|By Sidney Underwood|
Authors Note: The story below was written by my son, Eric in 1999. I came across it while looking through his papers this fall. As you know, he killed himself in July 2020. Judy and I are just now coming to terms with his death now... the story, a memorial to Eric.
See Sidney Underwood's original story here
MY MIDNIGHT TRIP TO NEWARK - By Eric Underwood - 1999
When I go to bed and I’m really tired, I like to have my peace and quiet. That is not always the way it is at my apartment complex in Parkersburg. My next door neighbor, Rae, has a habit of washing dishes, rearranging furniture all the while playing loud music when everyone else is in bed. She makes it difficult for me to sleep by doing these daytime chores in the middle of the night!
The oak floors creak, the water pipes rattle and the poorly insulated walls do little to block out the aggravation of my being sleep deprived. I can hear Rae walk, talk and flush the commode. On those nights I try to block out these distractions and eventually fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning.
My neighbor, Rae, is a nice friendly middle aged lady. We usually get along just fine and I know that she doesn’t mean to wake me up at night. Since she can’t sleep she just needs something to do to occupy her time. Thank goodness, she doesn’t make that racket every night, just once or twice a week.
Rae suffers from insomnia, at least that is my unprofessional opinion and it is just my luck to be living next door to her. I have found that it is better to overlook little aggravations in order to remain on friendly terms with my neighbors. So, I probably will never say anything to her for fear of making things worse than they already are.
On one particular cold damp October night, Rae was having a party with all of the noises and vibrations the human ear could detect. I had just got home from a night class at West Virginia University at Parkersburg and was looking forward to a good night’s rest. I soon realized that was not going to happen. To make my situation bearable, I donned a pair of ear plugs that I have used many times. When the noise next door quieted down I fell fast asleep. Maybe an hour later I was jolted awake by loud music. The bass penetrated through the walls and, believe it or not, made my bed vibrate and the covers quiver. It was going to be a long night for me. With people laughing and shouting, I knew I had to do something. Since it was a Thursday night I knew that I didn’t have any classes the following day. I looked at my clock and saw it was 11:30 pm... What to do? I decided to go home to Cabot Station instead of waiting until morning as I had originally planned.
In an instant I found myself getting dressed, making my bed, getting packed and getting things ready for my night time journey. After a strong cup of hot tea and a Quaker oats granola bar, I was ready to roll on home. I loaded my 1992 Toyota Corolla, cleaned the moisture from the windshield and used my flashlight to check the tires and since everything was ok, I started the car and let it warm up. I remember the clock on the dash indicated it was 12:00 midnight.
I was soon cranking along on Route # 47 under dim moonlight. I figured I would be home in about an hour and a half. Easing along at 45 mph when I went past Kanawha, I wondered why I was encountering no other traffic. I would soon find out why there was no one else on the road.
I was a junior at West Virginia University at Parkersburg and it was October 1999. I could see the leaves along the road and fall was in the air. It had been raining and the road was wet .When I turned onto the Newark road I started noticing patches of fog. I would drive through one patch and it would be clear for a short time and then go through another.
As I crossed over the single-lane Hughes River Bridge and ventured toward the little community of Newark, heavy fog hit me like a storm. I was stunned. I could only see about five feet in front of the car so I slowed to a crawl going maybe 10 mph. “It wasn’t supposed to be foggy tonight,” I said to myself in a confused tone. I slowly crept into Newark and hoped I would soon pass through the thick fog. The outside lights of the houses were barely visible and they seemed much farther away than they actually were. It was so confusing to be looking and not seeing. I was becoming disoriented by the fog. It was like I was alone on a sea of whitish gray water. I began to get concerned and turned on the defroster full blast but the whitish haze was now all around me .I dimmed my headlights but that didn’t help at all. The contour of my headlight beams could be seen quite well in the whitish haze. My line of vision was now about three feet and the worst part was that I could not see the road. I was guessing now as to the location of it.
I wondered if I would be able to see the road if I had a set of fog lights on my car. That maybe I should consider purchasing a set of them.
I decided to turn around and go back to Parkersburg, but where to turn when you can’t see anything? I stopped and got out of my car. Yes, I was still on the road by sheer luck, right in the middle of it actually. I noticed some dim lights up high like on a tall building. I finally recognized Fought’s General store when the fog lifted for a couple of seconds and I was right in front of it.
Now my car is rather small and it is normally easy to turn around. But there was no place to get off the road. At least no place I could see to do it. So I decided to turn around in the middle of the road. I put the Corolla in park and got out and walked toward the edge of the road and estimated I had about 12 feet of space. I got back in the car, twisted the steering wheel and backed to what I guessed to be 12 feet. Then I eased forward turning the wheel the other way. I backed up and went forward several times until I was headed back toward Route #47. But I still could not see the road well enough to drive. I rolled down my driver’s side window and stuck my head out. By doing that I could see somewhat better like eight or ten feet in front of me. I could almost see the side of the road. My face felt wet from the night air and the heavy fog. I was barely moving. In order to keep my head outside the window, I had to contort my body and lift my butt off the seat. Gradually the porch lights of Newark faded away and I got a cramp in my neck from straining to see where I was going. I had encountered fog before, but nothing like this. I remembered there was a sharp turn near Newark and I kept staring into the fog hoping I would recognize it and not run off the road into the ditch. I was really concentrating so hard that the discomfort in my neck was forgotten.
I just wanted to be back at my apartment in Parkersburg regardless of the party next door .So I crept along at walking speed the two miles to the single-lane bridge which I almost hit, seeing it at the last moment. I was so happy to finally come to the Crossroads General Store at the intersection of Route #47. Turning toward Parkersburg, I could now actually see the road. What a relief it was. What I had experienced was sort of like driving blindfolded. I had a story to do in writing class next week and this would be my topic. I decided to explain in detail my ordeal in the simple matter of trying to find my way in a blinding fog.
I arrived back at my apartment at 2:30 a.m. and Rae’s party was winding down as most of the visitors’ cars were gone. I unlocked my apartment door and went inside to the bed and fell fast asleep regardless of what was going on next door.
The next day I loaded up everything and went home. When I got to Newark, I saw the place where I had turned around the night before. I could see that I actually had plenty of room to turn the car, but everything looked so different in daylight. The rest of the trip was uneventful except for an abandoned car in the ditch jur beyond Newark. Evidently someone else had been out and had been unlucky enough to get stranded by the fog.
I no longer make "Midnight trips" back home when my neighbor is acting up. Instead, I listen to my headphones to block out the noise. I promise that I will never do anything ridiculous like that again. I learned that I should stay off the road if I am tired or fatigued. Also, I should always know the weather before driving after dark. You can be sure that I can tell you all you need to know about fog and how it can disorient and blind you and make you feel so alone.