California Central Valley Tule Fog
New Years Eve in California's Central Valley with our new-found friends
New Year's Eve of 1970 was one of the most unforgettable event in my life here in the US. In mid September of 1969, I found myself relocating my family (wife and four young children of grade school ages) from Kansas City, Missouri to Modesto, California. The move was not that traumatic, since relocation expenses, including packing and repacking expenses/activities were paid by my new employer, Shell Development Company.
Modesto, California is the county seat of Stanislaus County, right in the heart of the central valley of California- Land of Fruits and Nuts. The area is famous for its tule* fog during winter. The locals called it the “soup”.
As a newcomer, I had no idea how it feels driving in the soup. I have a feeling though that it could be dangerous, but had no idea how nerve-racking an experience it could be. Driving in the “soup” with zero visibility that new Year's eve night of 1970 is not an experience, I want repeated in my life. I remember, how I felt. I thought, I will run out of breathe and feel like suffocating. I felt trapped and claustrophobic inside the car. The fog was so thick, my car fog lights was of no help. The drive from Modesto to Stockton normally takes less than 30 minutes during the day. But that night it took me an hour because of the dense fog.
Why was I driving on New Years Night in Highway 99 in the middle of the worst valley fog in Central California?. Read on.
My move from Kansas City, Missouri to Modesto, California was a stage in my professional career, I called my “pre-midlife crisis career move”. I loved and enjoyed my job at Chemagro Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri. However, when I received a job offer from a job hunter with a 20% raised in salary, I accepted it without fear and hesitation. In addition, I have always preferred living in the West Coast of the US than in the Midwest, where the winters are milder. Little did I know that the winter fog was horrible in our new home. I would compare driving in the fog with zero visibility here in Central California in the same category of danger as driving in a blinding rain storm or snow storm of the East Coast( Maryland and Virginia) and of the Midwest ( Illinois and Missouri).
During the last four months of 1969, my wife and four children were busy adjusting to their new surroundings and in their elementary schooling. We did not have time to join any local organizations and have zero friends except our next door neighbor. With my new job, I had no time making new friends except with my co-employees. So when New year Eve came, Macrine and I were desperate for some social interaction. We decided to go out for a late dinner on New Years Eve in one of Stockton's 4-star restaurants. Stockton is about 25 miles north of Modesto along Highway 99. The teenager daughter of our neighbor baby sat for the kids.
We arrived at the restaurant at about 9:30PM. The restaurant was filled to capacity. We waited in the bar for available seats. In the bar was another couple also waiting to be seated. They were a little bit older than us. The lady was of Asian ancestry and the man was Caucasian. Macrine and I were desperate for company, and the couple appeared very friendly, so I initiated the conversation. I do not remember what exactly happened, but we decided to get a table for four instead of two tables for two.
Our dinner of steak and lobster was excellent. Conversation flowed freely oiled by two bottles of wine. From our rapport and conversation, it appeared the four of us were long time friends. We learned that the lady had Filipino ancestry. We also learned that they are also Roman Catholics and have resided in the Stockton area for the last 10 years. They have no children and have plans of adopting an orphan from the Philippines.
Their house was in the housing development very near to the restaurant and only about a 3 minutes drive. We finished dinner and dessert at about 11:30PM. Our new found friends decided to invite us to their home for an after dinner drink, so we will not be driving in the highway at midnight. With our adventurous spirit, Macrine and I accepted their invitation without any fear or hesitation.
When we got out of the restaurant, the fog was already thick with only a few feet of visibility. The couple's residence was in the area of middle and upper-middle class homes. The house was tastefully furnished and decorated with several Philippine antiques that the lady had inherited from her Filipino grandparents. We stayed at their home until 1:00AM. We had a bottle of champagne at midnight. I just took a sip, because I know I will be driving through a thick fog on our way home.
Our baby sitter was glad to see us at 2AM after an hour of slow driving because of the fog. The drive was so nerve-racking, I vowed I will never drive in a fog if at all possible or unless there is a medical emergency involving a life or death situation.
Reflecting back to this experience, I can not believe, that Macrine and I allowed ourselves be picked up by complete strangers who later became our close friends. We continued our friendship with the Stockton couple, until 1974 when we moved to the San Francisco bay area after I lost my job from Shell Development Company(SDC). SDC closed their agricultural research facility in Modesto because they wanted to get out of the pesticide business.
Indeed, this is one New Year Night's escapade that Macrine and I will always remember as long as we live.
*Tule fog ( /ˈtuːliː/) is a thick ground fog that settles in the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley areas of California's Great Central Valley. This phenomenon is named after the tule grass wetlands (tulares) of the Central Valley. Accidents caused by the tule fog are the leading cause of weather-related casualties in Central California.(From Wikipedia)
Reference: My Autobiography, Chapter 9: http://theintellectualmigrant.blogspot.com
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