November 4th, 2007


"Tell 'Em Large Marge Sent Ya!"

I used to live in California's Central Valley. Every autumn there, the tule fog -- named for the tule reeds among which it lingers -- rolls in off the delta, blanketing the region like the low-lying mists of a classic horror film. To wander in that fog felt like you were going back in time, or to some purgatory for lost souls. It was as though a soundproof bowl of solid white hovered over you, wiping out everything beyond a few yards in any direction.

Highway 99 is one of the two main throughways of the Central Valley, and I can recall the stress of driving on that highway when the fog was in. The locals, having grown used to the fog, commonly refused to slow down when visibility was nil. I'd enter the highway, discover that I could barely see beyond a few yards, and then almost be struck from behind by vehicles roaring past at 50 or 60 miles per hour. They'd rocket along as though no obstruction could possibly occupy that white wall of mist. The only solution was to let someone pass you, and follow his dim tail-lights, relying on his car for an early-warning system: if you hear a crash, you have 3 seconds more warning than he did before he plowed into the rear of a semi. Then you must squeeze past the collision before everyone behind you catches up.

The solution above isn't foolproof, as travelers discovered yesterday when a hundred vehicles smashed into each other on Hwy 99. "There was probably two-foot visibility in the fog when I got here," said a spokesman for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It looked like chaos. Cars were backed up on top of each other." The same article adds that the freeway was littered with "auto parts and blood."

Like most tragedies, this is what comes from many years of living dangerously.