Saturday, February 05, 2005

A lesson in fog

We had an interesting driving experience on the way home from visiting friends today. As we headed out into the evening to get our little people home, we were greeted by a thick blanket of fog. The beautifully clear day that oversaw our drive in earlier in the day was just a memory.

This left me with a couple of hours of tension at the wheel. The 401 highway – Canada's busiest stretch of road and a notorious haven for idiots – is an intense place to be at the best of times. Rolling waves of fog and a transitional road surface only added to the fun.

As I settled in to the drive with a sleeping family in the darkened vehicle, I thought of the immense responsibility of shepherding everyone home safely. Living in a city with no family, we do a lot of inter-city driving to see grandparents, friends, and the like. Our kids are pretty used to the routine. But that little voice always hangs on my shoulder when we drive, whispering to me that it's not just about me, anymore. If I'm on a bike and I get hit (and I have…a story for another day), it's just me. My family, on the other hand, has no choice in the matter when I'm at the wheel.

On a nice day, this rarely comes to mind. When the weather closes in, the voice gets louder. My level of focus becomes even sharper than it usually is, and I count the kilometers until we get home.

This all begs the question of why we drive in the first place. Years ago, we were invited to a family get-together in a city a couple of hours away. It was an early-morning affair, so we found ourselves on the road before 5 a.m. As we closed in on our destination, the highway was dark, half-wet/half-frozen, and a scary place to be. I was cruising in the middle lane when I watched the car ahead of me start to lose control on the ice. It slid out and hit the car in the adjacent lane. It was like watching a real-life game of vehicular pinball. And whether you got hit or not was completely beyond your control.

Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we managed to avoid getting smacked in the process. We continued our drive to this cookie-cutter get-together. We weren't particularly close with these people, and we may as well have not been there for the warmth with which we were welcomed. As we headed home afterward, I kept thinking that I almost got my family killed for the benefit of extended family members who didn't care whether or not we were there.

The fog tonight was, in the end, a nice change. Most folks drove more slowly than usual, and I had a great CD full of tunes to keep me company while everyone slept. I loved the ethereal view of red lights disappearing in the murk ahead, puffs of fog wafting over the windshield, the muted yellow glow of streetlamps at the occasional off-ramp, and strings-of-pearl headlights gradually fading into view in my rear-view mirror. I spent much of the drive recording these fleeting images and hoping I'd be able to write about them later on.

This drive validated the "why" of this day. We had a lovely day with our oldest friends. All of our kids played until they were exhausted. We caught up, reconnected. I'd drive through much worse to do it again.

No comments: