In the aftermath of this week’s tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, I’ve heard an odd tidbit of information: That a set of twins were sitting on their front porch watching the storm before they had to run inside for cover as the funnel cloud roared closer to them. I have no doubt this story was propelled into the national news because so many people responded with confused amazement. But I didn’t find it at all surprising that people were out on their porch. I’d watched my own dad ride out the sorts of massive storm systems that produce tornados from a patio chair in the yard. On Monday night the same storms that hit Oklahoma passed through Arkansas, where I’m currently reporting a different article and am staying with my mother in the town I grew up in. I spent the better part of them on my porch with her two big black labs, trying to quiet the dogs down. These storms come often and everyone tells you to take cover in the most structurally sound part of your house; what they don’t tell you is that’s the opposite of what you want to do, when the air becomes Ozone and electric, when lightning strikes stop being jagged streaks and instead brighten up the whole sky at once with a grey-red sort of luminescence, when you hear thunder at the exact same time and it resonates long after in a rolling peel and you know the storm is right on top of you, when the alternating rain hammers and then stops, and the wind howls and gets still in unpredictable bursts. The earth alive and afire. I didn’t feel scared so much as nostalgic. I’d missed these storms in the nearly 15 years I’ve been on the East Coast. Those twins got quite a show.
This week, the Senate and House committees in charge of agriculture passed farm bills—mammoth bills that will last for five years if passed and signed—and sent them to their chamber floors. The bills handle farm policy, but the vast majority of their spending goes to a program that has proven a rich target for a Washington drunk on spending cuts—the food stamp program. The House bill would lower benefits across the board, cutting a fourth of the program’s $80 billion budget. The Senate bill would trim $4.4 billion from food stamps. Many of the cuts in both bills come from getting rid of a program that allowed states to streamline the ways they provide assistance to the poor.
When Anne Marie Slaughter launched the latest battle in the Mommy Wars with her Atlantic cover story “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which inspired a barrage of features about retro wives—young, high-achieving professionals leaving their careers to take care of children at home—the subtext was that work often isn’t worth it for women. Not only do women face real barriers to advancement, but their paychecks barely cover the cost of childcare. Real, quality childcare costs more in most states than tuition at public universities. In 22 states and D.C., the average cost of infant care in a center was more than the median rent in 2012.
The first time Breanna found herself homeless, she’d left her mom’s house when she was 12 because her stepdad didn’t like her and her mom never took her side in fights. That had left her sharing a room in a Motel 6 with her father and sick grandmother near her high school in Jefferson County, Colorado. A short, slim, dark-haired Latina, she’d grown up in the area, and most of her family was there; it’s where she felt at home. In the motel, though, her dad, who was a drug addict, would occasionally beat her. “My Grandma would tell him I deserved it,” Breanna says. “I never understood why I deserved it.”
From the outside, it is hard to know that people live in the Ramada Inn. The parking lot is always empty. The hotel sits facing a wide suburban boulevard called Kipling Street, just off Interstate 70 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The interchange where Kipling meets the freeway is packed mornings and evenings with daily commuters going to or coming from Denver and with skiers heading west into the Rockies. Hotels dot I-70 as it cuts through the 764-square-mile stretch of suburbia that runs from the city into the mountains, but at the intersection with Kipling is a cluster of seven budget-savers that travel websites warn tourists away from. The hotels advertise low prices—ranging from $36 to $89 a night—on neon signs next to gigantic flags that whip in the Front Range wind. Most offer even lower weekly or monthly rates. The Ramada is farther from the frontage road than the other hotels and is harder to notice, with its plain yellow stucco and dimly lit red sign.