In a Fog

This morning, I woke up with what just has to be a head cold. My nose is stuffy and drippy (with allergies, it’s just stuffy), my eyes are so dry I can’t stand it, I’ve got a little bit of a dry cough, and my brain is fogging over.

And of course… I can’t take cold medicine.

Then, because I am doubly lucky, a thick fog settled down over the valley this morning just in time for my commute. I drive a long way down unlit, two-lane country roads to get to work. On my route this morning, I had about a mile of clear air. The rest was so foggy that visibility was, at best, about thirty feet. Intersections were completely invisible until I reached them — even when there were cars, with their headlights on, at the cross street.

When I moved to Idaho 18 years ago, I was dreadfully amused by the yellow “stop ahead” signs that peppered the area’s back roads. “How dumb do you have to be,” I asked, “to need a sign to tell you that there’s going to  be a stop sign?” It seemed as though every four-way stop in the Treasure Valley — or at least, where we lived in “southwest Boise” — had a double set of signs.

Well, I’ll tell you what: I will never mock those signs again. If it hadn’t been for those bright yellow signs this morning, I would have had no idea that I was coming up on a stop sign until it was far too late to stop. The red signs were completely invisible in the fog; my headlights couldn’t cut through the murk to illuminate them enough to be seen. And judging from the touchy way that my fellow commuters were braking, slowing, and creeping up to intersections, I wasn’t alone in that.

I loathe driving in the fog, especially when it’s dark out. I find myself hunching down as if the visibility were somehow better through the bottom half of my windshield, which of course makes my neck and shoulders incredibly tense. I’m a good driver in the nasty weather we run into in the West, and having grown up in the Ada County back country, I’m very familiar with the roads and the way they get when it is snowy, icy, or foggy. Still — I hate it. Even though I know this route so well that I could travel it in my sleep, I can’t convince some animal part of me that there isn’t ahead of me, just past the point of visibility, a cliff that I’m about to plummet off of. My entire physical self is utterly certain that at any moment I will drive off into the abyss.

It’s funny, too, to discover how much I rely upon visual markers to determine how far I’ve traveled. All of my landmarks disappeared: no signs advertising this small business farm or that local corn maze; no house that always puts its garbage cans too close to the road; no church with orange-tinted porch lights. I always know when I’m almost to school because I see the glow from the parking lot and then the bright lights of the gas station at my last intersection’s roundabout. This morning, I didn’t even see the roundabout until I was in it — despite the street lights.

Blech. These are the days when I need the Jetsons’ vacuum tube thingy.

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