Noone Column: Black ice, white knuckles and monsters on radio
March 18, 2012
It was just past midnight when the heebie-jeebies really set in. Dense, almost impenetrable fog cloaked the lonely mountain highway. Freezing rain hit the windshield – and stuck. The road was glazed with black ice, and I had a white-knuckle death grip on the wheel.
Oh – and there were monsters on the radio. Vampires, as matter of fact – which turned out to be a good thing.
But let’s start at the beginning. …
When my daughter and I left Carson City last Thursday to visit relatives in Northern California for a few days, there were early warnings of a Sierra snowstorm on the horizon. Emboldened by last week’s spring temps (remember those?), and full of hope and hubris, we hit the road, anyway. The plan was for the daughter to stay in San Francisco and fly home Tuesday; I was going to drive home to Carson on Monday.
Sunday evening found us in San Francisco’s North Beach district, feasting at the Stinking Rose, a specialty restaurant where virtually every dish is based on garlic. I overheard a stray radio forecast – now they were saying the storm would hit Monday instead of Tuesday.
I had been planning to make the four- to five-hour drive home Monday so I could be back in the office by Tuesday.
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By 9 p.m. Sunday, I made up my garlic-infused mind: I would beat the storm and drive home that night. I hit Highway 80 just after 9:30 p.m. Sunday, intending to take it to Sacramento and then to Reno, where I’d catch 395 for the last leg into Carson.
The roads were clear and the traffic light. I turned on the radio around 10, just as the eerie talk show “Coast to Coast” was coming on. The night’s topic: Monsters in America. I was thrilled – with my pickup’s CD player on the fritz, a long talk show would be the perfect thing to keep me awake for the long post-prandial drive home.
It worked through Sacramento, through Dixon, through Davis. I reached Auburn and, as the highway started making its way into the foothills, the temperature, the traffic and my bravery all dropped markedly. Overhead freeway signs warned of dense fog ahead but made no mention of chains being required, so I soldiered on.
On the radio show, meanwhile, they were talking about Frankenstein, Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and the Jersey Devil. (Mentally, I added Tahoe Tessie to that list.) Snow had begun falling. The fog thickened. The road took on a scary dark sheen.
My death grip on the wheel tightened. I turned up the radio show, which had begun eerily cutting in and out – due to the mountains, I kept telling myself.
It was around Donner where I first freaked a little. I could feel my two-wheel-drive pickup sliding on the icy road a little – then a little more. There wasn’t another vehicle or a gas station in sight.
As my grip on the wheel tightened, I let my speed drop to 35 mph, then 30. My cellphone, with its meager 12 percent charge, mocked me.
On the radio, they were talking about how the monsters in modern books and movies are way, way scarier than those in the early 20th century. I didn’t know about that – but was that just a shadow up in that gigantic roadside pine? Were those headlights in the distance, or the moon on the blurry horizon?
My panic peaked just as the road did, right around Donner.
On the radio, they were discussing whether old-time monsters had a stronger moral code than today’s creatures.
And then, seemingly minutes later, I was in Reno and merging from 80 to 395.
A quick zip through the Washoe Valley, and I was home in Carson.
It was after 2 a.m., and the interior of my truck reeked of garlic. As I gathered my overnight bag and other road-trip detritus, I checked my neck in the rearview. Not a vampire bite in site. The monsters had all been all in my mind – and on the radio.
• Nevada Appeal Editor Dennis Noone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.