When my best friend in high school, Jan, turned 16 a year before I did and got her driver’s license, her parents bought her a brand new Chevy Vega. It was very nice having a best friend with a license AND a car.
One Friday night in October 1971, we went to the football game and afterwards we were planning on going to the downtown Flushing A & W drive-in to get a bite to eat, check out the guys, and gossip with the girls. But soon a thick fog started rolling in and because Jan still had to drive me home, about 6 miles away, and then drive to her house, which was about 6 miles in the opposite direction, we decided to just call it a night.
Jan was not a confident driver or a good driver at all. She had already banged up her Vega in a couple of very minor accidents. And now this fog was becoming thicker and denser and spookier by the second and Jan was getting more and more nervous. We couldn’t even see the end of the hood of her car nor anything else.
Jan was driving no more than 10 miles an hour while I had my head hanging out of the passenger side window, looking down so I could warn her when she was about to veer onto the shoulder of the road. She was trying her to peer out of the windshield to see the center line so that she could stay straight in her lane.
Then she yelled that it looked like there was a car heading right at us. I looked up, and sure enough, two dim headlights were up ahead, slowly approaching us in the lane we were in. So I told her, “Shit, Jan, you must be in their lane, so pull to the right and I’ll make sure you don’t hit the shoulder.” The shoulders on either side of that stretch of Elms Road were a bit narrow and there were very deep ditches on both sides that would bang us up and the car pretty bad if we drove off the road.
So Jan steered her car to the right while I kept a look-out for the shoulder. I quickly yelled, “Oh holy shit, stop, Jan, stop! That other car must be in OUR lane because we’re right next to our own shoulder of the road!” Jan started moaning, “Oh my God, what do we do now? What do we do now?” She seemed pretty close to panicking so I told her, “Don’t worry, sweetie, it will be okay. We’ll just pull over and park as close as we can to the very edge of the shoulder. And because your car is so little, that other driver will just pass right by us if they haven’t figured out that they are in our lane before then.”
So she slowly coaxed the car onto the shoulder of the road as close to the very edge as we dared to go while I directed her. After she had put her car into park, I then told her to flash her lights off and on, off and on and to keep honking the horn in the hope that the other driver would quickly figure out that they were in our lane and could then scoot back over into their own.
But that didn’t work and as we watched in horror as that car continued to slowly make its way closer and closer to us, Jan asked me, “Should we get out of the car and run?” And I said, “Run where? We can’t see a thing and with our luck, we’ll run right off the other side of the road and into that steep ditch and drown.”
By this time the car was so close, it probably would have hit the car door on Jan’s side if she had tried to open it. I still couldn’t believe that that other driver could not figure out that they were in our lane. So the only thing we could do was hold our breath and wait and watch to see if that car was going to be able to slide past us. It was like viewing a slow-motion movie of our doom approaching.
The oncoming car slowly slid by us in our own lane like a ghost and because that fog was so thick and drippy-dense, we couldn’t even see who or what was driving it. After it had finally safely passed her car, Jan and I hugged each other, laughing and crying from the relief and our pent-up tension.
Jan then asked me if I could drive the rest of the way to my house and I told her no problem and that she was also going to spend the night whether she liked it or not. She shakily said okay, that would be just fine with her because she was not about to drive back home through that horrible fog again by herself.
So we changed places and she now kept the eagle eye on the shoulder of the road, but wouldn’t you know that less than a mile down the road, the fog thinned out and by the time we got to my house there were just a few tendrils of wavy strands of fog hanging here and there above the road.
Jan called her parents to tell them what had happened and that she was going to spend the night. And even an hour afterwards, while we were giggling about our scare in my bedroom, our hands were still shaking from our fright. That was my first experience being out in such a bad fog but it wasn’t my last.