Lane markers in the fog

In late afternoon we joined the coastal highway – Highway One – and began following it north. I rested my head against the window and stared in amazement at the spectacular scenery revealed around bend after bend of steep hills and cliffs and rocky shoreline. Compared to the flat and sandy beaches of the east coast, this was mythic topography.

Joints had been passed around, and I’d taken more hits than I’d probably taken cumulatively before, which only made the west-facing panorama more mindblowing after 3 days of imprisonment in the Trailways cruiser. I couldn’t take my eyes from the coastal scenery until darkness made it invisible.

An hour or so into that darkness, Donald called to me from the driver’s seat.

“Hey, Clifford. You can drive this thing, right? How about taking over for a while?”

First of all, no one had called me “Clifford” since the last time I remembered my mother scolding me as a child. I’d been “Cliff” to most people, and “Fig” to my closest friends. Being addressed by my full given name touched a nerve. But, as they’d explained, part of their way of regarding one another in Stephen’s way was to dispose of diminutive or cute nicknames, and return to the actual non-ego-enhanced names that we’d been given at birth. Part of the impetus for this policy, I gathered, was the proliferation of new age pseudonyms that hippies had taken to celebrate their rebirth into a new lifestyle. No one on the bus was going by the name “Rainbow” or “Earthdancer,” thank God. But what could be wrong with “Cliff?”

My second unspoken reaction to Donald’s request was, “Oh, shit! Sure, I drove this hulk on three occasions but I hated every second of the experience. Why should I believe I can drive it now, full of innocent passengers, in the dark, in the – what is that? Fog? …on a narrow and winding, unfamiliar road skirting sheer drops of hundreds of feet into rocks and ocean?”

For whatever reason, I answered back, “Uh, sure, that’s cool, Donald.”

“Far out. I could use a rest.”

We pulled over and I slipped into the seat behind the huge steering wheel and 3-foot long shift lever. I double-clutched and clanked the lever into first gear. Ever-so-slowly, I merged back onto the road, accelerating slowly to avoid catastrophe as impatient drivers swerved around us. Finally, attaining a modest cruising speed I found my palms sweating as I realized just how thick the fog was and how limited was the range of our headlights.

All I could see ahead were about 50 feet worth of lane reflectors. Vehicles coming in the opposite direction were almost upon us by the time I detected the glow of their lights cutting through. It was terrifying, but at the same time exciting because, looking into the inside mirror, I could see that every passenger was gathered close behind me, staring intently into that same foggy wall, willing us to stay in the lane, on the road and out of trouble. A strangely confident feeling of being guided by a collective consciousness infused me, and my concentration felt all-powerful. Time stopped, and our collective attention combined with the few visible lane reflectors to lead our way through the fog into a glowing circle of light.

Eventually a peripheral reflection beyond the road caught someone’s eye. “There! Pull over!” I released the accelerator and coasted as our lights caught the fog-muffled colors of more buses in a roadside parking area. Forcing a noisy downshift, I trundled the bus off the highway and lit up the resting herd of the Caravan. We were, Donald said, somewhere near San Luis Obispo, and the tension of the road was suddenly released. I would spend my first night as a communal vagabond, across the continent from what had been my home.



  1. March 23, 2009 at 1:53 am

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