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Lorenz Gude - Short Writing
My late son Lorenz

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The Tule Fog

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Lorenz

I picked Lorenz up in Danville, California around mid day. We were headed for Louisiana. I was a little surprised that he was actually coming, even though we had talked about a father and son trip of this nature many times. He had grown up in Australia and hadn't returned to America until his thirtieth birthday and then had gone straight to work in California and so hadn't seen anything else of America since he was a small boy. This trip was a chance for me to share some of the America I knew and loved with him. Although our family was not originally from the South, in my many visits to the US over the years since we had moved to Australia I had discovered the South in general and Louisiana in particular. I experienced the South as a country within a country which was unselfconsciously American. It did not look to Europe for it's cultural inspiration as did the North East where I had grown up and lived before emigrating to Australia. I found Louisiana a place where music, myth, and story mixed in a spontaneous way that blended past and present, Spanish and French, Indian and African. Into Creoles of many kinds: Creole music, Creole cuisine, all of which contained ingredients from their antecedents yet stood apart as something different, something new. I felt Lorenz would enjoy the unselfconscious expression of natural feeling that characterised this place much as it did his home in the "deep north" of Australia's far north Queensland.

As we set out we were concerned that the main highway,Interstate 5, was in danger of being closed by Tule fog. There had been a bad accident on I5 the day before near Sacramento involving upwards of 50 cars. Several people had been killed so officials would be quicker to close the road the day after such an event. And we hit the Tule fog in the Altamont pass just east of Livermore. Lorenz was driving. Because we had a late morning start the problem would be to get out of the fog before night fall when it would sock in and stop us dead. As we climbed up the pass the engine became less and less responsive, its sound deadened by the enveloping cushion of fog. We seemed to glide up the hill effortlessly in complete isolation from our surroundings, but in fact dangerously cut off from them. The grade in the pass is steep and we soon slowed to about 40. Another truck, full of workmen, went past us briskly and disappeared into the fog ahead.

"He has to have a V8." Lorenz said. As our straight six carried on at its steady but unspectacular pace.

"He is carrying a lot of weight, we may catch him up unless it is a really big engine." I replied.

And sure enough it slowly reappeared as a vague shadow on the road in front of us, all color drained from it by the Tule fog as it too settled into the long climb over the pass. The fog worsened as we gained altitude. Visibility steadily reduced; the cocoon was complete as we climbed blindly into continuous danger. If anyone stopped and blocked the road we would run into them before we could stop, even at our relatively slow pace. Then whoever was behind us would run into our vehicle causing the same sort of pileup that had happened at Sacramento. The key was for everyone to keep moving at a similar speed. We knew that the fog would probably thin as we came down the other side and approached the junction with I5. We also knew what would determine whether or not we could continue our journey was the amount of fog ahead of us on I5 running north and south in the San Joaquin Valley.


Once through the pass the fog thinned but didn't go entirely. We came to the 5 and the fog was tantalizingly neither clear enough to drive normally or bad enough to stop. As we made our way down the valley I followed our progress nervously on the map, as if that would somehow improve our chances. At times the fog thickened and the cars ahead would gray out and then disappear. We could still see a car perhaps four or six car lengths ahead just at the edge of visibility. Even if a car pulled further ahead and disappeared entirely, if the driver touched the brakes, the dim red smudges of the brake lights through the fog would immediately reveal the car's position and there would be time to back off. It was an edgy thing and it was easy to see how dozens of cars got tangled in the pileup the day before.

We talked casually in small bursts, mostly about the driving conditions. I was simply content to be with my son. I didn't need or want much more than his presence. It was a minor miracle that I was getting to take this trip with him to Louisiana after all the bad blood between us over the years. I trusted his driving, his calm unhurried way of doing things. This feeling of well being in his presence was to be something that grew on this trip and after, most powerfully the last time I saw him. I trusted him; perhaps it is as simple as that.

I made this trip with Lorenz in 1998. All material copyright Lorenz Gude 2003