million in damage.

The very building I’m in now, the Mallick Tower, was damaged as was the Calvary Cathedral that once sat across the street. Signs of destruction were evident all down Seventh Street. A friend of mine peacefully sitting in the former Four Star Coffee Bar at the western end of West Seventh Street, was ushered into an interior room with other customers and came out to find windows broken, tables and chairs scattered about.

The 35-story Bank One Tower, key office space for downtown Fort Worth and a prime example of that strange ‘70s architecture style that called for lots and lots of windows, saw 80 percent of its windows destroyed. For a while, the owners put plywood up to cover the open spaces. It looked like a skyscraper built with parts from Home Depot.

A friend of mine who worked there told me she was allowed back up to her office in the Tower after the tornado to get her paycheck from her desk drawer. She walked into her office and – this was pre-plywood – gazed out at the downtown Fort Worth skyline from 26 floors up – sans any glass. She quickly grabbed her check and left her office, shaking.

The businesses that once called the Tower home spread out through downtown. Reata Restaurant relocated and lived for a year or so on the road, learning and perfecting the craft of catering.

My cat Ned is sadly gone. I can’t think of him without knowing that at some point he thought, “I told you so.”

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