I pride myself on having a great sense of direction. I don’t get lost as long as I can see the sun or the moon. Added to this is the fact that I like to study maps. Whenever I know I am going somewhere I have never visited, I study the maps of that location, familiarizing myself with main arteries of the location. (Oh, the heavens be praised for the invention of Google Earth!)
I gape in amazement at friends or relatives who make wrong turns when we are out driving and I belittle them with “why in the world would you turn left on Main Street when you KNOW that is in the opposite direction from where we want to go?” Rightly so, my friends and relatives get annoyed with me from time to time.
So, you can appreciate my profound distress when I got lost one day, many years ago.
I am not dissing Fresno so please, no angry comments. But c’mon — being lost in Fresno? If I’m going to have an existential meltdown, I’d much prefer Hawai’i.
As I said, as long as I can see the sun or moon, I have a basis of orientation and I don’t get lost. But that day in Fresno, I could not see a thing. In Fresno, like most of the towns in California’s Central Valley, they have a manifestation of nature known as Tule Fog:
This thick miasma of moisture rises from the tule grass wetlands of the Central Valley when cold mountain air sweeps across it.
I was traveling to Yosemite National Park and stopped over for the night in Fresno before heading up there. When I got up the next morning I was greeted by this impenetrable wall of fog. As I drove through it, I could not see a thing beyond the hood of my car. I could not see the sides of the road, not even the lanes next to me. I could not see the lines in the road, no signs, not even the traffic lights. I did not know east from north.
My panic mounted as I drove along. I was terrified that my life would end at any moment when another car would hurdle through some intersection that I had missed in the fog. What made it even worse was that as far as I could tell, there were no other cars. There were no other human beings in the ominous silence. It was as if the Fog had sucked away all signs of life.
Suddenly, red taillights appeared before me. I hit the brakes before I slammed into the back of the vehicle. It was a fire truck. I sighed in relief. If anyone would know their way around the Fog, it would be these firemen. I started to follow them. I didn’t care where they were going. I didn’t care if I ended up at their firehouse. At least I would be somewhere and not feel so utterly lost and alone.
Finally, the atmosphere began to lighten as the road rose in elevation, and I started seeing signs — signs of life and signs along the road. To my relief I was on Route 41. The fire truck turned down another street, but I kept on going right out of town as fast as I could.
And I think I heard the Fog laugh at me.