Friday, September 12, 2008

One thing I learned from Discovery Channel

I was watching a show called Destroyed in Seconds on Discovery Channel, and they were discussing a fog-related pileup crash in California last year. I lived in California for eight years during my childhood. I knew that kind of weather - that thick fog that's thicker than any fog you've ever seen. But I was a kid, so it was fun in the fog; I didn't know how dangerous it was. By the time I was a driving teenager, we had moved out of California. So until I saw this TV show, my brain had never had the occasion to put my fog experience together with my driving experience. It was an odd experience to feel those memories touching each other during that TV show. How strange that many separate memories could put themselves together and produce anxiety in the present.

Tule Fog (photo credit: Flickr) I also learned for the first time that this fog is so unique that it has a name: tule fog. Pronounced "TOOL-lee." Most of the photos I found, although they claimed to be tule fog photos, seemed like they were just regular fog photos. The photo here is more like what I remember. We always called it Merced fog, because Merced is the town we lived in.

One night in particular sticks out in my memory. Mom was driving, and my little brother and I were about 6 and 9 years old. We had all been visiting a friend's house that evening, about two miles from our house, and it was time to leave around 8:30 or 9:00. The roads were very familiar, very residential, and never very busy. During the day we were frequently allowed to ride our bikes to this friend's house. That drive took about a half an hour because we had to drive so slowly, and because we couldn't see any landmarks or street signs. At one point along the way, we stopped because my mom couldn't even see her hood ornament! The best part was when my brother had to climb up a street sign to find out whether this was our street. My mom couldn't see that sign from the ground, even though she got out of the car and walked over to the signpost. So she asked my brother to climb the pole and read it. It was unbelievable.

I remember having fog days from time to time. Schools would have delayed openings to wait for the fog to burn off. One of those mornings I asked my mom about it, because I didn't understand the danger. I could see enough to walk to the bus stop, what's the problem? She explained that cars wouldn't always see a little girl walking in fog like this. I had thought that as long as I could see them, I would know when it was safe to cross. Mercifully, she didn't dent my implicit trust of the bus driver's abilities by explaining that the drive itself was dangerous.

Fast-forward to the day I saw this Discovery Channel show. Again since the idea of driving in Merced fog was so new to me, I asked Mom what I should do in a situation like that. First, she said, DON'T DRIVE. If you're already driving, slow WAY down, but don't do it suddenly because the drivers behind won't detect the change in speed until it's too late.

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