Luck is an interesting concept. Some people have tons of good luck, others seem to have none at all. Everyone has that one friend whom always seems to win the raffle; that friend who has managed to be upgraded to first class many times, having never paid for more than an Economy ticket. There are also a handful of people who excel at the game of “luck,” winning the lottery more than once. A woman named Virginia Fike (who is coincidentally from the state of Virginia, go figure) stopped at her local convenience store to check her Powerball numbers. Like many, Ms. Fike waited for the clerk to run her numbers with a reserved optimism; the chances she’d win were infinitesimal, but one never wants to give up hope. Virginia Fike “struck gold” that day, matching Powerball numbers not once, but twice… in the same drawing, netting a total of $2 million.
Plenty of stories like Virginia Fike’s insane Powerball victory circulate on social media, almost making it seem that luck is an inherent personality trait––as if you can be born with or without the “Good Luck Gene.” In reality, “luck” is really “probability vs. timing;” there are always ways in which you can increase your chances for victory.
Planning Behind The Bear’s Cage was a lot like “trying my luck.” My short timeframe to complete Phase One was picked back in February. This venture is currently self-funded (and now also crowdfunded, thank you again), and in its infancy. Spending more than a week figuring out the viability of a project would be too great a financial risk, a risk that outweighed the fear of not getting exactly what I wanted. A ship needs to have its sea trials before embarking on its maiden voyage, after all.
Oklahoma City being my starting point was a non-negotiable (see the Foreword for more information on that), and May is usually when atmospheric instability is at its peak for that area. Being so far from Oklahoma, I do not have the luxury of waiting to see what Mother Nature will do. In addition, I needed to err on the side of frugal, and using my airline miles on a flight would not have been possible one week out. I used recent history (and a bit of intuition) as my guide in selecting a week to begin. Mid-to-late-May has brought some of the most destructive tornadoes to the Great Plains: May 22, 2011 was the date of the Joplin, MO EF-5; May 20, 2013, the EF-5 that struck Moore; May 31, 2013 was the date of the tragic El Reno tornado. Wednesday is one of the cheapest days to fly out, and late May is after many universities have held their graduation ceremonies, so finding an inexpensive place to stay wouldn’t be as difficult.
That was as much definite planning as I could do for Behind The Bear’s Cage. When it comes to anything else in my life, I rarely follow a strict schedule. I’m a bit disorganized, and I tend to make plans throughout the day instead of being a slave to a Day Planner. The way I work is very different. I feel as if I need the stability of a schedule so I can envision what my shooting day will be like (former Stage Manager problems). A lack of a schedule fills me with anxiety, because I feel unable to plan for when something goes awry. Now imagine what my reaction was when I realized the forecast wasn’t calling for severe weather until later this week.
For the first time in my entire career, I couldn’t really schedule a shoot. Think about the last time you looked at a 7- or 10-day forecast, expected it to be nice out on a certain day, only to have it rain your barbecue plan out. Certainty (or as close as you can get to it) in a weather forecast does not really arrive until the day of. This past weekend I was in Michigan as the jet stream dipped down and polluted the northern half of the country with unseasonably cold temperatures. When I saw flurries falling from the sky, I realized just how quickly the weather changes, and I’ve had to accept it. I’m a control freak, and I’ve met my match in Mother Nature.
I sat down at the desk in my hotel room and re-centered myself. This sole focus of this project is not the weather, it is to tell the story of the folks who chase it. I guess you could say this is a personal victory, as I’ve finally relinquished control over my life to a higher power. Regardless of the hand Mother Nature decides to deal, I will still leave Oklahoma with the stories of these storm chasers. Really, that’s the heart of Behind The Bear’s Cage.
As I begin to pack my things and make final travel arrangements, I can’t help but feel a bit like Virginia Fike; heading to the convenience store to check my lottery numbers. Only time will tell if we hit the jackpot this week.